Monday, April 29, 2013

Anechoic Chamber

Back in the 60's I had the opportunity to go into an anechoic chamber, a room especially constructed to absorb nearly all sound waves. There's a picture of one here. I found it an uncanny and unsettling experience. Something about getting zero auditory feedback from the environment made me weirdly anxious and I made a hasty exit.

I went looking for that picture not long after I went down to Durham last month to hear a performance of Timepiece, a wind quintet I wrote some time ago. The performance was at a very nice senior living community. The auditorium where the performance took place was especially engineered for amplified sound, and part of that included very sound absorbent walls, floor and ceiling. 

I've never needed a microphone to speak in a room that size, but I did in this one. Because there was zero reverberation, without the microphone my voice just sort of disappeared. With the microphone my voice was much louder than usual, but with all the sound absorption there was no boominess or feedback - and ideal setup for a population with more than average hearing loss.

The wind quintet was not amplified. The horn and oboe were OK with that, but the bassoon, flute and clarinet had to work to be heard. And since there was absolutely no reverberation there was no blending of the timbres of the instruments - I could hear each one individually at all times, but never heard all the blending of the timbres, which to me is the soul of the piece. What really got to me was that when the quintet was warming up in another room with much better acoustics, they got the blends wonderfully well.

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