Igloofest music shakes up Montreal neighbourhoods 5 kilometres from concert site

Outremont and Mile End residents may have felt like they had front row seats at a music festival over the past two weekends, but the thumping bass has been reverberating from a concert some five kilometres away in Montreal’s Old Port.

Organizers say atmospheric conditions deflected sound into Mile End and Outremont

Montreal's Igloofest wasn't any louder than usual this year, but the sound went a lot further because of the humidity, organizers say. (Charles Prot/Igloofest Montréal Facebook)

Outremont and Mile End residents may have felt like they had front row seats at a music festival over the past two weekends, but the thumping bass has been reverberating from a concert some five kilometres away in Montreal's Old Port.

As for residents closer to Jacques-Cartier Pier, only a few complained of the noise emanating from Igloofest.

That's because the atmospheric conditions were perfect for bouncing the sound back to a small pocket of Montreal — skipping all the neighbourhoods in between, said Nicolas Cournoyer, the festival's co-founder and general director.

"It's pretty tough to predict where the sound will bounce," he said. "We make sure to not be too loud and respect the regulations, but afterward it depends on the weather conditions."

People complain to organizers

Igloofest, a popular winter festival that's held over four weekends at the Old Port, has a hotline and email set up where people can direct their complaints if they are bothered by the noise.

Cournoyer said there had been an usually high number of complaints coming from neighbourhoods that have rarely been of concern over the 14 years the festival has been held.

"Normally we are managing complaints from Old Montreal, but once in awhile, it goes further," he said.

Several years ago, Westmount residents complained of hearing Igloofest from the slopes of Mount Royal, he said.

This year, the weather has been extremely humid, Cournoyer said, "and sound travels a lot faster in water than in the air."

"When you have an atmospheric ceiling and you have some winds going through the city, it does have an impact."

'You could hear this booming drum line'

Mary Soderstrom, an Outremont resident, was surprised to hear the music two weekends in a row.

"You could hear this booming drum line and occasionally these bursts of somebody singing and stuff like that," she said.

Soderstrom lives near the corner of Durocher and St-Viateur avenues and is never bothered by downtown music festivals — even in the summer with her windows wide open, she said.

She wondered if the music could be coming from Igloofest, but knowing it was so far away, she had trouble believing that could be.

"This was just a really strange thing. We have never had much of a problem, occasionally from neighbours, but not from anything far away," she said.

She called the police but was told there was little that could be done if she didn't know where the sound was coming from. So she took to social media and discovered she was not the only one in her neighbourhood disturbed by the noise.

"This is just unbelievable," she said. "We must be at least five kilometres from there."

Engineers sent to people's homes

Soderstrom complained and got an immediate response. Igloofest officials asked if they could send engineers to her house, she said.

"We take it seriously," Cournoyer said. "Some nights the elements — nature — is against us."

He said Igloofest works closely with city officials and has sound engineers conducting extensive tests in the days leading up to the concerts.

Even during the shows, he said, specialists are monitoring the noise levels and adjusting on the fly.

The sound system that surrounds the audience is designed to direct the sound at the crowd rather than the entire city.

But when a high concentration of complaints came rolling in, mostly from Mile End, Cournoyer said sound specialists were sent there to gauge what was going on.

Along the way, the engineers stopped at Sherbrooke Street to measure the noise there, and it was hardly detectable, he said.

When they visited complainants' homes, they were able to identify the specific frequency that was disturbing residents and adjust that frequency at the concert site.

There are still two weekends left for Igloofest this year, and adjustments will continue. Though Igloofest is continuing to grow in popularity and scale, he said organizers are determined to hold the annual event with as little disruption to residents as possible.

"Hopefully, next weekend, that won't happen again," he said. "But it's impossible to say it will never happen again because it's so hard to predict the weather."

About the Author

Isaac Olson has been a Montreal-area journalist for more than a decade.

With files from Montreal's Daybreak


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