/ Travel & Leisure

Should cinemas turn down the volume?

cinema

For some, the sound levels at the movies can be unbearably loud. Our guest, opera singer Christopher Gillett, thinks cinemas should turn down the volume. Do you?

I may be of a certain age, nearly 60, but I’m no stranger to loud music. I’m a professional opera singer. Singing loudly is what I do for a living.

I’ve spent my career standing in front of massed choirs and full-sized symphony orchestras playing hell-for-leather through the very loudest works of Wagner, Beethoven and Britten. I really do know what loudness means and how it works in the field of entertainment.

Not so Lucky

At least I thought I did until I went to the Odeon cinema in Cardiff last week to see the film Logan Lucky.

The film isn’t to blame. It’s a good movie. And in the context of the mass of superhero films that make up the larger part of the cinemagoer’s choice of films these days, short on the crashes, bangs, booms and thuds that are the regular diet of the modern cinematic sound engineer.

The soundtrack isn’t symphonic. There are no wailing choirs or thumping timpani. No, the grievance I’m airing is that the volume level of the whole experience, especially the trailers and adverts, was set well beyond a Spinal Tap 11, all the way up to 19 or 20.

The cinema, a 400-seater or more, was empty save for five punters, yet the volume was cranked up as though we were sitting in a packed Wembley Stadium. It was physically painful – nauseating, even.

I was about to complain, but when the main feature began, the volume was lowered, although once or twice, as a song kicked in, it became unbearably loud again.

When characters whispered, they may as well have been yelling. A rustle of paper sounded like a hurricane through a palm tree. By the end of the movie my ears were whistling and hissing with tinnitus.

We spoke to an usher who agreed it was probably too loud, but claimed there was nothing they could do. The volume was ’set by the distributor‘. It seemed like an unlikely explanation.

Harmful to hearing?

I know parents of young children who will only take their kids to movies wearing ear defenders. They are complaining that their ears hurt after seeing Despicable Me.

This can’t be right. Hearing loss is already a problem among younger adults, thanks to long exposure to overamplified music in pubs and clubs. Now it seems we want to deafen our children when they visit the cinema.

The orchestras I stand in front of have taken strong measures to protect their players; some wear earplugs, others are protected by Perspex baffles.

I think it’s time for cinemas to show leadership in preventing hearing loss and turn down the volume.

If they don’t, I, for one, won’t go any more.

This is a guest post by Christopher Gillett. All views expressed here are Christopher’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?

Do you find the sound at the cinema too loud? Or do you think it’s just right and part of the experience?

Comments
Guest
Patricia says:
4 January 2018

Like many people who have contributed comments on this forum – I agree totally that the noise levels in cinemas needs to be drastically lowered. I can hardly bear to go to cinemas these days – although the independents don’t seem to be quite so bad. When I do decide to brave it I try to arrive after the ads and trailers have finished as they seem to be set louder. I have a friend who wears hearing aids and she finds the whole experience of going to the cinema really painful. At loud points in films I sit with my fingers in my ears!
The trouble is it’s not just cinemas – restaurants, shops, shopping centres – even my doctor’s surgery plays inappropriate disco music that I am always asking them to turn down. The world seems awash with jarring, awful music in most public place – it’s impossible to escape from. What’s wrong with silence?

Guest

The American public cant stand silence Patricia and so the rest of the world suffers and yes the figures for deafness in the USA are rising by the minute.

Guest

They are here, too, but a lot of that can be attributed to discos run by primary schools.

Guest

My doctor’s surgery seems to play the same piano / guitar CD everytime you go in, sends everyone to sleep!

Guest
David Bates says:
4 January 2018

I do not go to the cinema because it is to loud and damages hearing.

Guest
Martin says:
5 January 2018

I also go to the Odeon in cardiff. I agree sound level is far too loud. I have to wear Alpine ear plugs. Cineworld in Cardiff is just as bad. Do Environmental Health from Cardiff City Council ever check the levels. Thanks for raising this.

Guest

Their hands are tied Martin as a legal method of making the sound louder without it breaking the law , that was once banned, is now allowed in “Open Britain ” to please the US globalists its called compression , ( in simple terms -detailed tech info if required ).

Guest

It would be interesting to know whether anyone has actually spoken to the cinema manager or written to the owning company about the volume levels, and with what result.

I believe one of the problems is that in many films made these days, due to a directorial conceit, some dialogue passages are performed in almost a whisper while ambient sound is not suppressed, so the voices have to compete against engines running, doors banging, other people talking in the background, a coffee machine blasting away on the counter, helicopters overhead, the inevitable gunshots, and so on.

If you watch an old film the speech is concentrated and well-enunciated, the close-ups intensify the drama and the audience becomes immersed in the crisp dialogue, feeling their pulses racing as the sensations gallop around the theatre, Then the violins get going, followed by the piano, and then they’re off, swept gloriously aloft in a grand surge of emotion and smiles, absorbing the great crescendo with a touch of moistness in the palm. Today’s directors don’t want that. They want realism and, as has been said before on this topic, the multi-screen cinema boxes are an acoustic compromise for the new kind of production with nowhere for the ‘noises off’ to escape.

By the way, The Great Crescendo appears by kind permission of the Wood Green Empire, and only the adverts now uphold the old traditions.

Guest

When I read that on my email client I thought I was reading a post by a classical music critic on a Southbank/Barbican concert I couldn’t have done better.Its why I like old black+white English films – full of character John .