Sunday, 25 July 2010

How to improve the Albert Hall acoustic

Something needs to be done about the sound in the Albert Hall, but what? A recent suggestion by Mathew Tucker is to give up on the place and move the Proms to the Southbank Centre. Given the stifling weight of tradition associated with the festival, I suspect it is going to take more than acoustic concerns for that to happen. So perhaps a more practical goal could be to radically improve the sound at the RAH, and here is my suggestion: a much lower ceiling. 

Various things have been tried up there in the past – lining the dome, suspending a velarium, the mushrooms. Each has had a perceptible but limited effect. To be effective, an acoustic ceiling would need to be much lower, below the gallery (what is the gallery for?), and even below the upper circle, no loss considering that the sound up there is worse than useless anyway. All the boxes would still be in use, so corporate hospitality and aristocratic patronage would not be affected. It could even be an adjustable height ceiling like at Symphony Hall in Birmingham. Then it could be raised if the BBC insisted on filling the upper circle with flag-waiving goons for the last night.

It is not a perfect solution, the hall would still be too wide as much as anything else, but it's an idea. And even if it doesn't happen, something has to be done about the RAH acoustic. And to be effective it is going to have to be something invasive that drastically reduces its capacity.
A sketch of the velarium installed at the Albert Hall in 1941, the first year the Proms were held at the venue.

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