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22 October 2021 – 27 August 2023

animalistic! – The Sound of Animals

This is an exhibition about the many different ways in which animals and music are connected. It asks such basic questions as: Are animals musical? Do whales and birds really sing? And how can we tell whether animals are «enjoying» music?

The pleasure people take in having animals dance or even play instruments will also be discussed, the classic instances of this being the dancing bear, the trumpeting elephant and the swansong. Another theme of the exhibition will be the use of animal parts to make musical instruments such as bone flutes, ivory keyboard keys and animal skin drums.

Rather less well known is the use of baleen in pianos. These days, alternative materials are becoming increasingly widespread, reflecting our growing awareness of animal welfare.

«animalistic!» is a co-production of the Museum der Kulturen Basel, the Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig, the Pharmaziemuseum der Universität Basel and the Basel Historical Museum, whose joint tie-in publication will explore the relationship between animals and humans from different perspectives.

The exhibition will be flanked by an extensive programme of events and can be experienced with the aid of an eGuide in German, English and French.

Two frog clickers from the collection of Mauricio Kagel – a toy used as a musical instrument. // Germany, ca. 1970 // tin // L 7.5 cm, W 4.7 cm, H 3 cm // Basel Historical Museum, inv. 2005.2251.1-2.
Finger-exerciser for pianists. // Auguste Vincent (1829–1888), Paris, late 19th c. // mahogany, softwood, ivory, iron and brass // L 36.5 cm, W 19 cm, H 16 cm // Basel Historical Museum, inv. 2010.66.
Serinette – a small barrel organ used in «singing lessons» for birds // Basel, 1768 // walnut, pewter // H 14.5 cm, W 26.5 cm, D 19.8 cm // Basel Historical Museum, inv. 1904.310.
Monkey playing a violin – a musical automaton. // possibly Paris, second half of 19th c. // silk, wood // H 36 cm // Basel Historical Museum, inv. 1936.59.
A dwarf clutches a violin in one hand and with his bow instructs the forest animals in choral singing. Each piece of the jigsaw was made by Louise Widmann of Basel, using a fret saw. // Louise Widmann (1882–1970) // Basel, mid-20th c. // laminated wood, coloured paint // H 23.5 cm, W 59.5 cm // Basel Historical Museum, inv. 2005.46.

Exhibition catalogue


One Theme – Four Exhibitions in Basel

We inject ourselves with animal hormones, play drums covered with animal skin and (maybe) even risk listening to sirens. The benefit is evident: skin, fat, bones, intestines are processed into violin strings, glue, ointments, and jackets. From antiquity to the present day, animals and hybrid creatures have offered guidance and protected us in the shape of amulets. But how has the relationship between humans and animals changed, here and elsewhere? What perceptions and criteria determine the relationship between humans and animals? Why is this relationship almost invariably described as ambivalent?

Four Basel museums go in search of answers in the joint project animalistic! One Theme—Four Exhibitions and the accompanying publication.

Published by

Museum of Cultures Basel, Anna Schmid
Museum of Antiquities Basel & Ludwig Collection, Andrea Bignasca
Basel Historical Museum, Marc Zehntner
Pharmacy Museum University of Basel, Philippe Wanner

With contributions by
Laurent Gorgerat, Mathias Gredig, Stephanie Lovász, Isabel Münzner, Barbara Orland, Ursula Regehr, Anna Schmid, Hans Bjarne Thomsen, Beatrice Voirol, Markus Wild

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The exhibition was made possible thanks to the generous support of the
Foundation for the Basel History Museum
and other benefactors who do not wish to be named.

Further cooperation partners
Natural History Museum Basel

Special exhibition in the Musikmuseum

Opening timesAdmission


Basel Historical Museum
Management & administration
Steinenberg 4
PO box
CH – 4001 Basel

Reception: +41 61 205 86 00

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