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Books like this – stuffed with photos of gleaming new auditoria and paragraphs of praise for their acoustics – should normally come with a health warning for anyone who lives in London. Here we are, stuck with our fl awed and frustrating concert halls while the rest of the world presses on building inspiring and fi t-for-purpose venues that breathe life into the artform.

In fact, Victoria Newhouse does much to abate the jealousy in Site and Sound, which celebrates the vogue for new venues but also goes large on the duds, new and old. At its heart is a probing exploration of the problems that have dogged the Lincoln Center in New York. In terms of architectural sociology, Newhouse reveals, the complex was out of date before a brick had even been laid. As for the gremlins in the Avery Fisher Hall acoustic (and indeed so many other halls), they were spawned as much by poor communication as bad science. ‘It is difficult to think of any other concert hall that has been renovated, and once even entirely rebuilt, as many times as Avery Fisher Hall, and all this without ever receiving much approval of the acoustics,’ she writes. (Next time you’re in London, Victoria, allow me to introduce you to the Royal Festival Hall.)

Architecture is Newhouse’s mother tongue but she demonstrates an impressive grasp of ‘classical’ performance practice and her brief history of the hand-in-hand evolution of architecture, music and society is a gem. The shift in gear when the book starts to fire off quick reviews of recent projects can be disconcerting – as can some acoustic judgments based on rehearsals or non-acoustic performances. Newhouse’s summation of China’s building project is rigorous (it will make uncomfortable reading for at least two French architects) and her shortlist of forthcoming projects is tantalising.

Be warned though: Newhouse doesn’t really ‘do’ Britain and the nearest we get to the crux of acoustic science is Yasuhisa Toyota’s plain talking summation that ‘poor acoustics make the sound appear to be too far away’. Still, Site and Sound is revealing and intelligent, and it won’t look bad on your bookshelf or coffee table either.

ANDREW MELLOR Read the full review on Agora Classica


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