Sound levels and balance of Self, Others and Reverb: Their potential influence on orchestra musicians

Invited paper

Magne Skålevik

AKUTEK and Brekke & Strand

Tuesday 2 june, 2015, 16:00 - 16:20

0.9 Athens (118)

In orchestra musicians, noise is a complex issue, and more so than in most other occupations. An instrument that in one instant must be clearly heard could in the next instant represent a masker or even a potential threat to the musician’s hearing. Sound categories like signal, noise and masker cannot be used in the common way. It is not adequate to understand the noise exposure of musicians by the common definition of noise - unwanted sound. None of the musical instruments can be considered as noise sources, nor can the fortissimo notations by the composer’s hand. So far, «noise exposure in musicians» and «mutual hearing conditions in musicians» have been treated in separate sub-disciplines in acoustics – the first being a typical noise and health issue, and the latter being a typical stage acoustics issue. Based on a growing amount of measurements near musician’s ears during performance and rehearsal over the past decade, this author recommends that these issues should be considered as closely related. E.g., the same conditions that make it difficult for musicians to hear important musical information, has the ability to drive the musicians to adopt a forced style of playing, resulting in higher and potentially harmful sound levels. As a consequence, ever higher masking levels and more harmful spectra can occur, leading to a vicious circle. The current consensus among researchers, that sound level at a musician’s ears is dominated by own instrument, has far-reaching implications as to the way the aforementioned issues are understood and solved. This paper presents data on sound pressure levels of Self, Others and Reverb at musicians’ ears during performance and rehearsal, and discusses their possible influence on noise exposure, orchestral sound quality and mutual hearing in orchestra musicians. Level balance appears to be critical to these issues.

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