Taming the Wild Vuvuzela

The sound has been described as anything from “annoying” to “Satanic”; CNN described Johannesburg’s Soccer City last week as sounding like “a giant beehive.” The vuvuzela, the native horn that’s an integral part of South African football and has now infused the World Cup’s sound, has been driving some broadcasters slightly nuts, forming the basis for much of the effects audio from the stadiums.

The Israeli Broadcast Authority’s Channel 1 (IBA-1) is one of those broadcasters, and it approached Waves, a locally based audio DSP development company, to find a solution. After various spectral and aural analyses of the vuvuzela’s tonal elements (it’s usually a perfect B-flat), Waves’ team decided that a combination of processors running in series could handle the matter. A pair of Waves Q10 paragraphic equalizers first processes the effects audio, notching out the drone frequencies, including their harmonic overtones.

“We’d determine the fundamental frequency of the vuvuzela, then project from that what the overtones would be for that frequency,” explains Shachar Gilad, product marketing manager for Waves. “Then we’d tweak the [filters] to notch out those frequencies. It’s similar to how this kind of [subtractive] processing is done for audio postproduction, but we’re able to do it in real time for the broadcasts.” There is no latency involved in the process, Gilad adds.

Next, the notched signal is sent to a Waves WNS broadband noise-suppressor plug-in. This separates the remaining vuvuzela frequencies into separate bands that further reduce the horn’s presence within in each frequency band but avoids truncating any other frequencies and thus does not affect narration or other key effects sounds. “It uses intelligent dynamics to lower the noise level without affecting the bands next to it,” says Gilad.

IBA-1 applied the processing solution and pronounced it a success. Waves has made the configuration of the plug-ins available as a download for broadcasters already using Waves’ plug-in bundles. Gilad would not indentify other broadcasters that have also applied the solution but says traffic at the link on the company’s Website has been heavy.

It might need to be more than a temporary link. According to CNN, British retailer Sainsbury’s has experienced a surge in demand for vuvuzelas. The supermarket said it had sold around 50,000 of the noxious noisemakers and expected to sell out its stock of 70,000 within two days. Could the days of the air horn be numbered?

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