Acoustics for Lounges and Clubs – 1

I’ve recently had a chance to look at a few of these projects not six months into my freelancing, and there’s plenty to be said here. Pubs and lounges have integrated themselves into the lifestyles of Bangaloreans for over 10 years now, and plenty of people spend the best part of their weekends catching up with friends and family at such places. This post is for a broad spectrum of audience – aimed at giving general information to people to go to such places, people who design/sell audio, people who own such spaces, and people who live near such spaces.

This post is the first of two, and looks exclusively at operational aspects of such spaces. The second part will go into the technical aspects of soundproofing, interior soundscaping, and sound system engineering.

Why Soundproofing

This is by far the biggest problem required to be addressed for such places, for more reasons than one. For obvious reasons, these places  almost always in the heart of the commercial pockets in various areas in the city, rarely ever on the outskirts. This is usually good news for everyone, because it makes sure they’re not too close to the residences for the most part. Occasionally, when residences have given way to commercial spaces, and some residences are still hanging around on what is now a commercial hub, soundproofing becomes a more critical issue. Like I just said, for more reasons than one:

  • Residents face noise issues. Right , easy to guess that. Only thing, they don’t put up with it these days. There are plenty of groups out there lobbying for noise laws to be stringently implemented, and complaints can lead to spot confiscation of music equipment, and repeat offenders can get their license revoked. This is more serious than it appears – places can get shut down in 3 months of taking off. Full Stop. Anyone who doesn’t believe this can call me on my phone, and I will be happy to put you in touch with people who’re facing this issue.
  • False Threats: There is another aspect to this : It takes all kinds to make a world, and so there are people who can really live with the noise, but choose to make complaints and harass and extort money from owners. Again, there are some famous people who are known troublemakers in Bangalore  –  who give the rest of the genuine anti-noise lobbyists/activists a bad name.
  • Genuine Threats: Residents really do face noise issues : I know this microbrewery that has a reputation for playing extremely loud music. It’s not just residents who face this  (Eg. A glass vendor I was talking to lives about 9 buildings away, and took 15 mins to vent his frustration on how he is completely sleep deprived on weekends because of the loud noise coming all the way from that microbrewery – he said he doesn’t get sleep till they turn off the bloody thing, and has been talking to the welfare association of that layout to press complaints.) Customers also face the same issue – a close friend of mine advised me never to go there with my toddler – her hearing will end up being permanently damaged. She said she their gang of friends couldn’t bear to sit there for even half an hour. Add to it, the place is a metal and glass jungle, the interior acoustics have not been taken care of, and so the music they play sounds bad anyway. I am obviously going to wait for one positive review from trusted sources before I think of going there.

Now, getting an acoustical consultant in early will help owners to relax and run their place happily for years. I’m doing this project where I was roped in rather at the last minute, with tons of changes not possible because many things had already been done. It’s been quite a challenge to work on it, and I cannot assure them that they will comply with the written word of law .That requires measures they’re not willing to implement. So we’ve taken measurements late night, and we’re going to meet ambient noise levels ( which in that space are higher than those stipulated by the law). So we’re really just blending in. However, all measurements are averages, and it is not possible to design for peak noise levels to be contained in. Not the best of things, but with residences right behind them, not doing anything would be far worse.

Why Interior Acoustics

This is the other aspect which is increasingly being paid importance to. With something like 4 restaurants/lounges/pubs opening in Bangalore every month, there’s plenty of competition, and people rely on designer aesthetics, michelin-rated chefs, and plenty of live music and DJ-ing to attract clientele. Now celebrity chefs are fine, but designer aesthetics sometimes don’t allow for even the minimal essential acoustical treatment. The second part of this post will go into detail on what issues we typically see in such spaces.

Why Sound System Engineering 

Now we’ll all just go by our own ears. Fair enough an argument. However, there are also technical factors that go into the design of speaker systems, and while you don’t need to know them in detail, you should still spend time understanding and experiencing the USP of the systems you demo.  My reason for mentioning sound system engineering is that providing the right kind of speakers based on the needs and the type of space will significantly influence the amount of soundproofing and acoustical treatment you will need to spend on. 

Accurate sound system engineering and critical acoustical treatment can make any kind of place sound warm and intimate. Owners of these spaces should take the effort to do plenty of research, because most vendors will usually only try to make the biggest sale they can – that’s their job.  The mid and high end ranges have lots of options, and ideally the sound system should be finalized after the venue has been decided, not the other way round. It seems to be a trend these days to have a DJ space and live area in the same club. The acoustics required are different, but we try to strike a balance between the clear, tight bass needed for smooth music, and the boomy, thumping bass required for EDM.

The next post will discuss the acoustical requirements of such a space.


Types of Noise (Part 1): Community Noise

This is a multi-part article, that deals with individual scenarios of noise we face in our daily lives. I will only mention cases that I have experienced personally, and that I think can easily be solved with some expert technical advice.

The point I am making in this post, is about the irritating effect of daily whirrings and rumblings that we hear in the soundscapes surrounding us, and that these bring down the quality of our life by just that little much.  It could show up as general annoyance, or that slight headachy feeling, or general distractedness. Things can be done to fix those, but the starting point is to take that decision to do something to mitigate the irritation. Many of us don’t even think of these sources as causes of irritation. But let me not speak for anyone else.

Some common situations to start with, pertinent to the Indian scenario.

Community Spaces

 Earlier, a park came to my mind when I thought of community spaces. These days, it is usually a mall or a shopping complex. With those mushrooming in Bangalore, the issue most of them face is of speech intelligibility due to sleek interior finishes  (glass walls and doors, and gypsum ceilings).  The issue usually pops  up when there are public events in the open spaces on each floor of the malls. While the voice of the events guys is heard booming all over the mall, it is difficult to comprehend what they say because their voice is drowned out in multiple echoes. The generally reverberant environment is also heard in the often chaotic food court – the chaos just doesn’t die down.  There are many ways to provide some absorption without tearing down the gypsum or covering the glass. While nobody expects a mall to be a quiet place, annoyance can be a real physical entity.

Dog barking it’s head off: The dog next door had throat cancer. It had the most painful and harsh bark. And it used to bark non-stop to try and ease the pain in its throat. While we cursed it then, we all felt rather upset after we found out why it barked so much. The annoyance, the edginess, the frayed nerves, the irritability – all happened to us.

Construction noise: This is what one faces in growing cities.  For example, We moved into our house. Then our next door neighbour started constructing his house. Two years of structural noise when they were hammering away at their walls, and then irritating, high-pitched, grating noise while cutting tiles for a few months.

Children Playing Outside: In the Indian scenario, this could happen anywhere.  Especially with the dwindling number of parks, children hoot and play anywhere they can  – apartment corridors resound with and amplify the sharp clap of a plastic ball hitting a wooden/plastic cricket bat. I used to live in an apartment where the space for playing was limited to one badminton court, and a long corridor between two long rows of apartments. You won’t find a middle class Indian household that does not open their windows ( – it is almost a morning ritual, closed windows are considered a sign of disease), and the houses on the ground floor did too. As children, it was strange  for us to see adults coming out of these houses asking us to play elsewhere, and stop disturbing them, but things took a nasty turn when someone came out weeping – her migraine headache had just started because of the noise, and there was no place for her to go.

Neighbourhood Noise: Most Indians like to keep their windows open. Things are a little quieter in the apartments , with noise only on the lower floors close to where children play, or cars move.  However, a lot depends  on how your apartment is built.  As I write this, I can hear

  • A lady with an extremely shrill voice talking for the last half hour
  • Continuous talk  of a father playing cricket with his 4 year old son downstairs
  • The TV in the next room
  • Traffic Noise – horns, autorickshaws
  • Children singing the afternoon prayer in the college a 100 feet away.

Train Lines

These days, with real estate prices touching the sky, it is not uncommon to see houses and apartment complexes sharing walls with a railway station, or houses lined up along a railway line. The noise is limited to when the trains pass, which is currently around 20-25 times a day. But ask households with infants about how that much is enough to make their lives miserable by waking up their infants just when they’ve been coaxed and cajoled and lulled to sleep.  Ask insomniac, stressed out software engineers about sleep disturbances, or ask old people about the last time they had a good night’s sleep.