Experiencing Music - Exploring Music

Strategy Paper of the Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung 2023 to 2028


Music is a human form of expression and communication that transcends boundaries and times, and it is in a constant state of technical, aesthetic, and social change.

Music ideally enables the concretization of artistic and scientific cross-sectional tasks.

The SIM sets methodological standards in music research and offers innovative approaches to its forms. It achieves this through its three departments: (1) the Musical Instrument Museum with a focus on organology, (2) Music Theory/Music History and the Department for Musicological Documentation with a sound recording collection, and (3) Acoustics and Music Technology.


The Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung of the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (SPK) is unique in Germany and Europe (simpk.de). As a non-university research institute and a memory institution, it serves as a museum, library, laboratory, workshop, home to various collections, a place for music education, and a concert stage. Its work is dedicated to the cross-temporal and cross-spatial experience of music. Hardly anywhere else can music be experienced and researched so concretely at the same time. This makes the SIM a sought-after cooperation partner for actors in the national and international cultural scene of various orientations.

Sharpening methods, thinking globally, connecting disciplines – the SIM develops projects that span the broad spectrum. This makes it predestined to be a gravitational center for music research. Although the research and collection focus is on European music, it will increasingly address global interactions in the future to significantly shape current debates on collecting, preserving, researching, and mediating material and immaterial music objects. Additionally, it keeps its musicological research lively with expanded dissemination formats.

Openness to exchange and accessibility of knowledge are as important as the promotion of basic work and infrastructural offerings. Central to this are the research library and the work of the Department for Musicological Documentation, which ensure and continuously expand the presence of accessible research results for a broad national and international public. The "Bibliography of Music Literature" (musikbibliographie.de), built and continuously updated by the SIM, is currently the most extensive open-access bibliography on music worldwide with over 460,000 entries. This leading position will be maintained. The SIM stands for two areas: collections as a starting point for research topics and knowledge (science) communication, which combines theory and practice. The location and premises at the Kulturforum are ideal for their implementation. The SIM is a place of exchange for all music enthusiasts and researchers, both physically and virtually. This place will shine even brighter in the future through appropriate offerings and contemporary profiling.

The reports from 2020 and 2021 prompted the development of more detailed strategies in the areas of collections, third-party funding, publications, personnel and research orientation, digitization, and supra-regional and interdisciplinary cooperation. The scientific advisory board supports the management in strategic decisions.

Synergy Effects

For the SIM in its uniqueness, there is no template that would provide orientation. This opens up the great opportunity to shape diversity – and at the same time to address the recently formulated expectations. Priorities are networking within the house, the SPK, Berlin, and musicology. Freer formats have already been successfully developed to bring together experts as well as interested parties, students, and music enthusiasts for joint listening and experiencing as well as conversation. Music is excellently suited as a model for cross-sectional topics, which are also the future action fields of the SPK. These are the major, complex issues of our time, which become understandable with the help of diverse manifestations of music and which demonstrably stimulate a broad audience to discuss based on their own musical experience: digitization, cultural heritage, provenance, diversity, participation, and sustainability. The emotional quality of music helps to make abstract terms and our resulting responsibility tangible. The project realized at the SIM in 2022 by and with blind and visually impaired people exemplifies this.

The successful collaboration with Berlin orchestras (DSO, RSB, and Berlin Philharmonic) and music academies (UdK and Hanns Eisler) will be intensified with further partners from the SPK and universities in the future. Planned for 2024 are a discussion panel on the new feminist program policy of the DSO, a concert on the hybrid performance practice of a string quartet on-site and virtually with the TU Berlin, and a reflection on musicology during the Cold War, specifically Berlin as a hub between East and West, with the Humboldt Forum. Within the SPK association, the SIM is working on the topic of sustainability, which, beyond construction and energy generation, can set completely new content impulses for the exhibition industry starting from music. As a cooperation partner, the SIM also responds to current topics and will further open its stages. It is considered a prototype for research in methodological and disciplinary diversity. This corresponds to its self-conception and motivates its actions.

New and far-reaching synergies are achieved through the closer cooperation of the three departments of the SIM. For example, the Sound and Vision Experience Lab enables an ideal combination of research and mediation of perception-related work, which relates to objects in the collection and perpetuates the highly successful virtual concert hall in the museum's exhibition area. The lab puts the SIM in productive competition with the Parisian Institute de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique (IRCAM). Furthermore, the empirical research of the SIM, which continues to be strengthened, is in positive competition with the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics (Frankfurt am Main). Closer collaboration is planned with both institutions. International cooperations and projects will strengthen this focus as well as the reference to interpretation research, which has already been successfully established as a central research project at the SIM.

Objects of Music

Relating the abundance of collection objects to research projects offers a great opportunity for all departments. The range of music objects between materiality and immateriality is seen and used as a promising approach.

What is it specifically about? Music, as a fleeting art form, initially suggests little materiality – all the more remarkable that musical instruments, audio media, scores, manuscripts, publications, devices and rooms for acoustic measurement, playback devices, and recording studio technology are included; data from digitization projects and empirical research data are also currently being discussed regarding their material nature. Immaterial aspects include music-related practices such as the craft knowledge of instrument making and restoration research, performative culture, and our perception of music. This is where the SIM, with its comprehensive material stock, comes in. The discrepancy, which prevails based on the UNESCO conventions, on the one hand, to world heritage sites with a still strong European focus, on the other hand, the "intangible culture" with a universal claim under strong inclusion of the Global South, can be model-like overcome by the SIM for the music field and with regard to the diversity of objects. The SIM's stages in the museum invite the further development of a lively diversified music culture and the preservation of musical heritage. The range of these objects and the themes connected to them are the basis for organology, systematic as well as historical musicology. Their interdisciplinary connections to art history, media theory, and the history of science and technology are obvious. Cooperation with, for example, the UNESCO Chair for Transcultural Music Studies at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music Weimar will be expanded in the future, as will cooperation with the music-related collections of the Humboldt Forum.

The fascination of music objects can only be experienced and researched in this breadth at the SIM, highlighting the model character of music as an exchange of human action and perception. Music creates identity. Objects provide access for different audiences. Here, two thematic fields are crucial: "Music as Art" and "Music and Technology". These two can strengthen the profile, encourage cooperation, and initiate long-term as well as third-party funded projects. Cross-sectional topics of various kinds – theoretical, museum-related, music-historical, music-systematic – fit here and will structure the work in the future. A project will deal with the question of how forms of music knowledge have interacted with social, media, and technical developments since 1900, including popular music cultures. Another project will address the interaction of musical interpretation in Asia and Europe.

The connection of music to technology provides space for current debates about digitization and artificial intelligence. Concern about the threat of machines to humans is centuries-old and also very current. The SIM can serve as a place for scientific and critical engagement because music shows us how the mechanical has often productively entered art and life, but also where the boundaries lie. Thus, it can be discussed whether and how AI enriches the scientific work of music analysis or corpus development and also offers tools for mediating human-corporeal identification and unique sensory experience.

Precisely where the assignment to one of the two thematic fields shifts is where to start. An example will be the cataloging of the holdings of sound and program carriers of the SIM, which initially requires a lot of technical knowledge and equipment and produces data, but then also raises the question of the nature of the artwork – is it present in the recording, in the sound carrier, in the digital copy of the music? In a unique way, the SIM is able to bundle technical and historical expertise, collection, and mediation possibilities. Rich preparatory work can be built upon, supplemented by the research focus on materiality represented by the director.

Strategic Goals

The following strategic goals have been developed for the five-year period:

Digital Accessibility

Low-threshold participation is facilitated through enhanced digitization, which also ensures the preservation and accessibility of the collection. The aim is to make the digital space future-proof for exchange, education, preservation of cultural heritage, and expanded research opportunities. The most important publications of the SIM are made accessible to the public in accordance with the Open Science Declaration of the SPK. Furthermore, the SIM engages with social media channels and will intensify this effort as part of the tasks of the institute's assistants; it already offers symposia and selected events in hybrid formats. A projected media library will sustainably make diverse formats accessible, including podcasts, which are already available. The intensive cooperation with NFDI4Culture will also strengthen the SIM within the national network.

How much virtuality will be necessary in the Museum of Musical Instruments in the future and how the themes of the entire SIM will be presented in the museum will be the subject of an eighteen-month project that will accompany the strategic process with a focus on participation, sensory inclusion, and visitor research.

Knowledge Communication

The exchange of music-related knowledge will focus on national and international collaboration as well as offerings for the Berlin urban area in the coming years. This will strengthen and make tangible the connection between research and education. Building on participation in the EU COST network "EarlyMuse – a new ecosystem of early music studies" (https://www.cost.eu/actions/CA21161/), a project in the EU Creative Europe Programme will be developed with partners from France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Belgium to present music themes in public spaces in various European cities. The SIM aims to convey music and audiovisual experience through a pop-up atelier at the Kulturforum and implement participation. New places for the dissemination of musicology will be opened, generally accessible, and networked across Europe.

In Berlin's urban space, many places offer the opportunity to connect with the SIM. For example, the real locations of the already existing virtual topography of concert life, as well as places related to the collection, can be marked and connected to the SIM via an app. This way, content can be conveyed that further embeds the SIM in the city and offers participatory tools. Joint seminars with Berlin universities have the potential for content development.**


The tension between the music and institute history, focused on Berlin on one side and the possibilities of international connections on the other, plays a central role in the future research projects of the SIM. It expands its recognized and widely sought-after expertise in the areas of performance research and music theory as well as in instrument studies and sound recording research and develops international networks. Tasks that Curt Sachs, one of the key figures in the institute's history, set for the SIM, involve looking at the globality of musical instruments and his comprehensive understanding of music still under colonial perspectives. Emerging challenges will be addressed and further developed in collaboration with the music collections of the Humboldt Forum and representatives of Transcultural Music Studies for music research. The SIM's research focuses on instruments and performance in Europe can be globally expanded and placed in new contexts through these connections. One of the two scientific positions that will become vacant in the coming years due to retirement can be reoriented accordingly.

Achieving these goals opens up further opportunities and potentials for the subsequent period of about ten years. They will be characterized by a generational change and necessary, fundamental construction measures and will be used for location determination at the Kulturforum and in the musicological landscape and are already being considered.

Future Infrastructure

To better exploit the institute's potentials, third-party funded projects need to be developed. These can focus on research as well as on publications and exhibitions. Goals are the dynamic further development of existing and the shaping of new priorities, strengthening international cooperation, integrating global themes, as well as preserving and accessing the collection. They also enable the necessary increase in personnel.

The SIM is located in the center of Berlin. It is an important part of the Kulturforum and has diverse facilities: museum, event halls, library, image archive, recording studio, and acoustic measurement rooms. They serve contemplative work and research as well as concerts, symposia, and panel discussions; they enable research-relevant experiments as well as public-oriented tours of the collections. Since music plays an important role in various SPK institutions, it is almost predestined that the SIM, with its comprehensive expertise, should become the center of a music network within the SPK. This should be strongly promoted. At the same time, challenges regarding the building, energy savings, integration of green spaces, digital and specialized infrastructure, as well as storage and magazine rooms will shape part of the work over the next five years and should be well planned.

Quality Assurance

The SPK institutions want to be strong together and continue to develop in this alliance. Here, too, the SIM takes on an active role and works on future cross-sectional tasks such as sustainability, diversity, research, inclusion, and digitalization. Often, the focus on music is particularly suitable for the content development and communication of these themes, which will increasingly shape the work and enrich the alliance. The SIM also benefits from the alliance through close networking with the research and academic landscape, the wide range of training opportunities, personnel development, and networked funding projects that increase visibility and are enormously enriching in content. The different orientations of the SPK institutions offer great opportunities here.

The constructive and critical exchange with the scientific advisory board will continue to support and shape the implementation, differentiation, and further development of the strategy in the coming years. The broadly distributed expertise of its members guarantees the necessary diversity of perspectives and experiences. The already mentioned project for reflecting and implementing the virtual dissemination of the SIM's research work in the museum offers the starting point for joint strategic engagement and has the potential for thematic clarification.


Dr. Rebecca Wolf

Director of the Institute

+49 30 254 81 100


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