An architect and acoustics expert who’s worked on some of the most famous concert venues in the world said he brought state-of-the-art technology to a recently debuted new sound system in St. Peter’s Basilica, creating a wave of sound radiating out from the main altar.
Newsdesk (13/08/2023 11:52, Gaudium Press) The system was used for the first time on July 23 for a Mass for the World Day of Grandparents and the Elderly, replacing an audio system in the basilica that had been installed almost a quarter-century ago for the Great Jubilee of 2000.
In effect, Carlo Carbone says, the project was a “back to the future” exercise, using state-of-the-art technology to restore the acoustical experience faithful had before the Second Vatican Council when the Mass was more sung than spoken.
“Studying reverberation in churches made me reflect on the profound effects caused by the passage from a sung to a recited liturgy that took place with the Second Vatican Council,” said Carbone, an Italian architect and sound engineer who’s designed systems for major events such as Firenze Rocks, an annual rock and roll festival in the city of Florence.
“It was no coincidence that over the centuries the Mass had been sung, we are talking about a melody composed in relation to the presence of the reverberation of the churches,” Carbone said.
The 63-year-old acoustics expert noted that unlike other ancient religions, which tended to stage their rites outside in natural settings, Christianity opted to worship indoors.
“The model of the Roman basilica was chosen, and, by removing an apse, they discovered that the echo imposes its own overlay, its own music,” he said.
The transition to a liturgy more characterized by an alteration between song and the spoken word, he said, disrupted these harmonics.
“Gregorian chant is intelligible in all the points of a church, but with the passage to a recited liturgy, the alternation of notes becomes faster and that type of reverberation creates confusion,” he said.
That natural problem, he said, was exacerbated in the post-Vatican II period by a tendency to install speakers in churches that emit sound simultaneously from a variety of different points, which, he said, means that the acoustical centrality of the altar becomes lost.
As a result, Carbone said he designed a system in which sound is not projected from all the speakers inside the basilica simultaneously, but passes through roughly 80 speakers with millisecond delays regulated by digital technology, creating the impression of sound originating at the altar and then spreading out through the church.
In effect, he said, it’s the same technique used at rock concerts, with the sound originating on the stage and then being relayed through the concert space, creating the impression of movement as the sound fills the environment.
According to Carbone, it’s the first time such rock-and-roll acoustic engineering has been employed in a church. He said it’s especially useful in churches of a Romanesque design since Gothic spaces tend to have acoustics naturally better adapted to the interspersing of speech and song.
According to Vatican News, the state-run media outlet, the project took ten months to complete and was carried out in partnership with the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, the Fabric of St. Peter’s and the Bose audio technology company, under Carbone’s direction.
The work was largely carried out at night, when the basilica was closed to the public, and involved removing wiring that had been placed under the floor in fits and starts over the last seventy years, installing almost 125 miles of modern fibre cables instead.
The basilica has now been divided into twenty distinct audio centres, according to the Vatican News account, each with its own audio-visual controls integrated with the system for radio and television broadcasts.
- Raju Hasmukh with files from Crux Now