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Pipe Down! Brussels Slaps a Noise Order on Heart of Scotland

Source: The Times
April 2008

Part of the Control of Noise at Work Regulations, introduced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following a Brussels directive, impose controls upon the entertainment industry. This has been poorly received by pipers, whose high-pitched bands have been measured outside at around 122 dBA.

Although the prospect of more subdued bagpipes will be welcomed by some, musicians have warned performances will suffer. Pipe majors claim it is virtually impossible to play quietly or to tune a band when the musicians are wearing earplugs, raising the prospect of a cacophony at showcase events such as the Edinburgh military tattoo and pipe majors are preparing to make a stand.

Ian Hughes, head of the RAF Leuchars band at an airbase in Fife, claimed the new legislation in effect outlawed bagpipe playing for the first time in more than 250 years. The last time was after the Jacobite rising of 1745 and the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie's clansmen at the battle of Culloden. "These limits are far too low. If we have to go with these regulations, pipe bands won't exist," said Hughes. "Every pipe band in the world will be above the maximum volume level. You can't play the pipe quietly; they haven't got a volume switch."

The rules restrict weekly average noise exposure at 85 decibels, meaning periods of loud play need to be cancelled out by quiet periods. The idea is not to protect audiences at concerts but performers and other staff. The new directive also affects rock and classical musicians. Classical orchestras are considering whether they may have to hold quiet rehearsals for music by composers such as Wagner or Verdi to offset the loudness of their concerts.

The loudest rock bands have included the Who, who in 1976 reached 126 dB. They were beaten last year, however, by the Watford punk band Gallows, who hit 132.5 dB. Ian "Lemmy" Kilmister, lead singer of Motorhead, the heavy metal band, said he would resist any attempt to force him to turn down the music. "The essence of rock'n'roll is loud music," he said. "How the hell can we be expected to enjoy ourselves if we've got to turn it down?"

"Audiences will see musicians in orchestras wearing earplugs in the future," said Mark Pemberton, director of the Association of British Orchestras. "We are also looking at other ways of reducing noise such as putting acoustic screens between musicians."

An HSE spokesman said: "If an employer discovers an employee has been exposed above the exposure defined in the regulations they must take action."

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