Acoustical Design for Jazz Music

Apr 1, 2013 9:00 AM, By Matt Gallagher

SFJAZZ Works with SIA Acoustics


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photo of SFJAZZ Center

The Robert N. Miner Auditorium incorporates variable acoustics in its design

How are you going to design the air conditioning system? It requires a great deal of noise control technique so you don’t hear the air conditioning. We worked with our mechanical engineers to come up with a scheme that is, interestingly enough, going back to the way things were done a long time ago, but [with] a modern twist: We’re supplying the air below the seats. The air comes from the roof down a long shaft behind the stage and through a plenum underneath the seating bowl and gets distributed out to the people in the seating area via under-seat grilles. And it’s returned back up high in the room. It’s a very efficient way to work. The building is very green.

Variable Acoustics
The room’s shape is almost a cube, which is not necessarily a desirable thing, acoustically. It’s not a bad thing, inherently, [but] as the rooms get smaller, it becomes more problematic because the modes become dominant. But in a room this size the modes are not really a problem. We have enough geometric complexity to address that. What it does require is that you do a tremendous amount of acoustical finishes. And we had to work with the architect to select a scheme that would allow us to get all those finishes in and still meet their aesthetic and visual needs. So the idea of using the wooden slats was a really nice solution. We tested the amount of sound that was scattered off of these slats. We set up a mock system and looked at different spacing of wood slats and how effective materials were when they were behind the wood slats and the fabric that you see covering almost every surface. And the architect liked the visual appeal; I think it’s a really stunning look.

photo of SFJAZZ Center

The Robert N. Miner Auditorium

The Acoustical Canopy
The canopy is the most significant acoustical piece of the room. It makes a huge difference in making the room work for both the musicians and the audience. The sound that comes from the stage going upward hits that [canopy]. Instead of reflecting back hard, like you might want in a symphony hall, we diffuse that sound. Strong reflections tend to make uneven sound across a small stage, so by scattering the sound through a larger angle, we’re making the reflections less strong while we’re making the sound more uniform on the stage, and it makes it much easier for the musicians to feel and hear and have a sense of time and a sense of tone. It makes the stage much acoustically cleaner.

[The canopy is] tilted at 14-and-a-half degrees, so it’s projecting sound very uniformly to almost all the seats in the house— pushing sound to where people are sitting. You’re hearing not just the direct sound, but sound that’s reflected from the canopy in a diffuse way. It gives you that sense of being enveloped by sound. And it’s a critical component.

Having that acoustical canopy above the stage means that the strong reflections, which are often so problematic for recording engineers, aren’t there. So it makes the stage much more sound system and broadcast friendly.

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