New study: Box-shaped halls give more emotional impact than others

Researchers at Aalto University in Finland have reached the conclusion that traditional concert halls deliver a much greater emotional residue than modern variants, such as the much-vaunted ‘vineyard’ shape.

Professors Jukka Pätynen and Tapio Lokki focussed their study on six international halls.

Vienna came top of the table, Cologne bottom.

Id Hall Shape V (3) N G (dB) EDT (s)
VM Vienna Musikverein Rect. 15 000 1680 3.7 3.0
AC Amsterdam Concertgebouw Rect. 18 780 2040 2.7 2.5
BK Berlin Konzerthaus Rect. 15 000 1575 2.2 2.2
BP Berlin Philharmonie Vineyard 21 000 2220 1.9 1.9
HM Helsinki Music Centre Vineyard 24 000 1700 1.9 2.1
CP Cologne Philharmonie Fan 19 000a 2000 1.9 1.7

 

Professor Lokki tells Slipped Disc: ‘Rectangles render more powerful crescendos (i.e. more dynamics) and also the perceived spaciousness is a function of played dynamics. In a non-rectangular hall you are “looking at the music” and when a crescendo occurs you just here it in front of you. In contrast in great rectangles (Musikverein, Konzerthouse Berlin, Concertgebouw) during the crescendo the sound image widens and finally envelops you. I’ll bet the you have been in Musikverein and perceived this effect. And for us, this is obvious that it evokes more emotions as dynamics is one of the key issue in the interpretation of music.’

Read the full study here (in English).

china musikverein
won, again

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  • The Musikverein is a unique art masterpiece, but I’ve been in Cologne, it’s a very nice hall based on the Berliner Philharmonie. There are areas where you can feel separated from the performance, but I’ve enjoyed the design quite a bit.

  • But the study fails to point out that the Berliner Philharmonie is one of the most dynamic sensitive halls around, one could hear details in a Harnancourt performance with exquisite clarity. I never found that in the Staatskapelle or a similar room like the box shaped Kennedy Center concert hall, where I’ve played often and there are virtually no dynamics.

  • What a mish-mash of imprecise English from Professor Lokki. You’d expect a Professor to express himself (or get himself translated into) something more explicit. Phrases such as “more powerful crescendos” or “the perceived spaciousness is a function of played dynamics” are absolutely meaningless, no matter how many times you read them.

    Years ago in Acoustics lessons we were taught that the “Shoe-box” shape was the one that worked. This before anyone dreamed up Vineyards or Fans. When you walk into the Musikverein or Wigmore Hall you are entering a shoe-box, whose dimensions – the ratio of side walls to end walls and platform width – are set at known optimum values, calculated before computers or even slide-rules were invented. They work for a known maximum audience size in that particular auditorium. Increase the audience out of this ratio, or bulge the walls in different directions, and you have to call in the experts to tinker about for years, as in the UK with the Royal Festival Hall or the Barbican. Before the latest round of acoustical re-vamping at the Festival Hall, Simon Rattle used to say that after five minutes rehearsing in there “you lose the will to live.”

    Today we’ve got professorial bamboozlement about “powerful crescendos”, as though crescendos are the vital element in the enjoyment of live classical music.

    All the rest is to do with the absorbency of the hall’s fabric and of people filling the seats, and the reflective surfaces. These factors can be fiddled about with for years, such as the famous “mushrooms” in the Royal Albert Hall roof. Or they can be got right first go, with the Berlin Konzerthouse, or the ingenious adjustable wooden acoustic panels in Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

    What do the Musikverein, the Concertgebouw. the Konzerthouse or the Wigmore tell us? “Come in, I’m a shoe-box. When they built me they knew it would sound wonderful.”

    • I’m pretty sure professor Lokki’s English is much better than your Finnish ever will be. Try to be bit less condescending and look at the subject and findings at hand. In the end he is the expert and you are the amateur in this subject, even though your native English might be better than his secondary English.
      Your comments to the facts out you as an interested amateur anyway.

      • The “interested amateur” has spent 50 years making broadcasts and recordings for radio and television from concert halls in the UK, Europe and America, and collaborated with acoustic technicians and sound supervisors in major companies to try and achieve the best possible audio experience at each location.

        This is not a competition as to who speaks better secondary English and who speaks better secondary Finnish. An expert is welcome to give us his wisdom on Slipped Disc. If it is in incoherent, it is liable to be labelled as being incoherent. All he has to do is have it translated carefully first, and use words to describe the live concert-hall experience which actually have meaning. Otherwise all his obvious enthusiasm is compromised.

        If you had not been so busy firing off assumptions that you were writing to an amateur who needed “outing”, you might have seen that my whole original contribution was no more and no less than to “look at the subject and findings at hand.” Nor did I hide behind
        “Anon”.

        • We must be talking about different posts then. Your first post starts with an ad hominem attack, followed by condescending and generalizing, “nothing new here, we knew it all along”, further ridiculing some quite well established findings about dynamic range in relation to acoustics, finished with some – concerning this particular subject – almost irrelevant tidbits about absorbtion. You might be an experienced veteran, but it certainly wasn’t obvious from your first post, respective rant.

    • It is true that a hall influences sound, but the ensembles playing are also a critical aspect:; does the powerful crescendo cone from the Chicago symphony, Vienna, etc.? Certain orchestra Cary their halls sound with them, I’ve heard Amsterdam and Leipzig carry their unique sounds into non- shoebox halls and sound the same, others, such as Vienna playing in Salzburg or Berlin in Amsedam, lose their their characteristic. All under their music directors.

      Another study attempting to consolidate so many variables into simple conclusions supporting an old idea.

      Avery Fisher Hall, anyone?

    • Dear Rodney,
      Could you, please, read the original article. We used exactly the same excitation signal (including a crescendo) in all halls. And indeed in some halls the crescendo has more dynamics and sound also widens as it gets louder. You can not hear this effect with normal stereo reproduction, you need real spatial sound reproduction system for that (we have 24ch reproduction).

      Why that happens althought an impulse response (describing the acoustics) is linear by definition? Indeed it is linear, but the excitation (sound of an orchestra) is not linear and we all know that our spatial hearing is highly non-linear. In other words, only the medium is linear, source and receiver are noin-linear. Therefore, when an orchestra makes a crescendo, more and more harmonics are excited (e.g. timbre of a trumpet sound changes radically). If the hall conveys all these high frequencies to our ears we hear the full power of a crescendo. In halls with strong lateral reflections we receive these high frequencies from the direct sound, but also from the lateral reflections. Human head (due to head’s geometry) amplifies high frequencies the most for these lateral reflections. All these issues together is the reason for higher “impact” that rectangular halls provide. We have explained all this in a PNAS article published in 2014. The current study reports the listening test results + psychophysiological measurements. All results support the theory that we have explained earlier.

      Yours,
      Tapio Lokki

      • [i]It has always been thought that the orchestras just play differently, but our results prove that the acoustics has also a role in compressing or expanding the dynamics.[/i]

        Well, Tapio, that’s not such a sensational insight. Anybody who has ever played music or been to a concert knows that the acoustics of the venue – obviously – influence the perception of sound and also how dynamically it unfolds in the room.
        What you are telling us here sounds like saying “scientific measurements have now proven that if you turn on the heat, the air in a room gets warmer”.

        And it’s simply not true that there is that direct and reliably repeatable correlation between how dynamically sound can unfold over a wide range of dynamics in “traditional shoebox” vs other types of concert halls. That’s so complex and there are so many factors which play into that that you can “document” pretty much whatever you want with slightly different test setups and scenarios. But anybody who has been to and heard a wide range of performances in a number of these different types of concert halls can tell you that some “traditional” ones allow the sound to unfold quite dynamically and some simply don’t. And the same goes for “unconventionally” shaped concert halls.

        And I think that’s why some people here are very puzzled about this study and how you present the results here..

  • When Dallas was planning a new concert hall the committee in charge took a tour of the most admired concert halls in Europe and the US and found that, yes, the box (more specifically, “the shoebox”), surpassed other recent ideas for best sound.

    It’s possible to do the box badly but we got an excellent concert hall in Dallas.

    • Indeed, Dallas’ symphony center sounds fantastic. But I need a lot of imagination to see its shoebox shape, even though I remember great acoustician Russel Johnson explain how he modeled it after Vienna’s Musikverein.

    • Interesting. I’ve heard some musician complaints about mid-range suckout in the Dallas Hall. Similar issues also with the other Russell Johnson designed Verizon hall in Philadelphia prior to some stage modifications.

      • I’ve played on that stage a couple of times, sat on the choral risers immediately behind it many times and been in the audience many times.

        Indeed, the total effect IS different and better out in the regular audience seats. But there is no trouble on stage hearing across the ensemble and you do want the paying crowd to get the best of it.

  • Symphonic music, grew up, as it were, in shoebox halls, from the halls of the nobility(Haydn’s Esterhazy) through the Old Gewandhaus through to the Vienna Musikverein and Boston’s Symphony hall. So of course the core orchestral repertory ends up optimized for rectangular halls. Any substantial deviation from that is acoustically risky. I’ve never heard the Berlin Philharmonie live, but if it indeed deserves its reputation, it is an acoustical anomaly that unfortunately provided inspiration for other modern non-shoebox halls that have been deservedly criticized as failures (Gasteig in Munich, for one).

    • It depends where you sit in the Philharmonie. Try sitting in block K (behind the orchestra), and I doubt you would say it deserves its reputation.

      • It’s obvious that when you sit behind the orchestra, the balances are shifted and some are sort of reversed, like you hear the horns more directly than you normally would. On the other hand, the other brass instruments point to other other way and you do hear the woodwinds a little better than you often do from the front, so sitting behind the orchestra – or even on the choir benches on the podium itself, directly behind the brass and percussion – obviously gives you a different perspective from the “traditional” one, but that doesn’t change anything about the great acoustic qualities of the hall, it actually adds an interesting dimension to it, and the way the audience surrounds the musicians also makes for a more involved setting than many halls where the orchestra is up on a stage separated from the audience. And if you don’t like the different sonic perspective from the rear or the sides – then just don’t sit there!

        • Is there any hall where sitting behind a full orchestra is acoustically advantageous? I seriously doubt it.

        • “that doesn’t change anything about the great acoustic qualities of the hall … And if you don’t like the different sonic perspective from the rear or the sides – then just don’t sit there!”

          What an odd comment, as though the rear or the sides are not part of the hall and therefore the poorer acoustic qualities there do not count for the overall acoustic qualities of the hall.

          Isn’t that precisely one of the essential points about the superiority of a shoebox, that the acoustic differential between the best seats and the worst seats is diminished in a shoebox but accentuated in a vineyard?

          There is also seating behind the orchestra at the Concertgebouw, and the point is, the sound there would be superior to the sound at the Berlin Philharmonie.

          • No, it isn’t. It’s about the same.
            The acoustics of any concert hall are different in different parts of the hall, that should be pretty obvious, so judging it as a whole as if there was only kind of sound quality in the entire hall is obviously nonsensical.
            Also, the acoustics aren’t “poor” at all on the sides or behind the orchestra in the Philharmonie. The balance is just different from what it is if you sit in the front of the orchestra. But on the sides, not as much as you might think because the sound travels quite freely throughout the hall. That difference in balance can actually be very interesting. Just like sitting on the choir benches right behind the orchestra obviously gives you a very different aural perspective, and it certainly isn’t the “ideal” balance. But it is very interesting and an experience of a different kind. Sitting right behind the percussion and the timpani in when they play Le Sacre, for instance, is quite a trip.

        • I agree with your perspective. I have been in most of the different sections of the vineyard Disney Hall and like the Choral Bench directly behind the orchestra the most (when I could get seats there). Orchestra View just behind it is good as well. I’ve enjoyed ‘Rite’ and several other hefty symphonic works from that vantage. It is no optimal for violin concertos but not bad, either.

    • In the couple of times I’ve been in the Philharmonie, I thought that it’s not the acoustic marvel some folks make it out to be. There are problems with acoustic slapback from the brass when playing really loud. Still prefer the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Vienna Musikverein, or Boston Symphony Hall.

  • In among all these prestigious international venues I’m hoping that someone will mention Swansea’s recently refurbished Brangwyn Hall with its sprung floor and painted panels. Visually and acoustically pleasing, it was used for many years by Chandos for recording sessions with WNO and the BBCNOW. If you heard the Bruckner 8 relay from there last July with Sondergaard conducting you’ll know what I mean.

  • The Philharmonie de Paris is another vineyard failure.

    Unless you are sitting directly in front of it, there is no sound coming at you at all. There are entire sections all over the hall where the orchestra sounds like it’s playing in another room, so distant and muffled is the sound.

    The resident Orchestre de Paris is underwhelming in that hall. I only heard 2 orchestras playing at the Philharmonie that managed to produce a sound with any weight – Berlin and the Concertgebouw.

    And even for the Berlin, in Beethoven’s 9th, from where I sat in upper left balcony, the orchestra sound was far off and weak, and only the chorus came through clearly, but that was because the chorus sang from the elevated back section normally reserved for seating.

    What a waste of money.

    I wish everyone would go back to Salle Pleyel, dry but at least audible anywhere you sit!

  • Yes, everyone knows shoebox halls (at least the good ones) tend to be the best. The Musikverein, Concertgebouw and Symphony Hall are amazing halls. But Avery Fisher (new Geffen) Hall is also a shoebox and nobody claims it to be great, and Carnegie is not. Prague’s Smetana Hall is also a shoebox and kind of average, lovely as it is.

    I’ve been in the Philharmonie once and loved it; the sound was fine but I liked it even more for how it feels everyone is hanging right over the orchestra. One problem with shoeboxes is that a lot of the seats are quite far from the stage, many of them have terrible sightlines, and those under the balcony tend to have poor sound.

  • Halls like Berlin, with stage in the middle, were never built for good acoustics, but for better visuals and a different social interaction. Why not admit it? That was the architect’s concept. Of course the acoustics would have to be compromised under these circumstances.
    The very own managing director of the Philharmonie at its opening in 1963, Wolfgang Stresemann, called the acoustics “absolutely dreadful”. („sehr, sehr schlecht – hundmiserabel schlecht“.
    The acoustician Lothar Cremer tried to convince the architect, to not follow through with his new concept of putting the stage in the middle, but Sharoun said it is not negotiable.
    Cremer stated, that any concert with singers “will always be a daring experiment in this hall”, because half of the audience can not hear them well.

    Karajan also determined to try something new and wanted to experiment with filming. The new layout allowed great camera angels that would not have been possible in a more classical layout.
    It’s a “Zeitgeist” thing, they wanted to do something different.
    Doesn’t mean it should be imitated again an again. Acoustically the concept is proven to be compromised.
    It was courageous to build such a hall in the early 1960s, but it is silly to still copycat the concept in the 21st century.

    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berliner_Philharmonie

    • The funny thing is that the fairly detailed discussion of the acoustics in the Philharmonie, the pros and cons, the challenges they faced with the hall since its opening and the solutions they have found etc in the Wikipedia article you link to contradict much of what you say here. And that there were some problems at the beginning is well know, but that was over half a century ago. What does it matter today what Stresemann said right after the opening? He commented on the whole subject and how he also thought the acoustics got greatly improved in some of his memoirs about his time with the BPhO and Karajan.

      The Wiki article does point to one particularly important factor, and that is that the sound unfolds quite freely in the hall, with great clarity and little discoloration, and that why it works so well in most areas of the hall. I have heard hundreds of concerts there from solo recitals and chamber music to very large orchestral and choral performances, and overall, the acoustics work very well for most situations and even for most areas in the hall. There are some genres in which the seats on the sides and behind the podium are obviously less than ideal, but in most musical situations, it works really well.
      It’s just a different kind of podium-to-hall, performer-to-audience kind of relationship from the traditional “they up there on the podium and we down here in the audience” relationship most shoebox-style halls offer. You can still get the more “conventional” perspective if you sit in the blocks in front of the podium, too, so no big deal really.

      BTW, the podium in the Philharmonie is not actually “in the middle” as you keep saying here, so I am wondering if you have ever actually been to the hall.

      • Not at all. There was extensive fine tuning to improve the acoustics. But the intrinsic acoustic problem of such a visually conceived layout has not changed a bit.
        You can’t place a singer in the middle (sic! look at the position of a solo singer in the floor plan) of a hall and then expect him/her to be heard and diction comprehended by most of the audience. It is actually pure idiocy to even try, but here we are…

        I’m not commenting on “the sound unfolds quite freely in the hall” because it sounds confused.

        You seem heavily biased and blind to the facts. The Philharmonie is a great and visually impressive architecture and allows for good concert experience, but a great acoustic it is NOT.

        You can’t have everything. You improve the visuals of the concert experience, you run into problems acoustically. You find a horse too high, you get a pony. Doesn’t run that fast though, no matter how much you tell the press what a champion your pony is. It’s real life.

        • “You seem heavily biased and blind to the facts” is what people say when they run out of actual arguments. I have been to the hall hundreds of times and I have also played in it many times, so I know the hall and its pluses and minuses very well. That’s no being biased, that’s being very well informed. I have also been to many other concert halls and opera houses all over Europe and North America, so I have a very clear idea of how it compares to many other famous and not so famous halls of various shapes and acoustical properties. Nobody says it is “ideal” for every type of ensemble configuration but it works much better overall than you seem to want to realize because it is actually you who is much too fixated on the visuals and the layout.
          It’s a different kind of relationship between podium and audience, and that’s what you don’t get. That in itself doesn’t say much about its acoustical properties, about how the sound travels in the room, and that is what you keep confusing here.
          And if you don’t like the kind of aural and visual perspectives that the seats on the sides and behind the orchestra offer, then you can simply sit in front of the podium, and there you get a “conventional” sound image which is very well balanced, with great clarity and minimal discoloration all the way up to the last seats. And one other feature of the acoustics which is very good is that there is no “lid” on the sound. That means if you have very large ensembles, the sound can still unfold in the room without getting dynamically compressed as it does in many halls which reach a sort of dynamic limit at some point and the sound becomes just compressed and unpleasantly loud where in the Philharmonie, you are engulfed in it more and more. That is one of the most outstanding features of the acoustics there. Maybe you will get a chance some day to experience that. Your comments here strongly suggest that *if* you have actually been to the hall (which I am still not convinced of), you certainly haven’t heard many concerts there. That makes *you* biased and blind to the facts.

        • We will have to agree to disagree. I have been to the Philharmonie several times, and also know most of the other “name” halls well enough myself to have an informed opinion.
          In Philharmonie the seating area where the sound is properly balanced is relatively small, maybe a third of the seats…
          And I hear exactly that lack of dynamic excitement that the study concludes. The clarity is there (if you are not too far in the back) but the envelopment and strength is inferior to halls like Amsterdam, Boston or Vienna. Vienna in a big Mahler symphony can sound “stuffed”, too small for the sheer mass if sound, but emotionally these halls touch me more, give more goosbumps.
          What I like in Berlin is the clarity and intimacy in the soft parts.
          And what I hate about Berlin is that too many of the paying audience are shortchanged for hearing solists well, especially those who project forward, singers, cello, piano…
          Then I always ponder about the “Schildbuerger” and how they built a concert hall where you can’t hear the soloists.

          • Yes, please “ponder” some more. I already got that for you this is all about displaying how super super smart you are in contrast to the silly silly people who conceived and built this hall, and how much you like to celebrate yourself as the genius who finally came along after all those decades and revealed the “hoax”.
            But your assessment is still very simplistic and obviously based on little actual listening experience in the hall. Some of your earlier comments raised serious doubts about whether you have ever actually been there, but I am prepared to give you the benefit of doubt to a small degree. You keep repeating the same basic points over and over and it is simply not true that one “can not hear the soloists” from most or many of the seats.
            It’s also not just 1/3 of the seats which offer a “conventional” balance, it’s at least 2/3 or more. That comment once again raises some doubts about how well you actually know the space. And nobody gets forced to sit on the sides or behind the podium. I have occasionally chosen seats there over seats in the front because I was interested in the different sonic perspectives offered there. It’s also very interesting to sit in the blocks to the left and right of the orchestra where you can look down directly into it and hear the somewhat unblended, but enormously detailed sound you get there.
            That also reminds us that the idea that in any concert hall, all the seats can have “ideal” sound is nonsensical anyway. That applies to traditional as well as non-traditional layouts.
            You are also wrong about Boston Symphony Hall. By sheer coincidence, I have lived in Boston for the past 8 years, so I have been to that hall many times, too. It has that rather nice rounded off, warm sound which is however lacking a little in bass and the highs are audibly attenuated, too (which is what makes that “warm” sound) and while the sound travels well through the hall, it is definitely not a very “dynamic” hall.
            When the orchestra plays louder, much of the sound just goes over the heads of the majority of the audience on the main floor, and the rear balconies are quite far away from the stage. Of course they also have the usual problems there with seats under the rear or side balconies, and the side balconies themselves – a typical feature of shoebox halls – don’t face the stage, so the listeners sit at a steep angle towards it and have to turn towards the source of the sound.
            Whereas in “vineyard” shaped halls like the Philharmonie, every seat naturally faces the stage and there are no seats under overhanging balconies. So every hall has its pluses and minuses, some better and some worse seats.

  • Not to worry, at the rate classical music audience is shrinking, these vineyards can easily be adapted for the Cirque du Soleil.

  • Interesting image of a concert hall with a golden ceiling and chandeliers. What is it called and where is it?

  • What a rather meaningless study! Hasn’t it been generally acknowledged for at least the last 40 years and more that the shoebox shape is the one which not only works best but is the closest to the ideal for listening to music? Other recent examples of stunning shoebox-shaped venues include the Takemitsu Concert Hall in the Tokyo Opera City, the Malaysian Philharmonic’s glorious hall in Kuala Lumpur and the larger National Concert Hall in Taipei.

    But isn’t it when the basic volume becomes over large – as with the David Geffen Hall – that the general acoustic properties of a shoebox space become far more complex? Not only that, the extensive distance from the stage then starts to create its own problems through, as Macrov noted above, quirks under (albeit) slim overhanging balconies and a sense almost of isolation from the performers.

    So surely there are maximum dimensions beyond which the shoebox is preferable? I can understand why architects and acousticians want to attempt different solutions – provided the acoustician has precedence over the design of the interior space – but their very costly results remain in place for 50 or more years, good or bad. I happened to be in Hong Kong when the then new Concert Hall opened in 1989. It was modeled on the oddly oval shape of the hall in Christchurch which, allegedly, had good acoustics. The same acoustician, Professor Marshall, was engaged. The result? Pretty much a total disaster which with constant tinkering has seemingly just got worse.

    So how much leeway do you give an architect and acoustician in the design of a new hall? And no matter how impressive the modeling results, how can the funders be sure they are getting more than a third-rate concert space? Now that would be a more useful study, surely!

  • The acoustics in the much vaunted halls in Vienna and Amsterdam don’t enthrall and impress me as much as the sound radiating from inside the newer, less conventional Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

    The rounded walls (as well as there being a greater number of such surfaces interspersed among the seats) and curvaceous ceilings of semi-vineyard Disney are far more conducive to activating sound waves — to pushing them out and about — than what the flat ceiling and conventional four walls of the shoebox Musikverein and the shoebox Concertgebouw do for the sonics in those two respective environments.

    • I’m afraid that I just can’t agree with you at all regarding Disney. Now I will admit that nobody has the same set of ears, or will be looking for the same things. But in my own estimation, as far as concert halls are concerned, Disney is about as acoustically brittle and chilly as you’re going to find. There is just no bloom to the sound. Even worse, when the orchestra cuts off, there is no “hang time” and the note is effectively dead on arrival. The brass — especially the trumpets — often get buried by the strings. I’ve also spoken to more than a few musicians (both within the Los Angeles Philharmonic and without) who quietly grind their teeth about not being able to hear one another on stage. It’s better than Dorothy Chandler of course, but that is really faint praise.

      Needless to say, Symphony Hall in Boston, Musikverein, and the Concertgebouw aren’t just in a different league. They’re a whole different sport.

      • The observations on the quality of sound in Disney Concert Hall from a wide variety of people in the field of music or who are merely discerning, experienced listeners, including my own perception of good acoustics, run counter to yours or who you claim to have spoken with. However, there will be differences of opinion even pertaining to something as seemingly non-ambiguous as scientific properties—or what Tapio Lokki has done research on. For example, when Symphony Hall and the Concertgebouw first opened, at least 2 music critics in published reviews expressed disappointment with those room’s acoustics.

        In general, I do raise an eyebrow when a person trots out the same old war horses built over 100 years ago (ie, one concert hall in the US, two in Europe) as the Holy Grail since it does make me wonder whether he or she is analogous to those people who point out and insist on the infallibility of the Bible or Koran.

      • The problem with Disney Hall is that the sound is very clear overall and it is easily carried throughout the hall which actually makes it a great hall for chamber music and smaller ensembles but it also “maxes out” quite easily when things get louder. I remember one time I heard Symphonie fantastique there, I sat in the middle block a little over to the left and the offstage oboe in the 3rd movement was placed on the other side of the hall – but it sounded as if it was only a few few feet away. Same with solo instruments on the stage. But when things get loud, the sound gets rather “compressed” and “muddy”. Definitely not a “bad” hall but that lack of dynamic “headroom” is a problem.

      • Notwithstanding occasional complaints by a few musicians about difficulties they are apparently having with hearing clearly from one end of the stage to the other in WDCH, saying that “when the orchestra cuts off, there is no ‘hang time’ and the note is effectively dead on arrival” in that hall pretty much invalidates everything else you are saying and makes me think that you really need to have your ears examined.

  • Dear Rodney (et al.),
    If possible, please, read the original article here: http://scitation.aip.org/content/asa/journal/jasa/139/3/10.1121/1.4944038
    It explains that we used exactly the same music (including a crescendo) in each studied hall (and seat). And in some halls the crescendo is indeed perceived more powerful due to acoustics. In addition, in halls with strong lateral reflections the sound image also widens when orchestra plays louder. This can not be heard with traditional stereo recording/reproduction, but we used special spatial sound recording and reproduction techniques to play samples to subjects.

    Why is dynamics more powerful in some halls, as the impulse response (i.e. the acoustics of a hall) is linear? Acoustics is indeed linear, but the sound of musical instruments and human spatial hearing are both non-linear. Traditional research in room acoustics ignores these facts. Let me try to explain.

    Musical instruments excite relatively much more high frequencies in fortissimo than in pianissimo. For example, the timbre of a trumpet sound is quite different in pp and in ff because much more harmonics are excited in ff. If a hall conveys these high frequencies well from a stage to the audience, listeners hear large dynamics. This happens when there are strong lateral reflections supporting the direct sound (shoebox halls). These lateral reflections reach the listener’s ears from the side. It is well known that for such directions high frequencies are pronounced in our hearing system due to the geometry of a head. Thus the combination of spectral changes in music (between pp and ff) and the features of human hearing is optimal when a hall has strong lateral reflections. If strong early reflections are from the ceiling (often the case in non-rectangular hall), human head does not amplify the important high frequencies so much.

    All in all, it is not trivial to explain everything briefly here. The compete theory is explained in our PNAS article (2014, http://www.pnas.org/content/111/12/4409.full.pdf) or in more “popular science” article, which is found here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/epn/2015102.

    Our recent article reports a study, where listeners rated halls according the “impact” that they perceived. In addition, we measured their psychophysiological reactions while passively listening the same music excerpt in each hall. Both results ordered the halls more or less in the same order. It has always been thought that the orchestras just play differently, but our results prove that the acoustics has also a role in compressing or expanding the dynamics.

    Yours,
    Tapio Lokki

    • I have read the studies and generally agree with the results. Would you agree, though, that there has to be an overall volume of the box and its relative dimensions in excess of which the shape starts and continues to lose its special qualities? Is that not one of the reasons why the David Geffen Hall fails to work acoustically as well as the others cited above?

    • Dear Tapio ~

      Thanks for your message of 25 March. I delayed replying so I could follow what other commentators were saying first. It’s been a very interesting thread. Michael Schaffer has summed it up: good and not so good in every hall, nowhere’s perfect.

      You asked me to read the original survey properly. I hadn’t studied it in detail when I made my initial posting. I wrote in because I’d long ago made made up my mind that shoebox was the best shape overall.

      It was the wording in your summary paragraph (after “Professor Locki tells Slipped Disc….”) that made me join in. I was ticked off by “Anon”. He voiced the alarming misconception that absorption is an “almost irrelevant tidbit.” But he’s since made useful comments – including Karajan’s films at the Philharmonie (subsequently continued in K’s purpose-built TV studio). I helped film him at the Philharmonie, also Bernstein’s Beethoven Symphonies at the Musikverein, Harnoncourt at the Concertgebouw, and Celibidache in Bruckner 6th at the non-shoebox Gasteig (acoustically average, but TV loves the space it allows the cameras). Another shoebox I enjoyed was the Berlin Schauspielhaus (Celiidache again, Bruckner 7th… both concerts are on YouTube). Working in many different and sometimes famous spaces has given me the chance to compare acoustics, without claiming to be a regular concert-goer at them in the way readers have written interestingly about their favourite halls.

      I want to address your hot topic, The Crescendo: the human reaction to it, and how (according to your survey) it can define the qualities of a concert hall. (Interested readers should put your survey onscreen, and a score of Beethoven’s 7th would come in handy if they have one).

      No-one on SD has said a word about the music used in your tests. This surprises me. There’s enough technical wizardry behind your survey to get Tim Peake safely down from the International Space Station (only joking). I’ve always been wary about seeing a virtuoso display of scientific gizmos applied to quantifying human reaction to musical stimuli. Historically, the field is littered with sledgehammers and cracked nuts.

      You’ve staked a claim that shoeboxes are best, which confirms my own long-held belief and tallies I think with most readers. My problem is that, after all your efforts, you have not actually proven it. Your results depend on 8 bars of Beethoven’s 7th played to your subjects as a “crescendo sample”. They are central to your investigation. No other music is mentioned in your plethora of technical data.

      “The music selected for the tests was … first movement, bars 11 – 18, duration 28 secs.” For a start, the in-point and out-points are crude. For your subjects to have an inner sense of how a crescendo generates auditory excitement, they needed a proper lead-in time in quiet music and an end-point well beyond the climax in the new, loud dynamic. The whole shape then has some chance of registering on your charts as “the sound image widens and finally envelops you” (your words, Slipped Disc intro). Bar 11 is one bar too late. (In fact you could have started right at the beginning of the movement, which is marked “f”; we don’t reach “ff” till “a tonic degree with a full orchestra in fortissimo”, bar 15).

      Your subjects were taking part in an experiment in classical music. We don’t expect the majority to have a sophisticated harmonic awareness, why should they. But when your tests are packed with minute attention to algorithms, filters etc, you have a duty to devote the same fastidiousness to what Beethoven is giving them as the first sound they experience after the 2-second fade-in. Nor have you properly eliminated what you correctly predicted as “the startling effect due to a sudden start of sound”. You have substituted the startling effect of a fade-in point that’s musically disorienting.

      This bad entry-point colours the whole succeeding extract as experienced in the human head, whether the subjects are harmonically aware or not. You say: “Although some subjects could find the selected excerpt nondescript, different acoustics might still render the music more engaging.” This is a dangerous bit of special pleading and it had me worried.

      Why is Bar 11 a clumsy in-point? “The selected passage begins softly with alternating woodwind chords and ascending major scales.” Not in Bar 11 it doesn’t. It begins in Bar 10. Coming in at 11 is off-kilter to the ear because it’s the answering phrase to the first ascending scales in the dominant, which we’ve missed. All this is going to lead to the crashing “final envelopment” at Bar 15, in the tonic.

      Some readers will have lost me by now and that’s OK. I’m pursuing what I consider are quite serious flaws in your “Music Signal”. Has it been given the same attention as the 33 sound sources, the 24 channels and the rest of the gear? Is it fit for purpose?

      As to the fade-out, it’s at Bar 18, which is 5 bars into an 8-bar sequence in the new enveloping “ff” dynamic. Again, an off-kilter decision. Why not complete the crescendo experience by letting it run the full 8 bars into Bar 23 (Letter A) where the music reaches a hard-won plateau in the new key (C major) with a lovely “dolce” oboe solo? I’d have been interested to see how Figure 4 would have measured the whole drama going on in the human head: the whole harmonic and dynamic journey from stamping scales to solo oboe. Not just the big bang at Bar 15. The big bang has consequences as to what happens after it reverberates in the hall. You missed the chance to measure it.

      There’s a greater flaw than any of this. You have nailed your colours to the mast on the basis that six concert halls can give up their acoustic secrets when we algorithmically pump an orchestral crescendo into them and measure “skin conductance within a selected time window.” So what we need is a full-blown, cast-iron crescendo. I look at your Music Signal. It’s 28 seconds long and it goes from “p” to “ff”. But the crescendo isn’t 28 seconds long and it isn’t over 8 bars. The quiet music you played was Bars 11 – 13, the violin scales and woodwind. Now Beethoven takes charge. He marks “cresc” in Bar 14 and the music climaxes after this single bar. It takes only FOUR SECONDS to come to the boil.

      A complex survey predicated on audience reaction to an orchestrated crescendo has in fact not been based on a real linear crescendo at all, but on a four-second shift of dynamic from “p” to “ff”. Even the hologram in Figure 4 shows this. Because your in-point was only 12 seconds before the “cresc” mark, you are saying this was sufficient for the subjects to establish the incoming dynamic, then get stimulated over a four-second increase in loudness driven by the strings (the woodwind get covered), then register a big bang with added trumpets and timp.

      Even Haydn took longer than four seconds to galvanise his dozing audience with a big bang in the “Surprise” Symphony. He prepared it with 16 bars of very quiet music.

      I don’t understand why you did not go for a full-blown, real Beethoven crescendo a few pages further on. It starts “pp”at Bar 391 and drives towards the most glorious climax in the entire movement, “ff” at Bar 423 … a blaze of unbridled “enveloping.” The final A major chord echoes thrillingly to the far reaches of any concert hall. What would all that look like in Figure 4?

      Or to Signor Crescendo himself, Rossini. Any of his overtures has a long crescendo ending in a big bang. He always does it twice, in the exposition and the recap. These are skilfully orchestrated crescendos and the way they build up in a concert hall might have made your skin-sensitive graphs properly useful.

      With regards ….. Rodney

      • Interesting comments, Rodney! I was in the audience in the Bruckner 7 concert with Celibidache and the BPhO, all those many moons ago. What role did you play in those video productions? BTW, I still think those concert films made with Bernstein in Vienna in the 70s and 80s are exemplary for the way I think concerts should be filmed. I have never warmed to the highly artificial, massively backlit aesthetic of the Karajan films made in the same period. And I find the way individual sections are sometimes set up in a single line and in a way that one can hardly see who the musicians were both aesthetically questionable and in a way, almost offensive to the musicians. Those were after all the individuals who actually produced the fabled “Karajan sound”, all highly competent musicians who *were* the Berliner Philharmoniker at the time, not just anonymous operators of instruments, and many of them have passed away in the meantime. These films do not do preserve the memory of their work well. But that’s a different subject, I guess…
        I find the points you made here about the selection of the test material and its limited and questionable value for this kind of test very valid. I also rather doubt that a “24-channel virtual orchestra” is the right tool to really conduct a test like this. The way a real orchestra produces sound and sends it into the hall, with all the different radiation patterns of the various instruments, is much more complex than that, the way their overtones mix and amplify each other in a real performance with real musicians playing real orchestras is a very different thing. And then there is such a huge variety of textures and soundscapes that can be produced by orchestras which aren’t taken into account at all here. This applies particularly to works played by very large orchestras and the question I addressed multiple times of how much the acoustics in various halls allow that kind of sound to “unfold” and how much they dampen or compress them. There are halls which allow sound to travel quite freely through the room but which totally “max out” when things get louder, so they can severely limit the dynamic and therefore also the potential emotional responses of the listeners.
        I also wonder how much (if anything) of value the more or less random emotional responses and “electrodermal activity” of test subjects on different days and in different environments (not just in the acoustical sense) really tell us.

          • What a surprise to hear you were there to see Celibidache in Bruckner 7th with the BPO!

            I was outside in the TV control van directing coverage for Sony Classical. We taped the two performances they gave on consecutive nights – 31st March and 1st April 1992 – as you say, many moons ago. It was an emotional occasion, being Celi’s first concert with the BPO for 37 years. He’d had to wait till Karajan died. The vengeful superconductor had banned him from coming anywhere near the BPO. Celi had been passed over for the principal conductorship years earlier. No love lost there, but at least this occasion brought some healing. By then his age meant he had to conduct sitting down. The venue was the shoebox Schauspielhaus because the Philharmonie was being refurbished.

            The Celibidache Bruckner 6th was with the Munich Philharmonic at their home, the Gasteig hall, in October 1991. Again, two performances. As with the 7th, a few small segments from Take 2 were edited into Take 1, but basically there was very little editing. Someone has uploaded both these concerts onto YouTube. Sony were just getting into High Definition in 1991 and Symphony No. 6 had to be edited at their H/Q in Tokyo. The hi-def video editing suite resembled something out of Star Trek, with a cinema-sized screen that rose out of the floor – luxury then unmatched in the UK.

            To your question: the role I played was directing the cameras “live” to a shooting-script (called Video Director) – a job I’d fallen in love with in 1970 at the BBC and which has continued ever since, now as freelance. I was being exact when I wrote that I “helped” with Karajan at the Philharmonie, and Bernstein at the Musikverein. On those I was assistant to the TV director, music supremo Humphrey Burton, who nurtured my career. (Now 85, he’s furiously finishing writing his memoirs). On all other projects I’ve been Director/Producer.

            What I remember about the Karajan event (Beethoven 9th live from the Philharmonie, New Year’s Day 1978) is how the schedule had him standing on the podium an hour before transmission while the lighting supervisor angled his lamps to best effect. I don’t know of any other maestro personally ordering this ritual, certainly not Bernstein, but in Berlin they were used to it. It ties in with your comments about his highly-contrived films for Unitel – made under his total control, to the extent of fixing cardboard audience cut-outs in the balcony at the Philharmonie to disguise the empty seats on camera, if it wasn’t a public concert. A lot has been said about the look of the all-male extravaganzas he later filmed with fearsome precision in his own studio, with their back-lit phalanxes of players (including the word “fascistic”).

            Your words “individual sections set up in a single line” are spot-on. It was a device pioneered by K for Unitel, whereby small units of the orchestra (the flutes and oboes, or a row of horns, or four violins) were brought back days after the concert specially for artfully-lit close-ups, miming to a playback of the relevant music. These segments were then spliced in. Unitel were proud of this technique and carried it forward into the Bernstein films. A music student would be brought in to beat time out-of-shot. He went home and told everybody he’d conducted the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverien.

            The best story about these close-up sessions is when HvK decided to enforce a ban on facial hair (bald players were given wigs before the cameras rolled). His much-admired principal flute, James Galway, would have to shave his neat beard off. Jimmy tells how he stunned the maestro by resigning. “That’s it then Herbie, I’m off.” The irony being that the close-ups were so tight you only saw the instruments and the fingers. Players might just as well have been wearing Christmas hats and Santa Claus beards. However, the films do provide a rich legacy from a particular time and place.

            None of the above is about the thread’s original topic, but I’ve said enough about Professor Tokki’s test and I want him to have future success in his very sincere explorations.

            I’ll sign off with Sir Thomas Beecham at the Royal Albert Hall. It has insoluble audio problems for most sections of the audience, being shaped like a bullring. But it is beloved, and known worldwide for the BBC Proms where they’ve let me direct TV relays since 1970, when the interior still wore much of its Victorian drabness. It only became the Proms’ home after a WW2 fire bomb gutted the original venue, the Queen’s Hall. That was a true shoebox, and quite reverberant to judge from 78s made there.

            Asked what he thought about the Albert Hall (in the days before “mushrooms” were installed in the cavernous roof to dampen the echo), Sir Thomas replied: “The music comes at you from the front. Then it comes at you from one side. Then from the other side. It’s a good place for a young British composer. He’s written a new piece and he gets it heard more than once.”

            The main thing is that readers continue to enjoy live music whatever the venue and wherever they choose to sit!

            Best wishes ~ RG

  • “…. while the lighting supervisor angled his lamps to best effect ….”

    I meant: to achieve the most precise and flattering lighting on Karajan’s face as seen by the camera onstage dedicated to taking shots of him. A glimpse of one of his top priorities when conducting on film or TV.

  • There are good and bad shoebox halls as well as good and bad vineyard halls. Overall shape is not everything. There are many other variables – e.g. sizes (including vertical), materials, configurational details – that are important; psychologically speaking, visual impressions play a role too.

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