Meet the 4th Floor: Best Buy Theater

Jun 23, 2015

It was a leisurely afternoon when David Russell, Northrop’s Audience Services Manager, asked if I was available to play my flute for a group of people testing out the Best Buy Theater acoustics.  As a starving artist, I naturally said yes.  David assured me that it was a quick and casual performance opportunity though, since I’m a flute player, nothing is ever really casual (*cue Type A adrenaline*). 

I invited my fantastic flute duet partner Katie Anne Kohler to play a flashy piece with me (you know, to impress people at this casual performance) and by the time the acoustics test date rolled around, I had finally convinced myself that it was, in fact, going to be a casual “play” date.

Well, all of that personal convincing evaporated into thin air the moment Katie and I stepped into the Best Buy Theater.  Several refined gentlemen in suits greeted us politely at the door.  They introduced themselves as professional musicians, music professors, and acoustical engineers from Australia. In fact, the primary acoustical engineer that developed the state-of-the-art LARS listening system in the Best Buy Theater was present.  They wanted to hear how the listening system resonated in the theater on different acoustic settings.  They also wanted our perspective as musicians while playing in these varying sound environments. No pressure.

However, the focus was not on our flute performance, but on the acoustics of the theater. It was one of the most intriguing and ear-opening experiences I have ever had as a musician.  While Katie and I played our duet, the acoustical engineer toyed with the projection of our sounds in the theater through a specialized speaker feedback system. Different sound settings provided different listening experiences for the audience.  For instance, he could tune our sounds to mimic the echoing hall of a cathedral, or a lively sound suitable for jazz performance, or simply a deadened sound to evoke a more refined musical style, such as baroque music. These various settings not only created vastly different experiences for the listeners, but they created very different experiences for us as performers.

Instead of having Katie and I start and stop our duet for each sound environment, the engineer tweaked our sound projections while we were playing, enhancing the different effects of each setting.  In one moment, though Katie and I were standing fairly close to each other, we could hardly hear the other person playing because the echoes were producing buzzing overtones.  In another moment, it felt as though we were playing outside and our sound was leaving the room as soon as it had entered.  It became apparent to us that this theater was incredibly special to have such a sound system that could adapt to any sound or affect the performer wished to achieve.  In the future, I see a multitude of performers from different disciplines utilizing the Best Buy Theater, transporting their audiences to novel soundscapes with this otherworldly sound technology!

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