At one point in time in Black Rock City, there was a loud and quiet side of the city. Today, sound is everywhere and speaker technology has evolved since we developed our original sound policy. We have therefore updated it in 2023. We know it’s late in the season, so we’re announcing this to pilot in BRC this year, learn from it, and adjust as needed at future events.
We can’t stress enough that sound management in a camping city is mostly about negotiating sound levels with neighbors. Let’s be nice to one another and be reasonable with the unique conditions of BRC. Our blank canvas of the open playa doesn’t have the natural or buildable features that dampen sound in other landscapes and cities, so a certain level of sound must be tolerated no matter where you are in BRC. The updated guidelines are here to help negotiations and to minimize the need for enforcement so that we can all enjoy the soundscape.
A Brief History
In 2000, after we fielded a crescendo of noise complaints, we created a new sound policy that turned the 10:00 and 2:00 avenues into the Large Scale Sound Art sections of the city and dictated that within the city, a maximum power amplification of 300 watts is permitted, producing sound amplification not to exceed 90 decibels, when measured at 20 feet from the source. In 2015, after an increase in large sound systems on mutant vehicles, the Department of Mutant Vehicles instigated a sound policy and created the Deep Playa Music Zone (DMZ). Thirteen years after an initial sound policy and after a dramatic increase in noise complaints in 2022, we’ve seen loud sound systems become more accessible to purchase, and an increase in mobile, battery-powered systems that can reach deafening levels of sound. It’s time for an update to the Black Rock City Sound Policy and Mutant Vehicle Sound Policy.
The New Policy
Not wanting to stifle the cacophonous sounds of the city, we landed on a BRC policy that: eliminates limits to watts (since speaker technology has changed over time), introduces a conversation decibel level, and adjusts the location of assessment of sound.
For mutant vehicles, the sound policy completely removes decibels as a form of measurement to ease enforcement and adds a window of time when mutant vehicles should not be using their sound systems while traveling the city streets. It also updates some of the restrictions for sound in open playa.
We know that decibel level is a hard thing to measure accurately (despite the existence of hand-held noise meters), which is why we also use analog ideas such as “conversational level.”
The primary changes to the Black Rock City Sound Policy are:
- Within the city, sound systems should point internally within the camp producing the sound. Sound amplification should only be loud enough so that people can speak at a conversational level at the border of a neighboring camp or at the center point of a street, whichever is nearest to the source of the sound.
- Conversational levels are defined as 60 decibels (dbA mid-range frequencies) at the border of a neighboring camp or at the center point of a street, whichever is nearest to the source of the sound. Bass level (dbC — low-range frequencies) shall be negotiated with neighbors.
- Large-scale sound installations (colloquially known as sound camps) MUST be located in the Large Scale Sound Zone (facing 2:00 and 10:00 avenues). They may express themselves unless community complaints persist. Camps on Esplanade may amplify sound 100 feet into the open playa before conversational levels are expected.
We hope that the introduction of conversational levels at specific, recognizable points will help neighbors to work together to create a boisterous and exciting city that also allows for spaces that require a more quiet atmosphere.
Black Rock City is a community and we build and live in the city together, so the first and best solution to all these issues is to talk to your neighbors and work it out together!
The primary changes to the Mutant Vehicle Sound Policy are:
- You MAY play music while parked in your camp in compliance with Black Rock City’s Sound Policy.
- You MAY play music as loud as you want while in motion on the open playa.
- You MAY play as loud and as long as you want within the DMZ.
- You may NOT play amplified music while driving in the city streets between 2:00 am and 10:00 am.
- Always be considerate of camps and their activities, especially near the Esplanade. Turn down your sound if other activities are already in progress.
- Limit your stationary time (with music on) at art installations to 3 hours.
- Respect the Temple burn by not playing amplified sound during the burn.
Cover image of “Listen” by Aaron Fowler & Erin Desmond, 2018 (Photo by George P. Post)