There's a reason for that frightened feeling...

Tallahassee fright house touts new audio technology

By Julian Pecquet (Tallahassee Democrat, Oct 30, 2005)


As they ventured through Gaines Street's Terror of Tallahassee haunted house Friday night, Alaina Giacobbe and the five friends who joined her for her 13th birthday party got a sensory overload.

Monstrous masks, Ear-splitting screams. Deep, damp darkness lit up with strobes.

"The maze really made you dizzy." said 12-year-old Jennifer Rudder, "because of all the flashing lights."

But unbeknownst to them, they were also treated to some sounds they'd never heard before -- super-low frequency sounds only a handful of humans have ever experienced from a loudspeaker, in fact.

Halfway through the haunted house, where the walls and the doors begin to shake, cutting-edge audio technology is a work, the brainchild of Tallahassee firm Eminent Technology.

"You will feel the barometric pressure change as you go around it," said Kurt Kuersteiner, the owner of Terror of Tallahassee.

He compared the sensation to that of "spirits hanging in the air -- like in old churches in Europe when the organs play so low you can't hear it, but you can feel it."

That's because the human ear hears along a bell curve. Eminent President Bruce Thigpen explained: While i's good at hearing sounds such as a whistle -- even a really quite one -- lower and high pitched sounds have to pack more punch for humans to pick up on them.

There was no way to create a powerful-enough loud speaker for really low frequency sounds to be reproduced -- until now. One difficulty is building and installing a system sturdy enough to withstand the vibrations.

"Sound is just changes in air pressure," Thigpen said, "and even a small change in air pressure over a large enough surface area can move something."

That works great in the haunted house setting, but not so much in a movie theatre, Thigpen acknowledged. That's why the device has to be installed by professionals, in special surroundings that can handle all the shaking.

Thigpen said his five person firm has been working on the device -- called a Rotary Woofer -- for four years and put it on the market about two months ago. At 12,9000 per unit for now, the firm has sold only four: two to research institutions and two to California millionaires.

But he's hoping to get those prices down as the firm is able to tweak it's product and gather more data, including a video shot during testing at the haunted house. The company has also been reviewed by the specialized press and has been contacted by the Guinness Book of World Records, Thigpen said.

You don't have to shell out $13,000 for a sub-sonic experience: For $10 though Tuesday, you can go to the Terror of Tallahassee and keep your ears open.

You'll just have to be less easily frightened than Alaina and her friends.

"We were screaming," Alaina admitted, "the whole time."


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