An experiment undertaken on behalf of the Noise Abatement Society (NAS) in the city of Brighton in East Sussex utilised a PA system which included 18 d&b audiotechnik loudspeakers.
It may appear paradoxical that a society, whose chief executive, Gloria Elliott described as being there to help “to relieve the physical and mental distress and ill health caused by noise and other pollutants”, would find a use for such a large number of loudspeakers in the centre of a bustling city of 150,000 residents.
However, in reality it made perfect sense. After all, how else can you investigate the suppression of noise without first creating it? Nonetheless, as John Tinline of Encore who provided the PA system for the experiment explained, “this was something completely different.”
“This was another Martyn Ware Illustrious Production 3D sound installation,” Tinline continued. “The event was sponsored by the City of Brighton Council. We put eighteen d&b audiotechnik Q1 loudspeakers in various places around West Street in Brighton. This is the main shopping street, the installation was part of the Brighton Festival, but the purpose was not to give people something to listen to, quite the opposite.”
Marytn Ware had designed a six point sound field. This created a 3D image which was formed of the ethereal sound textures which have become a signature of Ware’s work.Article continues below
“The gig was laborious in terms of deployment,” explained Tinline, “the Q1 loudspeakers were chosen for their lightness and the Q has a fairly unique coverage pattern for a division one pro audio product. And it could deliver the levels we wanted. We had the Q1s positioned along the street on top of a canopy that protects pedestrians from the weather and also placed two loudspeakers in the windows of people's flats.”
So, to what end was all this undertaken? Its purpose was, simply, to attempt to counter the traffic noise. The intention was not necessarily to mask the sound but to distract people from it.
“To change the mood,” explained Ware, “it was not about volume, sometimes it's as low as 75-80 dB.”
“The concept,” added Tinline, “was to measure the reaction of the general public as they walked through and responded to Martyn's music.”
In order for people’s reactions to be measured they were filmed and studied by a psycho-biologist, Harry Witchel.
“The event was also captured live on video by walking camera men and piped back to the Odeon cinema where Dr Harry Witchel, a psycho-biologist and author of You Are What You Hear, analysed behaviour,” continued Tinline. “Most found it beneficial; the ambient sound field tricks the brain into no longer perceiving the traffic noise.”
It may appear hard to believe that a benefit was felt by those in West Street at the time. However, Tinline himself had to admit that, for him at least, the effect was striking if not immediately obvious.
“I wasn't aware of any effect at first,” he said, “but then I realised I'd forgotten about the traffic noise precisely because it wasn't there. In its absence I'd overlooked it.”
The intentions of the experiment were certainly very serious. This particular event was an entry for the John Cornell Technology Award. This award, sponsored by the Institute of Acoustics and awarded by the NAS, honours individuals and organisations judged to have been outstanding in their efforts to both reduce the impact of noise nuisance and seek to pioneer practical and innovative solutions to noise pollution.
What is more, anecdotal evidence suggests that the experiment had a further benefit later on in the evening. It was noted by some that Ware’s composition exerted a significant calming influence on the “clubbers rush” from pub to club.
Tinline and Encore are now contemplating how they can install half a million d&b audiotechnik Q1 loudspeakers along the main high streets of cities across the UK in the future.