5 Buildings With Incredible Natural Acoustics
The Sydney Opera House may be the most iconic building in Australia, but for decades it looked much better than it sounded. Performers have often grumbled about the sound inside the arts centre, with a notable bassoonist once saying that listening to a concert there was like watching it on a 1980s TV set. The actor John Malkovich even said that the acoustics in the hall “would do an airplane hangar a disservice”. But this July, after two and a half years of renovations worth A$150m, the landmark has reopened with a whole new sound.
Acoustic Engineers have fitted the concert hall with dozens of acoustic reflectors and diffusion panels and lowered the stage by 47m. >While the sonics may have improved, how does the venue compare to these 5 buildings, each boasting some of the world’s best acoustics?
A creation of German artist Luka Kühne, the Tvisongur Sound Sculpture is a strange-looking building set on a serene mountainside above the Icelandic town of Seydisfjordur. It consists of five different-sized concrete domes, which look a little like igloos. Each has its own resonance, corresponding to one of the five tones used in traditional Icelandic music.
Singers and musicians often visit the site to experience the changing acoustics from one dome to another. The good news for less talented vocalists is that the area is quiet, so you don’t have to be embarrassed about belting out your favourite 80s power ballad.
The Whispering Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral, UK
When Sir Christopher Wren designed and built St Paul’s in the late 1600s, he certainly didn’t intend this walkway — set just below the dome of the cathedral — to be an acoustic marvel. But its circular walls help to contain low-intensity sound waves such as whispers (hence the name) and now tourists flock to the landmark to test out its sonic quirks.
If there’s not too much background noise, it works — whisper along the curving wall and someone positioned anywhere along it will be able to hear you. For that reason, it’s probably best not to exchange your juiciest gossip; save that for the bus journey home.
Gol Gumbaz Mausoleum, India
Another 17th-century building with crazy acoustic qualities is this monument, one of the world’s largest single-chamber structures. Like St Paul’s, Gol Gumbaz has a whispering gallery, which carries sound along its walls for up to 40m.
But it’s the echo chamber created by the building’s vast dome which dominates your eardrums. Shout up towards the curved ceiling and you’ll hear it repeated once every three seconds and up to 10 times. If it’s busy in the mausoleum, it’s advisable not to stay too long — the many echoing voices start to sound like something from a horror movie.
Forest Megaphones, Estonia
These three giant timber funnels, designed by a group of Estonian art students, are designed to magnify the natural sounds of woodland near the Latvian border. Position yourself in the patch between the curious-looking objects and you’ll hear sounds amplified from three directions. Think of it like a bandstand for tranquil forest noise.
Fertőrákos Cave Theatre, Hungary
Carved out of a limestone quarry, this concert hall near an otherwise nondescript Hungarian village has incredible natural acoustics. The first person to realise that the site had the potential to host music events was, suitably, a composer, named Erno Dohnanyi. Given the richness of sound found across the quarry, the first concert was staged outdoors in 1937. But as the Hungarian weather doesn’t always play ball, the powers-that-be decided to move the venue into one of the caves. It now hosts all types of concerts, although you’d think rock music would be the most appropriate, given the surroundings.
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