Concert Hall Acoustics: From Flying Saucers to Fabric Sails

Jonas Braasch and Johannes Goebel
Wednesday, November 3, 2021 at 6PM
Concert Hall

A conversation on the inventive acoustic ceiling designs of the Aula Magna at Central University of Venezuela, Caracas and EMPAC’s Concert Hall at Rensselaer.

In the early 1950s, the American sculptor Alexander Calder collaborated with acoustic engineering team Bolt Beranek & Newman and Venezuelan architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva on the design of an extraordinary new sculptural approach to the acoustic treatment of an auditorium. Villanueva’s iconic Aula Magna in Caracas was thus the first instance of acoustic panels suspended across the ceiling of a hall of this scale to reflect optimal acoustics. Another first shapes the exceptional sound of EMPAC’s Concert Hall: the innovative design of a fabric ceiling that spans the full-length of the hall.

The installation of Calder’s Acoustic Ceiling (1953), locally known as “nubes” (clouds) or “platillos voladores” (flying saucers), produced an acoustic environment that prompted the Aula Magna to be ranked in the top five concert halls in the world by renowned architectural acoustician Leo Beranek (1914–2016), whose professional library was presented to Rensselaer by the engineer himself in 2010.

Jonas Braasch, professor of acoustics in Rensselaer’s School of Architecture and EMPAC’s founding Director Johannes Goebel, who was deeply involved with EMPAC’s acoustic design, will have a conversation about the most important and often least discussed element of a concert hall: the ceiling.

This talk is the second in a series of interdisciplinary conversations with experts from acoustics, art, architecture, and music that will explore the historic and contemporary resonances of the iconic Venezuelan hall. EMPAC’s Senior Curator for time-based visual art, Vic Brooks, is working on a major research, commissioning, and publication project on Calder’s Acoustic Ceiling at the Aula Magna, which creates interdisciplinary connections between the visual and the auditory, between art, science, and engineering.

Tuning Calder’s Clouds, edited by Vic Brooks and Jennifer Burris, will be published in fall 2022 in a collaboration between EMPAC at Rensselaer, the Calder Foundation, and Athénée Press. It is the first book to explore the artistic, technological, and political intersections of Alexander Calder’s sculptural Acoustic Ceiling and includes contributions by Dr. Lisa Blackmore, Sylvia Hernández de Lasala, María Fernanda Jaua, Dr. Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, Rafael Pereira Escalona, Dr. Juan Pérez Hernández, Jonas Braasch, Johannes Goebel, Aimon Mata, Alexander S.C. Rower, Rafael Santana, Gryphon Rue, Ana Navas, and Mirtru Escalona-Mijares.

Cuando los nubes eran las olas (When the clouds were waves) by Ana Navas and Mirtru Escalona-Mijares engages these complex legacies in the production of a new work currently in development in EMPAC’s Concert Hall and created for the Acoustic Ceiling at Aula Magna.


This talk is being presented simultaneously in person for Rensselaer faculty, staff, and students and streamed online for the general public. In-person attendance is limited so please register early. Registration is required for both physical and virtual attendance.


Johannes Goebel and Jonas Braasch's talk Concert Hall Acoustics: From Flying Saucers to Fabric Sails. November 3, 2021.

When the Clouds Were Waves: Ana Navas in conversation with Vic Brooks. December 2020

Lisa Blackmore & Jennifer Burris' talk, Ideological Entanglements and Political Fictions: Art and Architecture in Venezuela. December 8, 2021.

Dates + Tickets

Concert Hall Acoustics: From Flying Saucers to Fabric Sails
Jonas Braasch and Johannes Goebel
Wednesday 3
6:00 PM
November 2021
FREE — Registration Required
Presented By

EMPAC Fall 2021



This project is made possible with funds from the NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: MAAF Forward Fund with the support of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.