Too loud?

Too loud?

My wife and I just returned from the Milwaukee Irish Festival. We heard some great music and were able to join in several sessions. In particular, Cherish the Ladies (with Liz Carroll), Lunasa, and Matt Molloy, John Carty, and Arty McGlynn were all very enjoyable! The sound reinforcement for these performances was excellent, and brought out the wonderful sounds of all the instruments and voices clearly and in a way that made the artificial amplification almost unnoticeable.

We were very much looking forward to We Banjo 3 and so were sitting right up front, but had to leave about 30 seconds into their first set because the sound pressure levels were so high it was painful, and we feared for our hearing. I had a similar experience a few years ago at the O’Flaherty Irish Music Retreat, when I had to leave the auditorium during an otherwise very nice performance because the sound pressure levels were so high it was hurting my ears and, in my opinion, detracting mighty from the beautifully-played music.

Maybe it’s an age thing. I used to go to Johnny Winter concerts and don’t remember any difficulties in listening to him play through about four stacks of Marshal amps.

In any case, I think this kind of overdone sound reinforcement in Irish trad detracts from the music, and is potentially damaging to hearing if the exposure to high sound pressure levels is long enough. Thoughts?

Posted by .

Re: Too loud?

I carry around ear plugs with me so as not to damage my hearing. Many musicians do. You can still hear enough through them to enjoy the music. I incidentally heard We Banjo 3 last year at the Tønder Folk Festival in Denmark and they were great fun, but the sound levels at the festival were also painful. This is not a healthy trend.

Re: Too loud?

Perfect hearing is a great thing to have, but it is also very easy to damage without realizing it.

The quality of hearing is directly proportional to hearing tolerance (how much volume you can stand, while still hearing the source clearly and without any perceived distortion).

So, that’s why (mostly young) people can go to rock concerts and enjoy high sound pressure levels. It still does damage, though, and knocks off a few Hz of hearing capability in the high frequencies each time.

Do this regularly, and by your 50s, the hearing loss will be quite noticeable, and so will your tolerance of volume levels that you once enjoyed. Is it an age thing? I’m guessing in this case, yes it is, in part.

Sound engineers aren’t really aware of the actual sound pressure levels they are generating. They’re on the wrong side of the speakers, so you’re on your own there, I’m afraid 🙂

Re: Too loud?

I second John Kacur’s recommendation to carry ear plugs. Ever since my ears were ringing for days after a concert, I’ve been more careful with my hearing. Take a look on Amazon or elsewhere for high fidelity hearing protection. The ear plugs often come with carrying cases, so they are easy to throw in a pocket or bag.

Re: Too loud?

Have almost stopped going to concerts because of this.
I am convinced that most sound people are nearly deaf from being exposed to too much volume too frequently.
I got some fancy ETYPlugs off Amazon and love them. Nice alternative to having to leave concerts because of the bad sound. Doesn’t cure tbe bad balance problem, though.

Re: Too loud?

Something that has likely been studied by professionals, using quantitative methods, such as sound pressure or decibel levels, crowd size, area of coverage, type of music etc, is ‘how loud does the sound need for an audience to clearly hear what’s being played/sung’. It would seem that, for ITM, as a fundamentally acoustic music, there would only be one requirement: if everyone who wants to can hear the musicians and singers clearly, then that’s loud enough. Adequacy is sufficient.

Posted by .

Re: Too loud?

“for ITM, as a fundamentally acoustic music, there would only be one requirement: if everyone who wants to can hear the musicians and singers clearly,”

And there lies the problem. To hear the musicians and singers clearly means the quietest elements have to be louder than the background noise. With music like ours that has a wide dynamic range, that means if the background noise is high, to hear the delicate bits clearly the loud bits have to be very loud.

The other problem is that unless you use very expensive focused speaker arrays, the sound pressure level isn’t equal across the room - if the front row is 10 feet from the speakers, what they hear will be perceived as more than twice as loud as what people in the back row 40 feet away will hear. It’s not at all uncommon to have people from the front of the hall say a performance was too loud, while people from the back complain that the same performance was too quiet.

That sounds as though I’m defending the guys who like to keep the needle in the red the whole time, I’m not. Setting the volume is always a compromise which requires a good ear and a familiarity with the music, and it is one of the areas where rock oriented sound engineers almost always get it wrong. But responsibility for excessive volume doesn’t lie just with the engineer, it also lies with the venue, the promoter and even the audience themselves - by far the most important factor in making music listenable without excessive volume is ensuring that background noise is kept to a minimum, and that is the one thing a sound engineer normally has no control over at all.

Re: Too loud?

Sorry, what?

Actually, I’ll use anything handy to stuff in my ears – napkin, toilet paper (unused), etc.

Posted by .

Re: Too loud?

Movies or filums as we’d say, are just as bad - why does Hollywood think they have to go WHAM, BAM, THANK YOU MAM all the time.

Maybe someone/ people will take a class action against the bigger studios/ cineplexes some day and soften their cough.

Posted .

Re: Too loud?

Seems there’s there’s a bit of reduced hearing tolerance all round …

Agree on the massive volumes in some cine complexes, although the better ones do have the multi-speaker systems which don’t seem to sound quite as loud, especially in these ‘92 bullets from a single revolver’ nonsense action films 🙂

Re: Too loud?

“…by far the most important factor in making music listenable without excessive volume is ensuring that background noise is kept to a minimum, and that is the one thing a sound engineer normally has no control over at all.”

Indeed; the three main stages at the festival grounds which host Irish Fest are open air stages located under the busy Hoan Bridge, which during the day is also under construction with heavy machinery. This probably prompted the sound folks to up the volume to overcome these challenges. Hence the reason I was content to enjoy these performances from the back nearer the sound booth (and consequently, closer to the beer).

Re: Too loud?

Being young, I do notice hearing loss in people around me. A friend of mine is into loud guitars and drums, so whenever I’m riding with him in his car, it’s normal for me to be turning down the volume because it’s too loud. I don’t mean too loud for driving… it legitimately hurts my ears. This particular person, being a musician, still has a very good ear, but our volume tolerance is quite different. This is despite me playing in a symphony where things can get fairly loud.

So is this an age thing or an environment thing? It’s probably not entirely one or the other.

Re: Too loud?

As you get older, you are going to lose some of your high frequency hearing. When we are young, a normal human can hear up to 20khz. As we get into our 50s and 60s maybe that’s down to 18khz.

If you worked in refineries or around machinery like my dad, you lose more

I worked on the flight line when I was in the Navy, and I had a measured 5% hearing loss in my physical when I got out

But if you are a musician, your musical ear gets better every year. Even if you have had a measureable hearing loss like myself.

Re: Too loud?

I think, it is not just a problem with the loudness, when we get older – though that’s also one important reason. IMO, the quality of a natural sound can hardly imitated by loudspeakers with their calottes made of – cardboard. No matter, which instrument you record, how expensive and elaborated the recording gear is or with how much watts it is reproduced – the output is just a vibration of that cardboard. Isn’t it like this: The older we get, the less we want to be deceived by such cheap imitations?

Even if you try to “enrich” the sound of an amplified instrument with effects such as reverb, enhancer, octaver, chorus and all that, it remains an artificial sound. And this sound is accompanied by electro smog, electromagnetic waves, the humming of trafo-frequencies, let alone the stimulating supplements, caused by all these undesirable side effects. I know, how that feels, because I used to play Blues, Rock and things like that, when I was young.

When you record the sound of a singing bowl for example, the result only comes near to the original. But the vibration of this instrument, that you can feel with your whole body (and therefore is used for sound therapy), the real sound of metal - all this disappears in a recording. And together with it, the “sound” effects iof natural vibrations. You’ll never experience a sound massage, let’s say in a wellness hotel, that is executed with loud speakers instead with the natural instruments. That would be a contradiction in many respects.

What remains in a recording, is some kind of “two-dimensional” reproduction of real sound, like a picture of an instrument is a picture of it, not the instrument itself. And that’s the same thing with the Pipes, the whistles, the piano and so on.

Moreover, the cables of amplified music are directly connected with the music industry, so to say. An industry, that has taken the music instruments out of the hands from us all and has given them to a few specialists. They now make the music “for us”, and our only jobs are to pay the entrance fee, listen to their “virtuosity”, clap our hands or turn the volume knob.

Concerning myself, I have returned the the beautiful and decent sound of natural instruments without amplification and I appreciate the delight of music in small circles of musicians and listeners. And, of course, playing them myself, together with others.

Re: Too loud?

I’m 70, but that is irrelevant, If a Session requires amplification it is too big.
I do not want to listen to a singer or musician on a stage in a building that is unsuitable so it requires “amplification”.

Re: Too loud?

It has nothing to do with age, nor the type of music. But all to do with the perspective of the audience, sound engineer and musicians.

Let through in my two cents and little experience. When I play with my group in a small setting, like a session in a pub or in a living room. We don’t use any amplification. Regardless of the instruments used, from Guitar, penny whistle, shruti box, hurdy gurdy to small pipes or harmonium and singing. As long as we’re close together and the sound is clear for each of us. We don’t want nor need to.
We only use amplification in a different setting, like a festival, playing in open air in general, on stage, but then just to ballance our own sound: singing for example in open air is much harder to hear yourself. Which you need to be able too, in order to stay ‘in tune’. But the same applies for penny whistle or any instrument: to be able to hear yourself.
Now regardless if a guest musician play’s along: we always use the simple rule ‘turn it down’. So if anyone cann’t hear him or herself, all others will turn their volume down. I rarely see other musicians do that, they tend to turn their own volume just up more and more. For us, it makes sure that on stage for example our volume is at low levels: we don’t have feedback problems (that howling noise on the pa), we can hear each other speaking together in normal volume even after the gig.
Well the very few times I met a sound engineer for a gig, they tend to be surprised to see and hear us playing together this way. Because, as the volume on stage is low, it’s also a lot easier for them to balance the sound for the audience: it doesn’t have to overrule the volume from the musicians. Which make their job a lot easier and get better result: not to loud, yet everyone can hear you playing. And when someone want a more clear sound, they can come closer to the stage without the loss of hearing ;)
It still requires a sound engineer with knowledge of folk music and not just rock or pop. But it can be done nicely.
In general, I’ve only had compliment on using amplification this way…. (with our simple rule)