News

3 Dec 2015

Opera House Forecourt Hobbled: Noise regs make venue not fit for purpose

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Social media has given voice to punters as venues battle oppressive noise regulations and turn down the sound. Typical of recent complaints was the Tame Impala concerts at the Sydney Opera House Forecourt.

Complaints flooded social media; one tweeter told the Opera House during the gig, “listen to the crowd! The music isn’t anywhere to be heard” to which the Opera House replied, “The sound has been turned up.”

But it wasn’t. Tame Impala sound engineer Adam Round told Roadskills “the Forecourt has very low noise restrictions”.

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“You can’t go over the limit or they threatened to step in and take control of our show. If they let you go over it jeopardizes their ability to do any shows there. It’s a real shame as it’s such a beautiful spot. We tried every trick in the book and added extra front fill. Still would’ve only been louder if you were at the front. All of our subs were in cardioid but we ended up having to pretty much turn them off.”

Adam was given a noise limit of 89dB(a) peak (5dB more at the weekend), a level he believes is “an unacceptable level for rock and roll”.

As to the Opera House inferring that they would or had turned up sound levels; this was not the case.

“We applied roll offs from 100hz down on the system, channels and added a crushing amount of Waves L3 to remove peaks,” said Adam. “They simply will not let you go over. It’s a council decision caused by complaints from residents. As much as everyone tried to work with us, there’s nothing we can really do, so our second night will not be louder than the first. The limits are set in stone.”

Sydney Opera House did not respond to questions from CX about limits, fines, regulations and policy. Instead they said “As with any outdoor venue, sound levels for all Forecourt events are closely monitored by Sydney Opera House. We have a team of acoustic consultants on site working alongside our sound engineers to deliver the best possible audience experience.”

However CX can reveal the Opera House Forecourt is not fit for purpose for live music according to its own rules. The venue handbook (dated September 2015) says that noise levels measured one metre from the adjacent Bennelong Apartments must not exceed 65dB(a) – the volume of a conversation. This rises to 70dB(a) on a Friday or Saturday. Worse, if the NSW Department of Planning and Infrastructure or the Opera House, “may be experiencing noise levels that exceed the mandatory noise limits”, then the limit is reduced to 60dB(a) or 65dB(a) on Friday or Saturday.

Adhering to these rules the sound of an audience cheering between songs will break this absurd limit.

“I basically mixed the whole gig on the pair of 108P (reference monitors) last night as it was hard to hear the PA at front of house” Adam said. “There’s a lot of PA down here but you could basically just use a couple of 15” and horns on sticks and you’d still be breaking their noise limits.”

CX received similar complaints about Florence and the Machine at the same venue the following week. An experienced sound engineer measured mid 80’s dB(a) with an (uncalibrated) phone 10m in FRONT of the mix position. Which is ridiculously quiet.

First published in CX Magazine (December, 2015)

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