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The impact of acoustics

When the Arctic Philharmonic toured with works by Grieg, Sibelius and Petterson, the musicians and touring party experienced five completely different concert halls in the space of just as many days. This interesting journey inspired us to reflect about the sound effect and acoustics.  

How people perceive sound is the subject of much discussion. In one part of the concert hall you can hear everything in minute detail, while in another part of the same hall everything may be “mushy”. What some people regard as great acoustics, other may consider to be poor and unclear. We really got to experience how different acoustics can be during this tour. The Arctic Philharmonic played works by Grieg, Sibelius and Petterson in five different cities: Bodø, Tromsø, Luleå (Sweden), Oulu (Finland) and Vilnius (Lithuania).  

We really got to experience how different acoustics can be during this tour.

Cautious volume in Luleå

Many people have had a lot to say about the acoustic conditions at Kulturens Hus in Luleå. They have made a considerable effort with this in the main concert hall, where an electromechanical system was installed on the building’s completion in 2007. The system was manufactured by a company specialising in concert hall acoustics. - You can vary the reverberation from 1.3 seconds to 1.9 seconds by adjusting the panels in the walls and in the ceiling. In addition, you can adjust the acoustics by draping the walls, explained Programme Director Anna Jirstrand to the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

This did not help those of us who sat on the balcony at Kulturens Hus when the Arctic Philharmonic played there in November. It was as if someone had turned the volume switch down one notch too much. The undersigned chose to move down to a seat in the middle of the concert hall during the interval, and the second part of the concert was a much better experience. The musicians in the Arctic Philharmonic described playing there as strange and dry.  

Technical perfection 

Madetoja Concert Hall, the main hall of the venue in Oulu in Finland, seats an audience of up to 800. It’s a concert hall that gives a lot and a little at the same time. Many have described the acoustics as excellent. However, when the Arctic Philharmonic played the same repertoire here the following day, joyful experiences did not eventuate. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that during the past decade Oulu has become an international centre of competence for research on the development and production of electronic music, including everything that deals with sound. The University of Oulu are among the world leaders when it comes to this, and their concert hall bears traces of this. It's like listening to a technically perfect CD recording. Whether such “perfection” manages to give us a feeling of “soul” can certainly be discussed.  

Majestic impression 

There is no disputing the fact that the music presented at Lithuania’s national arena for classical music, the Lithuanian National Philharmonic Hall, has soul. The concert hall is in an historic building in the Old Town of Vilnius dating from 1902, which features columns and arches. It gives a majestic impression, which perhaps rubs off on the way we perceive the acoustics.

This historic hall offers an intimate concert experience. Every tone is crystal clear and slides into your ear along the arches and the beautiful chandeliers. Although tailormade for the music of both Grieg and Sibelius, which the Arctic Philharmonic played on this tour, such a certainly copes with the music of Petterson too.

It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop during the concerts and rousing ovations afterwards. That sums up the audiences throughout the tour, regardless of the acoustics.

Bodø acoustics and Tromsø acoustics 

Many a person has been impressed by what they have heard at Stormen Concert Hall in Bodø and their perception of the venue’s acoustics. You can sit on the top balcony and hear a tender soprano voice just as clearly as if you were sitting in the second row right in front of the stage. That is partly also the case for the main concert hall at KulturHuset in Tromsø. Many have been impressed by what they have heard from the stage, particularly when it’s not the philharmonic orchestra playing. As it’s a theatre, this venue is much better suited to smaller ensembles. It’s rare to hear great praise about the acoustics here.

– We as an orchestra as well as the audience that experiences us both see the need for a concert hall that is purpose-built for acoustic music, song and musical theatre. This is something that’s currently lacking in Tromsø,” said the CEO of the Arctic Philharmonic, Tor Lægreid, last year during the presentation of the draft plan of The House of Music (Musikkens Hus) in Tromsø.

This is up for discussion again, and the Tromsø City Council has taken a positive attitude to continuing to work for the realization of a new concert hall in Tromsø.           

Acoustics

  • Acoustics is the scientific study of sound. 
  • Sound is waves or, in other words, sound energy. 
  • We receive this energy, both literally and figuratively, when we hear music. 
  • The term acoustics is used in everyday conversation to describe the sound conditions in a room. 

Ancient acoustics

  • When the ancient Greeks built amphitheatres, the position of the stage in relation to the audience was methodically calculated. 
  • A wall was constructed behind the stage to capture the sound so the audience could clearly hear what was said.
  • Cavity resonators made of clay pots were used to regulate the acoustic image.
  • The technique of using hollow clay statues along the walls is used at Musikverein in Vienna, the venue of the famous annual New Year’s concert. Many regard this as one of the world’s best concert halls.

Did you know that...

  • Psychoacoustics is the scientific study of the perception of sound, and how people respond to sound.
  • Acoustics is also used for sound propagation under water, e.g. echo sound and sonar.
  • Electro acoustics deals with microphones, amplifiers and speakers.
  • Environmental acoustics mostly deals with outdoor sound.
  • In medicine, acoustics is used when describing stethoscopes and obstetric examinations, while ultrasound is used to warm up muscles and diagnose kidney stones.