I am in Amsterdam, staying in a VERY EXPENSIVE HOTEL, because all the hotels in Amsterdam are VERY EXPENSIVE. We are here on a cultural city break, to take the kids to Anne Frank’s house, and the Van Gogh museum, among others. We pre-booked for those two because we had heard it was difficult to get tickets on the day. Yesterday, as we were packing to leave, I got an email from the Van Gogh museum. It contained a link to a “welcome video”. And I would like to share a few frames from that, you’ll see why.

The first impressive thing that happens, is a member of museum staff, shuffling sideways onto the screen carrying a placard, like a taxi driver at the airport, with my name on. This has never actually happened for me at an airport, but here it is happening, through digital jiggery-pokery, on an actual video. The email had mentioned it was my personal welcome video, but I hadn’t realised how personal.

Then, was the staff take their branded coats off, and hand then in at the cloakroom (I would have thought they had their own facilities, but there you go) the screen displays the weather forecast on the day of my visit. There is also a none-too-subtle hint that I should become a friend of the museum, which purports to show an interpretive wall vinyl:

This is the first time that I have seen digital technology actually used with by a museum for true specific personalisation. Ok, so it’s only my name, and weather data for a specific date, and actually it’s not that much more complex than those picture books that were advertised twenty years ago with “Your Child’s Name Here”. But it is being used to every pre-booked visitor, which at this time of year means pretty much every visitor. How long will it be before interpretation panels like the one in the last picture are actually personalised?


I’ve been head down, completing my upgrade package for weeks and so you have seen very little form me on this blog. But that package was submitted last Friday, and this week, I am at the University’s Hartley Residency, which is a refreshing opportunity to just learn and think.

Yesterday we had a seminar, and then a lecture form Steven Rings, of the University of Chicago. I always thought I was a bit a fraud in the archaeology department, but now I am in the music department (Did I tell you I have transferred to the music department? That’s another story.) am I listening to stuff I know nothing about. “But,” as they say, “I know what I like.” So thank the stars that Steve was talking about liking music, and writing academically about music that we like. He kicked of with his talk, quoting Max Weber, who, correct me if I am wrong, accused modern thought, secularism, science and academia of  “disenchantment of the world.” Rings argues that there is an academic pressure to distance oneself from the music one studies, to analyse it scientifically, reducing it to numbers, or socio-politically, reducing it to a series of choices made within a dominant ideology. In a way, to destroy it – to remove from it any sense of aesthetic pleasure, or “enchantment”.

All this talk of enchantment, reminds me of a couple of papers I read months ago, but didn’t blog about. To be honest, and didn’t think either contributed much to my thesis either. But they are in my mind because I recently went back to them and added a couple of bits from as least one of them to my draft. Keirsten Latham writes about “the Numinous Museum”, and something about enchantment, and secularism made me think about that term. In the 2007 paper, The Poetry of the Museum: A Holistic Model of Numinous Museum Experiences she says “Numinous experiences (also referred to as reverential, pivotal, profound) with any museum objects/exhibits are akin to aesthetic experiences with objects of art and encounters with the beautiful.”

“Reverential, pivotal, profound…” is this the same, or similar to “enchanting”? She goes on to say that “Numinous experiences are seen as a deeply felt, connective encounter with any object not just artistic works or beautiful things and can happen anywhere and anytime, depending on the coming together of many things at one point in time.” Which is interesting because it potentially equates the mundane with the spiritual. For example, visiting Crete recently, I was was intellectually stimulated by my day-trip to Knossos, but my own numinous experience was at a less visited palace at Malia. There, it was the act of looking down at threshold stone as I stepped on it, that gave a profound, emotional feeling of stepping on the same stone as someone had thousands of years ago. I understood it a Knossos but I hadn’t felt it.

Latham explains the term she uses comes, via Catherine Cameron and John Gatewood, from Rudolf Otto who, in his book, The Idea of the Holy used the word numen to describe a religious emotion or experience that can be awakened in the presence of something holy.

Which brings us back to secularisation: are we reluctant to talk about music (or anything) we love in terms of enchantment, for fear of being seen to worship it?