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- presented by Prof Trevor Cox

Concert Hall Acoustics: Art and Science



Dr Bridget Shield. Bridget is Professor in Acoustics at South Bank University in London.

Prof Trevor Cox. Trevor Cox is Professor in Acoustic Engineering at the The Acoustics Research Centre at Salford University.

Sound Intermedia

In collaboration with the Royal Festival Hall.

Who, What, Why?

The exhibition aimed to explain principles of acoustic science, through their application to concert hall design. The exhibition consisted of interactive multimedia, scale models, audio and visual displays. Bridget and Trevor produced the contents of the exhibition, with Sound Intermedia translating parts into interactive multimedia and audio demonstrations. Catherine Sutton of the Performing Arts Education Section of the Royal Festival Hall managed the project. It was used as the basis of an education programme for children at local primary and secondary schools. After the Royal Festival Hall, the exhibition went to Aldeburgh to form the opening exhibition of the new education centre at the Snape Maltings.  It remained at Snape for three months, being displayed during the Aldeburgh Festival. It is planned to be shown in the North-East in the Autumn of 2001.

Through their work in teaching and acoustic research, Bridget and Trevor believe that acoustics is an ideal subject for bridging the Arts/Science divide. One of the fascinating and exciting things about Acoustics is that it impinges on so many aspects of our lives and interacts with so many other disciplines. In the case of concert halls, the strong links between acoustics and architecture, and between acoustics and music are important, and therefore concert hall acoustics provides an ideal opportunity to show how important science can be to the arts, and in particular to raise public awareness of acoustic science. The project follows on from work carried out 5 years ago as part of national Science, Engineering and Technology week (SET95), where gave pre-concert talks at venues around the UK, and wrote a booklet on acoustics aimed at concert goers.

A centrepiece of the exhibition was the stunning 1:20 scale model used by Kirkegaard Associates in their current work on the Royal Festival Hall refurbishment. Other features of the exhibition included architectural scale models of the Bridgewater Hall, a large panel displaying many examples of diffusers and absorbers, and a large spring unit similar to those used to isolate concert halls.  In addition to these exhibits there are many panels explaining in words and pictures different aspects of concert hall acoustics. For example, how scale models are used to test halls, how acoustic science influences the shape of halls; and how the acoustics of buildings have influenced music through the ages.

The exhibition shows that room acoustic science is a relatively young discipline, being about 100 years old.   Before then concert halls were built following precedent, where the designs of good hall were copied.  During the 20th century acoustic science took an increasingly important role in ensuring that new halls are built to provide consistently good listening conditions for audiences.  The Royal Festival Hall, which is 50 years old next year, was a landmark hall on this journey of discovery. It was the first concert hall in the world to be built using the application of scientific principles, modern acoustic theory and innovative experimental work, so it is particularly appropriate that the first venue for the exhibition. Included in the exhibition is archive material relating to the original acoustic design of the hall, including photographs of the original acoustic testing of the hall and original reverberation time calculations by Hope Bagenal of reverberation times. 

The exhibition was made possible because of funding through the Royal Society and British Association Millenium Awards Scheme, financed by the Millenium Commission. The aim of the scheme and the exhibition is to encourage people’s understanding of science, engineering and technology in the community. Many of the photographs and exhibits were generously provided by many friends and colleagues in the acoustics world, and Trevor and Bridget are enormously grateful for their support and goodwill, and for the many helpful suggestions provided by professional colleagues. The curators were particularly pleased to note that, not only was the exhibition listed in Time Out, but it was chosen as one of the top 5 attractions in London, along with the Millennium Dome! 


Kirkegaard and Associates
Richard Cowell and Arup Acoustics
Hans-Georg Wagner and GERB Engineering
Andre (Silvertown UK Ltd)
Mike Rowe and Barry Jenkins South Bank University
Institute of Acoustics
Sandy Brown Associates
Building Research Establishment
David Trevor-Jones
Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
St Davids Hall Cardiff
Royal Albert Hall
Mike Barron, University of Bath
Helen Keegan and Claire Lomax, University of Salford
Aldeburgh Productions
Peter D’Antonio, Brian Moule and RPG Diffusor Systems Inc.
Neil Grant, Harris Grant Associates
Paul Ellis, M Network Ltd.

Back to concert hall exhibition homepage

(c) Bridget Shield, Trevor Cox 1999/2000. The material maybe re-used provided a link to the website is provided and a clear acknowledgement to the curators given.