21 Jan TV Magic: BKL on CBC
Have you ever wondered what makes a concert hall sound great?
“Sonic Magic: The Wonder and Science of Sound,” a recent episode of The Nature of Things, shows BKL partner Ping Chen and engineer Gary Mak fine-tuning the acoustics at the Bell Performing Arts Centre, an 1,100-seat community theatre in Surrey, BC. The episode shows Chen and Mak measuring the theatre’s impulse response and discussing the room’s acoustical design. Chen and Mak also use a 3-D computer model to help them optimize acoustic panels for either musical enjoyment or speech intelligibility. “We make the space sound like it is supposed to,” says Chen.
BKL provided the acoustical design for the Bell Centre, which opened to critical acclaim in 2002. We designed the building’s exterior noise isolation, HVAC system noise and vibration controls, and the variable room acoustics demonstrated by Chen and Mak in the episode.
“Sonic Magic” explains how modern concert halls, like the Bell Centre, owe their acoustical design to an equation discovered by Wallace Sabine, a Harvard physics professor and one of the first acousticians. Experimenting with a pipe organ and a stopwatch, Sabine studied the relationship between volume, room size and the quantity of sound-absorbing surfaces. Through these experiments, he identified a key characteristic in determining the acoustic quality of a room: reverberation time. Sabine used his equation when he designed the acoustics at Symphony Hall in Boston, a venue that is internationally renowned for its near-perfect acoustics.
In addition to introducing viewers to acoustical engineering, “Sonic Magic” also covers the role sound plays in urban centres (comparing modern and Renaissance cities), innovative uses for sound in healthcare, recent pharmaceutical treatments for age-related hearing loss, the phenomenon of cymatics, and a blind man who can “see” with flash sonar, a skill he developed instinctively after losing his sight as a child.
As a whole, the episode takes an enlightening and entertaining look at the world of sound, bringing fresh perspectives on what makes the sense of hearing special and showing potentially life-changing uses for the power of sound.