Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Recommended Posts

Thanks for posting, Mashinka. I think it's fine here. Some quotes:

Rock and pop artists have been well aware of the threat to their hearing for years. Stars such as Sting and Pete Townshend have spoken openly about their hearing loss, and it’s not uncommon to see acoustic baffles separating band members at arena gigs. Classical musicians, though, have been slower to wake up to the threat. Those most at risk are the ones whose careers are spent in the orchestra pit, where more than 100 players can be crammed into a confined space with sound reverberating around them in a kind of sonic trench. It’s why employers such as the ROH are taking the legislation so seriously, even if it means a mountain of administrative paperwork to monitor each player’s average weekly decibel exposure.

Covent Garden is well aware that some musicians have harmed their hearing through playing for ballet and opera. William Morton, who retired in 2000 after 40 years in the ROH Orchestra, is a case in point. He suffered so much hearing loss during his career that he had to wear a hearing aid. He played the flute and the piccolo; the latter, surprisingly, is potentially one of the most damaging instruments.

It sounds as if this issue (the damage done to the hearing of musicians in the orchestra pit) has long needed addressing. Does anyone know what measures, if any, are taken here in the States?

The article also suggests that part of the problem is that orchestras have been getting louder over the years, partly to conform to audience expectations. Thoughts? observations?

Link to comment

I'd also like to know about the situation -- and any regulations or discussions about regulations -- here in the U.S.

Ballet orchestras tend to be smaller than opera orchestras, so I've never noticed a problem at the ballet, except with amplified recorded music. (Alistair Macauley's review of the new Tharp/Costello ballet for Miami mentions its "heavily amplified sound world.")

On the other hand, I've never actually been trapped in an orchestra pit. When I was a student, playing the relatively harmless clarinet, I remember that "sitting in front of the trombones" was something one often regretted. :clapping: That was on stage. What must it be like in a pit?

I was struck by the author's comment:

We the audience are also to blame. Thanks to our iPods and surround-sound speakers we have come to equate volume with musical virtue, and conductors are not immune to our preferences. “There are conductors who are guilty of encouraging people to play too loudly because they think it’s more exciting,†Wordsworth says.
Link to comment

I thought this Times reader's comment was interesting in that it touches on the issue of the wide-bore hot-rodding of horn instruments:

Hearing the Philharmonia at the Festival Hall last night coarsely blasting through Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel, I was pining for the better blended and less harsh sound made by the narrower-bore, older brass instruments such as played by the Vienna Philharmonic. With shrill upper woodwind, trumpets and trombones making twice as much noise as half-a-century ago, noise junkies may get their thrills, but the orchestral balance is all off-set, and the result is ugly, if not on occasion, painful...Time for London brass players to ditch their modern wide-bore American instruments or for conductors to take control over the unruly brass-blowers on the back row!

And wasn't the English sound once wonderfully burnished and subdued but still played with great authority--say in the days of Aubrey and Dennis Brain?

Expanding on Bart's last comment, here's a link and quote from a Rolling Stone article by Robert Levine on how our MP3 players are addicting us to loudness for the sake of loudness.

The Death of High Fidelity

David Bendeth, a producer who works with rock bands like Hawthorne Heights and Paramore, knows that the albums he makes are often played through tiny computer speakers by fans who are busy surfing the Internet. So he's not surprised when record labels ask the mastering engineers who work on his CDs to crank up the sound levels so high that even the soft parts sound loud…

Producers and engineers call this "the loudness war," and it has changed the way almost every new pop and rock album sounds. But volume isn't the only issue. Computer programs like Pro Tools, which let audio engineers manipulate sound the way a word processor edits text, make musicians sound unnaturally perfect. And today's listeners consume an increasing amount of music on MP3, which eliminates much of the data from the original CD file and can leave music sounding tinny or hollow.

"With all the technical innovation, music sounds worse," says Steely Dan's Donald Fagen, who has made what are considered some of the best-sounding records of all time. "God is in the details. But there are no details anymore."

Link to comment

Well, music didn’t necessarily sound better when most people were listening to it on monaural radio stations with static and various other forms of interference, or on portable radios with not terribly sophisticated earphones, and musicians and producers took that into consideration.

Thanks for plucking that reader’s comment, Quiggin, it’s a good one.

Ah, Steely Dan.

Link to comment

There are two things at work here that probably have many audience members wanting louder orchestras. As the demographic lump of baby boomers ages, many would be at a typical age to start losing hearing. Add to that our years (well, some of our years) exposed to the overamplification of rock music, there is both the need and the expectation from habit for louder sounds. In the orchestra, it's probably a lot easier to get more volume from brass and winds than from strings, so there goes the balance.

It really has gone to far. My hearing is far from perfect, but when I attend Broadway musicals, the first few minutes usually pain my ears. :clapping: Too much! And usually the same with movies these days.

Link to comment

I'm don't think I can post a link to youtube here, but if anyone wants an good explanation (and in under 2 minutes!) of what 'the loudness wars' are all about and why modern music sounds dreadful because of it just search youtube for 'The Loudness War' and the top video explains it very well.

The irony is that CD's are in fact able to playback audio with more dynamic range than vinyl ever could, so on a CD the difference between quiet and loud passages does not need to be completely squashed, as it is in most (non classical) CD's these days, in fact its large dynamic range is probably CD's best feature.

Mp3's and other 'convenience' data compression formats sound so bad because they are 'lossy' formats - half the data has literally been chucked away - and done so just so you can download songs more quickly off the internet and then carry around 100000000 thin, hollow, papery, harsh, brittle, fatiguing, lifeless recordings in your backpocket. Hooray! :clapping:

When you combine both the current production trends in fake 'loudness' (it's been getting worse for 15-20 years, but is now completely ridiculous) with lossy formats like mp3 then you end up with combination which makes music sound rubbish, and completely in your face - giving you 'ear fatigue' almost instantly. :yucky:

However, it is not just about record companies wanting their songs to stand out from the rest (on radio airplay for example) by being artificially loud, it is also a general trend in all media - for example TV is getting more (dynamically) compressed these days, too. Switch off the TV now and it's like being released from some kind of sonic headlock! You could say maybe the rising level of 'background noise' that surrounds us all in daily life means everyone has started to raise their voices artificially - TV, radio, magazine covers, advertising, sports sponsorship ..... everything is much more 'in your face now'. And of course this only makes it all worse!

So I can sort of see how with these trends everywhere else conductors/ audiences might be, subconsciously or not, encouraging louder orchestral performances, perhaps to the detriment of the music itself as well as people's hearing ... but then again, I've never found any performance in the ROH (out of more than 100) to be excessively loud, ever. And I have good hearing and I am sensitive to loud music (I always go out with earplugs and put them in for all live music using a PA (ie rock bands etc) and even loud pubs/ clubs). That's not to say other orchestras elsewhere might not be playing excessively loud....

I think it has more to do with instruments improving and just a fact of being squashed together on stage or in the pit (a pit is probably far worse due to being more cramped and being a more reflective acoustic environment). In other words I think it is a fact of life for an orchestral player - more so for some than others depending on what you play and where you sit.

I really hope they find ways to protect their hearing rather than going to extremes of having to play it so very, very safe (literally) that audiences won't ever again be able to experience the full power and awesomeness a modern orchestra can produce. That would be a bit like banning thunderstorms, sensible maybe, but very dull.

Ear protection is very sophisticated these days and specially moulded-to-your-own-ear-canal plugs can be bought which filter sound in a very balanced way (so it won't sound muffled like it does when you use cheap earplugs or stick your fingers in your ears). They do take some getting used to and I can see how many players might object to the idea... an good analogy might be wearing glasses for the first time and not being able to imagine ever being able to wear them without being acutely aware of them.

Interesting subject anyway ... I wonder how many times audience applause in ballet performances has exceeded safe decibel levels :toot:

Link to comment

As someone who has hearing loss I can say that I have never found the orchestras to be too loud of late. But I can report again in a year now that I have some hearing aids. But I'm new to them and the world sounds very different and very different from how I remembered it.

I will say this, that we live in a very noise filled environment and I absolutely love silence and quiet sounds like leaves rustling, waves lapping or solo instruments played unamplified of course. However I love the range that an orchestra can move through and then add a large choir it is an amazing experience. The ballet orchestras I've heard don't seem to exhibit this dynamic range, but perhaps it is the music we hear at ballet.

I really do despise the ever present music piped in wherever you are, especially since it is so tasteless in 99.9% of the cases and usually over modulated. I never did get why it has to be so loud. I suspect most pop musicians have occupational hearing loss.

Will we ever be free of the electric guitar? Who knew?

I've gone off pop music for this reason: it won't leave me alone and I am alienated from it because of the assault. Classic music on the other hand I have to "go to" and it seems more special.

Link to comment

I am, however, a bit bemused by the statement about the "wide-bored American (brass) instruments". Around 1890, the standard trumpet was more of a conical bore, and really more like the cornet. (Trumpets have a cylindrical bore, cornets, conical.) The sound of the Victorian-era brass choir was more mellow than it is today, and the virtuouso solo instrument was the mellower cornet, rather than the brighter tone of the trumpet. Euphoniums and basses followed the same suit as well. And as for trombones, well, there's an old conundrum that goes: What's the difference between a chain saw and a trombone? Vibrato.

Link to comment

This really turning into a fascinating topic.

A couple of dumb, past-my-bedtime thoughts:

I will say this, that we live in a very noise filled environment and I absolutely love silence and quiet sounds like leaves rustling, waves lapping or solo instruments played unamplified of course.
Wax earplugs are an absolute necessity in many environments. They don't produce silence, but they do help make the noise -- especially chatter, which is the most distracting for me -- fade into a background haze.
What's the difference between a chain saw and a trombone? Vibrato.
So THAT'S why why most people would rather be attacked by someone wielding a trombone than a chain saw. :clapping:
Link to comment
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...