Music / News

Can a balloon unlock St George’s secrets?

By pamela parkes, Thursday Aug 20, 2015

Famed for its superb sound and clarity, St George’s has always been a musician’s favourite.

But only now do we know why the concert venue has such perfect acoustics – and it’s all thanks to a popping balloon.

Acoustic experts Charcoalblue were initially brought in to test the impact the planned new multi-million pound extension may have on the sound quality.

However, during the test process they found the concert hall itself has a unique quality which gives music a clarity unlike anywhere else in the world.

Acoustic expert Ian Stickland bursts the balloon

Acoustic manager Ian Stickland explained that in concert halls you would expect low pitched sound should reverberate longer than higher pitches. In St George’s, however, they found that higher frequencies dominate the acoustic response. 

Watch how the experiment was conducted:

“Looking at the objective results of our reverberation time measurements, without knowing which room it was, we would not have rated the results very highly,” Ian says.

“However, digging deeper, we find that the clarity and detail of sound that the hall provides trumps the traditional standards for reverberation.”

Byron Harrison from Charcolblue said they do have some idea why the measurements are so different: “The narrow dimensions of the Georgian building, its modest size, lack of soft furnishings (leather seat-covering rather than fabric), the well-proportioned balcony, and mix of smooth walls and finely textured plasterwork are all contributing factors to this unusually rare acoustic.”

Irene Law, a Bristol University student, demonstrates the superb sound and musical quality of St George’s:


Musicians have long praised St George’s sound and Julian Lloyd Webber says he “fell in love” with the hall back in the 1970s and says the venue has “one of the best acoustics in the world”

Suzanne Rolt, CEO of St George’s

It was this special sound that Suzanne Rolt, CEO of St George’s, said she was committed to protecting: “Musicians comment on our intimacy, onstage they are not just close to the audience but also to each other.

“They can see each other but also clearly hear each other’s instruments – every note played an: pause made. This makes a huge difference to them.”

She said planning the new extension and the possible implications on the acoustics had been a worry, but now they have had it confirmed that there will be no impact on the venue: “We always knew we had something unique in St George’s but it’s wonderful to have it confirmed by science.”

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