Appeal Falls on Deaf Ears
There’s a restaurant I like to go. I like the food, the ambiance and the prices. But my restaurant is being ruined by awful thumping club music that makes my stomach churn. The waitress tells me management believes the music creates an “upbeat” atmosphere. As if unless the bass is jack hammering your cerebellum and mix mastering your intestines, you can’t be having fun.
I’ve never been one for loud bars and clubs, even when I was young enough not to worry too much about my hearing. I’m a talker, and you can’t talk in those places without feeling the next day like someone’s been going at your throat with a hairbrush. These days, however, clubs aren’t just loud, they’re organ-shuffling. Marilyn Miller, and occupational audiologist with the Workers Compensation Board, describes the experiences of standing at the back of the Commodore
Ballroom – the busiest night club in the downtown area – during a concert feeling like she was being punched in the chest.
Six years ago, the city measured the noise level on the dance floor of one downtown club as 85 to 87 decibels – about the same level as food processor crushing ice. By 1997, it had risen to the 98-to-100 range. Today, most clubs are well into the 100s – the noise level you’d expect from a power saw or loud outboard motor.
Simon Fraser University professor Barry Truax, who specializes in acoustic ecology, says bats have been noisy since
the 1970s. What’s changed is that far more establishments have shifted to foreground music as opposed to background. In other words, it’s hard to find a place to go where the music isn’t intrusively loud.
And clubs aren’t the only perpetrators. Truax points out that movie soundtracks are also getting louder. “It all adds up to many hours all in a very noisy environment. This is called leisure?”
The industrial-strength vibration that gives you that sought after “upbeat” feeling is stressful for the body, which reacts to loud noise as to danger – it gets the adrenaline flowing and the heart pumping. Over time, it results in stress and fatigue, not to mention hearing damage.
The WCB sets 85 decibels in an eight-hour period as the threshold over which hearing protection is required. For each three decibels above 85, the risk to hearing doubles; for example, at 88 decibels, you’d only be able to last four hours without hearing protection before experiencing damage. By 100 decibels, your limit would be 15 minutes. In a WCB report released in January, 13 workers at three city bars or pubs experienced an average noise exposure level of 92 decibels. Some employers are getting smart and issuing their staff members earplugs. But that doesn’t do much for the patrons and neighbors of the clubs.
It’s not hard to figure out which part of the music is most difficult to contain, as anyone who’s ever lived in an apartment would know. At noise levels exceeding 90 decibels, even the best construction can’t keep pounding bass inside.
As a result, the city is looking at imposing new restrictions on clubs to keep indoor noise levels to 90 decibels and avoid annoying neighbors. One possible method is through devices, already in use in some jurisdictions, that flash amber once the noise approaches a set level and cut it off at the maximum level the building is deemed capable of containing.
Sound reasonable? Not according to Vance Campbell, spokesman for a Cabaret Owners Association, who says enforcing maximum interior noise levels of 95 decibels of under will drive patrons to illegal venues.
A year ago, bar owners were worrying that customers would stay away in droves if smoking was banned. In fact, it’s non-smokers who were staying away, fed up with sucking in clouds of second-hand smoke and waking up the next morning with reeking clothes and raw throats.
Who knows how many people are similarly avoiding clubs, bars and yes, restaurants, because they’re fed up with yelling at each other to be heard.