Grey Room

The Shot Is Fired Unheard: Sigmund Exner and the Physiology of Reverberation

Viktoria Tkaczyk

Setup for measuring reverberation time. From Wallace Clement Sabine, “Reverberation” (1900), in Collected Papers on Acoustics (1922).


In 1905, the Viennese physiologist Exner (1846–1926) published an essay titled “Über die Akustik von Hörsälen und ein Instrument, sie zu bestimmen” (On the acoustics of lecture halls and an instrument to determine them), in which he discussed an acoustometer that determined the reverberation time in auditoriums in a manner that was markedly different from its contemporaries. Unlike the instrumental setup developed by the American physicist Wallace Clement Sabine, Exner’s acoustometer measured reverberation physically as well as physiologically by functioning as mnemonic device that compensated for the deficiencies of human auditory perception. For Exner, mechanical devices and the corresponding practices of measuring, comparing, and archiving that guaranteed scientific objectivity needed to be counterbalanced more radically by those that took into account the subjectivity of human auditory perception, attention, and memory.