Out of Place: A HyperHistory of the Elusive Acoustics of Concert Hall Venues

Large multi-purpose halls became popular during the middle decades of the 20th century. Particularly in smaller communities with smaller budgets and fewer cultural events, multi-purpose rooms have filled an important need. Indeed, they are an economic necessity in many cities. The general concept is reasonable enough: a flexible space that can be adjusted to accommodate musical performance, dance, theater, and musical comedy. Inevitably, however, such spaces present problems.

Any room that is designed to serve music, dance, musical comedy, and the spoken word can require compromises that reduce the suitability of the space in question. With respect to dance, acoustics are obviously a lesser priority than stage size and sightlines, but generally speaking, the accoutrements and layout of a theater space are much better suited to dance than to music. Like staged drama, dance requires wing space for visual masking, and traditional ballet requires a flyloft for storage of scenery. The most crucial design difference for dance is the necessity of a sprung wooden floor. Dancers cannot work on concrete, which is present in some theatres because high loads require the strength of concrete.

In the past twenty years, acousticians, theater consultants and architects have worked on technical solutions that mitigate some of the inherent problems with multi-purpose spaces. Multi-purpose rooms are not ideal for concert music, but more of them are built. They provide opportunities for acousticians to experiment and learn. Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, which opened in 1998, is an example of a successful modern multi-purpose room.

From Out of Place: A HyperHistory of the Elusive Acoustics of Concert Hall Venues
By Laurie Shulman
© 2002 NewMusicBox