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Tobin Center debut performance: The Science of Sound

Tobin Center Stage with YOSA
Tobin Center Stage with YOSA
Kevin King

On Thursday evening, the Tobin Center opened its doors for the first public performance. The event: The Science of Sound, presented by Texas Public Radio, featured a performance by the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio and a discussion by the acousticians who were hired to "tune" the building to provide the most optimal sound possible. While the tuning process has been ongoing for the past few days, the engineers needed a few hundred "live bodies" to help soak up the sound and reproduce the conditions of the auditorium during an actual performance.

The discussion was led by Mr. Christopher Blair from Akustics Consulting Firm. He described how the building was specifically engineered to provide the optimal acoustic "canvas" into which performers can play. He described how the air handlers, which move several thousand cubic feet of air per minute, are nearly silent and that ceiling above the orchestra pit can be adjusted to project sound into the audience in different ways, depending on the type of performance. At one point, the entire audience was asked to be completely quiet and a penetrating silence settled over the hall. During the subsequent performance, when the orchestra paused during a piece, the silence was not an interruption, but an integral part of the piece.

However, the Tobin Center is much, much more than a concert hall. High tech panels help diffuse sound properly, state-of-the-art technology permeates the building, bringing a sense of modernity to the classic concert hall "shoebox" architecture. A moveable floor system allows the staff to convert the concert hall after a performance into a banquet hall capable of handling upwards of 1000 people in an elegant setting, while backstage, enhancements will provide shows an expansive technical capability not available elsewhere in the city.

The Tobin Center brings San Antonio into the modern age of premier performance spaces and provides a facility that rivals many similar facilities in New York, Europe and other large cities.

Check back in the coming weeks for a detailed article regarding the technology behind this emerging wonder. I will explore the acoustics of the facility and how it can literally transform in just a few minutes from hosting an opera and become an ideal venue for one of the biggest music stars of the modern era. Moving floors, adjustable ceilings and acoustic baffles and high-tech lighting can all be adjusted to provide the perfect space with a modern, yet classic flair.