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Scientists digitally recreate Hagia Sophia acoustics

J-P Mauro - published on 12/31/19

Vocal group Capella Romana releases music as though sung in Hagia Sophia.

Between its time as a Greek Orthodox cathedral and an Islamic mosque, there has been a lot of music performed within the monumental walls of Hagia Sophia. The magnificent Turkish structure has stood for 1,482 years and in that time hosted countless devoted performances, that is, until the building was converted to a museum, in 1935.

Since then, the dizzying rafters have rung silent, but to those who make a study of sound, Hagia Sophia persists as the great white whale of acoustics. Now, in a bid to capture and immortalize these legendary acoustics, a team of scientists from Stanford University has digitally recreated the former holy space, in order to lend its vast echos to religious recordings.

The project, known as “Icons of Sound,” used technology to map the sound movements in Hagia Sophia. The team would pop balloons all around the room and they would note the change in tone and echo duration based on the distance from the microphone. This data was all put to the effort of recreating the experience of being present at the historic church.

After several years working to capture the sound, the Stanford team has reported their success. In order to demonstrate their hard-earned special effect, they teamed with Cappella Romana, a choral group that specializes in music of the Early Church, in order to produce a full-length album of historically relevant music, all performed as though it were recorded in Hagia Sophia.

The sound they produce is intense to say the least, as can be heard in the videos above and below. The nature of Hagia Sophia as a musical space leads to notes that ring for over 11 seconds. In order to account for the duration of their reverberations, musicians must adopt slower tempos so multiple chords do not overlap.

In the video below, Capella Romana performs some of their Hagia Sophia music live, with the echo effect on. This may be the closest that we can ever get to hearing an authentic performance from Hagia Sophia. This revelation makes us equally ecstatic that Stanford was able to digitally recreate the space for future use and depressed that Hagia Sophia does not vibrate with the sounds of worship each week.

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