Take it outside - Acoustic Design for Outdoor Events

A swimming pool with no water in, with people sitting and lying down in it

Given the fresh challenges associated with safely operating indoor events since the onset of COVID-19, it might be expected that there will be a move towards staging more events outdoors, where higher ventilation and greater space for distancing reduces the transmission risk.  For example, drive-in cinemas have enjoyed a resurgence.

However, external performances present some acoustic challenges that need to be considered.

  • Site selection: sites must be suitably quiet that performances are not disturbed by, for example, transport noise.  This is far more critical when performances are not amplified.

  • Avoiding excessive noise disturbance at neighbouring properties: this can be mitigated by selecting sites that are not close to sensitive properties, by appropriate design of PA systems and potentially by the use of screening.

  • Providing or using reflective surfaces to support unamplified performers and add a degree of reverberance and intimacy.  This might also be enhanced by subtle use of assisted (electro-acoustic) reverberation.

It might be a while before we make a return to large amphitheatre designs such as the Verona Arena, but the pre-pandemic programme of smaller scale performances and rehearsals using existing bandstands, band shells and concert platforms could easily be expanded. 

Other, less obvious spaces such as outdoor swimming pools and carparks might be repurposed.  Favourably dimensioned courtyards could be adapted for classical performance or unamplified theatre.  It is also possible to make use of tensile or inflated fabric structures to enhance acoustics.

Local Authorities may even consider temporary relaxation of existing noise control measures, to allow an increased number of events.

We offer a full range of acoustic and PA design services to support the staging of outdoor performances. Get in touch with Anthony Chilton, our Head of Acoustics, if you have a project or idea you'd like to discuss.