Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
A violin solo at the Hollywood Bowl gets drowned out, and a revolt is born.
Last Thursday, thousands of people sat in the stands of the Hollywood Bowl for a night of Beethoven. Nestled into the Hollywood Hills and with little sign of the surrounding urbanity of Los Angeles, it's a unique spot to take in a concert, especially in one of the biggest cities in the country. As violinist Renaud Capuçon stood for a solo, the audience was quickly reminded of the urban setting outside the Bowl when a helicopter flew overhead, drowning out the sound of music. The offending helicopter has not been identified.
It's an upsetting experience, though not a rare one in this city, where helicopters piloted by police and news media and emergency workers and private operators are common features in the city skyscape. The L.A. night sky is often lit up by a beaming beacon of light from one of these police helicopters, spotlighting a crime or pursuing a perpetrator. Paparazzi helicopters are also a common sight, especially in the more posh parts of town. For most, the sights and sounds of helicopters in the city are so common they fade slightly into the urban din. But when the choppers block out Beethoven, the natives get angry.
Earlier this week, partially in response to the drowned out solo, local politicians held a public hearing with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration urging them to take some sort of action to better regulate the helicopters flying over the city and the often house-shaking sounds they can cause. As the Los Angeles Daily News reports, more than 250 residents came out to the hearing and many expressed rage at the disruptions caused by the fleet of helicopters so frequently flying overhead.
L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was also there, and had a recording of the helicopter sound drowning out the violin performance. "This is an outrage," he told the FAA. Many of the audience members agreed.
Congressman Howard Berman organized the hearing and is also the author of a bill aimed at developing some regulations to limit the noise pollution from commercial helicopters in L.A. That bill and a version in the Senate are currently stalled. But the FAA hearing is intended to restart that process. Officials from the FAA say they're willing to listen to concerns from locals about the issue and to try to come up with ways to reduce its impact. A report on the noise and the potential to limit it is expected within a year. Though it's unlikely to stop the occasional concert from being interrupted during emergency situations, better regulation may help to reduce how much noise from non-critical helicopters people in L.A. will have to hear.
Photo credit: Phil McCarten/Reuters