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June 29, 2005 10:18 AM   Subscribe

How to have a party without violating noise ordinances

I was at an outdoor party this weekend that got busted for violating the noise ordinance (85 dB or higher, using amplification, after 10:00 PM). The site is a few acres large, and as you might expect, there was a DJ rig and PA system roughly in the middle.

It occurred to me that by dotting the site with a bunch of low-power speakers (which could be as simple as pawn-shop boomboxes, and the signal might be distributed using ultra-low power FM or line-level wires--perhaps other means), you could blanket it with sound without exceeding the noise limit.

So, A) does this idea have any merit, and if so, B) what option would be the best/cheapest/easiest to deploy? I realize that an FM signal would probably need to be powerful enough to run afoul of FCC regulations; ideally it would be best to avoid that, but for a one-time event, it seems unlikely that it would actually draw their attention.
posted by adamrice to Technology (12 answers total)
Adam, where is this? Is it actually in Austin, as your profile suggests? If so, here's some info on the Austin noise ordinance (more details available from your city clerk or whatever). That page suggests you could buy a permit, have you considered that?

Regardless of where you live, most noise ordinances have provisions for getting a permit, so you should at least look into that. And from my experience, the noise ordinance may be a public law, but it's pretty much only enforced when a neighbor complains: maybe you could talk to the neighbors and see if they mind if you make some noise on a weekend evening. Of course I guess that might be less practical for a site that's several acres large.
posted by rkent at 10:39 AM on June 29, 2005

It is well defined that numerous smaller speakers will more effectively and efficiently blanket an area with sound than a handful of highly amplified speakers. As an added benefit, people who are close to a set of speakers won't necessarily go deaf trying to talk with their neighbor.

Also: Invite the neighbors.
posted by Merdryn at 10:45 AM on June 29, 2005

The answer is SILENT DISCO!

At raves in Holland - and now at festivals in the UK including Glastonbury - a set of DJs are broadcasting their set on FM to up to 3,000 sets of wireless headphones (made by Philips.)

It's an utterly amazing experience that has to be heard to be believed. 1,000 people dancing to the same tune, but all you can hear in the open air is the sound of their whooping and singing along. You can even broadcast on more than one channel so that partygoers can listen to multiple streams of music.

It's not cheap, but it is amazing fun.
posted by skylar at 10:47 AM on June 29, 2005

I was going to suggest a headphone party, but skylar beat me to it.
posted by Rothko at 11:00 AM on June 29, 2005

Sound is very, very slow, so if you cover an area with multiple speakers, you'll need to account for the time it takes the sound from the mains to make it to the auxilliary speakers. Otherwise, you'll end up with the infamous monster truck rally delay ("sunday! sunday! sunday!"). It is doable and an admirable plan, it just may be more complex than it seems initially. I've seen problems with sound travel time show up in clubs as small as 200-person capacity, albeit with an "L" shaped room.

On preview, maybe using FM to transmit the signal will alleviate the problem. It's out of my depth, but I wanted to warn you about one potential problem.
posted by stet at 11:29 AM on June 29, 2005

Assuming this is dance music (as opposed to, like, folk or something), then blanketing the area with tiny speakers won't work. You need subs to throw some bass, otherwise people will just have tinny sounds to dance to. But then you hit a problem because the bass end is the part of the sound that really travels, and that will attract the attention of the party poopers.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 11:30 AM on June 29, 2005

If it's Austin, I wouldn't worry... a couple of months ago in south Austin a loud party was going in a suburban area, with tons of Tex-Mex music blasting out of a DJ rig. Myself (as well as several neighbors, I found out later) called the police, and no officers ever came out. The party finally shut down on its own around 1:30 am. Kudos to you for having a conscience for your neighbors, though... I hope the shindig goes well.
posted by rolypolyman at 11:46 AM on June 29, 2005

Best answer: Chicago's Jay Pritzker Pavilion in the Millennium Park uses a similar idea. Check out this article if you want some technical info on distributed acoustic reinforcement.
posted by roboto at 12:22 PM on June 29, 2005

Best answer: What I'd do: make sure each guest brings a boombox set to the same FM frequency, split the audio out from the source and run cords in each direction, equip the end of each cord with a cheap headphone FM transmitter (or something similar), ghettoblast.
posted by glibhamdreck at 2:20 PM on June 29, 2005

Or you could just surround the area with portable noise walls, which are essentially a series of 8x8 pieces of plywood. These are used on construction sites.
posted by luneray at 4:21 PM on June 29, 2005

We used to just start earlier...
posted by pompomtom at 8:10 PM on June 29, 2005

My neighbors just did that to me last weekend; threw a huge party with a hired DJ; went on till 1am and drove me nuts.

I agree 100% with the comment Merdryn made... best way to avoid the neighbors complaining? Invite them. Or if you choose not to, at least warn them a week or two ahead of time!
posted by IndigoRain at 5:16 AM on June 30, 2005

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