Don’t Turn the Music Down, Turn It Around

Noise complaints about summer concerts could be a thing of the past, thanks to robotic modules that control the sound field.

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Outdoor concerts can be a highlight of summer for music enthusiasts. Listening to live bands under a summer sky can sound wonderful on the dance floor, but the same music can be a headache for residents of surrounding neighbourhoods.

Until now it has been a balancing act, where reducing noise bleed outside festival grounds usually meant labour-intensive manual adjustments, or compromised sound quality for the audience.

To better address these needs, Canadian company PK Sound added robotics to speaker systems to control and focus sound to a more specific area. Their Trinity system was used at this summer’s Ever After Music Festival in Kitchener, Ont., and its use reduced the number of noise complaints from 130 last year to just six this year while maintaining standard sound levels on festival grounds.

Trinity systems also tour with the Broadway hit musical Hamilton and supply the sound for major outdoor electronic festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival Mexico, which hosted 110,000 people this year.

Trinity modules can be stacked into a flexible vertical line array. From here, each module can be controlled individually, with 25 different options that focus sound horizontally. They do this by adjusting a pair of central sections on the speaker that can rotate in and out, opening and closing like pages of a book to adjust their spread and direction. The flexible nature of the array allows operators to bend its shape into a curve to direct sound vertically.

Together, these adjustments provide three-dimensional control over the sound field using software, instead of having to manually move speakers to direct their output. This also allows operators to control the array remotely, and to make spot adjustments during the event.

CBC interview with PK Sound CEO Jeremy Bridge as he demonstrates Trinity and talks about working with local authorities during set up to ensure acceptable noise levels are met in the surrounding community.

Part of PK Sound’s success comes from working with the communities they come to during festival set up. During sound check for Kitchener’s Ever After festival, operators teamed up with bylaw officers and packed along a noise meter, taking decibel measurements at locations where they received noise complaints the previous year. If noise limits were exceeded, adjustments to Trinity could be made on the spot.

These innovations put a new spin on classic technology, helping festival audiences indulge in their outdoor music, and allowing residents relax in their uninterrupted peace and quiet, all while enjoying their summers side by side.

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Karyn Ho is a science animator and engineer who thrives at the interface between science, engineering, medicine, and art. She earned her MScBMC (biomedical communications) and PhD (chemical engineering and biomedical engineering) at the University of Toronto. Karyn is passionate about using cutting edge discoveries to create dynamic stories as a way of supporting innovation, collaboration, education, and informed decision making. By translating knowledge into narratives, her vision is to captivate people, spark their curiosity, and motivate them to share what they learned.