T60 or: The Mystery of Acoustics

First steps towards a Theater of Sound in 12 scenes

November 08, 2017 | 05:30 pm
Free and open to the public

T60 or: The Mystery of Acoustics
First steps towards a Theater of Sound in 12 scenes
for piano, live electronics & voices

Join us for an evening of experimental music and performance, as Victoria Tzotzkova & Florian Hollerweger (MIT Music & Theater Arts), Fiona Smyth (Trinity College Dublin), and Ayomide Fatunde (MIT '18) explore the mystery of acoustics in, of, and around Killian Hall in an artistic reflection on the history of science. The performance will be followed by a panel discussion led by Cécile Guédon (Harvard University, Department of Comparative Literature).

In 1912, the architect Adolf Loos penned a treatise on The Mystery of Acoustics (Loos 1912), putting forth the idea that the acoustics of a given space develop and become refined over time, absorbing and retaining the music which has been performed within its walls. The 20th century saw major breakthroughs in quantifying architectural acoustics, demonstrating that from a scientific viewpoint, the inverse of Loos’s premise is more accurate. Building materials may not be seasoned by exposure to music, but sound is shaped by space. The effect of the interaction between sound and space exists in the moment, not as the result of aural memories built over time.

However, the central theme of Loos’s discourse, that sound and space are integrated, still holds true. Whilst perspectives on acoustics have changed radically with the introduction of quantifiable parameters, mysteries do remain at the interface of sound and space.

Our performance represents the first step towards the creation of a larger Theater of Sound in twelve scenes, each of which celebrates a different acoustic phenomenon and aims to elucidate specific sonic characteristics of the performance site through art. Physical context and site-specific acoustic phenomena are woven into the composition and are integral to the performance. In this spirit, tonight's performance draws on acoustic characteristics particular to Killian Hall. The hall was designed as an acoustically tunable space. Absorption and reflection can be modulated to achieve specific acoustic effects and to alter the sonic weighting of musical ensembles. Killian Hall also exhibits a number of subtle acoustic phenomena i.e. flutter echo and standing waves. These characteristics are part of the acoustic structure of Killian Hall, but are usually little noted.

In this composition, mortar does not absorb music as Loos imagined, but performance absorbs the architecture, highlighting the acoustic specificity of the context. Our project also celebrates Killian Hall as a site for music making at MIT, and it commemorates the work of two great Cambridge acousticians: Wallace Clement Sabine and Leo Beranek. In the process the work invites public engagement with acoustics, sound and space, drawing the audience into the mysteries of the acoustic.

Reference: Loos, Adolf (1912): Das Mysterium der Akustik. In: Der Merker. Österreichische Zeitschrift für Musik und Theater, vol. 3, issue 1/1, pp. 9f.

This project is funded by the Council for the Arts at MIT.

 

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