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The Trombone ForumCreation and PerformanceMusical Miscellany(Moderators: JP, BGuttman) Natural reverb in Greek ampitheaters
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robcat2075

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« on: Oct 17, 2017, 10:34AM »

Perhaps you've heard about the acoustics in ancient Greek theaters.

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Dating from the fourth century BC, and seating up to 14,000 spectators, the theatre [at Epidaurus] has long been admired for its sound quality, with claims that audiences are able to hear a pin drop, or a match being struck, at any seat in the house. Even the British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler raved about the theatre, declaring in clipped tones in a 1958 broadcast: “Even a stage whisper could be picked up by the furthest spectator with the cheapest ticket.”

But, turns out, the claims don't hold up to modern testing.

Whisper it – Greek theatre's legendary acoustics are a myth

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While the sound of a coin being dropped or paper being torn would be noticeable across the whole theatre, it could only recognisably be heard as a coin or paper halfway up the seating. For a match striking, the situation was worse, while a whisper would only be intelligible to those in the front seats.

Further work, based on the loudspeakers playing voices, revealed that only when actors spoke up loudly would their words be intelligible in the seats furthest from the orchestra.

Perhaps part of the confusion comes from a misunderstanding of the term "stage whisper" which is really shouting in a hoarse voice.

Then there is this...
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Fazenda believes the reverence for the theatre’s acoustics come, at least in part, from a popular belief that our ancestors had knowledge that has since been lost in time. “When we then come across these beautiful structures from the Greek and Roman eras, which were basically the very first clear acoustic design spaces, we kind of revert back to that idea that they had this wonderful knowledge and they were somehow in touch with something magical that allowed them to do it in that way,” he said.
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Robert Holmén

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« Reply #1 on: Oct 17, 2017, 10:43AM »

I remember reading somewhere that the masks (upon which the logos for Drama are based) were actually a sort of megaphone for the actors wearing them.  That also would indicate that the acoustics of the large open theaters were not as good as claimed.
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robcat2075

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« Reply #2 on: Oct 17, 2017, 01:34PM »

I remember reading somewhere that the masks (upon which the logos for Drama are based) were actually a sort of megaphone for the actors wearing them.  That also would indicate that the acoustics of the large open theaters were not as good as claimed.

I've read that too (and it is briefly noted in the article).

The commentaries I've read are not of one opinion about whether the megaphone effect was real. I'd be curious to hear a demonstration.
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Robert Holmén

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« Reply #3 on: Oct 17, 2017, 05:19PM »

I don't think it's so much "revering the ancients" as it is "we know how to do this the right way so why the %#$% don't we?!?!?!"

Sorry, that was a bit angry.

Most performance spaces are horrible acoustically. Everything made now is designed to have sound reinforcement so acoustics go out the window in the design.

Our purpose built jazz lab, which is a wonderful venue to perform in when you're used to it, is a pain to run sound in because of the weird low-mid sound trap in the middle of the room and the sound board being located upstairs. We have great people who make it work but it's tough. Playing-wise it's not bad provided the amplified instruments are keeping things reasonable.

Perform in a european cathedral and you can understand how some brass teachers preach "effortless" playing. It's actually possible in many older purpose-built theatres. The math has been around since at least Pythagorus.

Many so-called performance venues I play are just dead. Sound guys are fighting an uphill battle. Musicians are blasting their brains out. Sometimes I play in these "hallowed" performance venues that are just a nightmare. No natural feedback in some places, so much echo in others that a quick arpeggio comes back as a chord.

I wonder if the problem is sometimes architects assume they can engineer acoustic spaces because they have a basic understanding of the math. It's not that simple. Hire the acoustical engineer. That's why they exist...
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« Reply #4 on: Oct 17, 2017, 06:02PM »

I suspect it's only in the last 40 years that there have been enough examples of good concert halls (plus the easy international mobility to study them) for people to discern the common elements that make them good.

And then they are only infrequently built to test out these ideas.


That aside, I think the "reverence" factor had a lot to do with the ampitheater myth. It was probably tempting to think the ancients were always wise and beautiful when the recent debacle of WWII made clear that current humans are not.
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Robert Holmén

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« Reply #5 on: Oct 17, 2017, 06:41PM »

Yet it's clear the Greeks worked hard on them.  Jug Helmholtz resonators buried in the bleachers. Line of sight and ear for everyone.  Circular feedback to stage. Of all the crappy outdoor places I am asked to do gigs I'd bet an amphitheater would be the best.
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« Reply #6 on: Oct 17, 2017, 11:04PM »

I suspect it's only in the last 40 years that there have been enough examples of good concert halls (plus the easy international mobility to study them) for people to discern the common elements that make them good.

C'mon Rob - you need to get out of Dallas more.  The 3 best concert halls in the world were built in 1870, 1900 (Boston Symphony Hall - designed by a Harvard acoustician!), and 1888.  Their architects knew what they were doing. 

http://www.businessinsider.com/best-concert-halls-in-the-world-2016-10/

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« Reply #7 on: Oct 18, 2017, 04:51AM »

C'mon Rob - you need to get out of Dallas more.  The 3 best concert halls in the world were built in 1870, 1900 (Boston Symphony Hall - designed by a Harvard acoustician!), and 1888.  Their architects knew what they were doing. 

http://www.businessinsider.com/best-concert-halls-in-the-world-2016-10/

No, the acoustician knew what he was doing :D
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« Reply #8 on: Oct 18, 2017, 05:04AM »

Boston is pretty good. That Suntory Hall thoh'....
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robcat2075

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« Reply #9 on: Oct 18, 2017, 07:36AM »

C'mon Rob - you need to get out of Dallas more.  The 3 best concert halls in the world were built in 1870, 1900 (Boston Symphony Hall - designed by a Harvard acoustician!), and 1888.  Their architects knew what they were doing. 

http://www.businessinsider.com/best-concert-halls-in-the-world-2016-10/

All of three in the whole world in 1900. That's not many.
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« Reply #10 on: Oct 18, 2017, 07:47AM »

All of three in the whole world in 1900. That's not many.

There are quite a few more.

Note that there have been some concert halls built lately that have been pretty bad acoustically.  I'm thinking about the Philharmonic Hall in New York (gone through a couple of name changes as large donors have paid to have renovations to improve the acoustics; mostly without success).

One interesting point: the purpose of a hall can have a big import.  Lincoln Center in New York had the Metropolitan Opera designed for singing and the New York State Theater for ballet.  Both halls have had both opera companies and ballet companies perform.  In the Metropolitan you can hear the clomping of the dancers shoes on the stage floor (it's quite a distraction).  On the other hand, in the New York State Theater you don't hear ballet shoes and you also don't hear the singers very well.
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« Reply #11 on: Oct 22, 2017, 04:58AM »

I was in the Greco-Roman amphitheater in Ostia Antica this past summer. It is a remarkably well-preserved site.

There was a production of Mamma Mia happening there. They had it wired for sound all around the theater, with monitors at the front.  There’s not way you could hear a whisper in there.

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