Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Is The Kop a metaphysical idea?

It was announced yesterday that work on the replacement stadium for Anfield will begin in Stanley Park, Liverpool, next month. Liverpool fans, of course, are legitimately concerned that the atmosphere of Anfield, and, in particular, the atmosphere of The Kop end will be lost. Tony Evans raises the question in today's Times that The Kop may just be "a metaphysical idea, merely being a manifestation of the intensity of purpose Liverpool fans bring to their support."

On the contrary, I would suggest that the atmosphere produced by Anfield and The Kop end, has a lot to do with physics. It is the quality of the sound at Anfield which makes it so special, and this is a consequence of the fact that Anfield is so compact and enclosed. A new, more open stadium, designed for architectural appearance rather than quality of sound, will lose the acoustic quality which makes Anfield special.

The quality of sound heard by an audience in a building is largely a function of that building's reverberation time, the time taken for reflected sound to decay to inaudibility. Now, three-quarters of the intensity of a sound will lost in one-tenth of the reverberation time. After this length of time, the human ear and brain is capable of distinguishing a new sound. In a good concert hall, for example, the reverberation time is 2 seconds, and this means that a new sound can be distinguished every 0.2 seconds. That makes for 5 new sounds each second, which is approximately the rate at which notes are performed in many forms of music. In contrast, a good lecture theatre has a reverberation time of 0.5 seconds, given that a human speaker produces new sounds every 0.05 seconds.

The reverberation time for a building is determined by both the size and shape of the building. If the reverberation time is too long for the type of sound being produced, then different sounds become confused. Conversely, if the reverberation time is too short, then the smooth flow of sound is lost. It is also important that the intensity of the sound decays smoothly with time. (Info. on reverberation times from John Barrow, 'The Artful Universe', p227-229)

I can personally attest to the fact that the reverberation time at Anfield is just right. 'You'll never walk alone' seems to reverberate very pleasantly off the roof of the Anfield Road grandstand, and the roof over The Kop. The design of the new stadium needs to pay very careful attention to the physics of acoustics, and moreso than the aesthetic sweep of the grandstands.


Andrew said...

I wonder to what extent the long reverberation times of cathedrals is a kind of guarantee for choral types of music such as Gregorian chanting where sustained notes heavily echoed are produced. Ambient type music in general typically big on echo, and then the related issue of why cetain areas of the mind broadly described as meditative or spiritual resonate with this kind of aural phenomena.

Gordon McCabe said...

Barrow says "Much choral and organ music exemplifies the slow majestic sound that is best heard in buildings like vast cathedrals, with long reverberation times." Music of the baroque period, in contrast, was performed in smaller halls, theatres and churches, with reverberation times at or below 1.5 seconds.

Andrew said...

I actually have had that Barrow book for years without as yet giving it much of a look. You're impressed presumably?

Gordon McCabe said...

Yeah, it's full of lots of great stuff. Much recommended.

Brit said...

Great post. I think it IS a metaphysical idea. I do think they will take acoustics into account at the new Anfield. I also think the atmosphere will suffer anyway.

Mind you, you could argue that the Kop ceased to be the Kop when they put the seats in.

My father took me to stand in the Kop a couple of times. The intensity of being in that swaying crowd was remarkable.

Gordon McCabe said...

I think it's enchanting that at Anfield you can still buy a pie and a pint from a little shop which basically occupies a concrete recess in the grandstand. There won't be any of that in the new stadium.

If The Kop is a metaphysical idea, then maybe it will indeed be able to supervene on a different physical substrate, and maybe it will still house the ghost of Shankly. Time (if time exists) will tell.