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Think: Acoustics At The Meyerson
by Stephen Becker 4 Sep 2014

Krys Boyd interviewed Jerome Weeks and author Laurie Shulman today. Here’s an excerpt and a link to the podcast.

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Laurie Shulman

What’s author Laurie Shulman’s favorite seat in the house? Visit artandseek.org/Meyerson to find out. Photo: Dane Walters

  • Listen to the excerpt from Think that aired on KERA FM this evening.

[audio:http://artandseek.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/thinkpullSept4.mp3]

  • Tomorrow morning, as part of Art&Seek’s Secrets of the Meyerson series, Jerome Weeks explains how its designers borrowed the most successful design elements from the world’s greatest concert halls.
  • Listen to the podcast of Think.
  • Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Meyerson at ArtandSeek.org/Meyerson.

 

When building a concert hall, architects have to consider how their structural choices are going to affect the sound. To mark the 25th anniversary of the Meyerson Symphony Center, Krys Boyd talked today on Think to the author of a book on the Meyerson about how the buildings’ designers factored acoustics into their plans.

Laurie Shulman says that there are three elements that combine to form the sound of a hall. The first is its shape. After studying concert halls around the world, the designers of the Meyerson chose a shoebox configuration.

“It is a common misperception when listening to a symphony orchestra that you are hearing sound coming directly at you from the stage – for example if you are sitting at rear-center orchestra,” she says. “You are actually hearing sound coming at you from the sides, reflected down from the ceiling, reflected up from the floor.”

With the shape locked in, the designers had to decide how big to make the hall. Shulman says that more seats could actually fit in the Meyerson, but that would have been bad for the sound.

The final decision concerns materials. Hard surfaces like wood or marble provide better sound reflection. Carpet tends to deaden sound.

“They thought very carefully about every single material on the seats, on the sides on the ceiling and on the floor, and, of course, on the stage itself,” she says.

All of those tiny decisions, when added together, give the Meyerson what acousticians call “audible tail.”

“That sense of the sound just hovering in the air,” she says. “Not an echo, so much as reverberence.”

That’s the kind of detail that makes a good hall great.

 

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  • Jim Davis

    Acoustics at the Meyerson are superior to only those at Music Hall at Fair Park. Bass Hall in FW, Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Kimmel Center and even the original Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco, plus many many more, are all so much more sonically alive spaces.

  • Jim Davis

    Acoustics at the Meyerson are superior to only those at Music Hall at Fair Park. Bass Hall in FW, Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Kimmel Center and even the original Academy of Music in Philadelphia, Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco, plus many many more, are all so much more sonically alive spaces.

  • JeromeWeeks

    I would have to seriously disagree with you about the Kimmel Center – unless, that is, you’ve heard a concert there in the last year and the sound had been significantly improved. Much like Avery Fisher Hall in New York, they’ve spent millions trying to ‘correct’ the sound quality that, when the hall opened more than a decade ago, was almost universally panned.

    This is from a 2007 story about the latest acoustician hired to improve things: ” ‘It needs help,’ Kirkegaard said. ‘The building, the orchestra, the city, the donors, the future generations of listeners all deserve something better than what’s there in acoustic terms. There’s a weakness that should not be the case for a major orchestra in an important hall.’” [http://bit.ly/1uD4NoJ]

    And this is from a 2011 story about extensive improvements STILL being done on the hall: “Acoustics are still undergoing improvements. Philadelphia Orchestra players on one side of Verizon Hall’s stage say they can’t hear what’s being played on the other; this, plus studies by acousticians finding a lack of overall presence of sound in the audience, has compelled the
    Kimmel to undertake another round of corrective construction this summer.” [http://bit.ly/1lF1ehY]

    As for the other halls mentioned, the following is a 2003 study of 58 concert halls – which combines objective data with subjective interviews with conductors, musicians and “well-traveled music aficionados.” In Table II, the Meyerson is ranked 11th in the world. Bass Hall doesn’t appear (it opened in 1998), neither does the Kimmel (2001) nor SF’s Masonic (1958). Chicago’s Orchestra Hall is #23. Admittedly, there is a fair degree of subjectivity involved – one person’s ‘dry’ hall is another person’s ideal of crisp clarity. But the study involves far more input than simple reputation or a single opinion. [http://bit.ly/1u6Js8V]

  • JeromeWeeks

    I would have to seriously disagree with you about the Kimmel Center – unless, that is, you’ve heard a concert there in the last year and the sound had been significantly improved. Much like Avery Fisher Hall in New York, they’ve spent millions trying to ‘correct’ the sound quality that, when the hall opened more than a decade ago, was almost universally panned.

    This is from a 2007 story about the latest acoustician hired to improve things: ” ‘It needs help,’ Kirkegaard said. ‘The building, the orchestra, the city, the donors, the future generations of listeners all deserve something better than what’s there in acoustic terms. There’s a weakness
    that should not be the case for a major orchestra in an important hall.'” [http://bit.ly/1uD4NoJ]

    And this is from a 2011 story about extensive improvements STILL being done on the hall: “Acoustics are still undergoing improvements. Philadelphia Orchestra players on one side of Verizon Hall’s stage say they can’t hear what’s being played on the other; this, plus studies by acousticians finding a lack of overall presence of sound in the audience, has compelled the
    Kimmel to undertake another round of corrective construction this summer.” [http://bit.ly/1lF1ehY]

    As for the other halls mentioned, the following is a 2003 study of 58 concert halls – which combines objective data with subjective interviews with conductors, musicians and “well-traveled music aficionados.” In Table II, the Meyerson is ranked 11th in the world. Bass Hall doesn’t appear (it opened in 1998), neither does the Kimmel (2001) nor SF’s Masonic (1958). Chicago’s Orchestra Hall is #23. Admittedly, there is a fair degree of subjectivity involved – one person’s ‘dry’ hall is another person’s ideal of crisp clarity. But the study involves far more input than simple reputation or a single opinion. [http://bit.ly/1u6Js8V]