Boston Calling celebrated its fifth year (and ninth outing) the weekend of May 25-27 with a slew of fantastic performers, including Eminem, The Killers, Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age, Paramore, and St. Vincent. However, the event, which music portal Consequence of Sound has declared one of the top-ten music festivals in the country, almost didn’t happen this year.
The previous year’s event, held in a new location at the Harvard Athletic Complex, drew not only raves from the attendees but also a wave of protests from residents of the surrounding Cambridge area who complained about noise levels, a situation a number of area media outlets reported in depth. This year, though, Boston-based production company Crash Line Productions found the solution: an L-Acoustics K1/K2 system, provided by Clearwing Productions, with a system design created using L-Acoustics’ Soundvision modeling software, that kept the sound on the audience and out of the surrounding neighborhoods.
“After Boston Calling 2017, there were complaints from the surrounding area that the noise levels were too high, so we tasked Scott Sugden at L-Acoustics to help us design a PA deployment that would mitigate perimeter noise as effectively as possible while still maintaining acceptable levels and coverage for the world’s best acts and a demanding paying public,” explains Clearwing Key Accounts Executive Stephen Harvey.
He, in turn, recommended Marcus Ross, co-owner with associate Sara Even of audio consultancy Crest Factor, who would bring a battery of sound-measurement devices to bear on the problem. “I took one look at this and knew that L-Acoustics was the only workable solution, starting with Soundvision modeling,” says Ross.
He worked with site maps supplied by the event producer inside Soundvision, which determined which loudspeaker types should be used and exactly where they needed to be placed. “L-Acoustics and I worked together on the approach of the system and then I verified the design and articulated the capabilities to the producers of the festival,” he explains. What they came up with for the main Green Stage system was a combination of K1 and K2 with K1-SB flown behind the main arrays to create a cardioid behavior. The sub frequencies were handled by 32 KS28 subs also deployed in a cardioid configuration. Kara was used for out-fill and front-fill, and the delay towers were outfitted with K2 speakers.
“The distributed system design allowed us to focus the SPL towards the audience and using the rejection created by the cardioid fields combined with the polar stability of the L-Acoustics K systems concentrated the audio on the festival grounds,” says Ross. “It was very different from the single array design they had used in the past.” In addition, K2 and K1-SB boxes were deployed on the Red and Blue stages along with KS28 subs and Kara for fill boxes, while coaxial 12XT speakers were used in the VIP areas.
Soundvision’s output also provided Ross with the visual aids he needed to discuss the solution with members of the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, which had brought the noise complaints the previous year. “They took the brunt of last year’s ‘assault,’ as they referred to it, so they were very interested in what we were going to suggest for this year,” says Ross.
Ross patrolled the areas surrounding the festival this year, checking SPL as the music played, and the containment was complete, with levels registering well below 70 dBa but without at all lessening the punch of the music within.
“L-Acoustics gave me all the tools I needed,” he says. “If the model dictated a particular loudspeaker at a specific location and angle of degree, we knew that the K1, K2 or Kara would perform exactly as it was predicted, covering what was needed to be covered and keeping the energy off of other areas. The pattern control that we achieved would not have been able to be achieved any other way. And even with 16 K1-SB and 32 KS28 subs on the main stage alone, their cardioid arrangements allowed us to produce much less off-site noise than the year before.” In fact, initial readings at a distance from the festival site that had been a problem last year didn’t even register on the meters this May. “We had to move a half-mile closer to get a usable SPL reading,” he says.
According to the news site Cambridge Day: “Feedback from my neighbors was that the sound was a tremendous improvement over last year. I was impressed,” said the association’s Nicola A. Williams, who lives off Mount Auburn Street and served as a point of contact with Boston Calling organizers.
Brian Appel, festival co-founder and principal at Crash Line Productions, agrees that the outcome of this year’s Boston Calling was “significantly better” than the year before, thanks to the ability of the K1/K2 sound system to keep the energy within the boundaries of the festival’s footprint.
“Clearwing and Marcus Ross really did an incredible job in picking the tools to make sure that the sound was managed as well as it could have been,” he says. “The advance work they did, including the help from L-Acoustics, in educating the area residents about how the festival was addressing their concerns and then implementing a strict FOH volume limit resulted in a sixty-percent drop in noise complaints. We were very happy with the sound system and the way it was implemented here.”