The Influence of Room Acoustics on Solo Music Performance: An Experimental Study

By Kalkandjiev, Zora Schärer; Weinzierl, Stefan | Psychomusicology, July 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

The Influence of Room Acoustics on Solo Music Performance: An Experimental Study


Kalkandjiev, Zora Schärer, Weinzierl, Stefan, Psychomusicology


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For the sounding realization of music, the spatial environment plays a crucial role, as its room acoustical properties affect the perception of both audience and musicians. If one assumes that players have an inner representation of the intended sound to be conveyed to the listener (Gabrielsson, 1999), it is likely that they adapt their way of playing to the surrounding room to achieve the sound they have in mind. In some of the famous music treatises of the 18th and 19th centuries (Czerny, 1839; Quantz, 1983; Spohr, 1833) as well as in more recent works (Borciani, 1973; Flesch, 1928; Galamian, 1983), there are numerous recommendations for the use of special playing techniques in specific room acoustical surroundings. Even though most musicians seem to be aware of the influence of the room acoustics on their sound production, it is not clear to what extent these instructions are followed in practice. Some performers even reject any adjustments of their way of playing to the room acoustical conditions (Blum, 1987; Flesch, 1928).

In search of empirical evidence for the effect of room acoustics on music performance, Winckel (1962) measured sound pressure level (SPL) and tempo (derived from the total playing time) during performances of the Cleveland Orchestra in various concert halls. Interestingly, he observed no linear relation between reverberation time and tempo, but rather a maximum tempo in halls with particularly good hearing conditions. In a laboratory study with pianists playing in three different rooms, von Békésy (1968) found an increase in the dynamic strength (derived from the vibration amplitude of the piano body) with decreasing reverberation time while the maximum dynamic range was found in intermediately reverberant conditions. It is noteworthy that the adjustments were less pronounced when the performers played unfamiliar pieces and when they were nonprofessionals. Von Békésy's results were confirmed by Bolzinger, Warusfel, and Kahle (1994), who found a negative correlation of the average velocity of MIDI piano performances with the reverberation time and late reverberation level of a room with variable acoustics. Surprisingly, the tempo of the played pieces was not affected by the room acoustical conditions in this investigation. In a study with different instrumentalists playing short musical phrases in sound fields simulated by a 6-channel-loudspeaker system, phrase duration, A-weighted SPL, fluctuations of fundamental frequency and SPL as well as spectral features were measured to characterize the performance parameters tempo, dynamic strength, vibrato, and timbre. The analysis showed that these parameters were varied with the room acoustical conditions, but the manner of adjustment was dependent on the played instrument in most cases (Kato, Ueno, & Kawai, 2007, 2008; Ueno, Kato, & Kawai, 2007). Especially for fast pieces, the tempo was observed to be reduced in both very reverberant and anechoic conditions. Moreover, some musicians adjusted their strength of playing in a similar way (Kato et al., 2007). With respect to specific room acoustical parameters, Ueno, Kato, and Kawai (2010) implied that the stage parameters early support and late support (Gade, 1992) were the best indicators of the room acoustical influence on dynamic strength.

The authors of the current investigation carried out a case study with a renowned violoncello soloist who was recorded during a concert tour in different halls (Schärer Kalkandjiev & Weinzierl, 2013). Using performance parameters based on audio features as predictors for the perceptual properties of musical performances (see section "Recordings and Performance Analysis"), they observed that the tempo was negatively correlated with the squared reverberation time of the concert spaces, reproducing the findings of Kato et al. (2007). In contrast to the results of previous studies, they found the predicted dynamic strength to increase with reverberation time, and both dynamic strength and dynamic bandwidth to decrease with the sound strength of the halls. …

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