What Is “Acoustics” Anyway?

by Rob Farion

The word “acoustics” means so many different things to different people.  For example, the word often first brings to mind something about a type of music and most notably a guitar.  To some other’s its most relevant connection is to “noise”, (yet another exceedingly broad term).  When I first tell people I’m an acoustical consultant or that I work in architectural acoustics, I’m often faced with a confused look or a question like “what is that?”  When I start explaining that the majority of my work is geared towards either  facilitating pleasant or necessary sound transmission to aid in communication and listening enjoyment, Or assisting in the reduction of sound (often called “noise”) which is unpleasant or detrimental to communication or listening enjoyment, for any interior space, it starts to make sense.  Really though, both of those are essentially the same thing when you think about it…. Hmmm, increase the “good” sounds or decrease the “bad”? 

My area of acoustic specialty is in what’s called “room acoustics”.  Room acoustics defined in simple terms; refers to the way sound behaves in a room.  Try listening closely to various sound sources (speech, hand claps, music etc.) in different rooms around your home or work place.  Close your eyes to focus and listen intently as you listen to each room.  I’m sure you’ve noticed differences in the way things sound in different spaces (loud versus not so loud restaurants etc.), but the degree of difference, even between your bathroom and living room might be of surprise for you.  When “designing” for room acoustics, many variables are at play and bringing all the pieces together to form an environment that serves all of its requirements – including optimum sound quality is an awesome and rewarding challenge.  I see it as a bit of a balancing act between art and science!    

Recently, a client of mine, who is a very forward thinking and effective facilities superintendent, sent me a link to a TED talk he’d come across.  This short video blew me away because it is such an effective presentation of the things I try to share and promote throughout my work.  Please check it out!