THE ANSTENDIG INSTITUTE'S CONTRIBUTION TO MUSIC IN SAN FRANCISCO
©1985 Mark B. Anstendig
The time has come for San Francisco to realize that a great part of its important serious musical life is taking place in a hall that is an acoustical disaster. Since 1982, The Anstendig Institute has made available free of charge a number of papers explaining why Davies Hall is acoustically inadequate. They approach the problems from the point of view of the sound that one hears, offering many probable reasons for the inadequacies. But they do not deal with the mathematical and acoustical-engineering aspects of the Hall, which is not within the institute's expertise. Since 1984, The Anstendig Institute has a permanent technical advisor, Mitchell A. Cotter, who is one of the most respected men in the fields of audio and acoustical engineering. For a client in the Los Angeles area, Mr. Cotter has built a perfect listening facility that possesses what are probably the finest acoustical properties in the world today for a listening facility and is presently building more such rooms.
In September 1985, Mr. Cotter inspected Davies Hall together with Mr. Anstendig for two hours in the afternoon while the hall was empty and attended a concert of the San Francisco Symphony, that evening. Mr. Cotter not only confirmed The Anstendig Institute's claims about the poor quality of the hall's acoustic, he also was able to convince the institute that basic acoustical-engineering aspects of the hall are faulty and that correction would demand expensive major rebuilding of the hall. Anything less than that would amount to the proverbial band-aid.
"Do they realize just how bad a problem they have here?"
The gist of Mr. Cotter's reaction is contained in that question regarding the directors of the Symphony and performing Arts Center and the public in general.
Cotter's first reaction to the sound of the orchestra in the hall was "it sounds like a bad outdoor concert". The violins, in particular, but the rest of the orchestra as well, have a "peculiar" (his word) sound and the sound does not blend at all. The sound of the different orchestral choirs comes at the audience seemingly from varying directions without ever blending into a defensible, homogeneous sound. Nothing sounds right. Everything sounds peculiar.
According to Cotter, the hall's problems and their solutions lie, first of all, in basic problems of the speed of sound in relation to the distances it has to travel and that the hall's dimensions exceed the limits set by these realities. The central problem comes from the unnecessary size of the hall in relation to the seating capacity: the major reflecting surfaces are too far from the stage. The performers hear basically only the sound from their own and surrounding instruments. They cannot effectively judge what the audience hears. The orchestra rehearses in an empty hall, which has, among other problems, a horrendous echo. In fact the problems of the empty hall are so bad and so imbedded in major design parameters that filling it with people does not correct the problems.
The questions remain:
Do the Directors of the Symphony and The Performing Center realize how bad Davies Hall is and, if so, are the consequences going to be drawn?
Does the public have an inkling that its hearing and its perception of sound in general are being poorly served and even adversely affected by attending concerts in this hall?
Most citizens of San Francisco could not care less about this seemingly remote problem in an activity which they perceive as having little pertinence to their lives. But it is the finer classical musical arts that set the tone for any cultural aspects of society and filter down through every aspect of the life of a city like San Francisco. They represent an epitome of human achievement and of possibilities of human expression to which all else is compared and which influence the powers of discrimination of the whole society at all levels.
Few people care about racing cars, Rolls Royces, or experimental "perfect" cars, with ideal performance in all parameters, from safety to creature comforts and instrumentation. But everyone can be happy that those examples exist, as our own mass-produced autos would not be the same without them and they serve as the comparison by which consumer automobiles are designed and judged. Without them the auto market would be a complete gray area of chaos. That is exactly what is now the case in the music field and what is coming to pass in San Francisco and many other cities that suffer from the present epidemic of bad concert halls.
A major concert hall serves exactly the same function for the overall quality of life as those epitomes of automotive design serve for the design and evaluation of mass-produced automobiles. Because it often feels alone in realizing the critical importance of the acoustics of our community's leading concert hall, The Anstendig Institute is taking its knowledge of the problem extremely seriously. To date, no one has openly admitted the problem and commissioned the necessary engineering for a clear idea of exactly what is necessary to correct the hall and what the approximate costs will be. Because it is not hindered by bureaucratic considerations and can move faster on such matters than the larger organizations involved with the hall, The Anstendig Institute has decided to do just that---as a service to its community and to humanity in general. The Anstendig Institute has organized the necessary funding and has retained Mr. Cotter to make such a formal study.
The world is plagued by one unresolved acoustical disaster after the other. Somewhere, at some point in time, it is necessary to pursue the problems to a complete solution in at least one hall.
The Anstendig Institute is a non-profit, tax-exempt, research institute that was founded to investigate stress-producing vibrational influences in our lives and to pursue research in the fields of sight and sound; to provide material designed to help the public become aware of and understand stressful vibrational influences; to instruct the public in how to improve the quality of those influences in their lives; and to provide the research and explanations that are necessary for an understanding of how we see and hear.