Musicals and Acoustics

It’s March now, which means it’s been nearly 4 months since this blog sprouted up. I wouldn’t say it’s become wildly popular in this time (mostly because I refuse to tag my entries), but it’s certainly been an invaluable experience to me, writing down my thoughts everyday. I never knew before how much I would like blogging. Of course, I daresay my blogs aren’t half as exciting as most celebrity blogs out there, and I don’t have a dedicated fan base, but there are times when aspiring towards quality detracts from the true point of blogging. Blogging is really about truthfulness and sincerity.

Somehow I thought I ought to find a place to say that. Another observation I have after blogging is that sometimes categories aren’t as disparate as they first seem. Anime and music sometimes bleed into each other when you talk about Japanese music, and literature and global affairs see a convergence when you talk of foreign-language books. Today’s entry is also something that merges two categories together, though I think it leans more towards the Wednesday column. It’s about theatre acoustics.

In my Technology & Artistic Innovators class, we talked about theatres in the Roman Empire. Roman theatres and their architecture, as well as the social role that they played in Roman political history. They were also contrasted with Greek theatres, which seemed a lot more jovial and easygoing. Interesting stuff, right? Well, maybe not when it sounds like that. It’s true, academic papers on the history of theatres can get boring, but that’s only because you haven’t grasped the true marvel of the technology they were using at that time.

Theatres in the past could seat 4000 to about 24 000 people. They were sprawling elaborate outdoor structures, with seats cut from the rock on hillsides to form a sloping pattern, so that everybody of the crowd of thousands could have a sweeping view of the stage as well as the countryside beyond that. I think this is probably the best environment to watch performances like the Sound of Music.

And oh, they don’t even stop at the Sound of Music. Ancient Roman theatres had comedy and tragedy plays, gladiatorial fights, lion fighting (with genuine lions, in a performance of the Labours of Hercules), water ballet (with genuine water) and public sacrifices (genuine sacrifices, that is). While these show epic stage management, what I am most impressed with is this discovery which is related to music and acoustics.

I was truly mind-blown when I read it. Not only did the people of the past have great plans and great achievements when it comes to plays, but even their sound system was top-notch, and might even rival the technical acoustics we have today (which is all too often prone to machine failure anyway). Imagine a natural environment where thousands of people can see and hear with surround sound a violin concerto in its full splendour, with human chatter even filtered out. I’d like to know why limestone isn’t used to build every theatre today.

I’d say that when it comes to music, MP3’s simply can’t cut it. What I love about MP3 music is that they’re really good for listening to over and over again. The tune and voice are all fixed and arranged to form a pleasant combination, with everything timed and pitch perfect. On the other hand, live concerts sometimes have wonky sound arrangement. Sometimes the guitar sounds too much louder than the other instruments, or the singer strains his voice in some of the hard parts, or the entire sound is just too loud for people to think. If we listened to a concert performance over and over again, we’d most likely grow deaf or have a headache. So MP3 music is like “packaged” music. Consumable straight from the can. Convenient. Whereas live performances are like restaurant cuisine. Not standardised, therefore open to fluctuation in quality, and yet they provide a sort of luxurious experience canned food can never hope to achieve.

As usual, if you have anything you particularly want me to talk about in each of the columns, or even outside the categories, just tell me! I hope you’ve enjoyed the selection of topics I’ve found so far, and thank you for your continued support!


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