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Belgians FACE up to MLA’s potential

FACE demonstrate how Martin Audio’s revolutionary loudspeaker system may prove the solution to forthcoming strict festival noise level legislation in Belgium, reports Dave Robinson

While access to and from a music festival site is usually policed with rigour, the same can’t always be said for audio levels – certainly at some mainland European events. So, in January, when Flemish Culture and Environment minister Joke Schauvliege pleaded for clear legislation regarding Belgian pop festival sound thresholds – following the proposal of a 100dB LAeq (15) maximum for the loudest norm in public areas – it provided the perfect opportunity for Karel de Piere, his new distribution outfit FACE (see PSNE October 2010) and the Martin Audio Multicellular Loudspeaker Array. Belgium is noted for its festivals – Werchter, Pukkelpop, Sfinks etc – and if the new proposals become law it will have a major impact on festival promoters and production companies. FACE carried out measurement tests of the MLA during May 2010’s Antwerp Amnesty festival (see PSNE June 2010). So de Piere was confident the system would meet the proposed criteria. In short, the MLA’s ingenious design and ahead-of-the-curve software means it can minimise variations in frequency response and sound pressure levels, effective over distances of up to 150m. “This means that wherever they are sat in the festival field, each person will receive the same sound image at the same volume,” notes the FACE director. “If a concert organiser wanted to achieve 100dB at the back of the site by the conventional method, he would need to have 110dB in front – by the speaker system. But we wanted to prove that this is now no longer the case. With MLA, the volume can be at exactly the same level throughout the coverage area, while we can limit the sound immediately beyond that – for the neighbours or the festival campsite.” (Karel de Piere recalls that at the Groenplaats, when the local environmental police arrived onsite, they clearly disbelieved that the 102dB registering at FOH would not spill out to the neighbouring residents around the square. “But what we saw was an alarming tapering off of 12dB [beyond the soundfield] over the final 15m – to hit 90dB. People were telling me it was not possible.”) The recent evaluation at FACE HQ in Boom saw Martin Audio’s Martyn ‘Ferrit’ Rowe demonstrate the theory to around 90 festival organisers, sound technicians and members of the press. Then the group shifted to an adjacent park – also the location for the dance festival, Tomorrowland – where the site measures 80m wide by 160m deep. Two PA wings were set at a distance of 24m (12-box hangs per side trimmed at a height of 10m).A further 12 MLX subs were stacked adjacent to each other – forming a single broadside array – along the front. To give the ‘festival site’ further authenticity, a ‘mix tent’ (read, beer tent!) was erected at 70m from the MLA. Assisted by Peter van der Geer from Event Acoustics Projects, onscreen readings from a variety of music tracks were taken at 20m, 60m, 80m and the final one at 130m – with one overview screen placed at the mixing position. “We could clearly see the four levels — at the first three measurement positions the level was the same but the drop off was -15dB at the 130m mark – quite impressive,” said FACE’s Steven Kemland. “The environmental people from Antwerp [who had sanctioned the Amnesty event] also used their own measurement instruments as proof of concept.” Knowing that all feedback had to be supplied to the Minister by 11 February, FACE believes the exercise was vital. “This was a perfect situation to prove to festival organisers, sound technicians and politicians the validity of the system. We believe we have gone a long way towards establishing MLA on festival riders should this 100dB sound threshold become law.”