Scientists Study Sacred Sounds (Wired)

By Nicole Martinelli

MILAN, Italy — Does your church sing? Or does its message fall flat in a mess of reverberation, boomy bass and muffled speech?

Researchers here are investigating the subjective acoustic qualities of church architecture in one of the most extensive scientific inquiries yet.

By studying the best-sounding spaces (and the worst), the researchers hope to assemble practical design criteria for new churches. The data can also provide the clergy with some considerations on what music works best in existing places of worship.

Since 2000, the team has visited 40 churches from Gothic to contemporary in style. They picked nine of the buildings for a five-song test of their acoustics.

When the churches closed to worshippers at dusk, engineers and acoustic experts brought in sound-test dummies outfitted with binaural microphones. By plugging a microphone into each of the dummy’s ears, a close approximation of the human listening experience could be recorded. (more…)

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