Friday, September 25, 2009

Koerner Hall and Sound "Perfection"

Koerner Hall and Sound “Perfection”

On Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet, there was a clip the new Koerner Hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music in downtown Toronto. Incredible planning went into building this hall starting with hiring Acoustician and founder of Sound Space Design Robert Essert. Essert worked with Performance Consultant Anne Minor to create a space that would be optimal for audience and performers. Creating a design for peak sound and comfort, but mostly sound, was the primary concern. Essert was interviewed on Daily Planet and his goal was for the audience is to have the clearest sound that allows the audience to be “inside the sound,” enveloping them. He wanted the performing musicians to feel that they had a blank canvas to work from without any rumbles or hissing, to have the quietest background noise, at the threshold of hearing.

Great detail went into the planning – considerations such as: pouring 2 layers of concrete and adding thick rubber pads at the base of the space to create a “giant shock absorber,” the length of reverberation and how an audience reduces that length, many exposed walls to reflect sound back and forth into an “infinite series of reflections,” broad gradual curves to spread the bass sounds, smaller curves to spread the higher sounds, rippling gypsum tiles to scatter the mid range sounds, slight texture in the wood to bend sound, possible interference of air conditioning and even light bulb noise was taken into consideration. Essert then tested the sound in multiple ways such as using an audience of colleagues and staff. In another testing environment, without an audience, he used a dodecahedron speaker system and special mics situated strategically throughout the space … a simulation to test the theories used in the planning and creation of this space. Complete with groovy graphics, this interview showed a snippet of the graphical representation of the sound test simulation. It looked intriguing and perhaps worth a more in-depth look into this technology.

This piece that I found on the Discovery Channel’s website was perfectly timed because I was re-reading the opening chapter of Robert Jourdain’s book Music, the Brain and Ecstasy. I am wowed by the intricacies of how our brains and bodies work, the ear in this case - the outer, middle, and especially the inner ear are amazing creations. I liked how Jourdain says on page 12, “our inner ears are the concert halls of our nervous systems, where music fans out to an eager audience of thousands of neurons.” He goes on to talk about the “organ of Corti” in the inner ear – comprised of neurons (or hair cells) that are sensitive to different frequencies of sound, only 1/250th of an inch, 14,000 receptor cells, and 32,000 nerve fibers. I am going to do more reading on this and write more on another day, and I am definitely going to make a trip to see a concert at Koerner Hall soon … and then another hall just to compare. I wonder what my ear will hear and how all my senses will be alighted.