picton library


PH: This is the Picton Library, part of Liverpool's Victorian heritage. As you can see, it's a round building with a domed roof, which makes the acoustic of the interior one of the strangest you will ever hear. Saying it's reverberant only tells you half the story, as the dome acts as a parabolic reflector and takes soundwaves off in all sorts of unexpected directions.

The very first time i took Caroline in there we walked to the middle and i tapped my foot on the floor, and watched her surprised and delighted face as echoes spiralled up and engulfed the both of us. The dome focusses sound from a point in the room to another point in the room, so someone who is 20 metres away will suddenly sound as though they're on your shoulder. Also the quantity and quality of the echoes is unpredictable. At one point i was getting one single echo that was louder than the original sound, while at others there would be ten or twelve repeats. Another time there were three loud repeats, but not followed on by any more: you expect echoes to die away.

Why anyone thought this bewitching building would be a suitable place for quiet concentration is a bit of a mistery to me.

CK: Another favorite (they are all favorites) was the Picton Library, which was the exact sonic equivalent of a Hall of Mirrors. A huge shallow dome reflected each sound in a discrete & hard-to-predict way so that it would return as a series of echoes from the oddest directions, with various frequencies enhanced and sometimes with later echoes sounding louder than the initial ones as the soundwaves overlapped and caught each other up.

Playing while moving through this space was a great adventure. As I remember it, we both moved around quite a lot, and often were very aware of the great differences between what each of us was hearing (since each spot in the library had a radically different sound), as well as knowing that the recording equipment would pick up sounds that were very different again from anything that either of us heard.