Arts Talk | Lecture Sidenotes for March and April
March｜Check in! Follow Organist on a Trip
April｜Building for Music
Text by Stella TSAI
Your auditory experience has been crafted!
From pipe organs to concert halls, architecture creates an auditory feast
Two lectures focused on sound explore its invisible and omnipresent nature and how architecture can be designed to create the perfect auditory experience for the audience. The lecture "Check in! Follow the Organist on a Journey" features a conversation between organist LIU Hsin-hung and Muzik Air's deputy editor Eric LIEN, discussing pipe organs from around the world.
Travel the world with the pipe organ
In the past, due to the union of church and state, European churches functioned as district offices with large capacities and diverse functions, where residents gathered for events like births, deaths, marriages, and other celebrations. They served as social centers for locals, with markets even set up in the surrounding areas. In churches, pipe organs were heavily used before the invention of microphones, producing powerful and grand music with a small number of performers, achieving the effect of a full orchestra.
Early pipe organs required hydraulics and human power. While one player sat in front of the console, a dozen more operated the bellows and stops, and assisted with page-turning. With the Industrial Revolution and the birth of the motor, mechanical bellows became power-driven. Today, a single performer can play a pipe organ with the help of computers. Throughout history, pipe organ construction has been closely linked to architectural design, making each organ unique. Organists must read the specifications before performing on each unit. For a tour of various styles and types of pipe organs, Europe, where churches are abundant, is the ideal destination.
Pipe organs are typically installed in two styles of venues: shoebox and vineyard. The former can be found in renowned churches like Notre Dame in Paris and Cologne Cathedral, while the latter is more common in concert halls, such as the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Lotte Concert Hall in Seoul, and Weiwuying Concert Hall in Kaohsiung. Weiwuying houses Asia's largest pipe organ and is one of the few concert halls with two pipe organs, making it a popular destination for music enthusiasts since its opening. Weiwuying Concert Hall also hosts a monthly "Explore the Pipe Organ" event, inviting the public to gain a deeper understanding of the diverse performance styles of the pipe organ from various perspectives.
Architectural acoustics create the perfect auditory feast
The charm of the pipe organ lies not only in its mechanical music but also in the immersive sound experience created by the accompanying space. Unlike large cathedrals, which create long-lasting reverberation through large spaces and walls with low sound absorption, many American theaters built after World War II have fan-shaped halls, which open 30 degrees toward both sides of the stage, reducing the distance between the audience and the stage. However, the sound from the stage disperses more easily, inadvertently resulting in the front rows being the worst sounding yet most expensive area, where only the direct sound from the front stage can be heard. This phenomenon is commonly known as the "acoustic dead zone." Interestingly, due to the 45-degree upward seating tiers in these theaters, sound waves travel upward in a hemispherical shape, and the sound is filtered as it travels upward, providing the uppermost and cheapest seats with the purest, warmest, and most beautiful sound quality, as if the orchestra is playing right in front of them.
The goal of architectural acoustics is to create an excellent sound experience in the space. In the lecture “Building for Music,” LIAO Chien-hui, author of "Building for Music: Albert Xu and His Works of Architecture Design," shares her experience working closely with architectural acoustician Albert XU in exploring concert hall architecture.
The earliest study on architectural acoustics can be traced back to Vitruvius' The Ten Books on Architecture, which discusses the relationship between architecture and acoustics, as well as the principles and techniques of acoustic construction in open-air theaters. The human ear has an auditory persistence ranging from 0.005 seconds to 0.03 seconds, and the final result that the ears perceive depends on not only the direct sound but also the collision, reflection, and absorption of sound in the space. However, what constitutes a "good musical experience?" The construction of Weiwuying's venues incorporates the concept of architectural acoustics. The concert hall proved to be the most challenging. Weiwuying took musicians' professional advice and sought to achieve the best listening experience by maintaining the reverberation time between 2.1 (mid-frequency) and 2.52 seconds (low-frequency) and carefully managing noise control. As a result, the design of the concert hall's side walls, ceiling height, materials, seating, and stage all fall within the scope of architectural acoustics, aiming to create the perfect listening environment. This allows us, the audience, to enjoy the beautiful musical universe through the combined effect of space and performance.