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Red Rocks: Could loud EDM music cause rocks to fall?

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This week's feature, "Rocks and Roll," tells the story of four concertgoers who were injured by falling rocks at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in September 2011. They're now suing the City of Denver, which owns Red Rocks. They allege that the city was lax in its efforts to prevent such an incident and that even though engineers repeatedly recommended that the rocks be inspected and maintained every year, city officials didn't follow that advice.

Meanwhile, Red Rocks is dealing with noise complaints from residents from the nearby town of Morrison. The residents say that concerts featuring the increasingly popular bass-heavy electronic dance music known as EDM causes the windows in their houses to rattle. Are the two phenomena -- falling rocks and rumbling homes -- related? It's a subject we explore in the sidebar to our cover story, which is reprinted in its entirety below.

SOUND CHECK

Anyone who's been stuck in traffic next to a car with booming speakers knows that loud music -- especially music with deep bass frequencies -- can make things shake, rattle and roll. But would you expect to feel the same type of vibrations at your house?

As the Red Rocks concert season gets under way this year, some residents of the town of Morrison, which is located at the foot of the iconic music venue, are renewing their complaints about the window-rattling tremors caused by bass-heavy electronic dance music, or EDM. Red Rocks hosts several EDM shows each year, including the multi-day Global Dance Festival.

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Danielle Lirette
A shot of the crowd from Global Dance Festival 2013 at Red Rocks.
Last year, Denver hired sound engineers to measure the low-frequency noise from EDM concerts that causes vibrations. The engineers took measurements at two Morrison homes, and although they found that the vibrations didn't exceed ambient levels, they recommended further study. Those engineers also helped Red Rocks develop its own noise limits and curfews, which were implemented on January 1 of this year in an attempt to appease the town's residents.

For the 2014 concert season, which began last month, performers who continue past 12:30 a.m. on weekdays or 1:30 a.m. on weekends will be fined $5,000 per half hour. In addition, the limits state that noise levels should not exceed 125 decibels, which is somewhere between the volume of a saw and that of a jet engine, at the frequency of 25 to 80 hertz -- about the range in which sound can be felt as well as heard -- for more than a minute. Performers who violate that limit five times in a day will be fined $10,000.

But since Red Rocks is owned by the City of Denver and located in Jefferson County, Morrison can't actually do anything to enforce the new rules. And town clerk Kara Zabilansky says it's too early to know whether the limits will make a difference.

She also points out that some residents have questioned whether the vibrations are causing damage to the rocks. "I have heard people in public meetings express concerns about low-frequency noise from concerts: 'Could it affect the rocks?'"

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Danielle Lirette
Fans at Global Dance Festival 2013.
Good question. Could vibrations from the music cause rocks to fall?

That's not an allegation being made by the lawyers representing the four people who were hit by rocks at a Sound Tribe Sector 9 concert in September 2011. (STS9 isn't considered an EDM act, though their music appeals to some EDM fans.)

And three local sound engineers, who are not involved in the case, say it's highly unlikely.

"Realistically, I would say that while it may be possible, it's doubtful," says Walter Beamer, a professor of civil engineering who researches acoustics at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The amphitheater isn't an enclosed space that would trap the vibrations, he adds.

David Adams, of D.L. Adams acoustical consultants in Denver, agrees. "Freezing, thawing, freezing and thawing is more likely to cause the rocks to fall," he says.

Jim Borzym of Borzym Acoustics in Boulder says one way to think about it is to remember the old Memorex commercial in which Ella Fitzgerald shatters a wine glass with her voice. Rocks, he says, are much harder than glass. "Yes, sound can move things," Borzym adds, "but it takes a tremendous amount of sound."

For more on the concertgoers' lawsuit against Red Rocks, read this week's cover story, "Rocks and Roll."


Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com


My Voice Nation Help
60 comments
Jev Ayala
Jev Ayala

Exactly when is this supposed to happen? As far as I know, EDM parties have been going on for over a decade at Red Rocks.

Renee Ortiz
Renee Ortiz

Yeah...terrible since we're the Super Bowl champs and tore up your team. Tool.

Scott Handley
Scott Handley

@Jared the repetitive elements are balanced with a complex melodic euphoria that you will probably never understand, and that's probably a good thing. Stay in your shell, you know absolutely nothing about the culture obviously.

James Brown
James Brown

How about we stop calling it EDM in the first place? It sounds like a new disease, which is kinda true if we're talking about dub step. Let not mix house, trance, drum and bass, dubstep, and all other genres of electronic music into one category.

Justin Wisniewski
Justin Wisniewski

Red Rocks was there long before the people complaint about it was there. It's like moving near the airport and then complaint about the sounds. You moved next to a concert venue what do you except.

Keon Truth
Keon Truth

lol 'hardly composed in a technical manner' how do they compose that shite anyways i thought they just hit play or some shit. facking edm

Cody Lott
Cody Lott

Sound reAsoning lol like rock show or 90 piece symphony orchestras dont carry the same frequencies heres some news wen it rains the same thing happens

Sean Dolan
Sean Dolan

Randal.....digital equipment are real instruments....but a mixer and a macbook are not.... Most of today's DJ's are just on-the-fly producers....

Sean Dolan
Sean Dolan

hahaha....look at all the people stupid enough to pay money to sit in front of someone with a mixer and a macbook !

Will Hayden
Will Hayden

I would love to see a torrent of giant boulders crushing a crowd of shitty edm artists and their rolled out fans.

Stephanie Ellis
Stephanie Ellis

Okay, to the guy above who said this music is influencing and generating bad decisions among youth, you need to wake up! Music doesn't cause someone to make bad decisions. Just like video games don't cause more violence. How about parents being more responsible for their kids and stop trying to be their friends and start being parents. Second of all, Red Rocks has been around longer than any of those houses and any of the people on this thread. If you don't like the loud music, then MOVE! Simple. And to all the negative nancies on this thread, get over yourselves. Everyone has a right to like and enjoy whatever music they want so stop hating.

Nick Lloyd
Nick Lloyd

No there were shitheads kicking rocks down.

Matthew Munn
Matthew Munn

"The music is influencing & generating bad decisions among youth"...as did the blues, rock, disco, hip hop, punk, etc before it. Get offa muh laaaaaawn

Jo Ellipsis
Jo Ellipsis

A few "watch for falling rocks" signs and that should cover all the bases.

Gabriel J. Gonzales
Gabriel J. Gonzales

Wouldn't a warehouse of some sort be a much better venue for your EDC needs?back in the 90's when I would go to "raves", it was the shit wandering around abandoned buildings in downtown L.A. Feeling that bass, back when extasy was the shit and acid was clean. There's no room to fully enjoy that sort of experience at Red Rocks... But then again this is colorado and white people usually don't need much "dance" space anyhow... As you were.

Ben Dewbre
Ben Dewbre

EDM is such a broad classification and it's not a genre. House is a genre, Techno is a genre, etc etc etc. It's like saying "Guitar Music" sucks. Don't criticize what you don't understand, haters

Jared LoveInfinity Garcia
Jared LoveInfinity Garcia

Yeah, Red Rocks's sanctity has been tarnished by these molly-wopped bassheads going nuts over repetitive bullshit. Legendary musicians have graced that stage, now it's all about the early 20's DJ kids showing off their multi-thousand dollar ipods.

Nate Ulin
Nate Ulin

I see red rocks just turning into a park. No more concerts because of bitches

Nate Ulin
Nate Ulin

Don't live by red rocks you fucking idiots. Buy your house somewhere that you will have quiet. wtf did you think? Dumb fucks

Jared LoveInfinity Garcia
Jared LoveInfinity Garcia

Actually, his opinion isn't terrible. The EDM scene is nothing but a poisonous culture fueled by irresponsible drug use and the objectification of sexual activity. It's not about the music, because the music is hardly composed in a technical manner and is utterly repetitive. It's the most distasteful sub-culture in the world right now.

Joshua Isaiah Gelo
Joshua Isaiah Gelo

I'm sorry but this kinda of thing is so bull, just like rocky mountain national speedway closed cuz all the NEW houses that moved in. Mind you this track was less then five miles from DIA, they cried And cried till they closed it cuz of the noise from the cars could be heard for miles. Now this track has been around since the late 70's. I'm sorry but when you move to a neighborhood you should know what's around you right?? Red rocks has been there for hum Idk how long, but its very well known to all musical artist, they always love playing there cuz of how it sounds. If you move near red rocks, or fiddlers green or any other music venue well then you should also know the only music around is not the oldies. Time to move there's the answer to all of our problems. If red rocks closes well then there just won't be any good place to watch a band, to have a great time. You guys already made fiddlers suck by shut shit down by 10:30 that ain't fun. So keep the BOOM, BOOMING. RED ROCKS IS THE BEST!!!!!

Blazar Seeda
Blazar Seeda

Bassnectar is gonna possibly cause a huge rock slide then. I'm not going.

Peace Will Win
Peace Will Win

Laptop music is killing the rocks, and our sense of music

James Bercegay
James Bercegay

Let's all ban the things that we don't like! Hurr Durr! lol

Randall Erkelens
Randall Erkelens

Comments about what is and what isn't real music are funny. Electronic instruments are "real" and "actual" instruments. Hence, should be as welcomed to any venue as "real" instruments. 1200's are also instruments. What you program on them is subjective. Does bass loosen rocks? Not sure. But 60 hertz feels good pounding on my chest there. Perhaps, the argument should be reframed to "classic" or "acoustic" instruments vs. "actual" - because last time I checked, synthesizers, drum machines and turntables actually exist.

Marcus Tompkins
Marcus Tompkins

Yes the music alone is the problem. Not the thousands of tards who attend, want to crawl all over restricted areas, nor the weather, etc. Its the music. Bam edm then ban hip hop next, then finally rock. Then we can only use it for the hot morning yoga classes

Stan Salazar
Stan Salazar

Fuck dubstep, electro & commercial sellout music.

Renee Ortiz
Renee Ortiz

They should ban EDM because it is terrible.

Kimberly Rosen
Kimberly Rosen

Does it really matter what WE Think? Geologists and other professionals should decide what is happening and from the article it doesn't really sound like it is causing the rocks to fall. As for the residents of Morrison, Red Rocks has been there since the 40's right? I don't have sympathy. Its a concert venue. Music changes. At the same time, assholes suing denver for rocks falling? There are signs all over the place. Is the city negligent? That is a story.

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