Oral History Transcript — Dr. Cyril Harris
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
See the catalog record for this interview and search for other interviews in our collection
Interview with Dr. Cyril Harris
Cyril Harris; September 12, 2007
ABSTRACT: Dr. Harris discusses his career in acoustics, his training and education, and membership in the Acoustical Society of America.
Doria:Okay. This one should be running as well.
Doria:I think Iíll try to put that up there.
Harris:Will one of those work?
Doria:Yeah. I donít like to take very many chances with, with something thatís so difficult for everybody to arrange.
Doria:Right. And, did you have a look at the...
Doria:The questions. You have the questions?
Harris:Yes. I looked at them and they all seem reasonable.
Doria:And you, you wonít let me forget to take care of the interview paperwork at the end?
Doria:So, letís see. [Shuffling papers] ASA was kind enough to give me this list, which I think I sent along to you as well. So, my name is Damian Dorian and todayís date is the 17th of September, 2007, and we are at 45 Sutton Place in New York City. Itís the apartment of Dr. Cyril Harris, in the United States. The time is five minutes past nine a.m. and Iím about to interview Dr. Cyril Harris for the Acoustical Society of America Technical Committee. And, that doesnít appear to be recording for me. Hmm. I see, I see no level.
Harris:One, two, three.
Doria:This one isnít recording. So, weíre going to try one more time. Thatís why I brought multiple methods. That did it, I think.
Doria:Thatís kind of disturbing. I should have replaced the microphone before I came. So, letís start one more time, [Laugh] if youíll permit me. My name is Damian Doria and todayís date is the 17th of September, 2007, and we are at 45 Sutton Place in New York City, United States, and the time if five minutes past nine a.m., and Iím about to interview Dr. Cyril Harris for the Acoustical Society of America Technical Committee on Architectural Acoustics. So, Dr. Harris, what is your present address?
Harris:Forty-five Sutton Place South, in New York City.
Doria:And, your present telephone number? I have it.
Doria:And, are you presently employed?
Harris:From Columbia University.
Doria:And how long — well, these are strange questions. I should have reviewed them. So, what do you do now in your retirement?
Harris:I am writing. Actually, thereís a handbook called the Shock and Vibration Handbook, which I edited. And then, Iím working on a chapter on that. Itís, thereís going to be a revision of it in about a year.
Doria:Great. And, these are Acoustical Society related questions. What year did you join the Acoustical Society?
Harris:I believe it was 1938.
Doria:And what was your age and profession at the time?
Harris:I havenít done anything in my lifetime that isnít related directly to acoustics. So, my age, my age at that time was, letís see, I guess it was around twenty. It might be nineteen, but twenty.
Doria:And, what area of acoustics were you most interested in at the time?
Harris:Well, Iíve worked in all fields of acoustics. I worked a lot in, in fact my first paying job was working in the acoustics laboratory at UCLA, and then I worked in cycle acoustics with Bob Gales. And, we tried to duplicate or not duplicate but to redo many of the experiments in, done by Stephens and Davis, two very famous men in the field. And then, I got, I got involved in war work. In 1940, I was a graduate student at MIT and barely eeking out a living. I worked my way through MIT and I was offered a job by Professor Philip Morse to work for the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Just a very temporary thing. And, the war hadnít started; World War II hadnít started yet. And so, I went down there and the next thing I knew — the project that I was working on was called the Proximity Fuse — was a device, a general type of device which would sense the presence of any acoustical source. And the, well, they werenít sure which, whether they were going to do it by acoustics, by radio, or by photo, by photoelectric means. And, very quickly, a matter of less than a half year, using, using the radio electromagnetic waves proved to be the best solution. And, I wanted to leave and go back to MIT where I was studying with Phil Morse, and they said, ďYou canít. You canít leave, because this project is ultra-secret and you know too much, and so youíre going to have to work, work here.Ē So, I called Professor Morse and told him what had happened, and I was down in Washington. So, he said, ďWell, Merrill, too, who runs the operation at Carnegie Institution, was a roommate of mine. So, donít you worry, Iíll call him.Ē And, he did and he got me off. So, but then I had to stay in classified work, and I remained in classified work until the end of the war. And that, of course, involved underwater sound. So, I was in underwater sound during that time, a long time.
Doria:And, what reason did you join the Acoustical Society?
Harris:Well, in 1937 I took a course in architectural acoustics from Vern Knudsen. And, Professor Knudsen was one of the, oh probably he was the most well-known person in architectural acoustics in America, and he had a worldwide reputation. He had some medical problems, so he wasnít teaching for about two years. And, when he announced he was going to go back to teaching acoustics it attracted people from all over the country. As a matter of fact, Ma Dayou who is the leading acoustical man in China, came from China to take his course. And, Ma Dayou, I believe, is still living and is now a leading man, and had been for many years, in acoustics. And, there were other people in acoustics from various parts of the country. And so, I got interested in acoustics. As a matter of fact, I had an interest in acoustics before that even started. My junior high school was across the street from the Warner Brothers lot in Hollywood, and Warner Brothersí talking motion pictures were really invented. And so, I got interested right at the beginning in sound motion pictures. And I built, I built electronic devices when I was in high school, and had an amateur radio license. And so, I got interested in acoustics at that time through electronics, really.
Doria:Was there anyone in particular who encouraged you to join the Acoustical Society?
Harris:No. I think there was a group of students that were in the class. We were a remarkable group. Included in the same class I was in, during the first year of Knudsenís course, were five future presidents of the Acoustical Society, all in the same class. And, there was very friendly competition. And so, it was the thing to do and I did it, (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) and I got involved in the Acoustical Society very heavily when I was still a graduate student. And then, after I got my PhD and went to Bell Laboratories, at that time the Acoustical Society was not, it was a very strange organization. It, there wasnít such a thing as the procedures we have now, of electing people, and dominating people, it was done more or less on a friendly basis, the whole thing. And so, three of us, Richard Bolt, John Steinberg, and I were appointed to devise the — what do you call it — an organization chart for the Acoustical Society. And, this is described in the obituary for Richard Bolt. And, we entirely set up a new organization and did it, I think, on an equitable basis, and it became really the future of the Acoustical Society.
Doria:And, which Acoustical Society of America committees were you a member of through the years?
Harris:Thereís werenít any real working committees. No. We set, we set them up.
Doria:It wasnít technical committees, it was.
Harris:No. No. No. They didnít have that.
Doria:But you, you held a number of positions in the Society through the years, correct?
Harris:Oh yeah, I became, I canít remember the year I became president but I was very much, heavily, Iíve always been very heavily involved in the Acoustical Society.
Doria:Hmm. Was there any particular Acoustical Society meeting or meetings that stand out as being something special, or humorous, or different for you?
Harris:Well, all of the Acoustical Society meetings were of great interest to me, and I traveled to almost all of them for quite a number of years, a regular attendee. And, there, there were a few humorous things that happened, but it was, it was a very, very interesting organization because it was relatively small. And, primarily there were people involved in underwater sound, people involved in the acoustical materials, and physiological acoustics, musical acoustics, all these different fields, but there were only a few people in each, each, each group. And, it greatly expanded.
Doria:Were there any Acoustical Society members that you met that specifically influenced your future in the field?
Harris:Well I, I think we influenced each other. For example, the five members of the class that I was in at UCLA were Richard Bolt, Bob Leonard, Bob Gales, Isadore Rudnick, and letís see I guess I was the fifth, who became president of the Acoustical Society. And, we, we all worked together at various times. For instance, on room acoustics I worked with Richard Bolt and I helped him on his thesis. He was a graduate student, older than I was, and so was Bob Leonard a little bit older. They were graduate students when I was a senior, and I, I learned a lot from them. And, for instance, working with Bob Gales, he was a wonderful guy. I used to drive up to UCLA with him, and, oh, we talked acoustics a great deal on the way to and from UCLA. I lived in Hollywood. Isadore Rudnick was a very good friend. And, those are the principal people.
Doria:Is there anything you would care to say about the Acoustical Societyís past, present, or future?
Harris:Well, the group that I mentioned, the people that I mentioned, Richard Bolt and John Steinberg, and I worked up the new framework for the Acoustical Society. I think we — before that, there wasnít a real organization. It was done on a friendly basis. For example, there wasnít a regular nominating committee. It was done by a few people. And, and we, various grades of membership. We set those up. And, the most outstanding person that I worked with, worked for, was a man named Harvey Fletcher. Dr. Fletcher was the head of acoustics at the Bell Telephone laboratories. A very famous man and a wonderful person. And, heís the kind of man, he was the kind of man, because he died many years ago, that if you had a son you would say, ďI want him to grow up like Harvey Fletcher.Ē He was a wonderful person, and he wrote in the field of speech and hearing, principally. But, he was a great physicist. And actually, he was not just head of acoustics at Bell Labs, he was head of the Physics Department and it was a great department. As a matter of fact, while I was there the transistor was invented in his, his department, and many other things. And, it was a very active place.
Doria:Beside the Acoustical Society what other professional organizations do you belong to?
Harris:You mean organizations which I am a member of or which would include, which would include...
Doria:I think they mean like ASHRAE or INCE, or....
Harris:Well, I used to be interested, I used to be involved in ASHRAE, and very heavily involved in organizations that, like the ASTM. And, I remember, ASTM had a committee called C-20, which was on acoustical materials, and I worked on that a great deal. The other organizations I belonged to were not, you donít join them. You were elected to them. For instance, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering. Iím also a member of an organization called the American Philosophical Society, which is one of the ones that I still am active in and go to the meetings of, which was started by Benjamin Franklin. Itís the oldest scientific society in America. Itís wonderful. Benjamin Franklin had the best scientific library in the country and he gave it all to the American Philosophical Society. And so, Iím active in that too.
Doria:Okay. Have any of these organizations asked you to do an oral history and have you provided one in the past?
Harris:Yes. Iíve provided an oral history to — as a matter of fact, a week ago I gave an extensive oral history to the University of California at San Diego. I am engaged at present. I no longer do auditoriums, (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) but I still have two recital halls that I started work on, coincidently four or five years ago, and those are scheduled to open next year. And, the University of California at San Diego is one of them which I, has a very, I think going to be very unusual enclosed space. And itís, itís a wonderful department there, Music Department, and they sent somebody out to, last week, to talk about a new hail, and about acoustics in general.
Doria:Hmm. Great. Iíd like to just take a brief pause.
Doria:Okay. Oh, excellent. Continuing, this is, this section is about your past history (Harris: Yes, starting with early years, pre-college?
Doria:When and where were you born?
Harris:I was born in Detroit, Michigan on June 20, 1917. And...
Doria:And, before entering college, where were some of the places that you lived?
Harris:Well, after I was four I moved to Hollywood. My father had been a physician in Detroit. And, when I was a baby he died in the flu epidemic of 1918. It was, you know, millions were killed by that, and particularly relatively young people, of which he was one. He was going around visiting people with flu, taking care of them, and he got it. And, within I guess it was twenty-four hours he died. So, my mother was very independent, fiercely independent. She didnít want any help from our family there, so she moved to the farthest place she could and still be in the United States, (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) and that was out in California, Southern California. And so, I, I grew up there. And, that was my home until I left for Cambridge, Mass to work on my PhD with Phil Morse at MIT.
Doria:And, what was your motherís occupation?
Harris:She was a school teacher. And, when she moved to California, I donít know why, she thought it would be good to be in business, so she went in the insurance business. And, I think it was an awful time to have made the decision to go in that field, because the Depression hadnít started yet, and when it started one thing that you didnít want to spend money for is insurance. It was a form of savings. But, thatís, thatís what she did and never went back to teaching.
Doria:And how would you describe yourself during the early, those early years when you were in California growing up?
Harris:Well, anybody who lived through the Depression it made a remarkable impact on them. There were times when we almost didnít have money to eat with, and that, that leaves you with an impression you never — in fact, itís hard to transmit this to my children. They donít, you talk about it but they donít know what it means. And, I donít think you can know what it means until youíve lived through it. So that was, that was my early years. And then, of course, I moved to MIT and I was there off and on, because I was working on war work for five years, until I got my PhD.
Doria:And, as a youngster, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did you have anything in particular that interested you?
Harris:Well, my mother had. She wanted me to become a medical doctor to replace my father. She was very strong on this. So, I grew up thinking, ďAll right, when I go to college thatís what Iíll do.Ē And, I entered UCLA as a premed. And, after about a year I began to feel I really didnít know, I really didnít like working in, the idea of going into medicine. So, I went and took, went to a small organization that tested you to see what you were best in. And, they decided I should be in the field of mathematics. And I thought, ďWell, I could always make a living teaching mathematics in high school.Ē So, I entered, after one year I changed from premed to mathematics, in which I got my bachelorís degree. And in my senior year they said, ďIf youíre a math major you have to have physics minor.Ē And, Professor Knudsen was about to start teaching again, and teaching acoustics, and that seemed like a good thing because of my interest in electronics. So, I took, I started taking his course, and once I started my life changed. My grades, which were terrible when I was in my first years, first three years of UCLA, were not good because I never, I never cracked a book. I used to pass my exams by just, by just what I learned by listening to the lecturers. And, but when I started his, Knudsenís course, I said, ďYou know, this is what I want to be.Ē And, the greatest man in the field of architectural acoustics was Philip Morse. He had a book called Vibration and Sound, which really changed mathematical theory of room acoustics. Before that, it was Lord Rayleigh, who wrote two wonderful books on room acoustics. And, they were very difficult books but I, I studied them. Then, but Morse changed all that. He used a system of analogy, which is used today, and which many principle ingredients are sound pressure and the velocity of particles. And, thatís something that was quite different than what Lord Rayleigh had done. He used velocity potential. It was quite complicated and there wasnít an analog with what we had as voltage and current. So... I forget what we were talking about.
Doria:No, thatís all right. We were just, we were talking about what you wanted to be when you grew up... and about, a little bit about your hobbies and special interests. You mentioned your interest in electronics that was sort of a natural. Did that extend back to your youth?
Harris:Oh yes. I must have had an amateur radio license, which about, I think when I was about fourteen there was a young college student across the street from me, from my apartment house, and he taught me, you had to know Morse Code, and we set up a system whereby I could stay in my apartment and he stayed in his house and we strung wire between the two places and heíd give me lessons every day in code. And then, youíd read the books necessary to pass examination, the federal examination they had. So, that got me interested in building electronic devices, which I started doing when I was still in high school. I didnít have the money to buy parts, but once, occasionally even two, you went down, there was an area in Los Angeles where they sold old things. I would buy up maybe three or four old radios and take them apart, separate them, and then use the parts to build things. It was, you could buy maybe three or four radios for five dollars. And, that got me started in acoustics.
Doria:Were there certain events and activities that you enjoyed in high school other than the radio and electronic interests?
Harris:I wasnít a great, I wasnít a great athlete. So I, like all high school students you were required to take things like track. And so, which I did. But I was, I was limited in what I could go into because we, at the school we had no money to spend for anything, except food. As a matter of fact, in my apartment house there were very few people in the whole house who could afford to pay rent, and they didnít, but they wouldnít be kicked out of their apartments because if they were the place would be empty and it would decay very quickly. So, they let us sign notes, and we did, and eventually we paid them back. But, it meant that, for example, if I went bowling that was a great deal, because the money for it was, was not there. And, it was the same thing in many other different activities.
Doria:So, looking back on your pre-college years, was there any other person or persons during that time frame, any heroes that had a strong influence on you or your future?
Harris:Well, I would say the principal person was Vern Knudsen. And, at that time he was the leading person, probably in the world, in architectural acoustics, and that, of course, led me to Professor Morse, who is, at that time, the, I think, the best person in the world in the mathematical theory of room acoustics. And so, I wanted to work under him.
Doria:So, you said you attended UCLA as your first college, (Harris: Yeah.) and you were majoring in premed?
Harris:That was the first year only.
Harris:Then I changed, then I changed to mathematics.
Doria:You changed to mathematics?
Harris:Which I graduated in, (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) with a minor in physics. And then I switched to physics from then on, because acoustics was in physics. (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) At least, room acoustics was in physics and there were people who went into hearing were in physiological acoustics, for example, or psycho acoustics. But, I was interested in, I did work in those other areas, but room acoustics was my real interest.
Doria:And during your underground — [Laugh] underground, excuse me — undergraduate college days, were there any special clubs or any special school activities that interested you other than the acoustics and physics?
Harris:I would say I was, no I was primarily devoted to acoustics. My friends were in acoustics and all activity was in acoustics.
Doria:And some of this is a little bit redundant, with the earlier questions, but tell, tell us a little bit about your undergraduate college days or about professors or someone special during those years that you found inspirational, perhaps.
Harris:Well, I mentioned that, the five people that became president of the acoustical society. Those were the people that I worked with and that I really admired, and had a great influence on my activities for the future.
Doria:Did you ever participate in a, in a rally or a protest, or some other cause outside of the school?
Doria:Not really? (Harris: No.) That period in history wasnít quite as revolutionary [Laugh] as the Ď60s?
Doria:If you were to look back again, would you attend the same college and end up in the same major, if you could start all over?
Harris:Well, things have changed. (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) When Knudsen died the principal person in acoustics at UCLA was a man named Isadore Rudnick. He was one of the five that I mentioned. And, he was more interested in physical acoustics. And, I donít think I, I was never excited by physical acoustics the way I was in architectural acoustics. And, that included, you know when you work in architectural acoustics you get involved in other fields because noise control is a big activity in room acoustics, because of the signal to noise ratio that you have. You have to have an auditorium in which itís so quiet that you canít hear other things, for example, like an air conditioner. And you, you notice here on the windows, these windows are double, double glazed and the outer one is a half-inch thick, and the inner one is three-eighths of an inch thick. And, so the noise control is one thing. Youíre designing a hall for music, so I get involved in that. Speech and hearing, is a natural, and thatís where I worked in, to a large extent, at Bell Laboratories. The only work I did at Bell Laboratories in architectural acoustics, or in room acoustics, were things that I worked on that didnít involve activity at Bell Laboratories, because they didnít, they wanted you to do things that benefited the laboratories. And, I donít think they saw room acoustics as one of those areas.
Doria:Is there a college today that you would attend as an undergraduate? Any particular major or program that you find interesting?
Harris:You know, I once went out with Professor Morse and his wife on a date. My date said to him, ďProfessor Morse, do you,Ē she wanted to know whether her brother should go to MIT or some other place, for example. And, he said, ďWell, it all depends on when you want him to get the kick, a kick in the pants.Ē And so, I would, I would say itís, itís good to go to a school if you want to go to one. Thatís a principle thing. In the same way that occasionally students of mine at Columbia would come and ask, ďWell, what area do you think I should go into?Ē And, my advice was always the same. ďGo into something that you like. If you do that and apply yourself youíll always be successful. If youíre working at something where when you go to work in the morning you feel itís a chore, thatís, thatís a hell of a way to waste your life.Ē So, I think you should do things you want to do.
Doria:So, you said that you went on to graduate training for a Masterís degree at MIT?
Harris:Well, I got my masters at UCLA before I went to MIT. (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) And so, I had two years graduate work in acoustics, two additional years in addition to the year I had spent in acoustics at UCLA. For example, we spent one year in military acoustics. The military was sponsoring a program, and I think it was the only one in the country, on the using acoustics to find the directionality of a source, like an airplane. Radar hadnít been invented yet, and so the way they did it was they had great big ears, (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) loud speakers, which could be turned and oriented.
Doria:And, was that sort of what led you to your, to that choice to stay at UCLA for your masters, and that curriculum? Was it the support of the military at that time?
Harris:Well, it was for one year, and then I was hooked. I stayed. I got an assistant, teaching assistantship, which paid my living expenses.
Doria:Uhm-hmm. And other than that finding a source of sound, or location of a source using audio, were there other projects you were associated with during your masters?
Harris:Not for which I was paid. [Laugh] I worked in the hearing laboratory for, I would say, two years, typical two graduate years, and also I worked on acoustic, development of acoustical materials and the measurements of those. UCLA had, at that time, the best acoustical laboratory of any university, I think, in the world. They, Knudsen had gone there from Utah, and I donít know how he did it but he got UCLA to build a reverberation chamber, which was, I think the only other one was at the Bureau, Bureau of Standards. And then he didnít, he developed a dead room, which was, at that time they didnít use wedges yet. That came later at Bell Labs. But, they were, the walls were about six inches thick of a highly absorptive material.
Doria:And, what was your masterís thesis on? The subject of your masterís thesis?
Harris:We didnít, we didnít do a formal thesis for masters theory, but all of my work was essentially in acoustics.
Doria:And, and during your masters studies, was there any particular person who had a great influence on your future?
Harris:Other than Knudsen, I would say, I would say Bob Leonard, who was a teaching assistant, had a considerable influence on me. He was a hell of a great physicist and not well known, because his work was primarily in acoustics. But, the longer I knew him the smarter it seemed to me he got. And then I, during the time I was a graduate student, in addition to working there, I, in the hearing laboratory, I did, for about a year, get paid for helping Dick Bolt on his doctorís thesis. So that was...
Doria:And, where did you continue on for a doctorate?
Harris:Oh, I wanted to work with a, with Morse because Morse changed the whole field of room acoustics, and I thought he was the greatest man in the world in that field, and so I had to go there and work with him. Iíll never forget, when I walked in to meet him for the first time I said, ďDr. Morse, Iíve come here to [phone rings] — oh, excuse me. Itís the telephone.
Doria:So at, what university was it that you were studying with Dr. Morse?
Harris:Oh, it was MIT.
Doria:MIT? And, he was the reason that you chose to go to MIT?
Harris:Oh yes. Yes. I, the first time I was, I met Professor Morse and I told him that I was coming to MIT to, to work on acoustics with him and do graduate work in acoustics, and he said, ďLetís get this straight. Youíre coming here to do graduate work and get a doctorate in acoustics,Ē I mean, ďin physics. And, if you want to do a thesis you can do it in acoustics, but youíre going to be a physicist.Ē One of the things that I found was at MIT, at least at that time, there was great emphasis on problem solving. Theyíd give you a problem and, of course, on your PhD thesis it was primarily solving problems. There were, of course, a few theoretical things when developing a theory. They might ask you to show that. But, that was quite different than what I had been, what Iíd done in physics at UCLA were, it was primarily, primarily, at that time, in the development of theory.
Doria:Uhm-hmm. And, how were you supported in the time you were at MIT?
Harris:Well, I had to work full-time because of the war and that paid me enough to live on, and then some. You know, I had a car. I had bought a car then, and it wasnít a lavish sum that youíd get working full-time in war work, but it was, it was, you didnít have to worry about it at all. (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) Worried about living, you know, getting paid.
Doria:And, were there any specific projects that you worked on?
Harris:Yes. Acoustic mines for blowing up ships. Thatís a form of a proximity fuse. When a ship would come near it, itíd blow up. And there were various kinds. For example, the simplest kind is by just having a microphone. And, that was the kind that was used at the initial phase of the war. When the level of the sound exceeded a certain amount itíd blow up. But, very quickly that, that didnít work, and there were mine sweepers. They made a lot of noise. Placed on the bow of the ship, which you could use for sweeping. So then, we became, we began combining those with acoustical devices with magnetic mines, and they had to have both of them to make it trip. And also, I developed a mine, which is in, and this was in harbors, which I did most of my work, would send a pulse up and it would be reflected from the surface. And, if, you had stationary, there were no ships around, it would be reflected and not triggered. But, if something came along, a hull, instead of — these were high frequencies — instead of being reflected from the surface of the water it would be, suddenly come back in a much shorter time because it would be reflected on the hull. And so, I worked on that. And finally, I worked on acoustic torpedoes for blowing up ships. Again, thatís a kind of sensing device, and, and that was the last thing I worked on. That was at Bell Laboratories.
Doria:And what was your, the subject of your doctorate thesis?
Harris:Very complicated. [Laugh] Letís see, the best way of describing it wasÖ I wanted to work in the theory of room acoustics and there was a big question then whether there is such a thing as acoustical impedance of the material, and did it change, for example, with the angle that the sound was coming at. So, really my thesis dealt with showing that there was such a thing as acoustical impedance. And by using it, well letís put it this way. I did it in a small room. And, you could change the angle at which sound would strike the material by setting up a different mode of vibration, a resonant frequency of the room. And, I showed that this measurement, I developed a method for measuring acoustical impedance by using the properties of a room and showed that there was, this was the same thing you got by measuring acoustical impedance in a long tube, which would only measure it at ninety degrees. I could measure it at various frequencies. No, I mean, various angles of incidence. And thatís really what my thesis was about.
Doria:Other than Dr. Morse, was there anybody at MIT that had a particularly strong influence on you, on your future?
Harris:All the professors, in physics at MIT, seemed to me were famous people. For example, Professor Vandergraph. He invented something called a Vandergraph Generator. And, there were many people who were interested in very special areas of physics. And, I was aware of all of these people, and in awe of many of them, but none of them really, other than Morse, affected my life to a large extent.
Doria:And, in your academic years, while you were a student, did you ever conduct any classes for one of the universities you attended?
Harris:As a matter of fact, Professor Morse, at the end of the first year, was called down to, I think, down to Washington to work on secret projects there, and so he couldnít continue teaching his senior course, or senior graduate course in acoustics. MIT didnít have anybody. And so, as a graduate student they asked me to give this required, a course which was required of all the electrical communications majors. They had to take a course in acoustics and I, it was a required course and I was elected to give it. And so, it was quite a responsibility and I learned a lot. Teaching the subject was a very hard way to learn it. And so, I learned most about acoustics in the early years from teaching it at MIT. Morse stayed in Washington until the end of the war. In fact, in those years he developed something called ďoperations research,Ē which he did, then somebody in the Navy asked, when he first went down there and knew he was in acoustics, they asked him, ďIf we are looking, letís say, for a submarine and we have so many destroyers, which is, and we had to cover a different area, whatís the most efficient way of doing it?Ē Well, there wasnít, there wasnít any theory they could rely on. So, Morse developed a theory of operations research and it developed into a big field. When he left MIT, I think it was acousticsí loss that he left the field; he became director of Brookhaven National Laboratory, which is physics, because he was a great physicist.
Doria:My tape ended so Iím just going to pause.
Doria:So, were you ever in the military?
Harris:No. No, I worked for the military. As a matter of fact, I, after about six years at Bell Laboratory, Laboratories, I went, I decided I wanted to go into teaching. And, I was married then and we decided that while we were young we would go to Europe and live as long as our money that weíd saved held out. So, I left Bell Laboratories and went to, well we went to Europe and I was asked by the Navy to make a survey — this is by the Office of Naval Research, called the ONR. I was asked by them to make a survey of acoustics in Europe, and I would visit various people in laboratories all over, all over Europe, from Finland down to southern Spain. I could write my own travel orders. It was wonderful. And, I covered 25,000 miles. I bought a car and traveled 25,000 miles in Europe visiting these people. It was a dream job, you know. This is the kind of thing you, anybody in acoustics would hope for. And, I got to be, meet just about every important person in acoustics in Europe. And, letís see, what was the question again?
Doria:Oh, it was about military.
Harris:So, I worked for the Office of Naval Research and I moved, moved around on travel orders and usually stayed either in a military camp, because it was 1961 and things were still completely unsettled. For example, in many cities, including various, for example even in Paris, there were hotels that had been requisitioned by the American military and I would go there and stay there, which was wonderful. So, I would, I traveled on military orders, but I never was officially a part of one.
Doria:Yes. Did you ever attend any technical, business, or trade schools outside of the (Harris: No.) university?
Doria:And, any correspondence courses that interested you?
Doria:I didnít think so. [Laugh] This is about your professional career. After college, what was your first place of employment, your first title, and what did you do there?
Harris:My first place of employment was Bell Telephone Laboratories. When I was a graduate student I knew Fletcher, who had been a teacher of Knudsenís. I had heard a great deal about Dr. Fletcher from Knudsen and I once visited him when I attended the Worldís Fair here in New York. And so, I felt I knew him and he knew who I was, and the war was still on when I, World War II was still on when I went down to work at Bell Labs. And, it was impossible, really, to find out where, who was doing what in acoustics. And, all war work was classified, so they couldnít, if youíd ask theyíd say, give you an answer, an evasive answer. But, at the head of all of this war work was Dr. Fletcher. So, I knew that he knew everything that was going on in the country. And, I had sort of a friendly relation with him. So, I went down to see him to find out where I, he thought I should go, and I, so I went down there and asked him that question. He didnít tell me. I spent a half a day touring the laboratories with him and it was beginning to be late so I said to him, ďDr. Fletcher, I came down here to find out where you think I should go. What place would be best for me?Ē And he said, with a smile, ďWhy donít you come here and work for me?Ē which is what I would really, I didnít think there was any possibility of that, because they had the best people in the world in each phase of acoustics. And, incidentally, I was gone for a year and a half in Europe, because after working for the ONR for six months I then had a lectureship, a Fulbright lectureship in Holland, at Delft, which is a place that did work in acoustics, and the only place in Holland that, really, outside of ELA electronics, an electronics firm of Phillips, that did work in acoustics. And so, I went there and spent a year lecturing in acoustics at Delft. And then, when I came back to the United States I fully intended to go to California to live. You know, this is where I grew up and a place I knew. And, my wife, who is a book editor, wasnít enthusiastic about going to California because the center of the book industry was here in New York. And so, I went to see Dr. Fletcher again. This time, he was teaching, he wasnít teaching but he was doing research at Bell, at Columbia University in acoustics. He had retired from Bell Laboratories because they have a rigid policy that nobody works after age sixty-five. Thatís it. And so, I went to him again and I said, ďDr. Fletcher, you know, Iíve been out of touch now for a year and a half, so I donít know whatís going on in acoustics here. Could you tell me where you think I should go?Ē And, he said, ďWell, let me think about it for a little bit.Ē Then finally, he said, ďYou know, I went to, I taught, I went to BYU, Brigham Young University, and I taught there.Ē And, I knew he was an ardent Mormon. Heís a bishop or something like that. And he said, ďWhy donít I go to Brigham Young University? Iíd like to go back to Brigham Young and conduct research there, and you come to Columbia to replace me?Ē Well, I had nothing else. At that time I was really looking. And I thought, ďWell, if I go to Columbia for a year it gives me a chance to look aroundĒ And so, I, thatís exactly what we did. He went to Brigham Young, and he had quite a good group. He had developed quite a good group in acoustics there. And, I came to Columbia, thinking, ďWell, Iíll just take it for a year.Ē But, and I, my wife got a job at a publishing firm here in New York, and I kind of liked Columbia and teaching and so I stayed on. Been here ever since. Never gone any other place.
Doria:Uhm-hmm. So, the way I understood it, you did do two years, three years at Bell Labs? Two and a half years?
Doria:Six years? And, how did your employment there change over that course? Did you have special titles or...
Harris:There was a title they gave everybody? I canít remember now. Oh, it was ďmember of the technical staff.Ē
Doria:Member of the technical staff? And...
Harris:And, there were several people there. They had Nobel Prize winners and they were members of the technical staff. Everybody was a member of the technical staff, except the top people who were, letís say, the heads of the departments, and that sort of thing.
Doria:Were there any special accomplishments, developments, or projects that you contributed to in the six years you were there?
Harris:Well, thereís one you might be interested in. Bell Laboratories decided they were going to build the largest and best free-field room in the country and they gave me that job. And one of the things that came out of that research was the use of wedge-type acoustical absorbers. I think they were six feet long. I canít remember the exact length. But, the longer you make them the lower frequency theyíre good to. And also, one of the things that, what helped to make it a free-field room you had to have an acoustically transparent floor, because otherwise it would have reflected the sound. So then taking wire cable and weaving in the squares, I think they were probably two-inch squares or something like that, the bridge would sustain their weight, and the room was quite large. I think it was about thirty feet from one side to the other. And, the question is, if you had such a floor, would you be able to walk on it or would it sink down? And, Iím told a model of it, it was about, I suppose, ten feet across, and they assumed that it was a membrane equal to the same tension, under the same tension as though you had, instead of continuous membrane and individual cables, and it worked out very well, and we built this room. And, another thing you had was, they wanted to be able to do work in the room so that the room was both, the background was below threshold of the human ear. So, this meant that you had to make it, had the air conditioning system so that you couldnít hear it at all. And so, I worked on that. And, it was a memorable, a memorable thing to have worked on.
Doria:So, it was 1967 that you went to Columbia?
Doria:Sixty-two. Oh, okay.
Doria:So, I have my years wrong. So, you started at Bell Labs in Ď56 and went to Columbia in Ď62?
Harris:Wait. Let me get this straight. I went to Europe in 1961 and left a year and a half later. So, it was still 1962. Yeah.
Doria:When you started at Bell? I may be mixing up the chronology, but Iím just trying to get it straight for the oral history.
Harris:I started at Bell during the war years.
Doria:Oh, during the war years? And then you went to Europe?
Doria:And then you came to Columbia in Ď62?
Doria:Okay. And you were there for the balance of your professional career?
Doria:And, when you started were you, did you come in as a professor of physics and acoustics? Or...
Harris:They donít have such a thing. I was a lecturer and had the title of professor of electrical engineering. And, of course, it was in the field of electrical engineering at Columbia. So, since I was replacing him I became an associate professor of electrical engineering. And then finally, I became a full professors and thatís where I was the rest of my professional career.
Doria:And, while you were there were there any special projects or accomplishments, or developments that you contributed to?
Harris:At Bell Labs?
Doria:No, at Columbia.
Harris:Oh, at Columbia. Well, I would say, I like to think that I greatly influenced a lot of students. Not necessarily going into acoustics, but broadening their backgrounds. And, I liked teaching, very much and I enjoyed teaching. So, my students are my chief concern and joy.
Doria:Anyone in particular who stands out in your memory, while you were at Columbia?
Harris:Well, after I had been at Columbia I suppose, I donít remember how many years, whether it was three years or five years but itís in that range, the architecture school said, ďWeíd like you to give a course in architectural acoustics.Ē And, they said, ďWeíll make you a professor of architecture as well as acoustical. You could keep your title as professor of electrical engineering, but weíll make you a professor of architecture too.Ē I guess I had been a full professor by then. Iím not sure. So, thatís what I did. I joined the architecture faculty. And that might seem very glamorous but it meant I had to go to twice as many faculty meetings. But, it meant that my students, half my students were then architects. And, for example, one young man was Peter Eisenman, who is now a guru, guru in architecture. (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) And, I still keep correspondence with some of my students. Not many, but a few.
Doria:And what, what year did you eventually retire from Columbia?
Harris:I, it may seem strange, but I find that difficult to answer, because I kept on teaching after I officially retired, and I was teaching until, I suppose, six years ago, something like that. When, so, even though Iíd retired, I continued giving, giving a course in architectural acoustics at Columbia.
Doria:Iím going to stop this.
Doria:So, in the years while you were at Columbia I assume those were the years when you did quite a bit of acoustics, room acoustics consulting and developed a number of projects that are, (Harris:Yes. Yes.) highly successful and well known (Harris: Yes.) for quality of their symphony sound?
Harris:Probably the best known, when I was starting out. The first great big project I had was Metropolitan Opera House and that was hugely successful. And so, a lot of other jobs followed that because of the success of the Met. One of them was the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I was in that from the very outset (pauses) as is the case with almost all of my others. I donít like to go into a project where Iím cleaning up someone elseís mess. Thatís not a good thing to do. Even if itís highly successful the general public canít remember whether you were the one who messed it up or the one who cleaned it up. So, normally I would not do clean-ups.
Doria:And can you, can you list or describe some of the projects that you were involved in? There was the Metropolitan Opera and the Kennedy Center?
Harris:Yeah. Well, one of the ones Iím very proud of is the concert hall in Minneapolis. Thatís a very good hall.
Doria:That was with the HHPA [Hardy-Holtzman-Pfeiffer Associates] Group, right? Was that Pfeiffer? Or?
Harris:Yeah. And, then letís see, starting in the East and working West, I did something I usually have avoided and that is I took a whole movie house and converted it into a concert hall in St. Louis. Itís Powell Symphony Hall, (Doria: Oh.) and that was very well known and very great. Letís see, coming westward, I did the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts in Urbana, and that, that has, it was a whole center of several halls, but the concert hall was very successful. And then letís see, Salt Lake City was, was another one. And then letís see, another one is the concert hall in Seattle, called Benaroya Hall. That was the longest project I ever worked on. (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) It took us twelve years, from start to finish. And, the reason is, we were given land across the street from the, from the opera house in Seattle and thereís a whole area where the various arts and sports, where the basketball stadium is, for example. And, we got all done with this, and it took several years because of money problems, and so on, and trying to fit it all into the land we were given. We got finished and the mayor said, ďI donít like it there and I donít think you should put it there.Ē And he said, and this part was true, he said, ďWhen thereís a basketball game, for example, you canít get near the opera house or the legitimate theater because of the traffic. And, youíre only going to add to that.Ē So, he said, ďIíll tell you what. If you will build, design a new hail to be built on some unused land in Central Seattle I will support you, get the funds for the land, and get the state to kick in money, and the city will give money.Ē And so, we changed our plans, and, and thatís what we did. It was, acoustically — have you ever been to Seattle?
Doria:Thatís one of the halls I havenít been to, no. Iíve been to Minneapolis and Utah, Salt Lake.
Harris:Well this is one hail where — I really love that place. I wanted to make the walls very irregular, (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) and use wood for a covering for them. So, I worked with a young architect in a large firm. Heís now; in fact heís been a partner of that firm, LMN, for many years now. And, we got a company in Canada to cast all the irregular shapes of concrete. And then, we got a, when you got all these irregular shapes and you want to cover them with wood, the question is, ďHow do you put them together?Ē Because when you, when we get a firm in Seattle that does, that did wood work, where the surfaces could be, all these irregular shapes could be actually cut out and cut by computer control, and very, very precisely. Far better than you could ever do it by measuring the thing. And, we did that. I think itís very good looking, and also the acoustics are really outstanding in that hall. The Acoustical Society met there the year that the hail opened. We had a tour of the place then. I canít remember when that was. It might be eight years ago, something like that. And...
Doria:Any of the, any of the other projects stand out? You mentioned Minneapolis was one that you were very pleased with.
Harris:Yeah. Well, I think Iím pleased with them all.
Doria:Them all? And...
Harris:You know, sometimes people ask me, ďWhich are you the most pleased with?Ē And, I always say that itís like asking a father, ďWhich of a dozen girls, of your girls is the prettiest?Ē (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) Itís pretty hard to answer that. Theyíve been a, theyíre all successful. They sound a little different. For example, Minneapolis sounds a lot different — well, not a lot different, but quite a bit different than many of the other halls.
Doria:Iíve spent a lot of time in Minneapolis. Itís...
Harris:Have you gone to that hall?
Doria:Quite a lot. Yes. Itís, if youíll excuse my saying, shockingly good sounding. [Laugh] (Harris:Yeah.) I mean, you know, Artec does a lot of concert spaces and it really is stunning, the form of it and the acoustics of it are, are superb. And, I donít know if youíre aware of it, but theyíre considering architectural enhancement of the facility and theyíve asked us to make sure they donít ruin the hall. [Laugh]
Harris:Yes. Well, I hope not.
Doria:Yeah. And, thatís, thatís really quite a challenge is to, is to not mess up the hall (Harris: Yeah.) in the process of putting some new seats in and so on. (Harris: Yeah.) But, that is a, itís a wonderful hail. And, now you were engaged in some renovation work, as well, even though you preferred not to?
Harris:Yeah. But, I donít like to do that. I think perhaps one of the halls I found most interesting of all was the National Center for the Performing Arts in Bombay. Because, the question is, if youíre going to do a hall in a new country, with quite a different musical background, how do you design it? What reverberation time do you design it for? And so, I had to go to performances, quite a large number of performances, to get a feel for that. And Iíll never forget, when we, I finally decided the reverberation should be, time should be much lower than it is for Americans, or for European Western halls. I remember telling the board this, the board of directors at the hall, and much to my surprise they were a little bit, they felt shocked and wounded. Why shouldnít they have as much reverberation as our western halls? And, I remember calling up the All India radio to find out what their experience had been, and they said, ďYou know, weíve been looking into that question and weíve come to the same conclusion.Ē Well, from then on I had no trouble with the board. The thing is that it, Indian music has a lot of percussion sounds. They have bells they wear a lot. They have various kinds of things [clapping] they hit, and various kinds of drums. And, if the, you have a shorter reverberation time, each one of those things stand out a lot better. Thatís what we did, and it was a different experience than anything you would have here. For example, we have a certain land area that was granted to us by the government. And, what happens first is the people who are going to work on the project are brought there and they build, build shacks, which theyíre going to live in for the duration of the project. And, of course, thereís no running water or any facilities at the beginning and they, they would have rudimentary facilities that they would, they would develop. And, the pace in design in India was different than what we do. You know, weíd come in, we expected, I expected there that, weíd come in the morning and come to certain conclusions right away and then get moving on it. I think things, at least at that time, went more slowly, which I, I notice quite a difference in that respect. We had outstanding people in connection with this project. One had written the music for, I guess itís their national anthem, but they were all very knowledgeable in the field of Indian music. And so, I learned a lot working on that project.
Doria:Were there any other acousticians or architects youíve worked with through your career that stand out as particularly memorable?
Doria:Or, that you admire?
Harris:Yes. There was one that was the most outstanding of anybody that Iíve worked with, and thatís Philip Johnson. I thought he was going to be impossible to work with because he has; he had the reputation for being so fiercely independent. And I, I felt I had the same quality and therefore we were going to clash, but it wasnít the case at all. I, if I said anything that we should do differently, ďOkay. [Clap] Letís do it.Ē And, that surprised me, I guess. Most architects would say, ďLetís start over,Ē you know. They can find something. They can see the dollar signs working. And, they get paid so much depending on, a percentage of the total cost. And, he didnít care. If he, if he liked something, disliked something, he might redo a ceiling a dozen times. Heíd have a model built and, because he wanted to be satisfied. I suppose it helps if youíre an architect and are independently wealthy and can afford to do that. [Laugh] But, also, he had probably the best knowledge of the history of architecture and enclosed spaces of anybody that I, I had met. And so, I learned a lot from him.
Doria:Okay. We only have a little bit of tape left so Iím going to take this opportunity to stop and change the tape again.
Doria:Okay. The next section is on publications, and I know youíve authored, or coauthored, or edited a number of books. Can you describe some of your publications?
Harris:The first publication was with Vern Knudsen called Acoustical Designing in Architecture, and that came out in 1950. And since then Iíve been a, Iíve edited several books that have been published by the Acoustical Society. Incidentally, they did a publication, a rewrite of that called, also of the same title, Acoustical Designing in Architecture, which was published by the Society. And, they get the, the royalties all go to the Acoustical Society now. In fact, I guess I started the program. The Acoustical Society didnít have any such thing as joint publication. And, I said I would give them the royalties from that book. And then, that started them off on this project. For example, now the, they do, letís see, I canít remember what itís called, because we changed the title, but itís a book on noise control, Handbook of Noise Control. (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) That was one of them they did. And...
Doria:Is that the large...
Harris:Yes, itís very large.
Doria:With McGraw-Hill, I think, (Harris: Yes.) originally?
Harris:McGraw-Hill, except for the first project I worked on, which was Acoustical Designing in Architecture that was by John Wiley. And, any subsequent publication has been McGraw-Hill, except there are a few that were McGraw-Hill and have been taken over by other organizations. For example, there is one dealing with Noise Control and Buildings on HVAC systems, and thatís done by the people who, the society that handles HVAC. And, I enjoy the process of writing very much, and I, I even enjoy working on handbooks, because, first of all when youíre doing a handbook you have, you have to know, you make a complete outline of the book and divide it up in as many as forty parts. And then, youíve got to make an outline of what you expect in each one, essentially an outline of that chapter. And then you have to get people who you think are the best people in the country in each one of those areas. Then, itís a problem of once youíve selected someone what do you do when they accept it but then donít produce? (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) Thatís a big problem. And, going through making suggestions for the changes in the chapters. And, I really enjoy that and I, Iím working on one now, which will be a revision of a, one that came out in Ď61, I think it was, on the Shock and Vibration Handbook, itís called. And, thatís primarily of interest to people in civil engineering, as well as acoustics, about how vibration is transmitted in buildings, through the ground, and so on. And, you learn a lot when you work, work on something, a handbook.
Doria:Now, I might be mistaken, but didnít you also put together a book on architecture?
Doria:An encyclopedia of architecture of some sort?
Harris:Yeah. As a matter of fact, you can leave this stuff here. Letís go in the other room and Iíll get a copy.
Doria:Okay. We were on publications. Were there any other papers or, or publications that youíd like to mention? You just were discussing the American Architecture Encyclopedia.
Harris:Well, of course, these books are sort of an accompaniment to my technical papers, published in the Journal, (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) primarily the Acoustical Journal.
Doria:I didnít do a search before I came, but do you have any, a rough number of papers that you published through the years in the Journal?
Harris:You know, I donít know. I suppose thirty or something like that.
Doria:That would be my guess. When I search for things it comes up quite often.
Doria:You had one of the few papers on reflective properties of glass plates, I think, that I had found the other day (Harris: Yeah.) when I was looking for information on glass. Thereís a section on family if youíre, if you donít have anything else particularly about publications?
Harris:Yeah. I, my wife is... is a well-known editor in her field. You know when we were going to Australia, and in Sydney Iíd been in contact with the head of the Opera House there and they said theyíd been having lots of problems with the Opera House in Sydney. And so, when we were flying in, into Sydney, the stewardess came back and said to me, ďSir, I just want you to know that when we land weíve gotten a message by radio that there are going to be photographers and people, and reporters there to meet you and I just wanted you to know to expect that.Ē Well we arrived. They didnít want to see me. They wanted to see my wife. [Laugh] And, sheíd been the editor for some, for a book called The Thom Birds, which is very well known. And, sheís, sheís done a lot of books, for instance, and theyíve been well known. But, she was Betty Fordís editor, and President Fordís editor. And, The Exorcist, I donít — youíre probably too young for that one?
Doria:No. I know that one. Uhm-hmm.
Harris:Yeah. And, sheís working on Warren Buffet now, right now.
Harris:Yeah. Iíve been reading it too, because itís fascinating. Heís a very interesting person.
Doria:Heís doing an autobiography? Or?
Harris:No. His principal assistant is, has been the head of it. She puts together all these annual meetings, (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) and sheís doing it. But, itís a large, to a large part it quotes him all the way through that. (Doria: Hmm.) And, sheís doing another one on the WPA thatís coming out this year, and sheís editor of that.
Doria:When and where did you meet your spouse, your wife?
Harris:I went to a party here in New York City when I was working at Bell Labs, and at this party I met this girl who just seemed to be the perfect answer to what I was looking for. I was in the, I was all set to get married, because I was working at Bell Labs and getting a very good income, and I felt I was mature. And, I said, ďWhere do you work?Ē And she, she said, ďHarper and Rowe,Ē which was then a big publishing firm. And then, so the next day I called her up and I asked her out, and weíve been married now fifty-eight years.
Doria:Hmm. And, do you have any children?
Harris:Two. I have a son, who is a geologist. His PhD is from Stanford and his specialty is cores from down in the Earth, to analyze them and see whether thereís any possibility of oil there. So, I think heís, heís going this year — I canít remember. Heís in Africa right now, in Angola. I think this is his fifth trip this year. He works for oil companies, but he teaches at the Colorado School of Mines, which is big oil, a big mining, one of the best in the country. (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) And, I have a daughter who has a store in Boston where she sells arts and crafts, and she goes — foreign arts and crafts, (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) nothing from America. But, she goes to these countries and buys them up and brings things that she thinks are outstanding, and then sells them there. So thatís...
Doria:Do you have a favorite form of entertainment?
Harris:I like to go to legitimate plays, quite a bit. (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) And, Iíve been a faithful subscriber to the Met over, the Metropolitan Opera House, over the years. But, and then I read a lot.
Doria:Any favorite authors or books?
Harris:I wouldnít say, I would have to say no. Most, most of these books in the other rooms I, my wife has read, has read most of them. I donít read as fast as she does.
Doria:Uhm-hmm. Any particular type of book you like recreationally? Or...
Harris:I would say, occasionally, I like to read biographies of people on subjects that hike.
Doria:This is a bit off the history, but did you meet Emily Thompson in Salt Lake when we were there? Her book is wonderful, The Soundscape of Modernity. She was the winner of the Genius Prize. She wrote the book Soundscape of Modernity. She gave a lecture in Salt Lake City at the ASA convention.
Harris:The name is so, the name is very familiar.
Doria:Well, itís available through MIT Press. Itís a very, very good book.
Harris:What is that titled?
Doria:The Soundscape of Modernity. Itís about, well a lot of the context is about New York, like the early, early part of the 20th Century, (Harris:Yeah.) the way that the urban soundscape changed the way that we see the world, or the way (Harris:Yeah.) we think of the world.
Harris:Yeah. Well, it doesnít ring a bell.
Doria:Yeah. Sheís moved on to sound effects in movies, which is very interesting. Sheís doing a lot of research in Hollywood right now for the, for the producers.
Harris:Huh. Was she in Philadelphia?
Doria:I think thatís where sheís from, yeah. I think she lives in Philadelphia. Sheís done a lot of research in Maryland.
Harris:Yeah. Yeah, I, I knew her when she was first starting out.
Doria:Well she has, she has some great, and sheís been doing some great work. Any particular movies or movie stars that interest you? Favorite movie from all time?
Harris:You know, when I was about five years old, one day I was with my mother — this is right out of Hollywood — I was in, we were in a restaurant, or in a drugstore and we were approached by somebody who worked at one of the studios, and he said, ďHad I been in pictures?Ē He asked my mother. And, she said, ďNo.Ē He said, ďYou know, we need him.Ē He was from Hal Roach Studios, which was, at that time, well known. ďWe could use him in ĎOur Gangí comedies.Ē So, I appeared in at least one. I had a work permit from the State of California to work as a minor in, I think it was called ďMy Fifth Birthday Party,Ē or ďSixth Birthday Party,Ē and I was in that as a rich, son of a rich family and they, and the rest of ďOur GangĒ were making fun of me or taunting me and that kind of thing. I do enjoy the movies a lot.
Doria:Any particular type of music or songs that youíre particularly fond of, particular singers?
Harris:Well, my interests are very broad. Every, everything from classical to New Orleans jazz. I like New Orleans jazz because I donít, itís not what I would call ďnervous music,Ē (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) you know, where it hops around. Itís slow and easy, and I like that very much.
Doria:Particular TV programs, or sports, and team sports that interest you?
Harris:Well, I must say that our favorite team right now is the New York Mets. We used to be the Brooklyn Dodgers, but then they moved to Los Angeles. So we, we follow the New York Mets a great deal. Itís our favorite team.
Doria:And, any particular type of art or artist that you like?
Harris:No. I donít — the visual arts are really, I have a difficult time with modern visual arts. I have a hard time understanding it.
Doria:Thereís a very nice Serra exhibit at MoMA. [Laugh]
Doria:Is there a particular quote that you like as a favorite quote?
Harris:Yes. On the side of the, the side of a physics building at UCLA thereís a quote that says, ďNothing is too wonderful to be true.Ē Michael Faraday. And, I will often think of that and think to myself, ďYou know, that, when youíre working on something and you really feel youíve done your best and this is generally accepted, and you say, ďBut, this is, is this something that I could have done?Ē And, and then you think to yourself, ďNothing is too wonderful to be true.Ē I like that. I always have.
Doria:Do you have any hobbies today?
Doria:And do you have any future plans that are relevant to the oral history?
Harris:Well, Iím working on two recital halls now. I stopped doing concert halls, oh, I donít know when. The last one was Benaroya Hall. But, I donít, I havenít felt that I should do concert halls because I, I work by myself. I always have. And, if I should get hit by a truck or I expire for any other reason, they would be left holding the bag. And, letís face it, Iím, I celebrated my ninetieth birthday months ago, in June in fact, (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) and so I, one of the recital halls, Phillip Johnson was the architect for it, now it was taken over by an associate of his, but the otherís at the University of California in San Diego and they have a very interesting music department. (Doria: Uhm-hmm.) They were, they are very good and the professors there are interested in the latest kinds of music, all the latest kinds, and I find that very stimulating.
Doria:Are there, is there anything that youíd like to add to the interview that you think I have not asked? Or...
Harris:No. I think youíve done a very good job.
Doria:Well, thank you. I took the questions directly from the Acoustical Society. (Harris: Yeah.) So. Well, I guess I should thank you on behalf of the ASA and the American Institute of Physics for (Harris: Yeah.) letting me interview you today. It was a great pleasure.
Yeah. A pleasure for me.
Ma Dayou (graduated in 1932 from the High School of Beijing Normal University), member of the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS), expert on acoustics, former vice director of the Acoustics Institute of the CAS and former vice president of the Postgraduate College of the China Science and Technology University.
The Philips ďELAĒ name was coined in 1946 when the manufacturing and selling activities of microphones, amplifiers, PA loudspeakers (Public Address), recording and cinema equipment were concentrated into one division. Dr. Harris refers to it in the interview as ďE-LaĒ or ďEllaĒ. Later, Phillips called this subsidiary simply the ďPhilips Electro-Acoustics DivisionĒ