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The Photoshop of Sound

The Photoshop of Sound The New Yorker


Meyer Sound Laboratories, which is based in Berkeley. They manufacture a range of high-end audio products, but they are particularly noted for their ability to enhance, through electronic means, the acoustic of an extant hall or space. When Oliveto underwent a renovation, last year, the owners called upon the Meyers to design a more conversation-friendly setting. The apparatus that the Meyers installed includes a version of the company’s Constellation system, which employs microphones, a digital-audio platform, and loudspeakers to sample the noise of a room, modify it, and send it back out in altered form. The walls of the seating area are outfitted with what the Meyers call the Libra system: sound-absorbing panels that have an attractive façade, in this case images of olive groves by the Berkeley photographer Deborah O’Grady. Concealed in a back room is the system’s digital processor, which can be controlled with a tablet.

“Each table is in its own sonic zone,” John explained. “But it’s not isolated.” He mentioned a colleague’s earlier attempt to address restaurant noise, which succeeded in suppressing chatter but led to a muffled, sterile environment: “Everyone hated it—the room ended up being completely dead.” Instead, Constellation undertakes a process akin to the Photoshopping of an image, with undesirable elements removed. John explained that there are two components to a sound as it resonates: the early reflections, which contain most of the intelligible information; and the later reverberation, which is blurrier. “Right now, with those loud people right behind me, we’re hearing only their reverb energy—it’s not enough for intelligibility. Early reflections have been cut out: you can hear voices but not what they’re saying.” The effect is conviviality without chaos.

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What a cool concept!

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