An Impact-Resistant Sound Absorption Solution for the UK’s Largest Concert Venue
The SSE Hydro, the fifth busiest entertainment arena in the world, alongside the likes of Madison Square Garden, the UK’s biggest concert venue and Scotland’s largest entertainment venue, was announced in 2003 as part of the redevelopment of Glasgow’s Queen’s Dock. This hugely ambitious and visually arresting landmark opened to the public in September of 2013. Despite the decade-long project duration, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers were all working apace to meet their commitments.
Time is a funny thing, particularly in the construction industry. Anyone working on a major building project will appreciate just how long it can take to get from inception to completion. Yet, at the same time, the individual activities within the project that connect milestone to milestone always move at breakneck speed, with everything needed yesterday.
When Veitchi Interiors, responsible for the venue’s acoustics, discovered that the bespoke sound absorption panels specified for the job were accompanied by an unacceptable lead time, the search was on for a viable alternative. The replacement product not only had to be fabricated and delivered to a demanding schedule, it also had to meet specific technical criteria as guided by acoustic consultants, Sandy Brown Associates. It had to be a Class 0 product, conforming to BS 476 Parts 6&7. Acoustically, it was vital that the new product performed to BS EN ISO 354:2003. And because the product was to be used to line the walls and balustrades in the audience area, where the panels would be fully exposed to the potential for repeated and significant physical impact, the product had to perform to DIN 18032-3 for impact resistance and EN 15312 for rigidity.
A replacement product was soon found in the form of CMS Danskin Acoustics’ SuperPhon High Impact sound absorption panel. CMS Danskin’s product was available in time and met (and in some cases exceeded) the architect’s specification.
It may seem counterintuitive to be talking about sound absorption for a concert venue. A library, yes. But an arena which, as part of its remit to play host to more than 140 events per year, is expected to accommodate rock concerts?
There are two key areas for consideration when it comes to concert acoustics. The first is sound quality, the second is the issue of dangerous levels of sound. Although there are many electrical innovations that can assist in both these areas, the physical acoustics of a performance space are critical. An excess of reflected sound (in layman’s terms, ‘echo’) can measurably reduce the quality of a performance, particularly during classical recitals. In fact, it is not unknown for certain conductors to refuse to play certain venues simply because they do not feel the acoustics complement the piece they are to play. Johann Sebastian Bach composed for a particular church, Saint Thomas in Leipzig, due to its low reverberation. Hope Bagenal, the senior acoustic consultant of the Royal Festival Hall described this as “the most important single fact in the history of music because it leads directly to the St Matthew Passion and the B Minor Mass.”
With regard to the second issue, that of dangerous noise, the maximum ‘safe’ level for continued exposure to noise is around 85dB. On July 15, 2009, during a live performance, the band Kiss achieved a sound pressure level of 136dB, a full 51dB above the accepted maximum. At this level, immediate and permanent hearing damage can be sustained. Not to be outdone, on December 13, 2011 the Foo Fighters concert in New Zealand was recorded on the GNS Science Research Institute’s seismograph, a device normally used for measuring earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Even the audience at an event can be dangerously noisy. The crowd at CenturyLink Field in Seattle during a Seahawks’ game against the New Orleans Saints achieved a noise level of 137.6dB, without the aid of amplifiers!
Again, technology (and personal liability waivers) provide some solutions, but effective sound absorption materials play a vital role, particularly, as is the case with SuperPhon, when it comes to absorbing those dangerous frequencies around 2000Hz, to which the human ear is especially vulnerable. To give you an idea of how dangerous these higher frequencies can be, for a sound at 50Hz to sound as loud as the same sound at 2000Hz, it would have to be somewhere in the region of 50dB more intense.
Although time had been the issue that had prompted Veitchi Interiors to seek out a new sound absorption material, construction schedules being what they are, it was no longer an issue by the time SuperPhon had been identified as a potential solution. However, CMS Danskin’s fast-track production schedule wasn’t the only quality attracting Veitchi Interiors to SuperPhon. A full 5mm thinner than the originally specified product, SuperPhon was also more cost-effective, enabling Veitchi to value engineer their contribution to this major project.