Music sounds better when the benches fit your butt | AspenTimes.com
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Music sounds better when the benches fit your butt

Brent Gardner-Smith

Samuel Butler once wrote: “To know whether you are enjoying a piece of music or not you must see whether you find yourself looking at the advertisements of Pear’s soap at the end of the program.”

He might well have added that if your cheeks are uncomfortable, then it may be difficult for your ears to enjoy a performance.

To that end, the Aspen Music Festival staff is busy replacing the cast aluminum legs on the 129 benches in the $15 million Bayer-Benedict Music Tent that opened last June to generally rave reviews.

The new legs will lower the benches an inch or two so that they sit at the more comfortable height of 16 3/4 inches off the floor.

“Height in a bench makes a huge difference,” said John Backman, the project architect who works for Harry Teague Architects. “If you are a short person and your feet are not touching the ground, that’s not very comfortable.”

But what of tall music lovers who found the benches just right?

“It’s easier for a tall person to sit on a short bench than a short person to sit on a tall bench,” Backman noted.

The tent seats 2,050 patrons on padded benches. Each bench has room for as few as two and as many as 15 people. The casual and communal bench seating is a tradition that was carried over to the new tent from the first two Aspen music tents.

The benches ended up higher than desirable because there were variances in the height of the concrete floor of the facility, said Backman. When the benches were installed, they were lined up to ensure the tops of them were all the same height, which was visually pleasing but left some toes dangling.

“They began mounting the benches where the concrete was highest,” said Backman.

It’s no easy task to retrofit the benches, as the legs are anchored into the concrete floor. Backman estimated the project would cost over $100,000 with the primary expense being the labor involved in changing the approximately 750 bench legs.

And while the Music Festival is working to ensure that the tent is comfortable when it is full of people, it is also spending close to $200,000 to make sure the tent sounds great even when it is empty.

As the tent is often used for rehearsals, the sound quality needs to be improved for the musicians even if no audience is there to hear them or to act as human acoustical dampeners.

“It is pretty loud when it is not full of people,” said Betsy Furth, the Aspen Music School and Festival’s media and public relations director.

Five white banners of a fabric similiar to the tent’s outer skin will be installed so they can be raised or lowered about 15 feet, depending on need. They will hang in an octagonal arrangement from the central disc at the top of the tent.

In addition to the banners, a large acoustic reflector will be hung from the ceiling of the tent between the main entrance and the center of the tent. This will help the acoustics in the tent to be fine-tuned as there are still some instruments, in some locations, that tend to stand out too much.

The refinements to the tent are expected to be complete for the first concert on June 22.


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