A December workshop introduced a more nuanced approach for dealing with sound and noise in an urban environment.
Last December, David Woolworth of Roland, Woolworth & Associates organized “A Workshop on Sound for New Orleans.” The city hired Woolworth as an acoustic expert when City Council considered updating the noise ordinance in 2014. A soundwalk he led on Bourbon Street late one afternoon illustrated the simplistic nature of the proposed solution as many Bourbon Street venues violated the proposed decibel threshhold before the crowd arrived and the street got genuinely loud. The realization that sound/noise management was going to require a more complex instrument than had been proposed stalled efforts to revise the ordinance at the time.
Woolworth’s December workshop brought experts from around the world to New Orleans to advocate for a more nuanced approach to managing sound in the city starting with the terminology. “My understanding is that ‘noise’ is unwanted sound,” said Bennett Brooks of Brooks Acoustic Corporation, and it is the unwanted sound that people want to control.
Brooks introduced the concept of the ’soundscape’ as “an environment of sound with emphasis on the way it is perceived and understood by the individual or by a society,” and many of the talks at the Omni Royal Orleans workshop advanced the idea that soundscape analysis was a more productive way to approach sound/noise management questions because examining sound in its contexts is a better way to understand not only the sound but the way it’s perceived and processed.
One speaker, Helene Stryckman, presented the results of a soundwalk through the Marigny in 2015. “Music is a small part of the broader soundscape of an urban area,” she said, but it is a problematic one. “Identical musical sounds can be perceived as too loud and a source of discomfort and also be part of a strong, emotional attachment and source of great happiness.”
The presentations were deep dives into the relationship between sound and an urban environment, and they pointed to the kind of conversations New Orleans needs to have when/if it seriously wants to address the questions City Council took on in 2014. Unfortunately, there were as many speakers as audience members in the room for the workshop, and if anyone from City Hall was there, he or she was incognito. Woolworth recorded talks on video, and here they are in their entirety.