Braxton Boren: Acoustic Simulation of Soundscapes from History

When: Monday 11th March 2019 @ 5:10 PM

Where: Atrium (G.10), Alison House, Nicolson Square

Title: Acoustic Simulation of Soundscapes from Historys

Speaker: Dr Braxton Boren (American University, USA)


Computational acoustic simulation has been used as a tool realize unbuilt spaces in the case of architectural design, or purely virtual spaces in the case of video game audio. However, another important application of this technology is the capacity to recreate sounds and soundscapes that no longer exist for historical and musicological research. Most of our historical knowledge is visually oriented – the size, color, or texture of places and people has been able to be recorded in some form for millennia. Conversely sound is instead transient, quickly decaying, and was not able to be recorded generally until the 19th century. Because of this, our conception of history is more like a photo album than a movie – the sounds of performance spaces or charismatic speakers are mostly left to our imagination. However, in the past decade, computational acoustic simulation has allowed a lens into sounds from the past, allowing us to predict with high accuracy the role of sound in different spaces and historical contexts. This talk will give examples of using acoustic modeling to simulate the influence of changing church acoustics on Western music, focusing especially on the examples of Renaissance Venice and Baroque Leipzig. The talk will also examine the role of acoustics and speech intelligibility on oratory and speeches to large crowds before electronic amplification was available, focusing on the examples of George Whitefield in 18th century London and Julius Caesar during the Roman Civil War.

Speaker Bio

Braxton Boren is Assistant Professor of Audio Technology at American University, where he joined the faculty in Fall 2017. He received a BA in Music Technology from Northwestern University, where he was the valedictorian of the Bienen School of Music in 2008. He was awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to attend the University of Cambridge to research computational acoustic simulation, where he earned his MPhil in Physics in 2010. He completed his Ph.D. in Music Technology at MARL, the Music and Audio Research Laboratory at New York University in 2014. He worked as a postdoctoral researcher working in spatial audio over headphones at Princeton University’s 3D Audio and Applied Acoustics Laboratory from 2014-2016. He taught high school Geometry from 2016-2017 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, NY.