Rock and Pop Venues: Acoustic and Architectural Design

Rock and Pop Venues: Acoustic and Architectural Design
Niels Werner Adelman-Larsen
Springer, Berlin, (2014)
451 pp., 139 USD
ISBN: 978-3-642-45235-2

Comprehensive acoustic and architectural surveys of music halls have been published in books authored by Leo Beranek (1962, 1996, and 2004) and Michael Baron (1993 and 2010). Their books address halls for unamplified classical music performance. Rock and Pop Venues: Acoustic and Architectural Design takes a similar approach and format but covers acoustic requirements for performance venues presenting pop and rock music. The author states that in his native Denmark, over 80 percent of music performances are of popular music, yet little research has been conducted to determine suitable acoustic requirements for this music genre.

Niels Werner Adelman-Larsen passionately makes the case in his book that acoustics of pop and rock performance venues are a critical factor for audience enjoyment and the requirements of musicians and sound mixing engineers presenting the show. This has been undoubtedly gained from his experience as a touring musician (drummer) for 17 years, having played in hundreds of European venues both large and small.

The book comprises seven chapters and four appendices. The text is written in a narrative style with little mathematics. A reader without an acoustics background should be able to understand the concepts as these are briefly explained where needed in a commonsense manner. Room acoustic principles and auditorium acoustics are briefly covered in Chapters 1 and 2. The basics of room acoustics and the standard acoustic metrics used to evaluate performance venues are described so the reader has sufficient information to understand the results of the music venue surveys covered in later chapters.

Electronic sound systems for music amplification are covered in Chapter 3 to include a description of the primary loudspeaker system types, where they are best positioned in the room, and how they affect the audience and musician experience.

Chapter 4 summarizes a survey the author conducted in 2005 of 20 Danish rock and pop venues. The acoustic measurement and subjective assessment results from this survey were used as a basis for the author’s MS thesis awarded by the Danish Technical University and his ASA Journal paper, “Suitable Reverberation Time for Halls for Rock and Pop Music.”

Chapters 5 and 6 synthesize the results of the Danish venue survey and the author’s performance experience to develop acoustic and architectural design criteria suitable for the needs of pop and rock music venues. Some of the key design principles include: (1) the importance of low-frequency clarity in the 63 to 250 Hz octave bands for the general impression of hall acoustics; (2) reverberation time at 125 Hz should be shorter than the adjacent octave frequency bands; (3) the established design principle for classical music venues whereby low-frequency reverberation time is increased to provide acoustic “warmth” should not be applied to pop and rock venues; (4) clarity for pulse, rhythm, and timing (PRAT) is important for the bass guitar and bass drum, which sets the propulsion and rhythmic timing for the song; (5) the best rated halls with 1000 to 3000 m3 volume have frequency independent reverberation times between 0.60 and 1.2 seconds; (6) the need for similar acoustic conditions on stage as the audience area to enable performers to feel connected with the audience; and (7) a standing audience absorbs approximately five times the energy at mid- and high-frequencies compared to low-frequencies and needs to be accounted for when designing the venue.

A gallery of 55 European and UK pop and rock venues is presented in Chapter 7, similar in format to the 20 Danish venues covered in Chapter 4. The venues surveyed range from small clubs to large arenas, including purpose-built facilities—some funded by local governments to give youth a place for recreation—to the repurposing of older industrial buildings. Several important venues are surveyed, such as the Cavern Club in Liverpool and the Kaiserkeller in Hamburg, both where the Beatles honed their musical skills prior to “Beatlemania,” and the Wembly Arena and the Hammersmith Apollo in London, where many arena-rock acts recorded classic live albums.

The book concludes with four appendices, three of which are alike. Appendix A tabulates the architectural and acoustic measurement results and data interpretation from the European and UK venue survey of Chapter 7. Appendix B is similar but is restricted to selected acoustics metrics with data presented in the octave frequency bands between 63 and 4000 Hz. Appendix C simplifies the Appendix A data for 26 of the 55 venues. Statements from two respected sound system engineers on their priorities and preferences for venue acoustics round out Appendix D. Plan and section drawings with accompanying graphic scale and black-and-white photos are provided for each of the 75 venues. Many drawings appear to be from poor quality originals and some features are obscured. The opposite is the case for some venue photographs which are reproduced too darkly, obscuring detail. Typographical errors are few but the book could use a bit of editing to improve grammar in several paragraphs.

Rock and Pop Venues: Acoustic and Architectural Design should have a wide appeal to acousticians working in room acoustics design. While there may not be many popular music venues that seek the services of an acoustician, much information contained in this volume is applicable to the design of contemporary worship facilities.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and learned about an acoustics topic not addressed in traditional room acoustics books. Now if I can just convince guitarist Nigel Tufnel to turn down his volume on that Marshall stack from “11”!

Neil Thompson Shade
Acoustical Design Collaborative, Ltd.
Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University