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The Issue of Sound on Mutant Vehicles

The volume level of music played on the playa has long been an interesting issue for Black Rock City. Over the past several years it has been an increasing concern for many BRC citizens, particulatly with regards to the number and size of sound systems on mutant vehicles. With sounds systems being large and mobile, it makes it very easy to affect the experience of many others. Often this is good, sometimes it's not. Too many times over the last few years we have had too many issues come up. Artists have complained that the experience at their art installations have been infringed upon, many people who have intentionally camped in the quieter parts of the city have been woken up in the early morning hours by rogue mutant vehicles blasting music, and there have even been reports of hearing damage from people who were just sitting on the playa and trapped in crowds at burns when a vehicle drove by or parked and blasted its sound system at extreme levels.

We have also seen an increase in the number of Mutant Vehicles with sound systems of a size and power that would normally be designed for a stadium or arena. While the volume of these types of systems can be more easily assessed and appropriately placed when they are stationary in a Theme Camp, when they are on Mutant Vehicles they can be taken anywhere on the playa and pointed in any direction, making a cone of sound that may be heard by literally tens of thousands of people at a time. This creates a situation where one person or group is essentially forcing their music choice onto many others who may not want to hear it, are trying to enjoy other music, sleep, etc.

Somewhat surprisingly, the DMV has never had it's own policy that specifically applies to Mutant Vehicles, despite the fact that these vehicles carry some of the biggest sound systems on the playa. This lack of guidance no doubt helped allow the problems described above to exist, and persist. To help address this community problem, the DMV has developed a basic sound policy to help MV owners use their sound to the best benefit of the community. There will also be additional questions regarding sound upon registration of Mutant Vehicles.

A few things to consider:

Bigger is not necessarily better. A well-engineered and well-tuned sound system can create a high quality experience for those nearby without blasting out thousands of others further down playa. Do you really need a sound system big enough to reach miles across the playa when the crowd in front of your vehicle only goes out a few hundred feet?

Consider pointing your speakers inward so your sound is directed toward those on your vehicle vs. on everyone else. Point your speakers downward vs. outward to minimize how far sound travels.

Remember not to play your sound system at higher levels while riding on city streets after midnight, or in a manner that dominates all other sound as you pass.

Keep in mind that if we continue to have the level of complaints and issues that we have been having for the past few years, we may have to take greater steps to limit large sound on vehicles. Please consider your impact on the community and help us all keep sound on MVs a positive experience.

The vehicle owner (registrant) is responsible for all aspects of the vehicle, including the use of sound systems. Rogue DJs are not an excuse for your vehicle getting complaints.

The Policy

Mutant vehicle sound systems can be classified into three levels.

  • Level 1: Normal car stereo / average living room (under 90dB at 30 ft)
  • Level 2: Dance Club or Theatre (90dB and up at under 100ft)
  • Level 3: Large Dance Club, Arena, Stadium (100dB or more at 100ft or more)
All dB levels refer to maximum potential DBA.
The important thing here is the impact of the sound itself. The numbers (dB) are guidelines and the important thing is the impact your sound is having.

Vehicles with Level 1 systems may play anywhere playa, but must be mindful of your volume and surroundings, especially in quieter areas in the city or later at night.

Vehicles with Level 2 systems may only play at high volume on the open playa (not in or pointing right into the city streets) and must be mindful of where you are playing -- e.g. around art pieces, burns, etc. -- and turn it down when appropriate.

Vehicles with Level 3 systems may only play at high volume at 10:00 and 2:00 by the Large Scale Sound Camps, with speakers pointing out to the deep playa.

If you get more than two warnings about your sound system, you may lose your MV license and the right to drive it for the rest of the event.