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What would be your reaction if someone told you that a team of ten people could build an acoustic shell for outdoor chamber music concerts from a pile of uncut wood in ten days? And that the total materials cost would be less that £2k?
As an acoustic consultant with many years experience in Spain, Italy and lately within Buro Happold in the UK, I would have answered that the person in question is totally unaware of the complexity of such a structure and the cost of the material involved to obtain an excellent result in terms of acoustics response.
But my recent experience working with musicians in Italy has proven that it is possible to achieve excellent results with very limited time and budget.
I was lucky enough to be invited to teach acoustics design at the W-Sound workshop at Villa Pennisi in Acireale, Sicily. This was part of a program of classical music masterclasses, architectural workshops and chamber music concerts held this summer at this amazing ancient villa owned by the Pennisi family since the19th century. The villa was once a hotel in which Wagner passed some time and today is a family house and a space where arts and music are mixed with the magnificent woods and plants of the garden.
Our task in this beautiful setting was to provide a temporary architectural element to meet the needs of the internationally renowned musicians there to perform a chamber music concert.
So a new star was born: ReS (ReSonant Strings Shell). Design of this temporary acoustic shell was a collaboration between Buro Happold Ltd providing acoustic expertise, CMMKM Architects, lighting design by Cannata and Partners and the workshop attendees.
Prof. Sergio Pone, head of CMMKM Architects, has described how the structure works in a recent article in Italy:
“The supporting structure is made of four reticular trusses of 20 mm x 55 mm spruce fir elements, bonded together by more pieces of the same timber; all joints are bolts and screws. The weight of the full supporting structure is just 150 kg."
"The panels used for the acoustics control are made of poplar chipboard panels, 40 mm thick, with an approximately weight of 20 kg/m2. All panels are suspended from the structure by sailing ropes, supporting each panel at four corners, creating a slight convex shape. The total weight is about a ton.
The paradox by which a 150 kg structure can support a ton of wood panels can only be explained by the capacity of the reticular construction to distribute the load to the primary elements.”
The choice of traditional materials has been also reflected in the choice of the lighting: old electric light bulbs have been distributed all around the structure creating a fantastic vintage effect that recalls the first industrial machines of the 19th century.
During the construction one problem was raised: how can we control the directivity of the panels? The rope system, although very beautiful and sustainable, is by his nature inaccurate when it comes to fine tuning of the panels inclination, but the synesthesia and similarities in the reflection path between light and sound came to mind, recalling the techniques used in scale modelling.
A mirror was found, a directional light bulb provided and we just needed to wait for the night to come to project on the audience floor the reflection area covered by each single panel. In this way we were able to adjust the inclination of the panels easily by hand, without any precision instrumentation, and we have been able to deliver a world class acoustic shell with sustainable costs and materials.
On the night of the 31st of July 2012, the main concert took place.
Maestro Michele Campanella on piano, Maestro David Romano on violin and Maestro Diego Romano on cello performed “Trio in A Minor by Piotr Ilitch Tchaikowsky” for an audience of 250 people, seated, and more standing in the nearby garden.
The synesthesia between sound and light worked perfectly with the audience in a mesmerizing state of mind. The 20 min applause, that ended the concert, demonstrated the quality of the musicians involved and the support that “ReS” has provided to them in delivering an outstanding performance and interpretation of one of the most beautiful trio piece in the history of chamber music.
I have to admit to being a fool; as South Italian long resident abroad, I have forgotten the potential of the Italian craftsmen, even if they are young and just out of a degree in Architecture. My country has always been known for great design and this project has given me hope that this quality is not disappearing.
For more details of the workshop visit: http://villapennisinmusica.wordpress.com/category/w-sound_diario-di-viaggio/
All the events have been supported by:
Workshop participants included: