Aural Postcard: Afternoon at Blenz

So I was recently at a Blenz downtown, studying with a friend, and noticed the ambience, so I decided to record and measure it a bit. I especially wanted to measure the super-duper hand dryer in the washroom. I’ve seen it before and it is head and shoulders louder than any other regular hand dryers. Here goes…

Annotation: The two pictures are taken with “dB” iPhone app, which I’ve discussed before, is unweighted and sometimes yields higher-than-actual readings. Thus I try to cross-check it with my A-weighted “SPL” app from Studio Six Digital. The real measurement was in the 60 dBs – which is visible in the more distributed spectrum snapshot in the third picture, made with Signal Scope iPhone app form Faber Acoustical – on a A-weighted scale.  (both SPL and Signal Scope are not professionally calibrated but use a default calibration that the manufacturers promise are accurate between +/- 3dB)


Narrative: The thing that made me want to write about and notice this coffee shop’s ambience was the weird owner who sat near us. This particular Blenz in Yaletown has a large oblong conference-style table with individual plugs obviously adapted for laptop users to come in and work. The owner himself was there with his laptop and phone, and he really reminded me of these sleazy restaurant owners who love to make you feel like you’ve come to disturb them in their house and they get to come over and disturb you back. This guy was spread out, loud on his phone, and perfermey on his computer. What that translated to sonically was the weird choice of “background music” in the cafe. Now, every cafe has background music, I know that, but in this case it was clear to me that this guy chose it. It was rave/techno style turned quite high up. It’s like he wanted to pretend it was a night club and not a Blenz with a workstation table for students and self-employed moaners to come procrastinate in. So, yep, my main point is this clash of worlds that I perceived (completely subjectively, obviously) between the image the owner wanted to portray and the atmosphere he wanted to surround himself with, and the intended practical purpose of the space which was for people to quietly work on their machines, maybe meet in study groups, for which, presumably, they’d need silence, at least relative quietude. Instead, the ambience, combined with music, and the regular sounds that happen in a coffee shop already – loud steamers, espresso makers and blenders – was quite busy (hear below). There is a vicious circle with noise – whenever there is an elevated keynote background, all other sounds have to compete, and thus rise above it, and other sounds have to rise above those, and so on.

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