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Can You Hear Me Now? Reverb Making a Difference

Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center

Lovers of classical music and jazz, musicians and composers, are acutely tuned in to the acoustics of a performance space. WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston looks at the acoustical demands of a concert hall.

Large performances spaces need to provide enjoyable listening experiences across many musical genres and forms of entertainment. That’s why varying the acoustics of a given environment is a threshold issue that makes a big difference. Acoustical engineer and inventor Niels Adelman-Larson is a graduate of the Technical University of Denmark, where he concentrated on acoustic technology. He’s also a Berklee College of Music-trained jazz drummer who has performed in concert halls throughout the world.

Now CEO of Flex Acoustics, Adelman-Larsen has developed a variable acoustic system for concert halls and music schools. He spoke with WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston about some basics of sound. 

Adelman-Larsen says the normal expectation is that since acoustics is a science there must be some strange-looking equation that tells why a particular hall’s acoustics should be this way or that. Not so, he says. Instead, although it might sound silly and incomplete, getting the acoustics right is as simple as saying: “because it sounds right for that type of music.” It’s important to remember that musical genres were developed in environments where they sounded good; otherwise, says Adelman-Larsen, the music would have been played someplace else.

Concert halls built for symphonic music typically have reflective surfaces that allow listeners seated anywhere to be enveloped in clear reverberated low sounds of cello and bass, along with snare drum and the high-frequency notes of flutes and violins. Orchestras and opera singers rely on the hall alone to carry their message. But a jazz or rock concert in the same venue using loudspeakers needs the sound toned down—to be reflected or reverberate less. And that’s why curtains, panels, and other devices are used to cut the reverberation time and absorb just the right measure of amplified music. 

Excerpts of Meridee Duddleston’s interview with Niels Adelman-Larsen about his background, concert hall acoustics, and some sound basics.