A sound argument for the arena

Improving acoustics at Western Financial Place in Cranbrook would have long-reaching economic benefits.

People of Cranbrook! People of Cranbrook!

I know we’re all fixating on infrastructure improvement costs, the pros and cons. But I want to add to this general noise, and bring up an infrastructure issue which I think is of the utmost importance.

Dear readers, it is imperative that we improve the acoustics of Western Financial Place. Sound quality is important. I have been dwelling on this even before last year’s Bob Dylan concert.

Consider: Over the past two years, we’ve seen a noticeable uptick in concerts at Western Financial Place — Johnny Reid, Bob Dylan, the Tragically Hip, Dwight Yoakum, Alice Cooper, etc. And great concerts are just around the corner — Dean Brody and Cassadee Pope, Kenny Rogers, Charley Pride. It seems people are buying tickets to these concerts, and Cranbrook may be getting a bit of a positive reputation in this regard, meaning more to come.

These events, needless to say, are a boon to the local economy and will be, I believe, a key feature of our local tourism industry.

However, everyone agrees the acoustics of the arena are less than desirable. That’s understandable — it’s a hockey rink. And although the building now known as Western Financial Place was originally touted as a venue for major events such as concerts, many of us remember how much of those initial plans were left on the cutting room floor, as they say, in the rush to get the building built. Nobody’s fault, except perhaps that company which left town long since.

Additionally, the acoustics problem is not just about live music concerts alone. Many is the time I’ve sat back in my seat between periods at the Kootenay Ice game, looking forward to the intermission entertainment, activity or prize give-away. But when the announcer at ice level speaks into his or her microphone, the echo in the arena takes his or her words and renders them totally incomprehensible — to me anyway. And I was find the current acoustic environment makes the game announcer harder to understand, and the music between plays less enjoyable.

Sound is important, like I said. But the solutions are there, relatively easy to achieve, and not overly expensive (though everything costs money). The main thing is to reduce the echo — the sound waves bouncing off the arena’s high metal ceiling and concrete walls (one live music aficionado I know suggested that even buying up a bunch of old army blankets and hanging them off the walls would improve the sound).

There is a broad science devoted to acoustic improvement in places like arenas and gymnasiums. I’ve determined that the best way, and probably the cheapest to the taxpayer, is a type of baffle, groups of which may be suspended as horizontal “clouds” from the ceiling of our arena, or in the form of vertical panels, such as above the kitchen area of Hot Shots Cafe, for example.

There are also “clouds” that come in three-dimensional designs, which are visually appealing without contributing visual clutter.

(In terms of the physics, these absorptive acoustic panels work by allowing sound to penetrate into the panel which causes the internal membranes or fibers to vibrate. This is called a thermodynamic transfer whereby airborne sound energy — vibrations — is converted into heat).

All that would need to be done would be to purchase the material and hang it. There would be no need to re-engineer the arena, or anything like that. Strikes me as an easy fix.

And to reduce the reverberation would not lessen the thunderous roar of the crowd, the sounds of the banging and crashing on the ice, the tocks and pings of the pucks off boards or goalposts, or other important sounds that make watching live hockey so enjoyable.

(As an aside, once the acoustics are fixed, we could do what the Americans do, and mike the boards, so that these sounds are enhanced, thus making the overall hockey experience even more exciting.)

Though sound quality of a hockey rink may strike some as frivolous and unnecessary, I suggest it is as important, if not more so, than comfortable seating. And far from being intangible, once touring acts start hearing the word that Cranbrook generally provides enthusiastic audiences, quick and plentiful ticket sales, and a good-sounding venue, then these acts will become more plentiful, drawing customers from farther and farther afield. And thus that intangible becomes a tangible indeed — an economic tangible. Sounds good to me.

Barry Coulter is Editor of the

Cranbrook Daily Townsman

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