I have to say I get a bit shirty when I hear stories about new urban apartment-dwellers breezing in and whinging about ‘noise pollution’ coming from the next-door pub that’s been supporting live music for the last 50 years. I mean to say… please. It’s like moving next door to a church and complaining about the bells on Sunday. Get a grip.
The pub/apartment battle has been ongoing for some time and it’s one that the developers have been winning. But in this issue we talk to the owner of The Austral in Adelaide, and hear how she refused to cave in. In fact Gosia Schild carried her fight all the way to the Supreme Court. It took her two years and $2m but we can thank her for changes in the licensing laws that now recognise ‘prior use’. It all sounds like a victory for sanity if you ask me.
As you will see later this issue, the Austral’s ‘victory’ came at quite a cost. The old beer garden has been entombed in a concrete ‘Bunka’ to ensure the neighbours weren’t troubled by any of those pesky bands (that just happen to be the future of our domestic music scene). Credit must go to Gosia and her team for designing something that looks smart and also does the job.
What The Bunka demonstrates rather well is the lengths one needs to go to in trying to stop sound leaking out of a building. I thought I’d take the time to debunk a few myths about soundproofing and provide a couple of tips in the process.
First things first: don’t confuse sound proofing with other sound treatments. Acoustically treating your venue is something we all can and should do to improve the atmosphere of our spaces. Most acoustic treatments aim to improve the sound of the room. They might cut down unnecessary echoes, for example, which is a key problem when people are shouting at each other to be heard in a restaurant. Soft furnishings and various foam or plaster products assist to soften the sound of your venue such that people are hearing themselves (or the direct output of the PA) and not hearing things that have bounced around the room 10 times.
But those treatments don’t constitute sound proofing.
When people talk about sound proofing they’re generally referring to stopping bass sounds from escaping. It’s much easier to keep high frequencies inside your venue but bass frequencies are extraordinarily hard to restrain. Anyone who’s heard a hotted-up hoon wagon lurching down the street will know what I’m talking about. The first thing you hear is the bass — the woofers — thumping away. Inside the car our hearing-impaired pal is being caned by his music, but all we hear is the bass. Bass frequencies require big speakers and the sound waves are metres and metres long. And just like any big wave (or tsunami) they tend to go around/over anything in their way.
To keep low bass escaping from your venue (or a particular room in your venue) you’ve got a helluva lot of work to do. It’s no coincidence that The Austral used an enormous amount of concrete, because the first thing you need to do is place a lot of heavy weight between the bass sounds and the outside world. That’s not just on the walls but the floor and the ceiling as well. Next, to do the job properly you need to have air gaps between two heavy walls. But you’ve got to ensure the two walls aren’t structurally connected (it’s what’s known as floating walls) otherwise sound will travel, easy as you like, down a beam and out the building (a bit like a tight piece of string between two tin cans). Then any windows need to be thick and they need to be double-glazed. I won’t go on… suffice it to say, it’s really hard work.
You’re much better off not having to do any these things. If you’re planning on establishing a music venue then you’d do well to make EPA enquiries about noise regulations. You do not want to be spending a million dollars retrofitting a building having just outlaid an enormous amount of money in the first instance. Normally, a well-built brick or concrete building in a commercially zoned area will do the trick. If you’re planning on moving into a more sensitive area then it’s best to do your homework.
Let me know if you’ve been at the wrong end of an EPA order, or any other ‘noise pollution’ type stuff… I’d be very interested to hear your anecdotes. – CH