Letter: Rock concert less a problem than implied

Editor’s note: The following letter is in response to Letter: Resident displeased with concert ruckus published May 30.

Video footage from concert hall to road and back showing difference in noise from concert.

May 28 DB reading in concert hall
Dear Editor:

After Art of Conversation Morinville held the all candidates debate last fall, I invited all members of council and any member of the community who was concerned to talk to me personally about the expected impact about noise from the cultural centre shows. My back ground is that I own a commercial recording studio and am extremely well versed in how decibel levels work, how sound transmits through materials and building techniques for sound proofing and dampening. I am a paid consultant worldwide for my knowledge in audio engineering and studio/building construction. The first person to take me up on the offer of professional (but free) advise about the issue was Mayor Lloyd Bertschi. I was approached by almost all members of council and within a month of the debate seeking my opinion on the matter. Not one member of the public took me up on my offer to be “armed with facts” including Mr.Stirling who seems to be the main force behind the complaints about the Cultural Centre.

May 28 DB reading outside main doors of cultural centre
By no means do I mean this letter to be a personal attack on Mr.Stirling. I understand that he is passionate about where he lives and wants Morinville to be the best it can be. From this perspective we are on the same side.

When Mr. Stirling saw the Cultural Centre crowd for Saturday night’s show, he saw a drunken display, a town council that doesn’t care about the residents of Morinville and was horrified that children may not be able to sleep through this.

What I saw was a generally well-behaved crowd with the usual couple of inconsiderate people. I saw people from out of town and local residents’ jaws hit the floor at what an extraordinary building council has worked hard and been caring enough to provide for us.

As I was loading out gear at 2:30 a.m. I saw three RCMP cruisers storm up to the building only to greet me personally at the door. They had a complaint that the event was still going on and they were there to shut it down. Both the officer and I were equally perplexed as I explained that I was the sound engineer for the evening and the event had been over for 1/2 an hour. When he stopped and listened only to realize there was no music happening he said, “Sorry, we had received a complaint from a resident about the noise.” They did not break up a tail gate party. They moved on letting staff and designated drivers get on with the business of getting everyone home safely.

May 28 DB reading at road facing cultural centre
From what I see Mr. Stirling appears to be unhappy about the cultural centre at any cost. At first Mr. Stirling had centred his argument that the community centre should not be in his backyard around the “science” quoting the engineers studies that the town had hired with quotes such as:

“ACI had been very clear last year that peak music sounds for concerts would be in the 120 decibel range, resulting in peak sound levels in neighbouring yard of 71 decibels.”

Mr. Stirling said sound at that level would overcome normal speech.

I rebutted with the following:

“I doubt that Mr. Stirling is going to be getting any free concerts. He will likely hear bass but I doubt that the vocals and guitars will be loud enough for anyone in the neighbourhood to sing along unless you get those brief moments when all the wind stops, there is no traffic and you happen to know the song and can reconstruct in in your mind. Any conversations going on will easily be understood. In fact if a person puts their T.V. on they would be hard pressed to know there is even a rock show in the community cultural centre.”

My guess is that Mr. Stirling either didn’t completely understand the engineering studies that he read or that it took an engineer to understand the report. As I stated in the rebuttal decibel levels are complex and are not easy to translate into what we will experience in the real world. At any rate this is Stirling’s latest comment after the show.

“The Town side-stepped the SDAB’s ruling that mitigation methods be approved prior to taking over this building, instead voting to do a study on baseline noise levels in the area. The noise from the actual concert was reduced to a constant thump from the bass which was enough to disrupt sleep. Please tell me they at least had the common sense to do the noise study during this event so that mitigation can be corrected in a timely manner. Not holding my breath on that one.”
As it turns out the prediction that I made was far more accurate than the predicted catastrophe Mr. Stirling was in for as per his understanding of the “real experts”.

I am not sure if anyone else was doing a noise study during this event but I can tell you that Art of Conversation did. Photographs of the decibel readings were taken and continuous video from the concert hall to the road were taken to show the drop in noise from the show. As the sound engineer in control of the volume of the show, I ran this concert at about 110db. Just before the point of the human ear distorting. It is louder than my tastes but most concert fans tend to like these levels. In the foyer of the cultural centre – 30 feet from the main concert hall – you could easily have a conversation without the sound interfering. At the street the noise level would not register above normal background noise.

Upon the science failing to provide the case for Mr. Stirling that the cultural centre is interfering with his quality of life, he is now changing his argument that it is the behaviour of the concert-attending residents interfering with his quality of life. I wonder how much support that will garner.

When the Neighbour’s dog barks, it is much louder than most ruckus at the cultural centre. Has no one ever beeped their horn while driving by the high school on a Saturday night? What about loud motorcycles, hot rod cars or kids just being kids being loud walking down any street in our community on Saturday night?

I heard no mention of any sound complaints when I ran the sound check from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. I ran it as hot as 120 decibels just to make sure we had extra power if needed. I’d be willing to bet no one knew we were even there. Does no one sleep in past 9:30 a.m. on Saturday anymore?

Common sense tells me that residents close to the cultural centre knew that concerts held there would yield some increased noise from concert goers. I believe that on the whole residents welcomed the cultural centre because the benefits of it outweigh some minor annoyance that may happen once in a while. I understand that residents were deeply concerned that concert noise may interfere with their quality of life. This was fanned by a study that likely needed an expert to translate. I bet that on the whole residents have breathed a sigh of relief that this audio apocalypse never happened.

The facts on hearing bass from concerts-

Bass frequencies are the hardest to “sound proof” against. In order to do this you must build a building within a building with dampeners to isolate the 2 structures so they effectively don’t touch each other. This kind of construction would be cost prohibitive and would likely quadruple the cost of the building. High and mid frequencies such as guitars and voice are much easier to dampen and the cultural centre does an extremely good job of this. There are no trees walls or trenches that can stop these bass frequencies.

As I stated, I respect Mr. Stirling’s passion for the welfare of his community. On the whole the community appears to have embraced the Community Cultural Centre by having well-attended functions and positive feedback for the staff that work hard to make this community shine. There are no floods of complaints and letters to the editor of all the local papers about this issue. But somehow even though my decibel meter can’t hear it I do hear a squeaky wheel. It’s time to move on and enjoy all the best that Morinville has to offer.

Paul Smith

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1 Comment

  1. A lengthy article indeed and I feel the need to add to some of what your saying.

    Beginning with the RCMP at 230am, I was the one who called after going to bed, I was suddenly disturbed by three cars with stereo blasting. All three cars had 4 way flashers on, I made the complaint and hung up, all 3 cars immediately turned off the stereo and lights, 2 cars immediately left the area. Therefore if you were there you know exactly what the complaint was. We suspect someone had a scanner.

    You say my concern was centered about the science of the ACI report and that “Mr. Stirling said sound at that level would overcome normal speech”, again as I stated in another article to you, those are the exact words from the ACI report. And so its clear, as presented to Council, the fears were of excessive concert noise and noise produced from patrons in front of the building, especially at events containing alcohol.

    As it appears you may be correct about the actual noise levels from the Centre and ACI may not. But in my previous article for which you refer, I did not complain of the music noise from the Centre other than the thump from the base, which you admit is very difficult to control. And when you made your observations did you take into account it was fairly windy and cold. Wind will certainly have a lessening effect on sound waves and in the cold everyone tends to keep windows closed. What will be the result on a still, hot night in the summer?

    You ask if dogs barking, noisy kids etc… aren’t louder than that of the Centre, again, for the most part it wasn’t the noise from the concert. But to compare neighborhood noise to that of listening to amplified sound until late hours is a bit ridiculous. If your neighbor was to crank their stereo until 1am I’m sure the police would be getting a call. The noise By-law is quite specific that no noise shall disturb the residents of the Town after 10pm, why should the Centre get an exemption on that, considering they knowingly placed it next to a residential neighborhood.

    As for some minor annoyances outweighing the benefits to the Centre, this is yet to be seen, again lets wait for a max capacity night when it’s hot with no wind, and again every weekend throughout the summer.

    As for you doing sound level checks on your own, this shows responsibility on your part. Question is, why isn’t the Town paying you for that service? They knew this was a problem and that you’re a local company capable of doing it….

    You may feel I’m “a squeaky wheel” but then again you don’t live directly in front of this facility.

    And to finish, you are right that there have been no floods of complaints or letters to the editor, but I think this is more apathy, as we tend to see in most things going on today. But since Sunday I have been made aware of two families now considering moving as a direct result of the Centre being place at the High School.

    Tim Stirling

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