The Penang House of Music, which opened in November 2016, offers visitors a way to understand the island’s unique and dynamic musical heritage, and in particular to experience Penang’s musical golden age, from the 1940s onwards. It is located within the Komtar complex, directly above the ICT mall, and covers 650 square metres. A guidebook is also available for purchase (RM 10) at the entrance.
The first section of the museum gives an overview of the many traditional styles of music and costume that were common, resulting from the fusion of different ethnicities (Malay, Chinese, Indian, Baba Nyonya, Eurasian, European, Persian, and Armenian) and musical traditions in the Penang melting pot. Traditional bangsawan, boria, ronggeng and dondang sayang, and Chinese opera, all contributed in their way to t
he vibrant music scene that followed. This unique Penang identity resulted in music that was markedly different from the more well-known Western styles.
Here visitors can enjoy the first of the many interactive elements of the museum’s galleries. A motion sensor Potehi theatre allows puppets to be manipulated on screen. Potehi puppet theatre is a form of cloth hand puppet with Cantonese origins that was once popular in Penang. The Listening Dome is a wooden booth with a silver dome hanging above the head that plays your choice of traditional music. The dome drowns out background noise, and visitors can listen to ronggeng and joget to find out what it really sounded like.
In the next section of the exhibition, the influence of the Japanese occupation and the return of the British forces is explained. Music from Penang’s communities competed with popular Western hits, particularly during the Malayan Emergency. This is when Penang musicians were seen to be at the forefront of musicianship in the country. One corner of the room has been decked out as an old coffee shop (kopitiam), a typical venue for listening to music at the time, with vintage newspapers and an ancient Rediffusion,.
There is a radio room showcasing more than a dozen vintage radios. Radio was the most important medium for the spread of popular music before television became widespread. Visitors can get a hands-on experience of being a radio announcer in the broadcasting booth, presenting 1960s Malay songs on the airwaves, and even keeping a recording of their efforts for posterity.
Wall murals and posters introduce visitors to the most famous personalities of Penang’s music scene, and old instruments, vinyl records, microphones and record players add atmosphere and interest to the exhibition. A cinema room screens old films, as cinema, like radio, was critical in the propagation of pop culture.
Also integral to the Penang House of Music, although less of interest to the casual tourist, is a research space and archive, in which old vinyl records, books, photographs, press cuttings, magazines, posters, souvenir programmes, are in the process of being digitized and catalogued for public access and research
Lastly, a multi-purpose Black Box hosts live music, temporary exhibitions, talks and workshops on an occasional basis. Live music performances feature contemporary Penang musicians, as well as nostalgic band reunions.
Penang House of Music is located on Level 4, Komtar, Jalan Penang, George Town in Penang. Opening hours: 11am to 8pm daily, with the last admission at 7pm. Tickets are priced at RM20 for Malaysians and RM30 for foreigners. For more details, visit www.penanghouseofmusic.com, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 010-8646699