Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Loud House

The physics of mechanical sound are truly amazing. Sinusoidal waves, existing in a timeline of four parameters.

First, the "attack", the sound is created, it's amplitude rising to a set value depending on, well, what made the sound, the frequency, and how much power is behind it (somewhere, Tim "The Toolman" Taylor just let out a faint grunt).

Next, the "decay", a period of time when the sound fades just slightly, losing roughly half of its initial kick.

The third zone is called "the sustain," the meat of the noise's life. At just about a half of the sound's maximum volume, it exists in a state of normalcy, bouncing about, and if you're in a stadium, hopefully creating absolute havoc for your enemy.

The final phase of a sound's life is the "release", as the sound dissipates when the source stops creating the original sound.

These parameters are applicable to sounds created by instruments (or synthesizers), since the human vocal chord makes noises in groups of frequencies and whose volume can vary depending on the whims of the creator, but the key points are the same when it comes to stadium noise. If the collective "sustain" of every foot-stomp, hand-clap, victorious whistle and disruptive tuba is LOUD, it makes home field advantage stronger. Such is the insanity of just about every football stadium in the SEC, which often house 90,000 fans (or more!).

But let's go one step further. Sounds, as noted above, are sinusoidal, which means sounds of the same frequency can actually effect one another. This is known as "phase." Simplifying things just a bit, let's assume that in a one-dimensional a particular sound wave is 2 meters long (this would be a very, very low-pitched noise). If this sound is created at two origins 1 meter apart, these sound waves will exist "out of phase", and actually cancel each other out, as the positive part of one wave will SUM with the negative part of the other.

But that's enough High School Science for now, this is a sports page, and clearly Dan must have fallen asleep last night watching an information for a graphing calculator. What does this all mean, baby?

Take a look at Qwest Field in Seattle. That stadium is designed to contain sound, and actually create louder noises through clever physics. It's not a coincidence that the one stadium in the NFL that looks like Pacman with a broken jaw is also the one that makes the most efficient use of crowd noise. It's also not a coincidence that, up until a week ago, The Big House in Ann Arbor could seat over 100,000 fans and sound like a cemetery. The wide, shallow bowl allowed sound to escape as it traveled across the stadium, terrifying birds that chose to fly directly over the massive structure, but confusing the fans within.

This past offseason, though, the University of Michigan poured millions into a renovation of The Big House designed to add a handful of suites to the upper reaches of the stadium. As a new resident of Ann Arbor that has just now begun to learn how things operate around here, it's safe to say that these suites weren't just lobbed on top of the preexisting beast. They were expertly designed to combat the stadium's Achilles' heal, with the suites actually leaning over the box seats and creating a scene that a handful of locals described as "the loudest they had ever heard the place." Hah! And this was for a game against Western Michigan, coming off a 3-9 season.

Just something to think about the next time you scream at your television, or the next time you consider wagering on a Wolverines home game.

1 comment:

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