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Optimal Sound Equipment
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EMPAC’s concert hall features a unique fabric canopy designed to create an optimal sound environment.
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Optimal Sound Equipment

Some of the most innovative research inspired by Rensselaer’s Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) has involved the design and construction of the building itself, and the knowledge gained in building EMPAC is expected to influence the design of future performance venues around the world.

One EMPAC goal, for example, is to create an optimal sound environment, including acoustical isolation, according to founding director Johannes Goebel, a musician, composer, and pioneer in electronic music. No sound from any of the performing spaces or studios will intrude on other spaces in the building.

The most innovative feature of the 1,200-seat concert hall is a unique fabric canopy chosen to reflect high-frequency sound while remaining transparent to mid- and low-frequency sound. It is made of fabric panels less than one millimeter thick, supported on a web of stainless steel cables.

The design of this ceiling required substantial research, including modeling of the interior room acoustics and the transmission and reflection properties of various candidate fabrics.

Inspired by EMPAC, Ning Xiang, chair of Rensselaer’s graduate program in architectural acoustics, and Gary Saulnier, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, developed a multiple sound-source measurement system that can predict the acoustical performance of complex rooms such as the concert hall.

The system helped in the design of this space and will be used to evaluate the hall now that it is completed. It is expected that it also will be useful in a variety of future EMPAC projects, and these efforts will in turn help the team to continue to improve the measurement system. The technology might one day be extended to such applications as detection of underwater land mines or for measuring fish populations.

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