Halls for Music Performance: Two Decades of Experience 1962-1982

Richard H. Talaske, Ewart A. Wetherill, William J. Cavanaugh, Editors

Published in 1982


The table of contents consists of a list of the eighty halls covered in the book. Halls are located in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden and the United States.

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The past two decades have seen a remarkable growth in the number and the technical quality of facilities devoted to the performing arts. Despite the omnipresence of home entertainment systems and the widespread availability of relatively inexpensive music listening systems of high quality, there has been a substantial increase in the number of facilities offering the traditional face-to-face interaction between performer and audience.

These facilities have been built under the auspices of a wide variety of institutions. In addition to investment by governments at federal, state and municipal levels, we in America have seen excellent facilities sponsored by private universities and secondary schools-some with community participation--by churches and by private citizen groups. As a barometer of cultural maturity, these facilities continue to demonstrate an encouraging trend in the performing arts, a trend that accelerated in the years from 1962 to 1982.

Nor have the advances been purely in terms of numbers of facilities built. The past two decades have witnessed the acceptance and consolidation of new standards of quality and technical capabilities. To be sure, some of these advances have been stimulated by increasingly high construction and maintenance costs. However, many others are due to significant advances in the state of the art in all aspects of performing arts and building technologies; environmental controls, lighting, stage design and engineering, projection, recording and amplification have all played roles in the rapid development of contemporary facilities.

In some less glamorous aspects of acoustics, several notable advances have become everyday standards. With more sophisticated techniques for control of noise and vibration in air conditioning design, the combination of physical comfort and quiet is becoming routine, even for very large halls. A quiet ambient level remains the prime requisite for satisfactory hearing conditions in any halls, and especially in those for music performance.

In room acoustics, a profound philosophical change has taken place. No longer is the acoustician merely a technical assistant to the building designer. The traditional criteria of visual space and architectural expression are no longer the sole governing constraints. In their place is a body of criteria--auditory, visual and physical--that can be arranged to achieve a best overall fit or to emphasize a particular opportunity for fresh and exciting architectural expression as demonstrated by the outstanding work of some architects and their collaborating design teams. Many of these are displayed in this volume.

The acoustical advances have been accelerated in part by trends in contemporary music, but perhaps even more by advances in the ways of evaluating existing halls. Data acquisition and analysis, acoustical modeling, advanced computer techniques and electronic synthesis of hall sounds have enabled designers to identify specific parameters and to study them in detail well in advance of construction.

In the construction itself, the availability of sophisticated machinery and control systems has made possible instant push-button control of acoustical characteristics. While the term "multi-purpose" is still often taken to imply second-best, a sizable number of first-rate facilities can be rapidly changed to accommodate a variety of events from music to drama by the use of such devices as movable walls or ceilings, demountable orchestra shells and adjustable sound absorption. It is easily possible to shift the emphasis from Romantic to Baroque during a brief intermission and, three or four hours later, to have the stage fully rigged for drama or opera.

The examples presented in this volume cover the full range of music hall capabilities and vary in size from under 500 seats to over 3000 seats. Some bear the distinctive hallmark of the "traditional" European hall, some are eclectic--with room in several traditions--while others are totally new in both concept and execution. Some are renovations or recycling of spaces originally designed for another period or for other uses. We can only speculate on what direction the design of future halls for music performance may take, what parameters will be considered most important by later generations. However, we believe that by collecting and disseminating information from so many diverse sources we can add to the general understanding of all who work in this rather specialized discipline, and of others involved in the creation of spaces for listening to music, and so perhaps contribute tangibly to these further changes.

Only after the preparation for the poster session was under way did we realize how little we really knew about the work being done, and of the people doing this work, outside our own chiefly English-speaking domain within the Acoustical Society of America. Our range of vision has already been significantly broadened by the experience. In particular, we are grateful for the enthusiastic and generous contributions of our colleagues in France, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Still, we sincerely hope that this modest beginning will elicit an even wider response, stimulating and facilitating communication with other acousticians as yet unknown to us. Perhaps one hopes, it will even set the stage for the publication of more comprehensive and representative subsequent editions before many years have elapsed.

We look forward to receiving many comments from readers and users of this volume with the hope that our future efforts can be even more useful.

Richard H. Talaske
Ewart A. Wetherill
William J. Cavanaugh

July 1982

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