Sonic paternalism, Australian style

Like elsewhere in the Australian work force, an
industrial revolution is happening in the pit of the Sydney Opera
House. Under a new interpretation of WorkCover rules, players in the
Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra can’t be exposed to sound levels
higher than 85 decibels averaged over a day.

This will have implications for orchestral music generally, but its
immediate impact is being felt on, of all things, the Australian
Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty. To avoid any one musician being exposed to
excessive sound, the orchestra is working with relay teams of extra
musicians: four separate horn sections, four of clarinets, four of
flutes, and so on. The orchestra that begins a particular performance
isn’t necessarily the same one that finishes it.

It’s a logistical nightmare and an expensive one, adding $100,000
to the ballet’s production costs. And all this for a score as lyrical
and romantic as Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, never mind the noisily
modernist Rite of Spring.

Here is the full story.


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