Academic journal article Psychomusicology

A Sound Level Distribution Model for Symphony Orchestras: Possibilities and Limitations

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

A Sound Level Distribution Model for Symphony Orchestras: Possibilities and Limitations

Article excerpt

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Sound levels and loudness play an important role in the performance of and listening to music (Beranek, 2011). The conductor and musicians in an orchestra search for the appropriate sound level balance between different instruments. This good balance is not only important for the listeners in the audience area but also crucial for the musicians themselves to be able play together easily (Gade, 1989), for instance, to control timing (Nowicki, Prinz, Grosjean, Repp, & Keller, 2013). For more information about ensemble playing and stage acoustics, an extensive literature review can be found in Gade (2011).

Besides ensemble conditions, members and directors of symphony orchestras are concerned about the noise levels musicians are exposed to. In accordance with European Directive, 2003/10/EC (Directive, 2003), professional musicians should be protected from noise levels that may cause hearing damage. The results of earlier investigations has shown that the noise levels within an orchestra can cause hearing loss (Jansen, 2009). Also, research has shown that the noise level will vary between different musicians playing different instruments and musical pieces, and between musicians being positioned differently on various stages (Schmidt, 2011).

Factors that determine the sound levels can be musically based: the piece and its interpretation by the conductor and musicians; or acoustically based: the impact of the stage and hall reflections. Schärer Kalkandjiev and Weinzierl (2013) have shown in a case study that a highly experienced solo cello player responded to a louder acoustical environment (higher Sound Strength or G) by reducing his power, while a lack of reverberation (not necessarily a lower G) encouraged the musician to play more powerful. In terms of sound exposure, this results in an interesting contradiction: by playing in a louder and more reverberant environment, the output power is reduced by the musician. What if the own instruments' direct sound is causing most of the exposure? Then, the total exposure might be lower in a louder acoustic environment.

To further investigate the balance between direct sound and reflected sound, in this article, we will focus on the acoustical aspects of sound levels. Sound reflected from the stage boundaries arrives relatively early after the direct sound. The (much) later reflected sound is mostly caused by reflecting surfaces in the audience area. To some extent, the amount of early and late reflected sound can be controlled separately by the individual design of the stage and design of the hall. Therefore, it is interesting to study the separate contributions of direct, early and late sound to the total sound exposure of the musicians.

The contribution of each instrument and each acoustical aspect to the total sound level cannot be separately determined from sound (pressure) level measurements (Rodrigues, Freitas, Neves, & Silva, 2014). As a solution to this problem, a sound level prediction model is presented in this article in which the direct, early reflected, and late reflected sound energy transfer is calcu- lated using the sound power and directivity of symphony orchestra instruments together with stage acoustic parameters Early and Late Support. The goal of the model is to study trends of the contributions of the different instruments and different acoustical aspects to the total sound level received by every musician in the orchestra. The possibilities and limitations of the model will be discussed, and first results will be presented based on state of the art knowledge. However, the trends calculated by the current model should be compared with subjectively critical limits (however scarcely available) while considering the uncertainties and limitations of the model. We hope that our findings, derived from an architectural acoustics point of view, may inspire other fields of research concerning the understanding of sound exposure and of musical performance. …

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