music
1:17 pm
Fri February 17, 2012

City to Study 'Silent Disco' As Sound Mitigation Option

A silent disco at a music festival last year in Gdynia, Poland

Wireless headphone technology now makes it possible for people to have a dance party just about anywhere without large amps and speakers blowing away the entire neighborhood. The “silent disco” phenomenon has been growing over the past several years, and the City of Austin is now considering it as one option to help tackle the controversial issue of sound permits.

The Live Music Capital of the World stands out among its peers as being relatively tolerant of loud music. As Community Impact News recently pointed out in this chart, Austin allows venues to generate up to 85 decibels of sound on weekends, while San Antonio caps music at 63 decibels. Portland, Oregon seems almost sleepy by comparison, with its 60 decibel limit.

But Austin's approach has led to grumbling from residents, as more people and businesses move to the downtown area.

“Our office receives many sound complaints,” City of Austin sound engineer David Murray said, adding that many of the complaints are against venues that are actually obeying sound rules. “We’re working with downtown music venues and residents alike trying to strike a happy balance.”

Tonight, Murray will be at the Cedar Street Courtyard. The outdoor patio bar will be hosting “Silent Cedar”, a noiseless dance party that can legally go on until 3:30 a.m. because the music will be broadcast from the DJ booths to wireless headphones.

“I’m really excited,” Murray said. “I must confess, I have not been to one yet.”

The city’s Music Office is considering other technology to help mitigate sound issues, including directional subwoofers that point bass vibrations at the audience and away from homes.

Eventually, the ideas will be tried out at a yet-to-be selected music venue as part of the recently created Music Venue Assistance Program. The MVAP -- created by city council last month -- may eventually provide low-interest loans to qualifying businesses that install sound mitigation technology.