Theatre and acoustics consultancy Charcoalblue has carried out acoustic testing at the St George concert hall in Bristol with the results ‘re-writing the rulebook on acoustic design for new venues’.
The hall was originally built as a church in 1823 and designed by Sir Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum. The church would have been built to suit a congregation listening to the spoken word, but the clarity found during testing has been surprising. The acoustic testing comes in preparation for a £5.5m redevelopment ‘Building a Sound Future’ commencing in spring 2016.
Ian Stickland, team leader for Charcoalblue, said he and his colleagues were initially surprised by their acoustic measurements: “Looking at the objective results of our reverberation time measurements, without knowing which room it was, we would not have rated the results very highly. However, digging deeper, we find that the clarity and detail of sound that the hall provides trumps the traditional standards for reverberation.”
Byron Harrison, who leads Charcoalblue’s acoustics practice, continued: “The hall triumphs in other ways, aside from reverberation time. Musicians are able to explore the full range of dynamics in the hall. Listeners can pinpoint the location of a sound.
“The narrow dimensions of the Georgian building, its modest size, lack of soft furnishings (leather seat-covering rather than fabric), the well-proportioned balcony, and mix of smooth walls and finely textured plasterwork are all contributing factors to this unusually rare acoustic.”
Suzanne Rolt, CEO and director of St George’s commented: “The hall is a favourite venue for internationally acclaimed performers including cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, the OAE, pianist Mitsuko Uchida and classical guitarist John Williams. They have long praised the building’s ‘sublime’ acoustics. Now acoustic experts have confirmed that the building has unique qualities that give music a clarity that other concert venues struggle to achieve, putting it on a par with high profile locations such as London’s Wigmore Hall, Snape Maltings and the Sage in Gateshead.
“When the musicians perform to this quality our audiences enjoy a special, spine-tingling, experience. We always knew we had something unique in St George’s but it’s wonderful to have it confirmed by science.”
The upcoming redevelopment will see the building extended to include new facilities for audiences, visitors and performers. The project has been funded by Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund and a number of additional funders and supporters.