There seems to be some evidence that human behavior and emotions are profoundly affected by the size, shape and quality of the structures humans work, live and recreate in. To quote from a 2011 article in Wired, “...creativity and abstract thinking benefit from high ceilings...” Movie palaces and opera houses, cathedrals, train terminals from the heroic age of steam trains: these were designed to lift the heart and free the imagination. And, as every acoustic designer of any worth fully understands, you hear a space as profoundly as you see it.
As a five-year-old about to board a train to Chicago (The James Whitcomb Riley), I closed my eyes under the great Deco dome of Cincinnati’s Union Terminal to listen to the space. Then, of course, I opened them and took in the wonder of the vaulted ceiling, with its mosaics of WPA workmen and concentric red and gold bands. About that same time, I was savoring weekly trips to the Albee, our premier movie palace, whose golden dome convinced me — eyes open or closed — that there must be a heaven. (How could there not be, if we could create this kind of soaring space on Earth?)
By the time I joined on as a partner in a movie palace of my own, I was beginning to understand that there was such a thing as acoustics: you could stand center stage at the St. George and talk, unaided by amplification, without raising your voice, to a friend standing six stories up towards the back of the dome, in the area just in front of the door to the projection booth. That’s what’s called a “sweet” house, as much a mystery, in its way, as a perfectly-built violin.
I like to think that all the voices that ever inhabited the St. George Theatre, from Blossom Seeley’s on opening night, December 4, 1929 (last of the red hot mamas, or so she styled herself) through Tony Bennett’s, K.D. Laing’s, Pat Benatar’s, and even mine (offering free popcorn to angry patrons while the film was being spliced) actually live in the space below the dome, the way it’s said that radio signals inhabit outer space. That would go, as well, for the soundtrack to every movie that ever played there, including the grinding of wheel against wheel in the Ben Hur chariot race sequence, and rasping violins interspersed with running water Hitchcock used in Psycho’s shower scene. They’re all in there, hovering just below the dome; and if you go in, sit down and close your eyes, you can almost hear them.
Afterthought: I’d like to credit the Rubin Museum’s "BrainWave 2017: Perception" exhibition. And for an intriguing link that informs, check out this Epoch Times' blogpost.