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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Acoustics around campus

Musicians and recording artists everywhere know that a great performance often depends on great acoustics. The sounds made by instruments and voices should often reverberate and echo around the room to create a blend of sound that lingers in the air even after the music has stopped.

For example, the Mondavi Center is famous for its gorgeous acoustics that give even the most amateur of musicians a nearly perfect sound, but it is not the only place on campus where musicians can go to experiment with exceptional acoustics. Here are a few locations to check out the next time you’re looking for a prime space to practice, record, or just have fun with music and sounds.

Social Sciences and Humanities (The Death Star)

As if we need another reason to marvel at the awesome architecture of that colossal concrete structure known by some as the Death Star, you can also find dozens of spots hidden among its covered walkways and staircases that have good acoustics. The covered staircase next to rooms 70, 80 and 90 on the lowest level of the compound provides a nice, deep reverberation for musical instruments.

Pete Nowlen, UC Davis concert band director, recommends a reverberation of about two seconds. In other words, the sound should continue to echo about two seconds after you’ve stopped playing.

“The ‘warmth’ or ’roundness’ of an acoustic comes from the sound bouncing and arriving at the ear of the listener at slightly different times,” Nowlen said in an e-mail interview.

When exploring the Death Star, look for places surrounded fully or partially by walls or ceilings. These areas provide the sound places to bounce for optimum effect.

Lower Freeborn Hall

The hallways of Lower Freeborn have long been famous for their wacky acoustics – campus radio station KDVS 90.3 FM regularly records live broadcasts using the hallway’s renowned reverb.

“KDVS uses Lower Freeborn Hall as a reverb chamber whenever a live band comes into the studio and requests reverb,” said KDVS general manager Kevin Corrigan in an e-mail interview.

A speaker blasting the band’s music is placed in the hall and a microphone records the echo, which is then broadcast on air.

“Many bands have released their recordings from KDVS’ ‘Live in Studio A’ because the sound is so good,” Corrigan said.

The relatively narrow hallways and low ceilings provide sound ample opportunity to bounce around and continue to echo long after the music stops.

Shields Library

When entering the main entrance of the building, look for the stairwell next to the bathrooms on the right, between the computer lab and the reserves desk. Its high, sloped ceilings and concrete floors provide a fantastic, near-perfect echo and extra-long reverb. Of course, it is a library, so you’ll want to be careful with your noise level if you experiment here. But if you need a study break, slip into the stairwell and stomp your feet, clap your hands, or even hum softly to hear a cool echo and long reverberation.

It’s great for relieving stress, too.

Thompson Hall

This newly built Segundo North residence hall is home to one of the nicest practice rooms on campus. The Music Practice Room is located inside the ballroom on Thompson’s first floor and even has a piano for students to use. Music and voices sound crisp and clear, with a slight reverberation that isn’t overpowering. The room’s heavy door keeps out unwanted sounds from the ballroom and Thompson’s busy lobby area and provides great privacy for maximum concentration. If you want to make a recording or play an amplified instrument, this is the place to do it.

Nowlen said recordings should generally have little echo or reverberation so that these effects can be added later in engineering.

“For amplified music, you really want a very dry (not ringing or reverberating) acoustic. Otherwise you can get feedback,” he said.

For recordings, Nowlen said, the same conditions generally apply – although each performer must decide what sound is desirable.

A few downsides, however: Thompson is only accessible to residents of Segundo North, so if you’re not a freshman you’ll have to befriend one to use the music room. It’s also very popular, so be prepared to wait your turn.

Wyatt Deck Bathroom

OK, so this isn’t the most glamorous of music venues, but brave the ick-factor of the public restroom on Wyatt Deck and you’ll be rewarded with a symphony of echoes and reverb. Look for the little wood-shingled building behind the Music Building across the nearby Arboretum bridge. Due to the narrow space and high, octagonal ceiling, the restroom has loud, ringing acoustics which make for some great sounds.

But do use common sense if you venture out there and wait until the restroom is empty before you start wailing away. The other patrons will thank you.

ROBIN MIGDOL can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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