Thursday, April 16, 2009

Who is speaking?

He is risen!  Easter was wonderful, crazy and all of the things you would hope for.  I hope that you had a wonderful Easter.  
I haven't written anything in a while, and I apologize.  Between the masters degree in Organ and Sacred music and Easter Season and all its pressures, I have been really busy.  Enough excuses.

What are acoustics?  A strict definition is "the study of the physical properties of sound."  In musical terms, we discuss how "live" a room is.  In other words, if you clap your hands, how long does the sound of the clap take to fade away.  In my church, for instance, we have a "reverb tail" of 1.7 seconds.  It is a relatively live room.  

Now, contemporary church architecture has turned the sound of church on its ear (pun intended).  The goal of contemporary church design is to keep the reverb tail down as much as possible or to "deaden" a room.  (You can try this out for yourself. Go to a tiled room like a bathroom and clap, then do the same in a fully carpeted room and notice the difference.)

Why deaden a room?  Because these churches are designed to handle sound systems.  A sound system essentially takes a sound source: a band, speaker, choir, etc., and amplifies it.  In a live space an amplified sound bounces around, gathers in corners, ping pongs back and forth, and the intelligibility of the singer or speaker is greatly reduced.   (Incidentally, intelligibility is measured in "plosives".  Those are the K's and T's that are part of speech.  Vowel sounds carry easily.  In a mushy sound, all you hear is vowels, and you geet aaa--eeee-oooo-uuuu).  

So what's the problem?  Well the problem is this.  For whom is the room designed?  A live room is designed for the congregation.  If you did the home test, which room would you rather sing in?  The bathroom or the carpeted bedroom?  That's why most aspiring divas sing in the shower.  It sounds better.  A live room also sounds better for any type of group singing whether it be a choir or a congregation.  Good choir directors (like ours!) always work to get their choir to "blend".   That is why we have choirs perform in the live room but rehearse in a relatively dead room.  In the dead rehearsal room, we can pick out individual mistakes and correct them.  

Then, for whom is the sound system designed?  An individual.  The singer, the speaker, etc.  In fact, these sound systems will now add artificial reverb that they can control to improve on the sound leaving the speakers.   So what happens then?  The group singing effect is diminished.  Only in churches singing contemporary praise music do you see 4 or 5 people singing a unison part.  But ask yourself, have you ever seen a rock band with 5 lead singers?  No.  There is one.  And they are amplified.  Group singing is supported by a live room, dead rooms support amplified individuals.  

Now.  What are we trying to accomplish in worship?  
Let's tackle that next time!

1 comment:

clarinerd said...

God's creation has natural acoustics, the principles of which can and have been used for centuries in churches. These natural acoustics send out the sound in a blended fashion and with great volume. Why do we today deaden a church's naturally live acoustics, only the enhance them unnaturally again through the use of microphones and speakers? This is an unnecessary expense and flies in the face of God's creation. If people feel they cannot project their voices or instruments well enough, lessons are the solution. Projection is a skill that can be learned.