True story: I’m not an acoustical engineer, nor do I play one on TV. But as a blogger for BAP Acoustics, I believe it’s safe to say that this former English major has learned more about sound and the sciences thereof than most former English majors do. Coupled with the fact that I’m an eclectic (she understated) music lover who enjoys the outdoors, my summery inspiration to write this article will make perfect sense.
The internationally known Burning Man event that takes place in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada has, in its 31-year existence as a “temporary metropolis”, spawned “Regionals” all over the world, as far afield as South Africa, and as close to my Vancouver home as a natural amphitheatre near Princeton, British Colombia.
As longtime participants in Burn in The Forest (BiTF), our local “Burner” community, my partner and I recently came home buoyed not only by those endorphins borne of participation, camaraderie, big art, great music, and dancing, but also a renewed sense of awe at just how sublime even cacophony can sound in a natural amphitheatre. I’ll just mention that Burning Man and the Regionals it’s inspired are completely volunteer-run. A BiTF ticket pays for the space we temporarily inhabit (and leave cleaner than we found it) and onsite medics. Pretty cool, no? Maybe we’ll see you next summer! Okay, now I’ll stop pitching and oh-so-gracefully transition to information I hope will tantalize and inspire further research on natural amphitheatres and the properties behind their sonic excellence.
In Nathan Mattise’s WIRED article Sound Science: World’s Best Outdoor Music Venues, Live-Sound Reinforcer (his actual title) Gary Ford explains “Outdoors there’s nothing for sound to bounce off of. Ninety-eight percent of what you hear is the true source without any delay.” His company, Ford Audio Service, co-manages sound for the famed (currently on hiatus) Sasquatch Music Festival held each May in Washington State at a riverside natural amphitheatre called the Gorge.
“Ninety-eight percent of what you hear is the true source without any delay,” Ford says. “When they’re inside arenas and stadiums, sound waves hit various surfaces—roofs, bleachers, concrete floors, and so on—and get deflected or absorbed. If audio engineers calculate all those variables correctly, the listening experience can be immersive. If they get it wrong, you’ll hear bass and drums banging at you from all angles at incremental intervals. That’s not true in the open.”
“Sound-wise, it’s easier,” adds Mark Carlson, Carlson Audio Systems CEO and Ford’s co-manager of sound at Sasquatch. “The PA won’t ever sound better than it does outside. The clarity of sound is a breath of fresh air.”
So break out your camping gear and read on to learn more about the Gorge and four other acoustic—not to mention visual—wonders of nature.