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How can venues deal with the noise of many people in a space?

Understanding the Lombard Effect

At Avenue we rarely “get technical” in our educational pieces. We prefer to keep them light and informative!

But today, we are taking it right back to the early 20th century to talk about the Lombard Effect: how it creates noise in a space, and how its discovery has led to solutions to it.

What is the Lombard Effect?

Discovered in 1911 by French otolaryngologist[1] Dr Etienne Lombard, the Lombard Effect was first documented in his article “Le Signe de l’elevation de la voix”.

The focal point of Dr Lombard’s article is that when a patient was engaged in conversation and presented with intense noise, they would elevate the level of their speaking voice. Interestingly, he noted that the patient themself was unaware of the change in their speaking voice volume.

In simple terms therefore, the Lombard Effect is the involuntary adjustment of vocal intensity when background noise levels change.

Excited by his discovery, Dr Lombard initially thought this was an ideal way to ferret out malingerers pretending to be deaf to neglect their work duties or make false injury claims! As the years passed, the Lombard Effect became more and more common in society – without many of us knowing about it.

The last time you had a conversation in a noisy cafe, restaurant or even on a street corner when a noisy bus or car drove past, you will have automatically adjusted your vocal intensity – that’s the Lombard Effect.

Modern outcomes from recognising the Lombard Effect

Even over 100 years ago, Dr Lombard recognised that his effect could be used for more than just diagnosing hearing loss (or recognising someone faking it). Some of the uses today include:

  • Understanding the Lombard Effect – particularly the changes associated with Lombard speech – has been instrumental in developing software for automatic speech and speaker recognition.
  • The Lombard Effect is relevant to the study of phonetics and linguistics, and
  • Studies on the Lombard Effect are employed in architectural acoustics and design to reduce unwanted noise and improve speech intelligibility indoors.

How the Lombard Effect affects you

Some scientific articles suggest that a speaker influenced by the Lombard Effect does not try to increase their vocal intensity so their companion can hear them – but so they can hear themselves!

By contrast, the cafe effect argues, “I must speak louder so my friends can understand me”. It is a voluntary choice to increase vocal intensity so our friends can hear us; while as we have seen, the Lombard Effect is an involuntary response so that we can hear ourselves.

Either way, increasing vocal intensity (whether to hear yourself or be heard) increases the amount of noise in a room. And the more people there are in a space, the more effects are in play. After all, everyone wants to be heard – but this can create a very uncomfortable environment.

Think about the last time you had a great night out. You woke the next day with a sore throat and ringing ears. You instantly think the worst and wonder if you are getting sick; but without knowing it, you have been impacted by the Lombard Effect.

While enjoying a meal with your friends or boogieing on the dance floor, you have involuntarily increased your voice so you can hear yourself – leading to your sore throat. And where did the ringing in your ears come from? It came from everyone else doing the same things you did. The volume in the room became so loud that it potentially exceeded noise limitations, causing hearing damage.

How Avenue can help reduce the impacts of the Lombard Effect

Aside from avoiding social outings altogether, there isn’t much that we as individuals can do to stop the Lombard Effect since it’s an involuntary response to background noise. However, a venue can improve the acoustic absorption in their space to help reduce the impacts of too much noise.

Today there are many products available that can improve a venue’s acoustics. Most of these products are aesthetically pleasing and customisable; designed with the end-user in mind; and are pin, hook, and loop friendly.

The commercial noise professionals at Avenue Interior Systems can provide the perfect solution for your venue. Our range of wall and ceiling noise control solutions can blend into your venue’s surroundings, so no one will ever know you are trying to absorb their chatter. Alternatively, our customisable solutions can be printed with photos and textures, making them a feature of your space.

If you need a team to help Design your Silence, call Avenue Interior Systems today on 1300 827 177.