Special Issue "Historical Acoustics: Relationships between Man and Sound over Time"

A special issue of Acoustics (ISSN 2624-599X).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 30 November 2018

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Jian Kang

UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering, The Bartlett, University College London (UCL), Central House, 14 Upper Woburn Place, London WC1H 0NN, UK
Website | E-Mail
Phone: +44(0)20 3108 7338 (Ex: 57338)
Interests: environmental and building acoustics
Guest Editor
Dr. Francesco Aletta

1. UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering, The Bartlett, University College London (UCL), Central House, 14 Upper Woburn Place, London WC1H 0NN, UK
2. Department of Information technology, Ghent University, 9052 Ghent, Belgium
Website | E-Mail
Interests: environmental acoustics, soundscape, community noise, noise annoyance, urban planning, environmental design, environmental assessment, landscape design

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Sounds are physical phenomena filled with information content that have helped mankind to make sense of the world and finding its way over centuries, since the beginning of time. While the establishment of “acoustics” as the science of the “production, transmission and effects of sound” in our modern understanding could be determined to have happened approximately two-hundred year ago, scientific acoustical studies date back to the 6th century BC, with the ancient Greek philosophers, and were developed later on by Roman architects and engineers. In fact, the interest human communities have shown towards acoustical phenomena goes back much more than that, for which recent research outcomes from archaeoacoustics, investigating the auditory and acoustic environment of prehistoric sites and monuments, have been very fruitful. Indeed, societies and cultures have been more or less aware of the importance of “sound” and the science underpinning it, and acoustics have always played a central role for our lives and evolution.

This Special Issue, as the first Special Issue of this newly-established journal, seeks to explore the origins of acoustics, by examining relationships between man and sound over time. It aims at gathering contributions from a broad range of topics related (but not limited) to: Acoustic characterization of prehistorical and historical spaces and buildings, acoustics of worship spaces (e.g., temples, mosques, churches, etc.) and ancient theatres, auralization of soundscapes of the past, soundscape of heritage sites and sound as cultural heritage, and literature reviews about acoustic treaties.

Prof. Jian Kang
Dr. Francesco Aletta
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Acoustics is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) is waived for well-prepared manuscripts submitted to this issue. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • Historical acoustics
  • Archaeoacoustics
  • Ancient theatres
  • Worship acoustics
  • Soundscapes of the past
  • Cultural heritage

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Historical Evolution of the Acoustics of Choir in Spanish Cathedrals
Authors: Alonso, A.; Suárez, R.; Sendra, J.
Affiliation: Instituto Universitario de Arquitectura y Ciencias de la Construcción. Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura. Universidad de Sevilla
Abstract: One of the most significant enclosures in worship spaces is the choir. Generally, from a historical point of view, the choir is a semi-closed and privileged area reserved for the clergy, whose position and configuration gives it a private character. Regarding the generation and transformation of ecclesial interior spaces, the choir has a role of the first magnitude. Its shape and location produces, on occasions, important modifications of those indoor spaces. In the case of some Spanish cathedrals, whose design responds to the so-called "Spanish type", the central position of the choir stalls breaks up the space in the main nave, generating other new spaces such as the trascoro.
In relation to the acoustics, the choir is one of the elements that configures the acoustic issue of cathedrals, since its centered location, closed by high stonework walls on three of its sides and with numerous wooden stalls inside, has a noticeable effect in the soundfield. In this work, a tour is made through the main Spanish cathedrals, analysing the evolution and acoustic impact of the choir.

Title: The Significance of Sound Diffraction Effects in Ancient Theatres – Measurements and Simulations with and without Audience
Authors: Panos Economou, etc.
Affiliation: (1) P.E. Mediterranean Acoustics Research & Development Ltd, Cyprus; (2) Panacoustics Ltd., Limassol, Cyprus

Title: Analysis of the History of Urban Transportation Noise
Authors: Bennett Brooks
Affiliation: Brooks Acoustics Corp., Vernon Rockville, CT, USA

Title: Progressive Changes in Humanity's Understanding of Acoustic Phenomena as Reflected in the Archaeological Record
Authors: Steven J. Waller
Affiliation: Rock Art Acoustics

Title: Performance Space, Political Theater, and Audibility in Downtown Chaco
Authors: David E. Witt, Kristy E. Primeau
Affiliation: (1) Department of Anthropology, SUNY Buffalo, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, USA; (2) Department of Anthropology, SUNY Albany, University at Albany, Albany, NY, USA
Abstract: Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, was the center of an Ancestral Puebloan polity from approximately 850 C.E. to 1140 C.E, and home to a dozen palatial structures known as “Great Houses” and scores of ritual structures called “Great Kivas.” It is hypothesized that the 2.5 square kilometers centered on the largest Great House, Pueblo Bonito, (a.k.a., “Downtown Chaco”) served as performance space for both political theater and sacred ritual. The authors use soundshed GIS tools to illustrate the extent of this performance space and the interaudibility between various locations within Downtown Chaco. Architecture placed at liminal locations may have inscribed sound in the landscape, physically marking the boundary of performance space. Finally, the implications of including a consideration of sound within political theater will be discussed.

Title: The Contribution of the Scenery in the Acoustics of the Greek Ancient Theatre
Author: Barkas, N.
Affiliation: Department of Architecture, Faculty of Engineering, Democritus University of Thrace
Abstract: The famous acoustics of the Greek ancient theatres relies on the successful conjunction of appropriate location and architectural design. The theatres of the ancient world effectively combine two contradictory requirements: large audience capacity and excellent aural and visual comfort. Despite the serious alterations resulting either from Roman modifications or from accumulated destructions, most of these theatres are still theatrically and acoustically functional. Acoustic research has proven that ancient theatres are applications of a successful combination of the basic parameters governing the acoustic design of open-air venues: elimination of external noise, harmonic development of the audience around the performing space, geometric functions among the various parts of the theatre, reinforcement of the directly sound through positive sound reflections, and suppression of the delayed sound reflections or the reverberation. The paper attempts to demonstrate the positive role of the scenery in current ancient drama performances to activate the acoustic capacities of the theatre space in order to surmount the destructive disturbance due to environmental noise.

Title: Word and Mystery: Acoustical History of Western Worship Spaces
Author: Braxton Boren
Affiliation: Audio Technology Program, American University, Washington, DC
Abstract: To a first-order approximation we can place most interior acoustic spaces on a continuum between an acoustically free field, an open-air like context without sound reflections, and an acoustically diffuse field, a cave-like environment with very many reflections presented from every side. One of the chief challenges in acoustical design is that fact that both the clarity of the free field and the immersion of the diffuse field are subjectively preferred by audiences, yet these two goals are almost completely opposed to one another. The movement back and forth along this continuum in acoustical design can also be seen in the religious contexts for many of the culturally important buildings constructed in the West in the last two millennia. In the case of religious ceremony, a free field acoustic environment provides more clarity and precision in the word spoken, the logos received from God and given to the congregation. Yet a diffuse field environment provides the otherworldly sense of the supernatural, the mystery of the faith received which cannot merely be put into words. This tension is present in many of the religious controversies in the West during this time period. Many of the acoustic spaces used by different traditions mirror the assumptions of that tradition regarding the proper balance between semantic and subconscious communication during the worship service. Past and present examples are discussed, and some conclusions are drawn about the likely future acoustic trajectories of different denominations, as well as some applications to non-Western and non-interior religious traditions.

Title: Acoustic Simulation of Julius Caesar’s Battlefield Speeches
Author: Braxton Boren
Affiliation: Audio Technology Program, American University, Washington, DC
Abstract: History contains many accounts of speeches given by civic and military leaders before large crowds prior to the invention of electronic amplification. Historians have debated the historical accuracy of these accounts, often making some reference to acoustics, either supporting or refuting the accounts, but without any numerical justification. The field of digital humanities, and more specifically archaeoacoustics, seeks to use computational techniques to provide empirical data to improve historical analysis. Julius Caesar recalled giving speeches to 15,000 men after the battle of Dyrrachium and another to 22,000 men before the battle of Pharsalus during the Roman Civil War. Caesar’s background and education are discussed, including his training in rhetoric and oratory, which would have affected his articulation and effective sound pressure level while addressing his troops. Based on subjective reports about Caesar’s oratorical abilities, his effective SPL is assumed to be 80 dBA, about 6 dB above the average loud speaking voice but lower than that of the loudest trained actors and singers. Simulations show that for reasonable background noise conditions Caesar could have been heard intelligibly by 15,000 soldiers in a quiet, controlled environment like the speech at Dyrrachium. In contrast, even granting generous acoustic and geometric conditions, Caesar could not have been heard by more than about 600 soldiers while his army was on the march before the battle of Pharsalus.

Title: Toward Italian Opera Houses: A Review of Acoustic Design in the Pre-Sabine Scholars
Author: Dario D’Orazio
Affiliation: DIN, University of Bologna, Italy
Abstract: A from XVI Century to the present, the demand for buildings where the opera took place followed the development of the melodrama. Several authors wrote about the optimal design of an opera house. While some of them did not cross the boundaries of the theoretical research, others went on building theaters following their particular theories, such as Niccolini with the San Carlo theater in Naples. Early authors researched on merely architectural systems and principles, following the classical approach - as Carini-Motta in the relationship with Vitruvius. Late authors, from the XIX Century, widened the scope including social reason in the theather design. All of these writings are earlier than the foundation for architectural acoustics as a science, which is dated back to Sabine’s work. The aim of this article is to focus on the publications, regarding theatre design, of the early authors, analyzing them by highlighting the consistencies in Italian opera house from 19th century, which have become the standard concerning the theatrical building solutions.

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