Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Taking Soundings

In the "Evening Standard" a few days ago was an article about the coming shows in Hyde Park which were claimed to have state of the art facilities of the 21st Century.  One was that the sound in performance would mean that it would be impossible to hear the person next to you speak. 

This could seem to be an advantage in the case of having one of those chatty people who simply cannot shut up who might be next to you.  What is does mean is that both the decibel sound level and the mix of frequencies etc. are designed to have a huge impact.

In my own locality, some venue owners who have been told to limit their sound output have complained that it is akin to a human right to decide your own sound level and effects and that performance is impossible without this.  What happens to others is none of their business but the Council's problem.

A contact of mine took exception to this and mailed the local council and copied it to me for interest.  this blog has mentioned hearing issues in the past.


For the attention of the Chief Executive, the Legal and other relevant Departments.

Reference to reports in the local media about Noise Abatement and the protests of some venue owners concerning orders issued relating to the control of sound levels.  To suggest that they "fall silent" is both inaccurate and misleading. 

I have been to very many performances of live music in various places, none of which were amplified, but which were far from silent.  The problem is not performance, it is the nature of the very high levels of amplification used in some forms of music.

The Council is to be congratulated on taking into account the potential consequences for others in attempting to limit the extent and effects of high decibel and other levels of sound in the vicinity of these venues. 

What is clear is that many people, including those wishing to provide high sound events have little or no understanding of what is involved and the responsibilities entailed.  There is ample information available from organisations that deal with hearing loss of the very real risks entailed in exposure to excessive sound that high levels of decibels can result in permanent damage sometimes to the extent of real disability and handicap. 

To suggest that venue owners can  be at liberty to ramp up the sound to well above danger levels not only to those present but also to others in the vicinity who are at risk is not simply foolish it is asking for trouble.

Because research into the effects of sound has benefited from the progress in science and capability in recent years the questions arising go beyond that of simple direct sound and the potential and risk of damage to hearing.  One notable field is that of neurology where recent scanning and related techniques have transformed both knowledge and understanding.

One aspect of this is that the loss of hearing is not confined to the ear drums but connects to the parts of the brain related to this.  This has long term effects on both behaviour and function.  Necessarily, where a person may already have any condition or potential, notably for aneurysms, then the excessive sound will materially increase the risk.  Also  people with particular other forms of cardiac or neural issues can be affected adversely.

But sound is not something essentially "ethereal" it is also a physical entity to which the laws of physics apply.  To put it crudely high persistent sound levels are said to induce a "high".  This is in fact concussion to one degree or another.  An effect of concussion is a disassociation and often loss of control.  Too much concussion too often can lead to permanent brain damage, as in boxing or other violent sports.   

In the period before health and safety regulation severe deafness and behaviour issues were notorious in many trades and works.  Also, many people were made vulnerable because of medical issues that affected the hearing and potential for damage, for example, infections either not diagnosed or treated late.

Beyond the human effects there are the potential effects on the actual venue building and others in the immediate vicinity.  This takes us into the physics of Collapse Dynamics a relatively new field of study although related to long known aspects of structures and geophysics.  Loud sound creates physical tremors which can move through earth and buildings. 

The effects are difficult to predict because of the necessary complexity.  However, recently the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, one of the more solid buildings of a past age, cancelled an amplified performance because of the potential structural risks.

If there are a number of venues each creating through the amplification systems varying and sometimes intensive bursts of sound and tremors over a long period of time then it would be difficult to predict, but it would be wise to assume that potential cost can arise.  Where then the liability might fall is a legal question for which expert advice is necessary.

Sadly, I suspect that those who believe that performance is impossible without high levels of amplification will not be persuaded and will not care about the risks and costs not only to those who take part but others who have the misfortune to be nearby.


What he failed to mentions was that these days among the young whose hearing mostly should be good and for whom treatments for infections or other natural hearing loss are available, very many are slowly and certainly losing their hearing without realising it.

Nor being aware of the long term consequences.

1 comment:

  1. This article is mind blowing I read it and enjoyed. I always find this type of article to learn and gather knowledge.

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