Beyond the highly publicized and debated issues that pertain to Vancouver’s visual and physical space, mainly focused on the Downtown Eastside, there is a competition for sonic space that has gone largely unnoticed. Noise Pollution caused by the rapid development of condominiums dominates Vancouver’s soundscape, while the relatively minor sound intrusions of live music — in the streets, in public venues, or private spaces — is regularly restricted by city officials. This discrepancy exists largely as a result of Vancouver’s Noise Control by-law, which has a strong bias towards developer-friendly regulations, and shrouds musical/cultural sound policy in a cloud of ambiguity, hyper-regulation and selective enforcement.

In the spring of 2012, the City of Vancouver’s engineering department passed a revealing by-law. It stated that no longer could bagpipes or percussion instruments be played in the streets of the city. The engineering department claimed to have based their decision on “noise concerns”, but whether or not they were conscious of it, their disruption of legitimate street music was actually ideologically motivated. There is a trend in Vancouver toward anti-cultural and pro-developer policies concerning noise.

Bagpiper at Granville and Georgia. Photo Credit: Alex Eng

The ban didn’t last long as the decision was quickly reversed due to public outcry. But, why was this ban ever implemented; and perhaps the bigger question, why was it the engineering department, of all possible arms of municipal bureaucracy, that wrote this by-law?

This recent event draws parallels with an anecdote mentioned in Barry Truax’s Acoustic Communication:

“The Vancouver Soundscape” reports the 1971 conviction of members of the Hari Krishna sect under the local noise by-law (of the older “nuisance” variety) for their street singing, while across the street, the construction noise was measured at over 90 dBA.” (world soundscape project 1978a) …Such laws have been regularly used, not to prevent loud noise, but to control “undesirable” elements in society from being too conspicuous. The opposite, the toleration of high levels (as in public entertainment using heavy amplification), occurs when no vested interests are threatened.”[1]

So it would seem as though this is not a recent shift in policy, but rather part of a longer history in governmental preference for the noises of construction and development over unsanctioned music. As Truax notes, the Hari Krishnas were much quieter than the construction site, much like an affected bagpiper noted last year: “Bagpipes are not really that loud. When my next-door neighbour starts his lawnmower, it’s far louder than I would be if I blew my bagpipes up.”

The Olympics and City-Sanctioned Noise

During City-sponsored events such as the 2010 Winter Olympics outdoor “celebrations”, bylaws were ignored or waived by the very people who are meant to enforce them. These included Califone and Wilco’s outdoor nighttime show at David Lam Park in Yaletown (Feb. 13th, 2010), nightly fireworks shows, and the massive street parties that happened through the night.

Construction of The Olympic Village 2008. Photo credit: Christian Campbell

Expo ’86 and the 2010 Winter Olympics were used as a platform to showcase the city. In an attempt to show that the Best Place on Earth is not No Fun City, the government not only allowed but also organized these outdoor “cultural” events. It was essentially an elaborate (and often ineffective) advertising campaign designed by Vancouver developers and city councillors. The city was bending its own noise restrictions to allow these events. By making Vancouver seem more fun and culturally supportive than it actually is, they hoped to attract real estate investment. If the fun-loving, celebratory city that the municipal government of Vancouver presented to the world during the Olympics was actually the kind of society that the City wanted to create, why uphold to policies that stunt cultural expression?

As a musician, organizer of cultural events, and activist for affordable artist-run studio space for interdisciplinary artists, I watched the handling of the Olympics closely to see if it meant that a shift in policy at City Hall was on the horizon. Had Vancouver “grown up”, I asked myself, and become like many other progressive cities in North America like Montreal, New York, and Portland Ore., where the noise of development was often challenged or at least accompanied by the sounds of live music? By all accounts no, things went back to how they were before, with examples such as the aforementioned bagpipe controversy as well as the hyper-regulation and ongoing harassment of independent music and cultural venues while the sounds of jackhammers and wrecking-balls continued unabated throughout Vancouver.

This selective enforcement is written into the Noise Control Bylaw 6555 by the City of Vancouver. In the bylaw, the time allotted to acceptable noise created in the construction of private buildings is given specific parameters: “Construction on private property must be carried out between 7:30 am and 8 pm on any weekday that is not a holiday, and between 10 am to 8 pm on any Saturday that is not a holiday. Construction is not permitted on Sundays.” This timeframe is equal to 72.5 hours on a week with no holidays, or 43.2% of the time. Also, that allotted time can be extended by applying for a “noise bylaw exemption permit.”[2]

The City of Vancouver’s list of phone numbers to call in order to file a specific type of noise complaint surprisingly makes no reference to the noises of building construction or renovation. Furthermore, any noises created: “(a) as a consequence of the construction, cleaning, or other maintenance of any building, street, sewer, water main, electrical duct, or other public utility; or (b) by the sound of church bells, chimes, or carillons, whether amplified or not (City of Vancouver)” are exempt from the bylaws that pertain to: noises disturbing unreasonably the quiet in a street or park, or all of the decibel limits (daytime and nighttime). The exemption of church bells is certainly in line with R. Murray Schafer’s perspective in Voices of Tyranny, Temples of Silence. He notes that in the preindustrial Christian world there was nearly unquestioned and completely unchallenged dominance of the soundscape by the church in the ringing of church bells in terms of decibels.[3] In post-industrial Vancouver, private development and government construction noises dominate the soundscape, but a nod is still given to the former seat of societal power in the exemption of church bells from normal noise by-laws. Similarly, the populace largely considers development to be “necessary” and “reasonable”, and so chooses not to fight for lower sound levels from development sites, be it due to apathy or feelings of helplessness.

Compare the city’s lack of concern for development noises with the by-law’s painstaking outline of possible musical infractions: “Sounds from a radio … musical instrument or voice amplification equipment must not cause an unreasonable disturbance.” The words “unreasonable disturbance” are vague enough so as to allow the law to be interpreted by officials, denying music workers job security to the same degree that developers are offered security. What constitutes an “unreasonable disturbance”, and when will the force of the law strike? Music workers in Vancouver are always under the threat of the restriction or even the loss of their livelihood.

Noise Pollution, or Sound Pollution?

Interestingly, the differentiation between music and construction in this context is similar to the difference between what the World Soundscape Project defines as Noise Pollution and Sound Pollution. Noise pollution refers to sounds that often are excessively loud, cause irritation, and can have adverse effects on the health of the populace, from short intense noises (car horns) to long and less intense noises (traffic). Sound pollution comes from an imbalanced soundscape, when something markedly alien intrudes into the sonic territory of a place where it is not perceived to fit. A radio at the beach would probably be contributing to sound pollution, and specifically it would be a sound intrusion. The bagpipe and Hari Krishna controversies, for instance, are examples of engineers perceiving bagpipes and singing as sound pollution in a soundscape of the noise pollution that they had become accustomed to. This is likely due to sound phobia, which Truax defines as: “A sound that arouses fear or dislike in a person for any reason. The novelty of a new sound, particularly one that replaces an old, familiar sound, or sound signal, often causes such reactions.”

Red Gate Cultural Wildlife Refuge 2009, photo credit: Jim Carrico

I experienced this discrepancy in an art space that I was co-running called the Red Gate. The band Destroyer was rehearsing on the top floor. They had just received widespread attention and near-universal acclaim for their most recent album Kaputt and were rehearsing for a world tour. It was within the time frame that would have been acceptable for a construction crew to operate (early evening Friday), and yet based on one noise complaint from a neighbour our space was raided by police officers. In addition, the Red Gate building (152-156 West Hastings St.) was across the street from the Woodwards Development, which had finished three years of construction just a year before.

In this case, city policy is not pro-business, but is specifically only pro-developer, or perhaps more accurately anti- “everything else.” Noise “control” has been used as a justification to restrict independent expression even when in the name of “business”; laws favour the noise of development over the sounds of art and dissent.

Barry Truax states in Acoustic Communication (2nd ed.):

“We have characterized sound as having a mediating effect on, and therefore as creating relationships between, the individual and the environment. Noise seems to be the source of a negative mediation of such relationships, an alienating force that loosens the contact the listener has with the environment, and an irritant that works against effective communication… Quantitative by-laws define noise functionally in terms of the sound’s intensity level to determine whether it is acceptable or not. The problem with legislation, of course, is finding the right cutoff point above which a sound is unacceptable enough to be called noise and therefore prohibited… By contrast to these objective definitions, the generally accepted subjective definition of noise is that it is “unwanted sound.” This definition clearly shifts the responsibility for the identification of what is noise to the listener and the level of agreement regarding prohibition to that of majority decision, as in the democratic model.”[4]

Barry Truax also writes about the industrial opposition to noise control in Acoustic Communication. He points out that cities will often choose to focus efforts against noise pollution on the noise sources in the top ten percentile. He also says:

“Statements such as ‘every dB reduction will cost American industry…’ scare people away from such approaches [as progressive cuts in sound emissions], but those making such statements never look at the other side of the cost ledger to estimate the true cost of noise in its broader effects. The 10% solution also implicitly fails to raise public awareness of the problem because it focuses on the small minority of offenders, the “few bad apples” that can be dealt with without much fuss, instead of showing the degree to which everyone is a contributor to the problem.”

But, the top 10 percentile no longer includes development and construction due to the current Noise Control By-law, signed into law incidentally by then Mayor, and former Premier Gordon Campbell.

In our industrial society, it is perfectly acceptable in the eyes of the law to make astonishingly loud noise during the daytime hours, when individuals are functioning as workers, but it is often unacceptable to make noise as individuals, as a result of celebration or expression, even in conversation [5] on the basis of the negative effect that perceived sound pollution can have on our comfort levels and sleeping habits. But our mentality in the West is not inherent to human society. Sutrisno Hartana, former SFU Gamelan professor, once told me that Gamelan is performed through the night in Java, and instead of being at risk of “noise complaints”, the players are congratulated when they hit the bronze so hard as to break it. Similarly, Barry Truax notes Samual Rosen’s observations of the Mabaan people of the Sudan:

“He reported that the sound level in the villages was generally less than 40 dBC and that the levels associated with some work activities were only 73-74 dB. The only really loud sounds were from musical activities during festivals.”[6]

This difference is not accidental, but rather a conscious effort to appeal to a deeper culture in Vancouver that favours the livelihood and comfort of what is perceived as pro-business over what is considered disruptive to business. This distinction is simply a perception however, as it does not take into consideration the business of arts and entertainment. We can see the differentiation between these two perceived forms of noise pollution written into Vancouver City By-law 6555.

What on the surface seems like a debate about what is and is not noise is underneath a debate of ideologies. As Truax points out in Acoustic Communication, what is thought of as noise is fundamentally subjective. Further, these subjective judgements can be understood both as reactions to the nature of the sound itself, and to the source activities; with the most negative reactions towards activities we find distasteful. It is in this way that a developer-funded city government can shut down venues and studios based on noise complaints, and keep laws intentionally ambiguous regarding live musical performance, and even rehearsal, while setting aside 72.5 hours a week for unrestrained construction/ development noise. It remains to be seen whether the City of Vancouver’s actions represent a markedly different perception of what is “noise” based on the ideology, backgrounds, and training of the bylaw enforcers, or the City is instead using the label of “Noise Pollution” in order to control unwanted activities.

By virtue of Vancouver City By-Law 6555, rehearsed, performed or otherwise amplified music is ideologically relegated to noise pollution. This gives officials and citizens means (and entitlement) to quash “undesired” sounds. The effect is discouragement of emerging musicians, a decrease in the job-security of music-workers, and the creation of the conditions wherein the act of making music is an act of civil disobedience. The musician by their very expression is a law-breaker in performing a selfless act, but a developer performing a selfish act is given permission to produce unrestrained noise almost half of the time. The more the musician’s impulse to express is undermined by sound phobia and in the name of noise control, the more they must assert themselves in the contemporary city soundscape. Otherwise, we are doomed to create and live within a soundscape dominated by the noise pollution of unsustainable urban development.


[1] Barry Truax, Acoustic Communication (Westport, CT: Ablex, 2011) — this book includes the supplementary Handbook for acoustic ecology.
[2] I have sent a Freedom of Information request to find out how many Noise Bylaw Exemption Permits have been awarded in the last ten years separated by mayoral terms, but I did not receive a response by the time of publication.
[3] R. Murray Schafer, Voices of Tyranny, Temples of Silence (Indian River, ON: Arcana, 1993) pp. 32 – 33
[4] Barry Truax, Acoustic Communication, pp. 94, 95
[5] Section 4 (b)
[6] Barry Truax, Acoustic Communication, p. 101

22 Responses to Live Music and Development: A Double Standard of Noise Pollution in Vancouver

  1. Dave says:

    Very well written. Thank you so much for publicizing this issue!

  2. Standing Water says:

    This may surprise many of you kiddies, but people have a common right to peace and _quiet_. So anything that obstructs their quiet, it amounts to a disseisin, to use a lulzworthy term. Basically, holding a tenement of any sort implies the right to use it in quiet, for whoever is deprived of quiet is deprived of the advantage of his tenement.

    Now, if you attend a lot of amplified (or other) music shows, especially if you did while growing up, you probably have hearing damage, unless you religiously used protection. So, maybe you cannot hear very much and don’t understand why anyone would be upset. It is not incumbent upon landholders in an area to purchase ear protection in order to insulate themselves from your “music.”

    The issue here is nothing to do with “live music.” It has to do with the sorts of people attracted to certain sorts of live music shows and the quality of the venues. I am sorry, but if you set up a speakeasy near my home such that I could hear it, I’d get the City to shut it down. That doesn’t make me a monster or insensitive or pro-developer: it makes me someone who has preserved his hearing, who likes to enjoy peace and quiet.

    The conclusion that live music is OK because the noise laws against developers are not enforced is a non-sequitur. I also suspect that few developers have crews working when people are sleeping. I am all for enforcing the noise bylaws equally, but your argument is of the “everyone else was speeding” form that often gets put into traffic court by laypeople. If everyone was jumping off a cliff, would you, too? Well, I know some of you would, that’s how socialists roll.

    • joneh says:

      Sure, if someone opened a venue near in in an area that’s not zoned for it well after you’d moved in, sure, call it in. But many times someone moves into a place that is near a venue that has been there for decades ( Wise Hall, Biltmore, ) and starts calling in complaints that the police respond to and the venue has no way to defend itself, no grandfathered in clause that negates noise complaints. How do venues defend themselves against irresponsible tenants and owners who don’t take the time to look into their new neighborhood’s zoning?

      • Standing Water says:

        “How do venues defend themselves against irresponsible tenants and owners who don’t take the time to look into their new neighborhood’s zoning?”

        The right to quiet is a part of general equity—nothing can violate it. It is a natural right, the right to quiet—just as fire burns in Persia as it does in Vancouver, so is quiet a right in Persia as it is in Vancouver. Certain noises are a part of life: mowing lawns, building, etc. They are restricted to certain reasonable hours. Making music is not one of them. Making music is how a certain sort of personality puffs up its ego and occasionally fills its pockets. It is wholly unnecessary. But if you want to push, sure, no more development, no more lawnmowers. Fine with me.

        • Twelvecar says:

          They do not have a right to go against common sense.

          Let’s look at a non music example that is very similar: A few years back, when the high rises started going up in Coal Harbor, the new residents who moved into that area launched a campaign to shut down all the seaplane operations. Why? Because they said it was too loud.

          Never mind the fact that they had been there for years before the buildings, that anyone who bought an apartment in that area must have known about them well in advance…

          Moving next to a venue or business that has been around for decades then complaining that it’s annoying you is your right. Just don’t expect people to agree with you.

          As a side note, I’m not sure if your whole anti music stance is just trying to troll people, or if that you truly feel that music is an unnecessary part of life. But if it’s the later, I truly feel sorry for you. Being proud of not being able to enjoy an aspect of life 99% of the human race loves is kind of sad. .

    • Jonafriend says:

      Standing Water : Your reply is insensitive and full of prejudice. Referring to those who attend shows as “Kiddies” is demeaning. Thinking they all have hearing damage based purely on the fact they have attended live shows is ignorant. Putting quotations around everything that the artists and musicians of Vancouver create is unacceptable as a level-headed reply to this article the author has obviously put a lot of thought into, and even cited sources at the end. It’s nasty, malicious thoughts and opinions such as these that are more apart of the problem than the solution.

      P.S. Suspecting that few developers have crews working when people are sleeping is just that : Suspicion. Why not back up your argument with facts instead of making assumptions such as everybody who attends shows are children who have lost their hearing, or are dregs of society who shouldn’t see the light of day?

  3. fathertheo says:

    Dear Standing Water,
    The trouble with you right-wingers is that you apparently don’t know how to read. If I plug in my mandolin in this city, I can get arrested. Yet mandolins are not loud instruments. Unamplified, their sound will travel maybe 18 or 20 inches in city traffic conditions, meaning that it isn’t permitted in this city to even be heard if you play some acoustic instruments. Oh, and buskers don’t play in quiet areas generally, because they can’t make any money where there aren’t any people. The laws as written now permit you to fire up your lawnmower early in the morning, disturbing the peace of an entire suburban block, but a busker can’t sing folk song into a microphone on a battery-powered sound system during rush hour on a busy downtown street. This is fascism. But maybe you like that.

    • Standing Water says:

      I am hardly a right-winger. I support equality: quiet is a part of equality. We can all be quiet; we cannot all run mandolins on amplifiers. You’re the one that wants inequality, for the sake of your own ego and/or making $$$. That you feel the need to draw attention to yourself is indicative of some sort of issue. That you feel you have a right to do something that everyone could not do at once is a very big issue, if you actually value the values the ‘left wing’ purports to value. But I know that most of Vancouver’s socialist kiddies are “beer-hall socialists”, not the libertarian variety that supports true equality.

      You have no right to busk in public. That sort of vagrancy is tolerated today due to our general climate of lawlessness. As for my view of quiet (and some reasonable noise), I don’t think it is very “fascist.” It is born of the idea that if everyone makes noise, everyone must continually raise the amplification in an attempt to “come out on top.” You already seem to have half a clue—you point out that you “need” an amplifier to be heard over the cars. But what if someone else wanted to be heard over you? He’d need an amplifier louder than yours. Oh, but he shouldn’t do that because you’re the star of this little egotistical fascist opera you want to show us on the city streets? One (sorta hokey) definition of fascism is the “aestheticization of politics.” If your politics are geared toward satisfying your own aesthetics in a way that precludes others from gaining the same sort of aesthetic satisfaction, maybe you are the fascist.

  4. Andrew says:

    I agree that noise is very annoying and especially when one is trying to sleep. I do feel the author makes a good point that developers are allowed to be loud all day and early too. I suffered the misfortune of being next to three separate condos sites. It was very difficult to sleep past 8 o’clock and the noise throughout the day was very taxing on my nerves. Even on Saturday and often Sunday, super loud noise was omnipresent. So yeah I think that noise from developments is a real issue for a lot of people.

    Independent spaces exist or should I say existed in the numbers that they did because of the extremely high cost of liquor primary licenses in British Columbia. Just one province over you can have a live band play at a restaurant until 4 AM and people can be dancing the whole time and it’s all completely legal but here in BC if you tried to do that you would have your license taken away. A liquor primary license that would allow you to have live bands and/or electronic music played loud and have people dancing is going to set you back $500,000. That’s just for the license. Now that’s what I call a barrier to entry.

    The city is absolutely siding with the developers in removing the independent venues and getting them out of the way so that nobody that moves into their expensive new condos has anything to complain about. The problem with this strategy is that it’s leaving absolutely nowhere for musicians to go. Not everyone will notice just yet but it’s already started to happen in a big way. That is the mass migration away from Vancouver by all its musicians.

    It seems quite clear that the mayor and city council do not find this to be an issue worthy of concern. It also seems that many of the residents that are constantly complaining about these venues are not interested in this type of entertainment. Does anybody want to hear anything made by a musician living in Vancouver? And should these bands if anyone wants to hear them – should they be allowed to be any louder than the TV in your living room? These shows occurring 95% of the time on weekend nights, are they just a giant noise blight and is it a good thing that they now are almost all completely gone? These questions I feel really underline the main point of this entire argument: is the perfect serene silence on a weekend night worth the trade-off of having no underground culture in the city of Vancouver?

    Noise is annoying for everybody. Construction noise is extremely annoying: jackhammers, cranes, digging machines, hammers incessantly banging 6 to 7 days a week for a year and a half. Who gains from this noise? Now I have neighbors that can see into my apartment. Once they weren’t there. Now they are. I used to get plenty of sun exposure. Now I get almost none. What did I get out of that year and half sacrifice?

    A band from Vancouver called White Lung just performed at Pitchfork Festival a few weeks ago. If it wasn’t for certain underground venues, that band and many others would not exist and at the very least would not have come from Vancouver. Nothing would have come from Vancouver in last decade if it wasn’t for these underground speakeasies.

    • Standing Water says:

      “The problem with this strategy is that it’s leaving absolutely nowhere for musicians to go.”

      I continually marvel at the entitlement displayed on this website. Apparently Vancouver is for musicians, homeless people, drug addicts (and especially the trifecta pheno: the homeless drug addicted musician!) not for anyone productive. If they are “musicians”, they should go where they’re wanted, rather than trying to ear-rape those of us who just want to get some peace.

      • joneh says:

        You’re missing the point. Some points. Musicians *want* to go where they’re wanted and not disturb anyone, and they used to be able to, but the city is shutting all these places down. They re-zone them so developers can build residences in commercial zones – somewhere where someone like you would previously never think to live because there’s an inherent understanding that that area will have noise at night. Developers then make money and complete the cycle by funding politicians who support them etc etc. ( This isn’t a conspiracy – most civic and provincial campaign funding comes from developers. )
        The person who moves in -you- is being used – they know people like you will complain, then they can show up with noise complaints and fire violations and shut down a venue that has been a part of the city and has operated legally for decades, likely longer than the person complaining has been a resident. The rules get changed rug is pulled out, and *you* feel like you’re a victim and they’re counting on that. ONE PERSON complaining can shut down an entire venue! ( See the Wise Hall’s issue right now…)

        Why not support legal venues that are zoned, away from residences, ( even if you hate what goes on in them, ) so that there’s a place for music at all hours, rather than suggest it ALL gets shut down so that musicians play in illegal underground venues that *do* disturb people, or are dangerous to play in? There used to be room for all of Vancouver’s entitled, everyone from fascist to drug addled homeless musician, but the city is forcing everything together with a very short-sighted “Vision” ( ha! ) that so strongly favours residences ($$$) so everywhere can be residential, assuming what…bands will just stop playing? I can tell you personally as a band member for the last 20 years in this city, bands play whether the city says it’s ok or not.

        You are being manipulated into doing the city’s dirty work for them, and you’re doing a fine job.

        • Standing Water says:

          “the city is shutting all these places down.”

          The City is changing—really, it is going from Town to City, tho the complete transformation is still a few decades, if not a century, away. I do not see this process changing absent huge changes on the federal monetary policy file, ones that are unlikely and which could very well decimate Canada.

          “You are being manipulated into doing the city’s dirty work for them, and you’re doing a fine job.”

          Well, if you see democratically sanctioned zoning changes as “dirty work,” you might be accurate. I see them as part of the evolution of the City. The simple fact is that the City _needs_ the developer tax-base. Do you know how much interest the city has to pay on debt it generates in order to, for one thing, pay the hilariously inflated Union wages it must pay to loads of people? Lots. Musicians and music venues do not create a large tax-base.

          We can take that place across from the Provincial Court that ran those little shows. How many dollars did it generate for the City? Not many, I bet. In adult world, not everyone can be a male model who starts a record store/speakeasy, if I recall the history correctly. It would be nice, but it ain’t so. Entities like the City cannot rely on their looks to get by: they need a tax base. That tax base is happy residential property tax payers + developers.

          “bands play whether the city says it’s ok or not.”

          And if this is your attitude, with greatest of respect, you don’t belong in a City. Cities are founded to administer justice, and there is a process that decides what is and what is not acceptable within a City. If you do not respect that process, IMO you don’t deserve to be a part of the City.

          I mean, seriously, if you think “we’re badasses who do what we want, when we want, so you better cater to us, otherwise it’ll be even worse for you” is a good argument, I wonder if those 20 years of being in bands has not damaged your brain.

          • joneh says:

            I don’t disagree with some of what you’re saying – it is changing. Although it’s not really democratically sanctioned – have a look at the massive amount of complaints against the RIZE on Broadway and Kingsway for example. The entire community opposed the development and the city still pushed it through. So thousands can oppose a development but the city ignores it. But one or two people complain about noise and the city responds…? Thats a form of entitlement too, it’s a double standard. Maybe someday something you have an opinion about will be sold out from under you because a condo can go up there. And there will be nothing you can do.

            And I understand I’m a cog in the capitalist wheel and I really don’t have a problem with that. The city needs to generate money and we live in a desirable place. I’ve bought and sold real estate here more than once so I’ve taken full advantage. I just have a hard time believing there’s no room for everyone, especially culture whether it’s culture you like or not. Without the creative things that make a city unique, whether it’s music, or writing, or food, or dance, mainstream or fringe, that value will only diminish. It’s in a citie’s best interest to nurture culture. It only makes the property all the more valued to be a hub of culture – Look at London and New York and Tokyo. It’s just short sighted to strangle it out because someone is losing a precious hour or two of sleep. Put in earplugs, not kidding or being sarcastic. They really work. If you live in a City you’re not entitled to silence; IT’S A CITY, expect to be exposed to “noise” whatever you think that is. If you want quiet, move to a farm. In fact, like in the article, we’re so accustomed to noise all day in a city it’s considered normal.


            The point that the show will go on despite the city wasn’t to be badass or expect to be catered to – trust me, I like to play in legit venues. The comment was meant as matter of fact – anything oppressed doesn’t go away, it goes underground. Maybe in 5 years, maybe in 20, it resurfaces. Happens all the time. Is what it is. If Vancouver ‘s highlight for now is a fake steam clock in Gastown, ok. But why not make culture an asset and not a liability? Nurture it and generate revenue from it even? It’s simply short sighted. There’s room for all of us.

            Anyway, this has gone way off from the original theme of this well written article. Obviously this is complicated.

      • Ryan says:

        Entitlement? OF COURSE we’re entitled!! Music is not a crime! Music is positive and healthy and amazing and full of love. It is good for you. We are not talking about meth labs or missile factories or casinos or brothels. We’re talking about a nice person with a guitar who wants to express herself. THIS IS A GOOD THING! It’s a RIGHT! So hell yes, we ARE entitled to music venues, just like we’re entitled to parks and clean water and libraries. These things benefit the public good, and that’s why government really should be providing them free of charge, but since that’s a pipe dream at this point, we are simply asking for music venues to be legalized. This is supposedly a first world country… legalizing music is not too much to ask for. It is indeed an entitlement.

    • Max says:

      Thanks so much to the author for putting this all on the table. I think what this story and its subsequent conversation really reveals is how we keep feeling forced to jump between technical and the social lexicons when it comes to noise. We have this continual problem with instances of urban noise – a see-sawing between bureaucratic abstraction and excessively localized politicking. Discussions of “too loud too quiet” are either mired in super technical engineering reports, or obscure bylaws, with depoliticizing jargon like “Day Night Equivalent” with all sorts of assumptions that don’t fit or elide the situation at hand. Or on the other hand, and perhaps in a sort of reflexive response, they get excessively attached to special interest needs, and further reduced to personal affliction — such that it is only “my silence” that is being fought for. I think all this highlights the value of the author’s efforts to show how the issue maps onto the systemic prioritization of development related activity across Vancouver (and has been for at least as long as Barry Truax has been writing). But where the conversation needs to go, I think, is to the empowering of Vancouverites over that process — not just to those in its art communities who feel a rhetoric silencing from the city (even if that is a totally shitty and plainly evident problem). I think the risk with just focusing on music and noise is getting into unresolvable debates over claims to good and bad art. Like music, noise is just too vague a concept to adjudicate over. And who deserves the right to decide? Noise isn’t even “always annoying,” just ask people who make noise music.

      • Max says:

        just as a quick add-on, because my last point may seem a little aloof. i think that if appeals to the music community are to become the means to change the city’s policy, the best way – history would show – is to enlist as broad a representation of the music community as possible, and not just one built on one aesthetic preference. in other words, the music community in question needs to be a reflection of the diversity of the city (the “all Vancouverites” thing I raised earlier). this sort of thing happened in new york in the early 80s, where different groups organized together to challenge development — and implicitly proved the value of cross-cultural exchange in really good music in the process (and i think this becomes a way of contesting those development projects as well, albeit more obliquely). but if its just about indie music, for instance, and getting an official “zone culturelle” for that group (ask mile end how that’s working out), then you really have a marginal support structure. not enough people care about indie music in vancouver to gather a large enough support base to see its continuation. but a lot of people care about jazz, gamelan, folk, bhangra, and so on.

  5. Whitewater says:

    Dear Standing Water (or do you mean Swamp-producing-noxious-gas?),
    For you, music may be “ear-rape”; for others, it’s a welcome relief from the “ear-rape” of construction/traffic/sirens and machines of all sorts on the ground and above. Music is as much “a part of life” as other noises of living, and much more harmonic. You have your opinion, but you back it up with small-minded bigotry and maliciousness, not valid argument.
    Music is good for the soul – if you listened to music more often maybe you’d be a little less soulless.

    • Standing Water says:

      “For you, music may be “ear-rape”; for others, it’s a welcome relief from the “ear-rape” of construction/traffic/sirens and machines of all sorts on the ground and above.”

      Well, construction is necessary, and, I see it going on during the daytime, mostly. Certainly it is a minority, if any, of construction projects that go to all hours of the evening. And when a construction site ends its work-day, the construction workers don’t spill drunkenly into the street screaming. That’s the other issue with venues, the drunk/high people leaving, using loud voices because they’ just been deafened/have permanent hearing damage.

      Traffic, traffic is a bit more of a gray area. I would support, theoretically, if not practically, a ban on internal combustion engines within the city limit. Bikes and electric cars are fairly quiet. I myself don’t drive, so I don’t think you could, for example, accuse me of preferring my sort of noise to another.

      Sirens are engaged to help save lives. We’re all s-m-r-t here, so we know that a few seconds can make the difference between a successful resuscitation and a failed one.

      As for Machines of all sorts, same deal as for traffic. Maybe a ban is the right way to go for the future. There are those old timey lawnmowers, etc. But on the other hand, people don’t mow their lawns at night. OK, well, maybe I really wish I could mow my lawn at night, but it’s not gonna happen.

      “you back it up with small-minded bigotry and maliciousness, not valid argument.”

      Well, you could call some of the rhetoric “small-minded bigotry,” but there is no accounting for taste. Don’t let the rhetoric written for amusement purposes get in the way of my major point which is that people have a right to quiet. If we value equality, we recognize that there are certain sacrifices that must be made for the greater good, right? One of those might be making noise in public, especially non-essential noise, which can be considered a form of unnecessary pollution.

      It’s sort of funny—I suspect most of the audio-boosters here would uncritically accept the climate change narrative. It would be downright silly to suggest ‘well, we already have so much CO2 in the air, why not just dump more in?’ as a way to avoid regulatory efforts on carbon. So why is ‘well, we already have so much noise from developers, a bunch more from music hardly matters’ so different?

      • Nicholas Ellan says:

        Standing Water, for your contributions to continue to be appreciated here, you need to move beyond stating your personal opinions as absolute and universal rights and make a basic attempt to engage with other people’s point of view. Comments are for critical discussion of the articles, they are not a soapbox for you to shout down others from. This is a polite but firm warning.

  6. Construction 24/7 says:

    Mr. Standin Water is somewhat misinformed due to his stubborn nature and hypocrisy as he is a proponent of one-upmanship.
    More sustainable development requires humans to be more open-minded and obviously because he expects a city to be quiet (never mind the rule bending by both gov’t
    and business) the only one who loses is the artist, which is a reflection of current civilization and society in Vancouver. You are the bitter slave to your ego, Standing Water.

  7. Much Admiration! says:

    Thank you to BILL YOUNG for such an engaging and well written article. I truly appreciate that this has come across my path. Much gratitude for your action towards a just cause!!

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