Emotional Impact of Music Influenced by Acoustics of Concert Halls

Aalto University researchers found that the emotional impact experienced by music listeners depends on the concert hall’s acoustics.

Earlier research has shown that the strongest emotional experiences by music listening may elicit shivers or goosebumps in the listener. Much weaker reactions can be detected from the variations in the electrical skin conductance. Based on this knowledge, the researchers presented the test subjects an excerpt of Beethoven’s symphony with the acoustics measured in different concert halls. During listening, the skin conductance was measured with sensors attached in the listeners’ fingers in order to record the magnitude of the emotional reactions to different acoustic conditions.

The results revealed that an identical performance of classical orchestra music evoked stronger emotional impact when presented in the acoustics of shoebox-type concert halls, such as Vienna Musikverein or Berlin Konzerthaus. The study included identically selected two positions from six European concert halls: Vienna Musikverein, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Berlin Konzerhaus and Philharmonie, Cologne Philharmonie, and Helsinki Music Centre.

“Some interpretations of a same music piece can evoke stronger emotions than others. Similarly, our study has succeeded in demonstrating that the hall’s acoustics plays an important part in the overall emotional impact. After all, emotional experiences are a key factor in music to many listeners,” says Dr. Jukka Pätynen.

Image the Helsinki Music Center.

Helsinki Music Centre represents a more modern concert hall design. Image is adapted from the Aalto press release.

For decades, researchers on concert hall acoustics have aspired to explain the acoustical success of certain halls with room-acoustic parameters. The study by Finnish researchers is the first to assess the acoustics of existing concert halls as the emotional impact.

Dr. Jukka Pätynen works as an Academy of Finland post-doctoral researcher in Professor Tapio Lokki’s Virtual Acoustics research group. The group aims to understand how room acoustics affect sound signals, and how people perceive room acoustic properties. Research focuses on improved prediction and understanding of concert halls and other acoustically demanding spaces.

About this audio neuroscience research

Source: Dr. Jukka Pätynen – Aalto University
Image Source: The image is adapted from the Aalto University press release.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Concert halls with strong and lateral sound increase the emotional impact of orchestra music” by Jukka Pätynen and Tapio Lokki in Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. Published online March 2016 doi:10.1121/1.4944038


Concert halls with strong and lateral sound increase the emotional impact of orchestra music

An audience’s auditory experience during a thrilling and emotive live symphony concert is an intertwined combination of the music and the acoustic response of the concert hall. Music in itself is known to elicit emotional pleasure, and at best, listening to music may evoke concrete psychophysiological responses. Certain concert halls have gained a reputation for superior acoustics, but despite the continuous research by a multitude of objective and subjective studies on room acoustics, the fundamental reason for the appreciation of some concert halls remains elusive. This study demonstrates that room acousticeffects contribute to the overall emotional experience of a musical performance. In two listening tests, the subjects listen to identical orchestra performances rendered in the acoustics of several concert halls. The emotional excitation during listening is measured in the first experiment, and in the second test, the subjects assess the experienced subjective impact by paired comparisons. The results showed that the sound of some traditional rectangular halls provides greater psychophysiological responses and subjective impact. These findings provide a quintessential explanation for these halls’ success and reveal the overall significance of room acoustics for emotional experience in music performance.

“Concert halls with strong and lateral sound increase the emotional impact of orchestra music” by Jukka Pätynen and Tapio Lokki in Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. Published online March 2016 doi:10.1121/1.4944038

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