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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Leo Beranek by Richard Lyon on 2009 August 10,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
In this interview Leo Beranek discusses topics such as: his family; Acoustical Society of America; being president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Harvard University; working as acoustic consultant to the Japanese government for their opera houses and concert halls; getting his autobiography published; G. W. Pierce; Ted Hunt; his work in acoustics; Philip Morse; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Bell Laboratories; Harvey Fletcher; Dick Bolt; Sam Labate; William Lang; Harold Marshall; Manfred Schroeder; Bill Cavanaugh; George Maling; Gary Seabine; Tim Mellow; his acoustical consulting businesses.
Dick Lyon is sitting opposite me here and we’re going to talk about some of the things that have happened since the last time there’s been an oral history review by the Acoustical Society and I’m glad to do this. The only condition I’ve started to put in the past is that I prefer that the written version of this interview is the one that is made available because usually there are dates that are guessed at, some recollections that are kind of hazy that when you go to the written version of the interview then I sort of polish it up and get the dates right and make sure that nobody will be offended by what is said. And that has been quite successful. The written versions of these interviews have been handed out, and I feel that they are accurate and not embarrassing.
Well, the last time you did an oral history for the AIP was 1989 when you were a mere stripling of 75. Now, 20 years later, here we are to catch up with what’s happening with you. I thought that in our discussions, we might start with the way your life is right now, the things you’re doing and so on. If you don’t mind, go ahead and just talk about that.
My wife Priscilla died in 1982, and then I remarried in 1985 to Gabriella, and we had a home in Cambridge behind the Charles Hotel in the condominiums there. We were there from the time we were married until last October. We enjoyed Cambridge, and it was very convenient because, in that whole period, I had many things that happened in Cambridge that took my time. For example, I was president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences from 1989 to 1994. I became a member of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University, their senior governing body, from 1984 to 1990. I was a consultant half time to the Wang Laboratories from 1980 to 1986. Then I had this opportunity to do a number of halls in Japan. Those started in 1989 and the last one opened in 2001. So the Japan experience has been one of the really important and exciting parts of my later life. And that kind of gives you an idea of where I was. The summer before last we decided to move out of Cambridge and go into the center of Boston and we heard about these condominiums that were going up over the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel was opened in October of last year, and the condominiums were available then. Very fortunately, we were able to sell our condominium in Cambridge, and the people wanted it the same month that we had to move out of there and go to Boston. So the only thing that happened was that we had to have our furniture moved to storage for a couple of weeks so they could move in when they wanted to and we could get into the new quarters. And in fact, during that two-week period the hotel opened before we could move into our condo. The reason they held up our condo was because we had wood flooring put in. They put that in the last thing and we were not able to walk on it for a week until it had all the finish on it and all it cured and so on. In any event, we have moved into this condominium and it is just ideal for what we want, with the whole Prudential Center there, which also couples over to the Copley Center. The bridge across the street gives us a chance to take long walks in the wintertime because it’s all air-conditioned, summer and winter. There are 25 restaurants or so in that whole complex, so we can have everything from a very low-cost meal to the most expensive meal in Boston at this very luxurious restaurant that’s in the same building. So we have all range of food possibilities. Things we take interest in, like the Boston Symphony, we can walk to be just outside of one of the hotels. And there is a subway line that starts somewhere in Lechmere, called the E Line that goes by Prudential and takes us right out to the Museum of Fine Arts. My wife is a trustee there so we go there quite often, and that is very convenient. Then I like to go to the Harvard Club, and it’s just down to the street to walk to. I’m on the board of The Mass Historical Society. I have always been interested in the historical society and that’s an easy walk. Then the public library and Trinity Church, and everything we want to do is right there and we can walk to it. What was happening in Cambridge and the reason we made this change was we were finding we were driving over to Boston in a car, sometimes twice day. Now we just get up and walk there.
You pay a very hefty parking fee, I expect.
Well, that was true. Those parking fees are high. In any event, this new place we’re living is just ideal for us. We also have a telephone that connects down to the concierge desk in the hotel, so they treat us as though we had a room in the hotel. If they want to send any message and our mail and packages and so on come to the concierge’s desk, they give us a call and say there’s a package here for you, or if it’s something of any weight, they just deliver it upstairs as they would to your room if you were a resident in the hotel. But we usually go down and get our mail rather than have them deliver it. So this is the kind of a place we live in. It’s quite large; it’s about 4,000 square feet. It’s like a small house. So we have two bedroom suites and we find this whole thing is very good. I can turn on my TV in my suite at night and watch the baseball game and Gabriella can watch what she wants on her TV.
You have two sons, I believe. What’s happening with them?
Well, one son who is a lawyer got his law degree his law degree from the University of Chicago, actually was managing editor of Law Review. And he seemed to me to be destined to be a successful lawyer. Then the thing that made him sort of independent was when I became involved with Channel 5 in Boston, we sold Channel 5 at quite a high price, and I had given half of the stock in that to my two sons when we just started the whole thing up, and it wasn’t worth anything. Then the stock market made that money get bigger for them. They have quite a sizable amount of money and a lifestyle they can live from, so he just quit being a lawyer. And he collects stamps and is interested in Chicago, goes to the symphony and that kind of thing. He’s married and they have a child. I only have one grandchild in my life, and that’s his daughter. The other son is divorced. He has a home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He works part time for the Iowa Historical Society in Iowa City, just south of Cedar Rapids, where the university is. So he keeps busy and excited about the Historical Society’s things. In fact they often times get a whole estate given to the society. That would be the history of the family and their papers and their photographs and other things that come to them. He’s the one that takes over this estate and decides what to do with it and how to catalog it and so on. So he’s involved in what you’d expect a historical society to do. He’s an expert on railroading in Iowa. He knows practically all the old stations which are either torn down or — But he has collected photographs on all these things. He’s writing a book on railroading in Iowa. He claims that there were more miles of track in Iowa than there were in Texas railroading.
I remember when my daughter was a student at the University of Iowa that you have to be very careful about how you drove around town because a train would come through and it would be a mile long; it could take forever for them to clear an intersection.
That’s right, the Chicago Northwestern. Well, anyhow, another train line that went through, I know it was another Chicago and something, one of the lines I think went through Iowa City and one went through Cedar Rapids. So there were two big transcontinental train lines that went there, starting in Chicago, of course. Everything started in Chicago.
And they’re very long. So do you see your sons often?
Oh, yes. Well, I don’t know whether you’d say it’s often, but I go out there usually once a year to Chicago in the fall, either birthday time or Thanksgiving. And then the one from Iowa comes in and we have sort of a reunion party and do new things that they like around Chicago. For example, the Art Institute’s opened a new section. When I go out now, I’ll see that for the first time. And a year or so ago, it was the Millennium Park, which may be a couple of years ago when I went out to see the Millennium Park. These kinds of things in Chicago I’m interested in. And we go to a symphony concert. So that is the main thing. Sometimes I go to Iowa, but usually it’s Chicago. And then they come east because they went to school here. They went to Saint Mark’s, both of them. So they sometimes go out to Saint Mark’s and renew acquaintances. There are other fellow students that are around this part of the country they see. So they make the trip here, a chance to see friends and go back to their school, and we see each other during that period.
And Gabriella, what sorts of activities does she have these days?
Well, Gabriella has been a very busy person since we’ve been married. She was one of the few women ever in Boston who were both on the board of trustees of the Boston Symphony and the board of trustees of the Museum of Fine Arts. I don’t think there have been more than two other women who have ever been on both of those. And she’s been highly respected on these boards. And right now she’s the secretary of the corporation of the Museum of Fine Arts, so she’s involved in the paperwork of the Museum of Fine Arts. She’s an expert on textiles. She’s considered one of the best informed people in the greater Boston area on textiles. The Museum of Fine Arts uses her whenever they want to buy some textile. Maybe it’s clothing, maybe it’s shoes, maybe they want to buy cloth, whatever, for museum purposes, they call her in to consult on it. She’s an authority on many things. She’s a needlepoint expert. She does her own needlepoint work and makes things as big as rugs the size of this table. And she is considered here and on the West Coast as being one of the people able to do complicated needlework and beautiful work. She also does some teaching of that, though she doesn’t like to teach. She belongs to the Chilton Club, and the members have had her teach them how to do needlepoint. When we were in Cambridge, she used to go over to the Harvard Friends, it was called, and they met in the basement of the old president’s house on — What’s the street?
No. It goes by the faculty club and so on.
I don’t know.
The old president’s house. In the basement, the Harvard Friends used to meet. She also ran a class in needlepoint there. She’s always very busy. And we spend a good deal of time together talking, and we’re interested in many of the same things, and we look at different things on TV or read in the newspaper. In fact, this morning she was telling me about having looked at a program that was on the History Channel yesterday on how terrible Stalin was in killing off people and suppressing everything and they’ve now been finding papers and written documents telling of all the cruelties he was involved in. She was telling me that this morning, so that was kind of bringing me up to date in what she was looking at. My interests have been heavily for relaxation and watching the Red Sox and moaning about how bad they’ve done the last six games they’ve played particularly the loss last night was tough. These come on TV and I have about, I don’t know, a five-foot screen and they come on nice and beautiful in high definition. So that’s something to watch and, although I may not watch the whole game, I try to watch part of many of the games. Then I have my own little office, and in it I have, of course, a computer and copying machine and fax and all the things that go with it. And I’m still involved in writing papers. In fact, I had an interesting little side bit yesterday. I got an email saying there’s an architectural society in England (this architecture society was founded ten years ago) — that decided to put out an opening magazine or journal covering various aspects of architecture, and they asked me to write an article on concert hall acoustics in the first of their journals that they put out. The email that came in yesterday said that they decided to pick from their ten-year period the best articles that had come out in ten years, and they decided that my article should go in their summary journals.
This is before the article was written?
The article was written ten years ago, and that was in their introductory magazine ten years ago. Now ten years of magazines have come out. They’re going to put this in their summary journal now of what they think is their interesting articles of ten years. And there are some things in there that have to be corrected because time has gone by, so I’m polishing it a little. It will go into the new one. So, there are always things to do.
Yeah, right. Absolutely. So are you still going to Acoustical Society meetings?
Not so much. I go to them occasionally. I’m definitely planning on going to the ICA, the International Congress on Acoustics, which will be held in Sydney, Australia at the end of August next year. And they’ve already invited me to come. In fact, this I can announce as a new thing: The University of Sydney, Australia is inviting me as a visiting professor, and they want me to come down a week ahead of time and give some lectures and meet with their graduate students, so that’s a definite appointment that’s already been made. Then they’re going to have a full week of the International Congress on Acoustics. Then they’re going to have an additional three or four days in Melbourne. The ICA is in Sydney, and in Melbourne they’re going to have concert hall acoustics sessions.
Okay, so a special meeting on it.
On concert hall acoustics. So they’ve invited me to come down and be the banquet speaker. So my health has got to hold up for another year so I can make this trip. And Gabriella, of course; we’ll go together. This will be an interesting time if my health’s in good shape and it is right now.
Yes, that’s great. Well, I think that gives us a pretty good picture of your current situation. If you want to add to it, please do. But I thought we would step back now and go back to 1989 or thereabouts and sort of pick up where the last oral history left off. In 1989, I think you were just beginning your tenure as president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and also beginning some other activities, so maybe you could take us back to that time and remind us of the situation and what’s been happening since.
Well, the American Academy, of course, is well known for its membership. It has about 13 sections that range from mathematics and physics on one end and music and the arts on the other end and goes through all the intellectual pursuits in these 13 different sections. Each year they bring in around 150 new members. Of course, a number of them die every year or two. This organization was founded back in John Adams’ time. In fact, he was the basic reason they founded the thing. He was going to be one of the leading people in the new government of the United States, and he wanted advice. So he set up an advisory body and got together the best minds in New England in those days. Now it’s a national organization with international participation. So what it then turned into was sort of an honorary society where the present members would bring in additional members. Each year, about four times as many people are nominated as being people who should be members of the American Academy, and about a fourth of them actually get elected. So now and then there will be an acoustics person elected, but not many because there are only 150 who can come in. It covers all these different sections. Pat Kuhl from the University of Washington has been made a member, for example. So you get an idea that people get in sometimes from acoustics. Anyhow, I was elected a member of this. It’s in my memoir, Riding the Waves, my autobiography. I was elected back in, I forget, 1980s or something. It’s in the book. I’d been a member going to meetings through the years. I’d taken an interest in it. They had meetings about once a month — well-advertised meetings. Somebody would speak. It might be a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States or a top physicist who has just discovered something or a chemist or a musician.
Not necessarily a member of the academy, but a very prominent person.
That’s right. A very prominent person would be there for this monthly meeting when they had a lecture. And so I’d gone to those regularly. Then, along about 1980 or so, the president was from Chicago, he lived in Chicago. He decided to set up sort of an advisory group to the president and decided for some reason that I should be on his advisory group. So that sort of brought me to the center of the American Academy. I got to know other people who were officers and the ruling group. And so, I was surprised in 1988 that they started making inquiries as to whether I would like to be the president or not. Now the trouble with being the president was that it took work. It wasn’t exactly —
It wasn’t all honorific, huh?
It was not honorific. I was the CEO of the American Academy when I got elected. They asked me if I would run for president. I was elected and I had to run it and. I then became president for three years. And then my tenure was apparently successful enough that they broke their rules and had a special election to put me in for another two years. So I had a five-year term; a normal term is three years for president. In any event, when I got in there, I found out that the academy was in financial trouble. They were losing money and it was coming out of their small endowment — they did not have a big endowment. So I set to work to straighten out the finances, and I had to do all kinds of things such as change the whole health program so they were spending less money on health. I put them into the Harvard Health Services. We had an office in Chicago that was bleeding money, and I had to change that entirely to get rid of the costs there. The magazine Daedalus they put out was losing money, and I had to figure out how to make that more cost efficient, which I did. Within a year or so, I had the thing breaking even. I raised the dues a little. This whole thing worked out very nicely because I got the organization on a good financial basis for going forward. Then Joe Orlen who was the managing officer and worked as my right hand man, not elected, was a hired person to come in and manage the thing. He got sick and was going to die so we had to get a new manager in. We got Leslie Berkowitz. She has done marvelous things in remaking the whole academy now. It’s much more nationally effective, putting out white papers and documents on national issues. She’s made the membership of the community come together and do these important things, which were not that effective when I was president. But she came in, and the new president has backed her up. She’s a little bit abrasive some of the times. It was even in the Boston newspapers that people didn’t like working for her, but —
She gets things done.
She gets things done and it sometimes is painful, I guess, to people working for her, but things get done and the place is growing. After I straightened the thing out, I started an annual fund for people in the academy, members, to make contributions to the annual fund. And we started out with about $10,000 a year, and now it’s a million three hundred. So that’s just grown based on the things that I’ve started there. The endowment fund when I was there started to be about $5 million. Then I added to it so it got to $10 or $12 million and now it’s up approaching $100 million endowment fund. So that all the things I started financially have been carried out and with this new general manager executive director, or whatever she’s called, it has really blossomed. They get good lectures and I get over there to hear a certain number of their monthly lectures.
Do they give special awards or medals or anything like that?
They do. They have several medals that they give. They vary. There are medals given for the best scientific contribution of the recent years or year. I don’t know the time period that they look at. There are fairly recent people who have done something worthwhile. Then they have awards for best literature. Then they gave me a medal for having brought this whole financial success to the place.
So they do have various medals. Then there is the Board of Overseers at Harvard.
Yes. This is sort of a board of directors?
I think there are five fellows, and there’s a treasurer and the president. The Board of Overseers is a senior governing body. And in that governing body, five new members are elected every year for a six-year term, so there are 30 members on the Board of Overseers. The Board of Overseers is responsible for the quality of education at Harvard. For example, they set up visiting committees to each of the departments. The visiting committee might be made up of a couple of members from the Board of Overseers, and they will bring in, say with the physics department, leading physicists from other universities around the country. They come in for a two-day period usually once a year, meet with the faculty, have presentations, then they try to say whether they figure that Harvard is up to date on its physics or not. That sort of a visiting committee goes to all the leading departments, including the business school and the law school. I was on the visiting committees to the business school, to the repertory theater, ART. I was on ART visiting committee. I was on the visiting committee for physics and the visiting committee to one of the other departments. Those jobs kept me pretty busy. I was a member of the Board of Overseers from 1984-1990. It was about in 1983 that I got a call one evening when I was in a restaurant with my wife, asking if I would be interested in running for office. They have an election. They send out ballots to all of the alumni. Then the alumni vote. They have 10 people on the ballot, and five get elected for a six-year term. Well, I thought what are the chances of my getting elected to this board, because usually they were very prominent people in the United States and I was just an acoustics man. But because I had been involved with Channel 5 in Boston before that, and because I was on the faculty both at Harvard then later at MIT, and then BBN had become quite prominent with the invention of the ARPANET. Now let’s see, that would have been ahead of that, would it? Yes it would have. Well ahead of it. Because that was 1969.
I think ‘69 is right. Yes, that’s correct. So I had gotten sort of well known, particularly around Boston, and I think a lot of the Boston people voted for me.
Of the five people elected, I was number four in the ballots, so I was not the runt in the litter. In any event, that was a very interesting period because I had a chance to visit these different departments and to have some say in where things were going.
Have things changed much since you were a young faculty member there?
Well, probably not. The wealth of the school has certainly changed. It was much wealthier than it had been. I found that there were different problems that had to be dealt with. But the principle thing with these visiting committees would develop a report on what the department was like that they visited which would be given to the president, but we would run it through the full board before we’d give it to the president, so that we would say we’d recommend, for example, that these two parts in biology (the other committee that I was on was biology visiting committee), the two parts of the biology department ought to be combined because they seem to be making decisions that are very similar in who they hire, but they are two different biology departments and maybe this ought to be combined. So that’s one of the things that we considered and made our recommendations to the president, who then had to try and work this out with the departments. I found that the Board of Overseers was very interesting for another reason. This was the year of the Harvard’s 350th anniversary, and so we had a big celebration going on including a nighttime celebration over at the Harvard football stadium, which they filled with people. They had the pops orchestra from the symphony come over and play. They set them up out in the middle of the football field and they played a short concert. They had speeches celebrating the 350th anniversary. As an Overseer, we had the best seats, and they provided us with comfortable cushions to sit on, and it was a real privilege to be at the center of things for the 350th anniversary.
Of course. And not many schools could have a 350th anniversary at that point.
It’s the oldest in the university I guess in the United States. They claim so. There’s always been a little argument about what the exact starting date was because there was a Cambridge University that preceded the naming of Harvard by, I don’t know, five years or so. And they date it back to then. It wasn’t called Harvard until John Harvard got in the picture.
And then it was through the Board of Overseers that you met An Wang.
It was not through the Overseers. He got his doctorate there, and some of the faculty used to invite him out to their home. And of course, he was heading this company called the Wang Laboratories that was growing like mad. There was a meeting or dinner party somewhere we were both invited to, and I got to talking to him. At this time, BBN was heavily involved in the ARPANET, and he decided that Wang Laboratories ought to have their own ARPANET to connect together all their offices around the world and speed up everything that they were doing so he put me on the board and asked me to be a half time consultant to make some decisions on their future company communications and putting a big network up and so on. So I was involved with that. Now Wang was selling computers to secretarial offices in all the big corporations. They were replacing the IBM Selectric typewriters with spreadsheet and word processing terminals. He had a computer called the VS Computer that would be set up in the center of the company. Wires would go out to the different secretarial desks, and a big company would get a big set up, of course. And this was growing just like mad. This company was building one building, then two buildings, then three buildings north of Boston, and everything was going fine until the PC came out. Then IBM put the PC out for about $2000 a PC, and it could stand alone — it didn’t have to be hooked up to a central computer. Wang’s thing required a central computer with wires going out to individual keyboards and a tube to look at. And this now, each one could be served. But the thing that licked him was that IBM decided they were going to not use a standard communication between the PC, if you wanted, and the mainframes. They had something they called the SNA protocol for connecting the PCs to the mainframes. Then the big companies all got to having IBM mainframes, and they decided why should they have another little VS set up in their company. Why not just buy PCs and have them hooked directly into their mainframes.
And they could communicate with each other as well as with the mainframe.
That’s exactly right. And then they did not use the protocol that Wang had, so they had no way of hooking up VSs into the mainframes. They put a big research group on it trying to solve that problem, but by the time they solved it they were really out of business because the PCs had taken over. That’s what killed Wang; they just couldn’t any longer sell big secretarial computing systems because the companies went to the PCs going directly to the mainframes.
It happens often, doesn’t it, that a company that is very successful with a particular problem solving routine, they get so embedded in it that they cannot move on to the next technology.
They couldn’t do it fast enough. They knew they had to do it, but IBM was very clever to keep everything a secret so they couldn’t quite figure out the SNA thing except by sort of going and stealing the information. It was not an easy transfer.
But many other companies did jump on to the PC bandwagon and they got their products out.
That’s right. And of course, then that was the licensing that went on. Then Microsoft had the operating system and Wang was using their own operating system, you see, so that was another thing, they didn’t get on the Microsoft operating system.
Well, the late ‘80s, the early ‘90s, saw a transition, a new scope to your activities because you went back to concert hall acoustics.
Right. Well, I had written a book in 1972 called Music, Acoustics, and Architecture, and that book had been translated into Japanese, and it was really the only book on concert hall acoustics that was out. So the Japanese were planning on building this Western style opera house. In Japan, there was no Western style opera house; they had the Kabuki and the Noh theaters which didn’t use anything resembling our opera house as their building, their presentation, their stage, and so on.
They’re generally much smaller too, aren’t they?
Much smaller, oh yes. So they had what they called a national theater, which was a Kabuki and Noh theater. And then somebody decided, looking to the West and seeing the Lincoln Center and other things that were going on where they had opera houses that brought in the singers of the world, and they thought that if Japan is going to be modern, they’d better have a Western style opera house. So this was a whole project of the federal government. It was not a local project. The idea was to build a second national theater, and something similar to our endowment for the arts would run it. And so they had an international competition. First, they set up committees in Japan, architects and everything. The acoustics consulting committee brought in the consultants in acoustics in Japan and engineering groups and lighting and so on. Different committees were set up. And they set up a prospectus that would then be sent out for trying to select the architect. It would say that we want a hall of size and seating capacity, and we want to have various practice rooms — all the specifications that they thought should be brought into the picture, and set out for a worldwide competition. And, of course, a Japanese architect won it. His name is TaskahikoYanagisawa. Yanagisawa then looked over the acoustic consultants of Japan and he decided he didn’t want to deal with them. He wanted to take some international consultant. And my book, Music, Acoustics, and Architecture, is in Japanese so he decided to approach me to be the consultant on this project. But they never told me that there had been an architectural acoustics group that had set the specifications up. I didn’t know that. So I accepted the job, first of all, we were going to have to do a computer model, and then there would have to be a wooden model. It was decided there had to be a research laboratory to work with me over there because I couldn’t build models. And I had no company with me; I was alone. So they then went to the Takanaka of the Research and Development Institute in Chiba, Japan which was a very vigorous research thing, doing research both in building methods and techniques and materials and acoustics. It had a good acoustics division in it. They would then give advice to anybody who would hire them. Different architecture groups and engineering groups that wanted advice would go to them. So I then set up the thing under the direction of Takayuki Hidaka, and he had a staff of about three that worked with him. And then they did the computer modeling, and later we built the 10 to 1 scale wooden models, and he supplied all the test equipment and so on. Then I made trips over there several times a year, and we would go over what they were doing, set up their next thing, reports would come out, and we would meet with the architects. And we got through about the first year of design. I brought in a novel feature. I said that really what you want to do is to build a sort of horn on the front of the proscenium, so it would be like a trumpet coming out from the proscenium. I even sketched a trumpet and then the architect said, “Well, we can probably fit that in if we make the balcony shaped like the trumpet.” We put a reflecting canopy on the audience side of the proscenium, which would then be the trumpet too. The idea was to try and reinforce the voices on the stage without reinforcing the orchestra in the pit, because the biggest problem in opera is that the singer has got to compete against an orchestra, and the orchestra has 70, 80 pieces usually, and there’s one singer singing. So if you can sort of boost the singer’s voice and uniformly distribute it, which we had to do and not boost the orchestra, this would be a big advantage. That’s the thing that I brought to him that was original.
And the orchestra pit itself was fairly conventional?
Fairly conventional, right. And it was in the same place, as usual. And this required then a little different thinking about how you’d build an opera house. It was no longer going to be horseshoe shaped, but it was going to be more auditorium shaped, which it is. We got pretty far along, and all of a sudden, they didn’t have any more meetings. They weren’t calling me over for any more meetings. When almost a year went by (I had other things I was doing), I contacted the architects and said, “What’s going on? You haven’t invited me to any more meetings.” “Well,” he said, “we’re going to have a 2 year hiatus on this because they’re going to build a concert hall adjoining the opera house and they want to integrate the concert hall, the opera house, and the approaches and subway entrance. This was 11 acres in the middle of Tokyo. The reason they had such a big acreage available was that there had been a water purification plant there for Tokyo and they decided to move it somewhere else, which left them with 11 acres owned by the government that they could use.
In the Shinjuku area?
Yes. They decided to put the opera house — In fact there was going to be three halls, and the concert hall was going to be in the middle of a thing that had a skyscraper and an arcade and restaurants and shops and so on, and they were going to put this whole thing on this 11 acres. So they’re going to hold that up. Then they decided that they would make Yanagisawa the architect for the concert hall. So then he came back and said, “Now we must tell you a little history which you don’t know about. We’ve had this architectural acoustics group that set up the specifications both on the opera house and the concert hall and, of course, they’d like one of their members to be a consultant. But I’ve had to say nothing doing; we’re going to use you. Not only that, but they’ve already built a model of the opera house out in Tokyo University, and we’re going to have to junk that.” So I came in there with really a hostile group of acousticians. But they were very nice. They never openly expressed their hostility to me. In fact, the government then officially asked me to be a consultant for the Japanese government, working with Yanagisawa and assisted by the Takanaka R&D Group that was set up. But then Yanagisawa had to go around to the different government offices and make sure they really wanted to hire me. So we had presentations to each of these different offices and they decided they were going to go ahead with Yanagisawa’s desire to hire me and not hire Japanese acousticians. Well, then there was a big meeting called a few months later to present the architect’s idea of what he was going to do, to a group of local architects and government officials, and the acoustics people came and I had to speak to them, but they treated me very well. This ended up then with a dinner that the government put on, a very formal noontime luncheon, on a U-shaped table. They called in important people to sit around the table. And then they gave a speech in which they welcomed me as acoustics consultant, and I had to get up and speak (and they translated, of course) my desire to work with them and how wonderful it was going to be to plan this great opera house and concert hall. Then from then on that went along, on a fairly strict schedule. We had various really difficult political arguments because the lighting people were very powerful in Japan, and they wanted to put in more banks of lights in the ceiling of the opera house, and I wanted the ceiling to help work to reflect the voices. So I finally won out in keeping them from having as much lighting as they wanted and they then eternally hated me. Then when it got to the concert hall, we didn’t have any lighting problems there, but they had a drama theater, not in the concert hall. The drama theater was actually pretty close the opera house in the building construction. In the drama theater, they decided they were going to have really a first rate audio system. What it looked like was above where there would normally be a pit, on the side of the proscenium, they took a big square in there to put in a system that they would lower down with loudspeakers of all kinds It was going to produce the best sound that anybody ever heard in this drama theater. The trouble was there were no reflecting surfaces then for the voices. And I argued so hard that this was going to be trouble, was going to be a failure. And I said, “The only way you’re going to have drama successfully from this stage is to do what they do at Radio City, put microphones on everybody and have the actors all have microphones.” I said, “There’s not going to be enough support for the voices in this drama theater with that thing taking out the important part of the ceiling, the front part near the proscenium.” Well, they were so angered with me having won over in the opera house that they went all out with everybody that was involved with the drama theater to say they should have precedence over the acoustics. We did good things that week. We had no echoes. We did everything else right except we needed that reflecting surface, which was not there. And when the thing opened, everybody complained that they couldn’t hear the voices, they weren’t strong enough. So then, Hidaka had to come in and they did not blame me. Everybody was very good. The newspapers and all said what happened there was done in contradiction to what we recommended. And then Hidaka had to come and hang reflecting surfaces beneath their loudspeaker system which apparently made a big difference. And anyhow, I’ve heard no more about that, and nothing got published that was negative really about my work although the difficulties in hearing were published by the reviewers. Anyhow, then this went on. Besides the opera house and the drama theater, there was an experimental theater, the concert hall, and then there were three other concert halls that were not associated with this government thing at all, private things that I consulted on.
So that was quite a bit of activity in Japan.
That’s right. So I got six halls, and the last one opened in 2001, and then I decided I didn’t want to do anymore consulting after that.
But there is quite a story about the concert hall, that very strange shape that it has.
Right. Well, the architect decided that he had to do something different. He couldn’t have a concert hall that looked like Boston Symphony Hall. And we were recommending that we had to have a rectangular shoebox hall, and he didn’t a want a thing that looked like it so he decided to put a pyramid over the center. Now the pyramid was not centered over the audience. In fact, if you can imagine a pyramid that is normal, four sides going up uniformly to a peak, take a hold of the peak and move it one side, what you find is that you’re stretching one wall out and shortening another to go more vertical. The two side walls will move together so they’ll be alike. So we then had a big, long, sloping hall. This peak then was put over the stage in the concert hall. It was quite high up. The bottom part was rectangular. It was really a shoebox shape but not having a regular ceiling. It had the pyramid instead. Well, this brought in some new problems that we had never encountered. The thing I was frightened of was an echo back from that big flat ceiling to the orchestra. If they played and the echo would come back to them, it would be a disaster. So I told the architect, “We can’t have smooth walls. We’ve got to put some irregularities to diffuse the sound, so when the sound comes from the orchestra it will be diffused around the room and it won’t come back from a flat surface right to them as a big echo.” Well, this went over like a lead balloon. He didn’t want anything that looked like diffusion on those walls. He wanted to have this as a nice a straight thing. We fought over this for a year, and almost to the point of fighting, but I was just not going to have a disaster in this hall and I kept telling him, “We cannot have an acoustic disaster. We’ve got to do something about it.” Now, in the drama theater, they had decided to have a circular back with the focal point right on the front of the stage, so that if anything was said from the stage, it would go back to this big focal thing and be focused right back with a big bang. So we had to kill the reflection of that and we used quadratic residue diffusers. I very carefully planned those from what we knew from (Manfred) Schroeder’s theories and so on. Now, here’s where Hidaka and his laboratory were very important because then they tested these things. They would put them in dead room, an anechoic chamber, send sound out and see what would be reflected back. So we designed a quadratic residue diffuser with some absorbing material in the channels so they would also absorb sound, and we got a big reduction in the reflected energy by this process and had no echoes in the drama theater. The only problem was that you had to have that exposed at least 50% open so they put vertical slats on them. I said, “In the concert hall we’ve got to have this ceiling surface open so that the sound can get into those diffusers.” Well, after a big struggle, he came up with a solution. Yanagisawa said, “Well, what we’ll do, instead of having the walls be flat and smooth, we’ll have them go up in steps, so to speak.” That means you’ll have a vertical piece and then it will go in to take up the slope of the wall. This is a big sloping surface we’re talking about. Then it goes vertical again and so on. We will then make a surface such that into each of those steps we can put in your quadratic residue diffuser, and we’ll cover it with a screen. A screen won’t look bad. We can even make it be the same color as the side walls. So then immediately Hidaka got to computing the space that would be available to put these into get the best possible quadratic diffusers in the wall. The discussion we then had is whether they should cover 100% of the wall or 50%. I said, “Look, we want no possibility of an echo. 100%.” Well, that’s the way it came out, and fortunately when the hall opened there was no echo. So we won that battle after a year’s fight and the architect finally came up with a creative solution.
What was the nature of the screen that was used to cover?
It was just a screen.
Just a cloth?
No, it was metal, a metal screen, so it wouldn’t deteriorate with time, you see. And they could paint it. They could repaint. It was open mesh. There was no chance it could be painted over.
So that took about six years of activity. Is that right?
That’s right. From ‘89 to 2001. Wait, the total time there is 12 years.
Yes, 12 years. And the consulting fees were substantial. That was a very good pay I got for all of that because they spent a billion dollars to build that center there for the opera house and concert hall, so the consulting fee could be pretty high and they wouldn’t notice it.
Right. And then came the memoir. That must have been in your mind for a long time.
Not really. I had talked with my wife and said, “Well, you know, I’ve had all these various things that happened. It seems, to me there’s enough variety that it ought to be interesting. Why not write it?” And my wife said, “Okay, your kids will read it. Why don’t you write it for them?” Then I got to thinking, “Well, why don’t I see if anybody’s interested in publishing it?” I was told very quickly that really no publisher wants to do a memoir unless your name is famous like Kissinger, some big name with public recognition. The sale won’t be enough to interest anybody. So I thought, “Well, let’s test it at least.” So then maybe you need an agent. An agent will then try to go out and find a publisher for you. You’ll need some sample chapters, so why don’t you write a couple of chapters and the agent will take the chapters and try to get somebody interested in taking on the book. And I got to thinking, “Well, that doesn’t sound too good, so why don’t I write the whole book, do the complete book, not sample chapters?” And then I got to thinking that I’m not going to get an agent at first. Maybe I have to get one if I want to see if there’s any interest. I have two possibilities. One is the MIT Press and the Harvard Business School Press. I had friends in both, and I knew at least I could get them to look at it because they knew me. Whether they would be interested afterwards, I had no idea. So I decided that, well, why don’t I start with MIT? I was a professor there and my papers are kept in the MIT archives so I sort of have a foot in MIT and maybe the MIT Press would be more inclined to look at this than say the Harvard Press even though I’d gone to the Harvard Business School advanced management program and a lot of people over there knew me. First of all, I should be careful about this. Before I sent it down there, I sent the whole book to a fellow at MIT. He’s in the program in writing and humanistic studies. They have a program in writing and humanistic studies at MIT, and the head of this is Philip Alexander. So I got in touch with him and asked him if there was somebody in this writing group that would look at my manuscript and maybe take on the job of polishing, because I had learned from my other books that if I had somebody go over it, they could always polish it and make it read a little better. So he said, “I’ll do it.” He gave me a fee for doing it. So I hired him then to go through the manuscript and do some copyediting. He made a lot of improvements in how easy it would read. In fact, the whole theory that he had was that each paragraph ought to flow into the next paragraph and there should be a minimum of jolt going from one paragraph to another. So he did not change any of the meaning of my book, but he made it read more smoothly by polishing it. Then in a couple of places, he said, “Why don’t we eliminate that? I don’t think it’s very interesting.” A couple of other places, he said, “I think it ought to be expanded. That story is good. It’s not quite filled out as it ought to be.” So then there were some improvements made in what I did. Then I told him about my two possibilities and he said, “Well, look, of course, I know people over at the MIT Press well. I’m at MIT. I know all of them well, so I will tell them that your book is coming so they are sure to give it some attention when it comes.” Which I guess he did. I don’t know. I never heard anybody say that. So I set the book down, and I got a notice back that a woman named Margaret Avery, the associate editor there, was going to take on the reviewing of this and in due time, I would hear from her. Then she gave it to the head of the MIT Press. It turns out that the head of the MIT Press, her father had been an engineer at General Radio, and I had been a consultant to General Radio back in my earlier MIT days and I got to know him quite well. And so because she had heard about me from her father, she decided she’d read this. And gosh, in just about three weeks, I got a letter back from the head of the press saying, “Don’t give this book to anybody else. We want it.”
So I didn’t need any agent. I didn’t have to share royalties with an agent, not that royalties would amount to much in this kind of thing. You know, about a dollar a book and your sales are only in the thousands so it never amounts to anything. But, anyhow, normally if you get an agent, you give them all the royalties on this kind of thing. And then the agent might not have been able to sell it anyhow. But these personal connections — took an interest in the book.
How long did it take you to write it?
Three years. At the MIT archives I have some 55 boxes, each two feet long and 18 inches square. There are 55 of them with my archives in them. So I went to MIT practically every day for three years. Not every day literally, but nearly. I did the writing at MIT, on my computer. I had all these boxes well indexed, and any part I was dealing with, I’d have the box — They’re put in storage and they’d bring them over to the archive reading room and bring them to me to work from when I’m there and then they would sent them back to storage and I would call different books up and over a period of three years, I carefully put the book together. Now, then when the MIT Press got it, they put their own copywriter on it and he went through and made some more polishing changes. Again, not eliminating, but always with the idea of making it read more smoothly so the people who read this say that it reads very smoothly, that it’s put together well. But they did not change anything I said.
One of the things that strikes me in the book is that you remember how much you spent for lunch as a student in Iowa. Now how did that happen?
That is very easy to explain. Starting with college, I started keeping an expense book. I got a book that was called a daily register or something. You’d open it up and there would be a month up here and in that month you’d have the dates go down the side and you’d have a number of columns and the columns are separated for different things you could spend money on, food and housing and books and tuition, and you could write column heads in them. I kept these books up until the time I got married, and I have detailed things on what I ate and what it cost me every day from the start of college until the time I got married. So I could tell you exactly what I had spent.
Why did you do that?
I don’t know. I just did it.
So I have all those books. I have a pile of them.
My goodness. And they’re in the archives?
They’re in the archives. You can find out what I spent on anything. Entertainment, travel. That’s why in the book, these numbers are real; they’re not guessed.
Well, you could tell that you had good resources to pull them out and they went from when you were in Iowa and you were at Harvard and, as you say, up until the time you got married.
There’s an interesting little story in your book about the woman who was left behind, the woman who had a misunderstanding. You want to say anything about that?
Well, there were two women. I don’t know which one you’re referring to. The early one?
I think it was the early one.
Well, we dated a lot when I was at Cornell College. She was going to a business school in Cedar Rapids and I was going to Cornell. It was in my final couple of years there. We dated a lot. We sort of talked about getting married. And when I came east and I invited her out to the east, I said we ought to see whether she’d like living here and so on, because I was then thinking I was going to stay in the east, not go back to Iowa. So she came east and we were together then for a couple of weeks. During that time, we decided that really she didn’t think that this was going to work out, that it was going to be too big a break for her to come. Then I got worried that I didn’t think she was going to be accepted in the academic community. She was not really that sort of, you might say, nation wise. She was too local.
Too insular. I didn’t think that this was probably going to work out. So when she expressed doubt, I did too and we broke it off quick. Just abruptly.
I think I must have been thinking of the second one then.
Now the second one was really kind of silly because I got this summer job with Professor G. W. Pierce, and he had a home up in New Hampshire. He was a professor in acoustics at Harvard He hired me for the summer. I just had my doctorate. In 1940 I got my doctorate and this is the summer of 1940. I worked there for him for three months. He had a summer place and he had a little cottage beside his main house. He put me up in this little cottage. What my job was, what he hired me for, he’s writing a book and he said he wanted to write it longhand. He wanted me to type it up and then he wanted me to make drawings for the book. This book was going to be on some sort of wave theory.
Was he the Pierce of the Pierce Underwater Sound Projectors? Because it seems to me that there was a Pierce very much about in underwater sound earlier.
Well, that was way back. Yes, if you go way back. Of course, there was a Pierce at the Bell Labs. You might get confused.
I think it was Harvard.
That’s right. And what his big invention was, he invented the crystal oscillator which then put the precision control on broadcasting frequencies so they didn’t drift on the dial and you could heterodyne them and put many, maybe a dozen signals over copper wires by piling them up. You could heterodyne them up and pile them up. That meant that the Bell system paid him royalties and he got to be a millionaire. In those days, that was big money. So he wanted me to be his helper. Well, it turned out we didn’t do much writing. He didn’t really get down to the writing, but mostly we did odd jobs, I helped him dig a well and I did gardening and puttering around the place. It was kind of an easy summer. And then we had big political discussions. He had friends who came in from Boston to visit and we’d have discussions about the politics of the day, and World War II was coming on. It was a very interesting period. I had a good summer with him and I got paid about a hundred dollars a month besides my housing there. But now this girl. I actually had a girl back in Boston that I was serious about, but this girl was in a neighboring cottage there with her family, so I invited her to go to some movies with me. That’s about all it amounted to. We went to several movies in the summer and her folks had me over once for dinner. They gave me a book. I never had more contact with her. Then the day of my marriage, she must have been talking — I told the Pierces that I was getting married, of course, in fact invited them to the wedding. They didn’t come. I invited them to the wedding, but they were up in New Hampshire. They must have told her or told her father about this or somebody, and she wrote me this letter that morning wanting me to give up my marriage plans and come back to her. I never had any communication with her for three years after I left there!
She had a lot of fanciful things going on in her mind.
Apparently. And I had no idea because there was no real intimacy in this whole thing. We just went to movies together.
Well, I guess that we can move to what I’ve called reflections. You mentioned in one of your notes to me that you would like to discuss some of the people you’ve known in acoustics. Is this a good time to do that?
I think so. The people I knew in acoustics would have to go back, of course, to my beginning work in graduate school at Harvard. (Ted) Hunt was my thesis adviser, but before he became my thesis adviser, he decided to have an assistant and the school had given him money to hire this assistant, the first one he’d ever had. He was going to work on trying to invent a way of playing back records that were made during Harvard’s tercentenary, their 300th anniversary, which was in 1936. They had made records of all the speeches. There had been big speeches given during this three-day celebration at Harvard, and they put them on vinyl discs which were recorded by something that had cut a little sliver of material out as it went around. But all the phonograph pick-ups of that day were heavy. They played the shellac records and they had a steel needle, and if you put that on these vinyl records it would ruin them right away. So what you needed was some very lightweight pick up to play these back, so he decided he had to invent this. There was no such. And he got this money from Harvard. I don’t know whether he told him that that was his goal or not, but he got the money for the first time to have an assistant. And then he looked over the graduate students. I remember I had been there for one year already in graduate school, in 1936, ‘37. So he got in touch with me in the summer of ‘37. The only reason I could see that he got in touch with me was because my grade record had been perfect. I had straight A’s. In fact, I had an A+ in one course. I’d worked very hard, as my memoir shows, to try and get good grades. He looked over the students and nobody did any better than I did in grades and apparently, somebody said I was easy to get along with or something so he decided he would take me on as his assistant if I’d take the job. Well, of course, as I pointed out in my book, I was eating on 50 cents a day, and to get a job with food would be excellent, so he hired me for I think $800 for the year. That meant that I could eat for at least a dollar a day now. I became his assistant. My job then was to help him develop this phonograph pick up. I had to build a low frequency loudspeaker that would go down to low frequencies so we could get a good sound out down to 50 hertz or so. We already had high frequency speakers that were pretty good. I had to build a power amplifier that would supply the power to drive that thing, and those weren’t available yet in those days for audio reasons. So with some guidance from him on these things, because he was an acoustics man — he knew acoustics where I didn’t. Then I took his course at the same time. He was teaching a course on acoustics and I took it starting on my second year of graduate school, the same time I started being his assistant. So while I was his assistant, I was taking his course. Now, the book he decided to use was Morse’s new book on sound and vibration. This new book had a chapter on sound in rooms, and he brought in for the first time the normal mode theory and the way you could deal with normal modes in dealing with rooms. The first year we worked on the phonograph pick up, and the second year I was his assistant. He said, “Well, let’s do some investigating as to whether we can use acoustic impedance as a measure of what a wall does, and put it in a room and see if acoustic impedance is better than absorption coefficients. See if we can work in what Morse is talking about into real practice, because Morse had never done any experiments. So we had this rectangular room in the basement that was sort of twice as big as this room in all dimensions except the ceiling was much higher, and we could then bring acoustical materials into that room. Getting ready for my doctoral thesis, I set up a mechanism for measuring acoustic impedance at normal incidence. I could put the material in a three-inch tube, send a wave down, examine the field, and calculate acoustic impedance
This would be what we now call a standing wave tube, right?
And you had a scanning microphone in it?
No, I used resonances and the frequency of the resonance and the width of the resonance as my measuring things rather than measuring the minimums and maximums in the tube.
Did the Smith chart exist at that time?
Yes, it did.
Basically, you were sort of adapting this Smith chart to —
And Morse pointed out that the Smith chart was usable in his theories. Then in my second year with Hunt, which was my third year in graduate school, we worked on putting materials on walls and started to compare them with what I was getting in the impedance tube. That was principally what came of my second year with him, my third year in graduate school. Of course, during that time since I was only working with him half time, I was getting ready for my thesis work, doing work with this impedance tube I had built to my specifications. I had a lathe with very fine movement, hooked to this plunger that would go back and forth. Then I developed a point source at one end of the tube so that it would have almost a perfect reflection there. It would be a very small surface radiating sound. I used a wire stuffed tube. Of course, we were only using this three-inch tube up to frequencies of 500 hertz, so this was pretty much a hard wall where I could add the soft material. It could then get the information of what the soft material was doing in the tube. The thing was good enough that when there was no absorbing material added, you could determine what the absorption was along the length of the tube and the walls. I could check that against what Lord Rayleigh was teaching about boundary layer absorption. This all came out pretty close to what the theory would show except I had real measurements. At the end of that second year, we had a paper then that talked about lining a large room with these materials. We showed that even at small changes in the dimensions of the room, since it wasn’t perfectly built, those changes were upsetting the accuracy of what we were hoping to get out of this above 500 hertz. Below that, you could use the rectangular room theory and the acoustic impedance of the wall that you measured. It came out quite well. But when you get above 500, it became sort of more diffuse.
A little more random.
More random. And this normal mode theory just didn’t work anymore.
Normal mode theory became very important in duct acoustics where you can define the walls and bends for a traveling wave and calculate the attenuation.
Then I found this very interesting thing. I set up an experiment. I wanted to calibrate the microphones and I decided to set up a one foot square tube, put an anechoic wedge in the far end, put a loudspeaker on the source end, and also along the way, put some lining in so it wouldn’t get any cross resonances. Maybe I could get enough wave amplitude down the tube that I could then compare microphones. Then I could just take microphones in and out and compare them with each other and get a normal incidence and maybe a reasonable wave that was not a cross mode. This would work at low frequencies. Then as you get up in frequency, we hoped that these linings on the side walls would kill of the cross mode resonances. A very interesting thing came up. I found that with a certain lining, I found that in a one foot I was getting many decibels of reduction in the signal, and that nothing in duct theory was telling me we’re going to get such a big reduction in a certain narrow band of frequencies. Many decibels at even one foot! Then I go back to Morse’s book and found that Morse had these design charts that spiraled upwards, and there was a point when it came around the second spiral. If you got the impedances right, you could get a very high attenuation in the duct. His theory would predict that if you would then take his basic theory and take it up a spiral. You have to look at his charts to see what I’m talking about. And from that, I then decided that if you pick your materials right and your dimensions right, you’d get a high attenuation in a short distance. I would use that in two consulting jobs later for successful results. This was a very important discovery that I made while I was at MIT as a professor.
Now is this the 3 dB per duct width or is this a greater attenuation than that?
It’s more than that. I have to look back at the exact numbers to answer your question, but I used them two places. We got the job of trying to quiet the Convair propeller airplane. It was the last propeller airplane any manufacturer had put out, just before the jet age started. They had developed this plane and it was too noisy. People would not ride in it. They couldn’t sell it to the airlines because it was too noisy so it had to be quieted. The noise was coming both from the propellers, which was low frequency, but they were getting a lot of high frequency noise and making it impossible to talk and even practically think, it was so noisy in the plane. It was coming out of the exhaust. And so they built up an exhaust muffler to go in the back of the engine. And we figured it out with the right impedances you would get maximum attenuation in the higher frequency range and then lower down we’d get the maximum attenuation using this point on the charts. We put that in as a muffler, and we got a very high attenuation with something two feet long. That made a tremendous difference in the noise in the airplane. Then we improved the windows. We made them a little thicker and made sure they had a good acoustical lining and we got that plane down to where they sold quite well until the jet age came in. That was a very successful project. Then the other was the big noise from the Cleveland supersonic wind tunnel. In the burning section, which was (I’ll get the dimensions in there) we’ll say was sort of 5, 6 feet square, the engine was put in there and it was blowing this burning air from the supersonic jet at high speed. And then they had sort of a horn on the end that was supposed to let the air expand more slowly. It made this tremendous noise that scared the entire population of Cleveland. The city made them shut it down. They said you can’t run it again. They called me out there to quiet it. Then I built this big muffler. But again, I planned these absorption ducts to take advantage of this region. So a portion of this spectrum, I attenuated with that theory in mind.
And the most annoying part of the spectrum, right?
Well, then we had to get rid of the lower frequencies that were shaking windows and so on. We put in resonators for them. Then we put in parallel baffles to get rid of the higher frequencies.
In your note to me, you mentioned some other acousticians that you would like to remember.
Well, Morse, of course, was a big factor in my life. Morse lived in Winchester and, after I was married I lived in Winchester too, so we did get to know each other quite well. Now, this is back when I’m still working for Hunt. Now, Morse and Hunt, at least for a period of time, lived one above the other in an apartment house. Morse was upstairs and Hunt was downstairs. Morse was writing his book Sound and Vibration. This was before 1936. His book came out ‘35 or something, I think. He was a professor at MIT and Hunt was a professor at Harvard, and both in acoustics. They would talk with each other. They would go one to the other in their apartments and they would talk. Hunt always said that Morse stole Hunt’s ideas and Morse felt that Hunt stole his ideas. Anyhow, Morse came out with his book. So Hunt and Morse did have some connection with each other, and it wasn’t always all that friendly because they were competing with each other. Hunt, at that time, was trying to make more precise the measurement of reverberation time. He had relays that would click off and on when the signal would get cut off and you could follow the signal down, and he’d get a very accurate measure of the slope and of the variations on the slope with his set up. That was something he was working on and using this bigger, rectangular room that I’m talking about to help him design all of this. That was before he had the idea of doing the pick-up which is what he brought me in on. Then after I did my thesis, when I published the way I was measuring impedance with this impedance tube, and the results of the measurements on a number of acoustical materials were available on the market. I gave a paper then at the Acoustical Society meetings, at the same time I was getting my doctorate. I got my paper on the program even before I had the doctorate to tell what I was doing, not knowing whether I’d get the doctorate or not. The paper was given at the Washington DC meeting. Of course, the society was very small then. Practically everybody went to everybody else’s paper. Morse shows up; even Fletcher was there that day and some others. He heard my paper and he got very interested because it was talking about acoustic impedance, and that’s what he was talking about in his book. So he then asked me if I would send him a copy of my thesis. He asked me that in Washington. So when I got home I sent him a copy of my thesis. Then he got together Dick Bolt, who was already at MIT, and Dick Brown and the two of them, working with Morse, set up an experiment in a reverberation room they had to compare what I had said the acoustic impedance was of these half dozen materials. They got the materials and measured the absorption coefficient using a Sabine theory. So now they could compare his calculations using the impedance and what the absorption coefficient ought to be with what they actually measured. Then he wrote a paper. Now the interesting thing about these papers that couldn’t possibly happen today. I submitted the papers to the journal. It says they were received in either July or June 1, and one month later they were published in the journal. Wow. The editor was Floyd Firestone. He was very personally acquainted with Hunt, and thought that Harvard was running one of the top schools. He thought that, well, he didn’t take any chances, why have the thing reviewed — just publish it. So I had two papers published one month after I submitted them. And it says that right in the paper. It was submitted one month earlier. Publication was in, I think, the July issue and I think they got them the first of June or the first of July.
That would have been in ‘37?
That would have been ‘40. I got my doctorate in ‘40. This was my doctorate work. Now, Morse in the meantime had got a copy of my thesis and they were doing experiments. Then he brought his paper out. It was published in October. Again, no reviews and he referred to my work with compliments so that this was now taking my new doctoral work and getting approval by one of the leading figures in acoustics which was much better than you can expect. Then he sent me a letter. This was in about October. I still have a copy of it saying he and I should write a joint paper. I should do the experiments and he would do the theory, and we would carry on his theories farther and I would do the experiments to show how they came out. So I told him, “Well, I can’t quite do that immediately because they’ve given me an assignment to develop some laboratory equipment, and I was hired by the faculty there to do this after I got my doctorate.” I said, “I have to get that finished first. Then I’ll get on to talking to you about doing a joint paper.” Of course, this was a thrill. Here’s MIT’s very finest man wanting me to work a joint paper with him. Then a month later, I got another call from him. And that’s described in great detail in the book where he said, “Leo, they’ve just set up the National Defense Research Committee.” They’ve established a radiation laboratory at MIT and they’ve let the military know that they’re willing to look at other problems that are facing the military and do research on them using civilian research. They got a response from the Air Corps. There was no Air Force then; it was called the Air Corps. Saying they were having this fatigue as airplanes were being flown, bombing Germany, and personnel were coming back fatigued and they figured the noise was fatiguing the personnel. They wanted to develop a better acoustical material to put in the cockpits and wherever other personnel were in the plane so the noise wouldn’t be so great. Compton was the president of MIT, and he was also on the NDRC’s main committee, and he then called Morse when he got this request from the Air Corps. They wanted a special acoustic material design to go in airplanes and would you like the job? Morse said, “I certainly would.” But then he got to thinking, “Well, I’ll get Beranek to be my assistant.” We were already talking about doing a joint paper together. “And I’ll have him come to MIT and we’ll work on this.” So he called me. This is along in November in 1940. I said, “I certainly would like to work with you on this.” I said, “I can get down there to do this work, probably get free from Harvard here by the end of December. I’ll be with you.” So we then agreed that I would move to MIT and be his assistant. Then I went down and told Hunt. Boom. Hunt says nothing doing. He says, “You’re a Harvard person, and you’re going to stay at Harvard. And if there is going to be anybody to run this project, I, Hunt, am going to run it. Anyhow, MIT can’t have all these projects. They’ve got the Rad Lab. They can’t have every project that comes in down there. These have got to be distributed.” So he goes down to see Compton, and tells Compton, “This is terrible. You guys can’t have everything down here. You’re the president of MIT. You’re NDRC too and you’re putting everything at MIT. You’ve already have the Rad Lab there.” Compton says, “Well, I haven’t thought about this. I’ll talk with Morse.” So Hunt goes back home and Compton talks with Morse and Morse says, “Nothing doing. We’ve already got this thing set up. Beranek is coming down here. You’ve told me I’ve got the job. I’m not going to give it to Hunt.” I’ve told you that they weren’t all that great of friends, you see. So Compton called Morse and Hunt together. Of course, I wasn’t there, but I’m told he said to them, “A plague on your two houses. We’ll have the project at Harvard and Beranek will run it. Neither of you.” But he said, “We’ll set up a supervisory committee. Morse, you can be chairman of it and Hunt can be vice-chairman and we’ll get a couple of extras, one from the Bell Labs, Harvey Fletcher and then we’ll get somebody else. They’ll be in an advisory committee to Beranek on these projects to develop this acoustical material.” Well, Morse calls me and says, you know, things aren’t going to be quite the way we said.
You’re going to be the boss.
You’re going to be the boss, but you’re going to be supervised. I’ll be on a committee. We’ve set a committee up already. We’ll let you be the secretary of the committee. You can’t be a member, but you can be in on all the meetings and take the notes and write the meeting minutes. And so that’s the way the thing was set up. They had Hollowel Davis from the medical school on the committee and they were set up to supervise me. Then Morse and Hunt and I got together then. Morse and Hunt didn’t show any friction openly ever afterwards. We met at Harvard to talk about setting up a meeting to plan going ahead and we decided it would be held down in New York in the American Institute of Physics quarters which used to be in the Flat Iron building. And we called in the Air Corps people, and there would be somebody there from the Institute of Physics, and then we have our supervisory committee and you come in. Why don’t you prepare a budget for what you want? I prepared this budget for $4,000 a year.
Because Harvard’s going to pay my salary. We’re only evaluating acoustical material. All I needed was an assistant and some equipment, I knew. So I figured the assistant would cost $1500. It would take a year to develop the material and I would need $2500 worth of equipment. And Harvard’s going to continue paying my salary — no overhead. When I presented this, there was a blow up in the room. The Air Force man says, “Nothing doing. We’re going to multiply it by ten and it will be for half a year and you’ll get double that ten multiplication for a full year, $80,000.” So all of a sudden, I had a laboratory.
Now this laboratory was at Harvard or was it…?
At Harvard. Yes, it was partly in the Cruft Laboratory and partly in the Lyman Laboratory — they connect together. So Morse and Hunt then played an important part in my life. Then, of course, Dick Bolt was already at MIT. He got his doctorate at the University of California, and he got hired at MIT to come as a research associate working with Morse. So I got acquainted with Dick Bolt then. Dick and I, although we were kind of competitive, we were never angry competitive. We were friendly competitive. We did get to see each other along the way. I think it was the spring before I got my doctorate that I met him for the first time.
I remember the review paper that he and Morse put together on acoustics of rooms. Was that around ‘43?
That was a little later. Then of course with this war work, I got involved in quieting airplanes. I developed the idea of very fine fibers as a new material and got Owens Corning Fiberglas to produce a material that they had never made before.
The idea for that came from basic theory that if you optimize the absorption as a function of fiber size, the thinner you can make it, the better?
What I could fathom from this whole thing was your losses in a sound wave motion like this going through a material are due to the little layer right next to the fiber. That’s where the pressure gradient is. You’re going to have losses when there’s a gradient in pressure. So what you want to have is a maximum amount of surface area per cubic foot, we’ll say. Well how do you do that? You make fibers smaller and smaller. But the interesting thing is that when you do that, the weight goes down faster because the area goes down as a square and the weight goes down as a cube of the radius of the fiber. So at the same time that you’re increasing in the area and lots of fibers with lots of area, you decrease the weight. This is ideal for an airplane. And so that’s how this material, the AA fiberglass, got developed. So then when I called the Owens Corning Fiberglass people on the phone and got the head of their engineering department and talked with him, I said, “Well I have an idea that if you make very small fibers, you’re going to have an ideal material for airplanes.” He says, “We’ve never done it. We don’t know how. How small do you want it?” I said, “A fraction of a hair size.” He says, “Well, we’ll try.” In three months, they came back with a sample. They said it cost a fortune, but tell us if it’s what you want. And then they went ahead and set up the manufacturing part.
So this was a spinning process that they…?
No, they squeezed them out of holes. I mean really small. Really a development for them.
Any more on people?
Well, let’s see. Of course, there was this was friendly competition between Harvard and MIT through the war. Then they decided at MIT to set up an acoustics lab. This was going to be an interdepartmental lab. Dick Bolt was chosen as the director of the acoustics lab, and he was reporting to three or four departments; electrical, physics, mechanical, and aeronautical. I think there were four of them. This was going to be an acoustics laboratory and they would do whatever they had contracts to do. They had assurance that the Navy would give them contracts up to a certain amount, up to something that turned out to be 35 or more people, contracts coming in from the Navy, so they could form the laboratory and have financial things for it. They took over an old parking garage at MIT and converted it into an acoustics lab and did quite the job inside of constructing and intermediate floor in this big garage with stairways and so on. I think the way I was considered to become a professor was one of these happenstances again. I was working on the theory of sound propagation through fibrous materials and I got stuck with the math so I called Morse. I said, “I would like to come down and talk with you about what I’m doing.” Morse was very happy that I was concerned about this problem. Then he decided to talk with Bolt and see if they shouldn’t have me come down and be in the acoustics lab. Be a professor at MIT, an associate professor as it turned out, they decided would be a good idea. That I had been running this acoustics lab during World War II and it had become quite famous for success in everything it did, it would be a good addition to MIT to get me down there along with Bolt. So they went to Compton, who was the president, and told Compton. Compton did call me down and talked to me directly and hired me. Then the book said I dickered with him and I got my title raised to be a technical director of the acoustics lab and Dick was the administrative director. So we’d both have titles at least. I knew we could get along working, but it would be nice to have some equivalent titles. I was to be an associate professor and they told me that if everything worked out, I’d have tenure within a year. So it was an ideal job. I bargained with them to raise my salary a little. The result was that I got hired to go to MIT. That put me more in touch then with the physics department, with Compton. Of course, I knew Morse and there was Feshbach I got to know. In fact, when I got to MIT, I sat in on one of Feshbach’s math courses. He was talking about advanced math — he and Morse were very interested in advanced math. Then Bolt and I worked together to make the acoustics lab grow. It did grow to quite a good size down there. Then my problem was that BBN got started and it got to be successful. So I went at first three quarter time, then half time, and finally I dropped out of the Acoustics Lab completely.
Sam Labate was involved in the acoustics lab and also he was I guess the first employee of BBN?
Well, he and Bill Lang were the first full time employees. Jordan Baruch and Bob Newman were part time employees.
Jordan came in through MIT? [Yes.] He was an assistant professor or something?
No, he was my student. He got his doctorate under me. He was my first doctoral student. And he’s probably the brightest guy I’ve ever known, just fantastically bright in those days. So then I was very interested. I helped him get scholarships so he got his doctorate. Then we hired him first part time, then when he got his doctorate we hired him full time. So we had Labate and Baruch, and then there was Bill Lang, but Bill Lang decided to leave and he went out to the University of Iowa, I think, to work for his doctorate. He somehow, I don’t quite know why. He didn’t want to get his doctorate with us. I never quite straightened out with him what happened.
This probably is a good time for us to break.
People in acoustics who have sort of been prominent in my life, certainly Harold Marshall is one. Harold came into this picture because he was given the job of being a consultant to a concert hall in Christchurch, New Zealand. This concert hall was going to be oval in shape, which is sort of a bad shape to start out with. Then this was a period in which I thought that the initial time delay gap was one of the most important things, and that you could use a wider hall and put in hanging panels to cut down on the initial time delay gap and that would do as good a job as if you had a narrower hall. The reason we were optimistic on that, it worked out quite well as a theory in Tanglewood. The putting those panels up there and with the big space above, they gave us a lot of reverberation. And the number of panels was not too great that we got sort of a balance in there where the cutting down on the initial time delay gap, and with adequate reverberation the sound was quite good. So we thought, well, you can correct it by substituting hanging panels. Well, the philharmonic hall thing came up just then in this part of my memoir, same time really that Tanglewood was finished. In the philharmonic hall, we had thought of having roughly a rectangular hall, but about a hundred feet wide which ran the initial time delay gap up a little high, and so we decided to put some panels in up front. Not in the whole hall, but up front and this would cut down the initial time delay in the front part of the hall and as you go back, it corrects itself anyhow, even in the wider hall. So Marshall was going to do the same thing in this oval hall, put in hanging panels. Then the bad publicity came out on philharmonic hall, because one of the problems there was the architect didn’t restrict the number of panels but covered the whole ceiling with them. The whole hall was covered with them, and that made too much early energy and not enough reverberant sound got back to the people. So Marshall then decided to think about what went wrong and why were the rectangular halls good. He began to think about maybe lateral reflections were important. It wasn’t just the initial time delay gap, but they had to have a direction to the reflections. So he had some experiment that he and Baron put together to show that if you had lateral reflections, you had sort of a broadening of the source. They called it apparent source width increase. And also that seemed to sound better than if you put the reflections in coming back in phase to both ears. It seemed to be that you wanted the difference in sound at the two ears, so he got this lateral measurement using microphone pair you could separate to get a figure eight pattern. You could put the null forward and get rid of the direct sound and get the lateral sound. He then took this oval hall and put reflection panels all around the thing, which then gave you lots of lateral reflections. Unfortunately, in my opinion (I’ve been down there and listened), there are too many of these panels; the result is you don’t get enough reverberation back. So a high percentage of the energy from the orchestra gets reflected in the early reflections, and the amount of energy that goes into reverberation is not enough, the reverberation is not prominent enough, and you hardly can hear it in the hall. That is the trouble with his solution. But he gets credit for the very important advance in concert hall acoustics that lateral reflections are superior to reflections that come from overhead. And that’s his big contribution. For that, of course, he got the Sabine Award in the Acoustical Society. I helped get that put through — I thought he deserved it. Now, another person who played an important part has been Manfred Schroeder. Manfred Schroeder has worked out these quadratic residue diffusers (QRD’s). He used the idea that you don’t want direct reflections from a ceiling so you want to cover the whole ceiling with QRDs, so they send the sound all sideways and very little comes back direct. Just kind of the opposite feeling. Then, when that’s been tried, that hasn’t worked because you do need some reflections from above as well as from the sides. In my opinion, a good mixture is to have both so you get presentation to both ears. Now, Manfred was involved in the philharmonic hall thing too because he was one in the committee that was set up. They were to come in after me and get this whole thing straightened out. He presumed he was put in there only to make measurements, but he really had strong opinions about what he thought ought to be done in the hall. When Ando’s book came out in Japan (Ando’s book that talks about concert hall acoustics), even in the introduction to it he makes some very negative remarks about my work right in the introduction. On the other hand, in recent years he’s become a very close friend. We correspond with each other. He’s writing a book like this, a memoir, and he’s having me read it before it’s been published now. So Manfred and I have become pretty good friends, even though if you look at that one preface he put into Ando’s book, it would seem as though he was a bitter enemy of mine. He was very negative on my work. So he’s another person that I’ve had in my mind through the years because of this sort of negativeness. Then, of course, in the positive side, there have been people at Acentech here in Cambridge, people at BBN Technologies, and people in the Acoustical Society that I’ve kept in contact with. Certainly, Bill Cavanaugh has been a very close friend of mine through the years. We correspond a lot. Bill Lang — even yesterday, I had communication with Bill. Bill Lang and I are communicating a lot. George Maling I have a lot to do with because he’s been the president for the INCE Foundation. I was the treasurer till a while back and I’m still on the investment committee for the Foundation. We’ve had very good contacts with George Maling. So these are some of the people that I have a lot of contact with. Now I have constant contacts through the emails with people practically all over the world. Some of them just come and say, “We’ve got one of your books and there’s an equation in there. We’d like to have you explain how you got it.” And so then you get back to them or send it on to somebody else to answer if it’s too tough for me to answer. In the meantime, there’s a fellow in England called Tim Mellow. Tim Mellow works for Nokia, the Finnish company that makes cell phones. He’s a principle acoustics guy for Nokia. So he decided he wants to do my book Acoustics over, modernize it. Acoustics, you’ll remember, not only has analog circuits in it, but it also ends up with loudspeakers and microphones and all this stuff is modern now compared to that. And you’re getting sound out of little things like this that are unbelievably understandable. I would have never thought you could do this back 30 years ago. He’s behind all of this. Then you’ve got the electret things, and other things that are coming on after that, called MEMs or some funny name like that. Modern electric kind of things that come in hearing aids very small and are now in the cell phones which are very, very small elements.
As microphone or loudspeakers?
They’re certainly are microphones. I don’t think they’re powerful enough for loudspeakers. But they’re microphones. They’re very, very small. They’re tiny. You’re getting the things that are only a quarter of an inch big, you know. Maybe even less. They’re a microphone already. And, of course, traditionally the smaller you make something, the more the noise comes up. You don’t get enough power out as you go down in size. But with these things, apparently you can get a balance between noise and power coming out. This is what made things like hearing aids possible at the small size they are. In fact, there are two microphones in each of these. So he’s now working on a redo of Acoustics, and he’d like to have me be coauthor with him. And what I told him was, “Well, let’s work together by email and you send me what you write and I’ll comment on it. Maybe I can add some things.” A lot of it will be taken right out of my original book anyhow. If it looks like there’s enough effort there we’ll call it co-authorship, and if it turns out that I do very little, you do it all, you just thank me for my assistance, and that’s the way we’ve left it. I was in England just a month or so ago and met with him, we had a long talk and he’s quite mathematically minded; he’s very capable in his math. So this will be an interesting book. Another person I want to mention is Gary Seabine. Gary now is in the architectural school at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He is dealing primarily with architects and they approach everything from the standpoint of architects. He’s doing some pretty interesting things. For example, I think it was in connection with the last Acoustical Society meeting in Oregon, he brought together architects and city planners on the subject of classroom acoustics for normal and hearing impaired children. The idea was to promote classroom acoustics to a large group, and apparently this is quite a successful meeting. So he and I correspond with each other and, in fact, he’s putting out some kind of a publication and wanted to put in some of my work in it, so we discussed how he could use it and so on.
Yes. He was the successor to Bert Kinzey who was at the same laboratory, the same department at Florida.
And, in fact, I think maybe that Bert was his thesis adviser. And of course, he’s also been very active in using scale modeling for various kinds of spaces. An interesting guy. Well, you’ve worked in so many different areas of acoustics, materials: transducers, architectural acoustics, noise control, engineering acoustics, and, of course, concert hall acoustics. Concert hall acoustics seems to have become the crowning achievement of your career despite your great success in all the others. I guess I’m wondering what it is about concert hall acoustics that has been such a draw for you. What is it about that field has been especially attractive or inspiring to you?
Well, of course, the big boost of my interest in the field came with the philharmonic hall in New York. The committee that was financing the acoustics part of this said, “Why don’t you go out and make studies around the world of what is there. Interview whoever you want. We’ll pay for the trips and all, even your fees, and learn what you can about what’s going on in the world.” So I then tried to get together all the acoustical data I could by going to the leading acousticians in every country that was making measurements. I then carried on these interviews with some 25 or 30 conductors of the world and 25 or 30 music critics of the world, and put that whole story together in the 1962 book on music acoustics and architecture. It was there that brought out the fact that the halls that are most liked by conductors in the world were the three in Vienna, Boston, and Amsterdam. Then it sort of got to be pretty obvious that rectangular halls were a successful form of getting good acoustics. A lot of this came from these interviews. Even when I spent 3, almost 4 days, with Herbert von Karajan the famous conductor, and he put a lot of time with me, talking about different halls, how he felt about them. The Philharmonic Hall in Berlin would not have been as big a success as it is if Von Karajan had not promoted the idea that surrounding the orchestra with the audience was an interesting way of presenting music rather than have everybody in front of you. He felt that the surround was an interesting variation in concert hall acoustics. So, the Philharmonic Hall now has become the beginning of these surround halls, of which the Walt Disney Hall is one example. There are beginning to be a number of others. This whole thing, working with the philharmonic hall, with the Lincoln Center people, interviews and studies, getting the data together and the pictures and drawings and getting them all to the same scale has got me so interested in this field. Then again that’s the field that I was brought into in Japan for. It was that field they wanted me in. So you keep going in it. That’s why it’s become so important: it’s because it’s been the most interesting thing I’m doing.
Is it less cut and dried than other areas of acoustics that you work in?
Well, it’s an art still. The reason it’s not cut and dried is that architects won’t copy. They don’t want to build another Boston Symphony Hall. They want to build something else original. So every architect you work with, every hall you have a chance to consult on is going to be different and you’re going to have new problems. Some of these problems then you just plain have to wing it on because there’s no data, no experience, nothing to guide you except some general ideas. You need lateral reflections. You need certain amount of reverberation. You want to have the reverberation be a certain frequency response. You need a certain loudness in the hall. The more that I work in this field, the more I believe that if you’re going to be successful concert, you ought to have somewhere between 17 and 19 hundred people in them. If you’re smaller than that, an orchestra’s too loud. If they’re bigger than 1900, you’re going to have difficulty in making them sound as good. That almost gets independent shape. Now you’re starting to get down to size being a very dominating factor in this whole thing. These kinds of things keep going on. Then, I’m still working with Hidaka in Japan. He’s still making measurements on halls and still trying to show that there’s really a basic difference in sound quality in a rectangular shoebox hall from a surround hall. He’s got various ways of looking at data, going around the hall and measuring at many positions. So far, nothing really great has come out of this because the last thing he thought he really made some progress on with a new measurement. I showed if you plotted the results of his measurement versus the volume of the halls, you’ve got almost a tight fit on a straight line. It was almost the volume of the hall that was setting what he was learning. So I keep in this field in some ways to keep it honest.
Well, you’ve come up with a number of physical measures such as the inter-aural cross correlation and the… initial time delay gap, spectral balance, loudness, and reverberation time. If you could lay down a set of such of such parameters, numerical values, where these are the desirable numbers and I go and design a hall that’s going to match those numbers, to what extent would you then feel, well, I’m comfortable with the design. Or is there, as you say, always going to be something that might be there to bite you.
Which might be the big slope of the ceiling we had to correct for. But basically I would say that I feel better about these measures if we keep the cubic volume down. If we keep it between 1900 and 1700 seats, somewhere in there, that size of hall, then I can use these other things with great confidence. The trouble is if you get to 3000 seat halls, it’s not in the shape the architect wants and it’s very difficult to fit all this stuff together. You get that feeling that you’re in a gambling game in the end with what the architect was able to do with it.
I see. So within a certain range, it’s really kind of engineering design, but you get out of that range, then it becomes very special to the individual situation —
That’s right. And the designs are tricky when the architect makes changes. If you could copy something that’s successful, that would be great, but it doesn’t happen.
They don’t want to do that. Well maybe we can get onto some more general areas. Do you have any feeling about the directions that education and training in acoustics have taken? You have been a professor and you’ve taught acoustics. Even when you weren’t a professor, you’ve done a lot a teaching. Do you have any feeling about the directions that education has taken?
We have this complicated thing in that acoustics fall across easily three departments in the university. It falls across the electrical engineering, the architectural side, and mechanical engineering. Now I’ve never said physics because physics sort of fits in with electrical and mechanical both. But mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and architecture are the three areas where education seems to come from, and they seem to get separated. You can’t quite combine the three. So when you teach acoustics to architects, it’s very different than the acoustics you teach in an electrical engineering course.
Or a mechanical.
Or a mechanical course. And you get interesting things. You saw this recent book. The RPI guy (Ning Xiang) was a coauthor on it.
Yes, with Jens Blauert
Right. Absolutely, I look and get so distressed when the first thing I see is a mass that’s floating with one end free. The mass is in the open air, and you’ve got to put that in circuits somehow, floating up there —
And you can only put a ground on it when you go in the mobility form and they won’t mention the mobility form. They want to stick with the acoustic impedance and, of course, you don’t put one side of the mass to ground with acoustic impedances. It seems to me that they disregard the sort of thing that I found in my acoustics book was a way of keeping this whole affair straight. Try and keep your design things well in hand. You understand them.
I have to say that I taught out of your acoustics book when I was in Minnesota and I learned an enormous amount by doing that. You make this point yourself. When you go to Hunt or Ted Hueter’s book, you have an acoustical side of the system, you have an electrical side, and then there’s some sort of transformation, matrix or something that couples them. You point out in your book how you can so easily handle this by having a single circuit that has the electrical side and a mechanical side and the same circuit with a transformer. It’s amazing that it is used a lot, but how unknown that seems to be to so many acousticians.
Well I was surprised that this new book disregards the mobility thing completely. They don’t want to think about it.
And in order to do these transducers problems, you have to be willing to think about both mobility and impedance and also such things as on the electrical side having circuits in which voltage is the flow and current is the drop. Whoever heard of a circuit like that?
That’s right. In fact I had trouble with some of my students when I first talked about that.
Yes. Well, we’re here sitting here at Acentech, which is an acoustical consulting firm. There are other acoustical consulting firms in the Boston area and of course across the country. Many have been, in some way or another, spin-offs from BBN. You and Dick Bolt and Bob Newman formed a company at a very propitious time. But these companies seem to continue to be successful and grow. Do you have any comments on what it takes to have a successful consulting firm in the field of acoustics. Any suggestions that somebody reading this later on might want to follow?
Of course, I get puzzled by the fact that you can keep adding more of them all the time. For example, I was just hearing for the first time that there’s been a breakout group away from Kirkegaard in Chicago, a new group setting up there called Enterprise or something. It’s surprising to me that you can take these firms and pull pieces of them off and they can start up and get going again. And the original one still seems to keep going. Now, I don’t know how the Jaffe Holden thing is going to turn out. Jaffe helped build that company and made it very famous. Now he quits and comes to Acentech. I don’t know how that’s going to work out. That’s a little bit of a puzzle to me. So I guess what I’m saying is I see an increase in the use of acoustical consultants worldwide. Architects tend to call them in now — anybody who is going to build something, an apartment house and so on. The hotel we’re in hired Acentech and they have made that really a quiet place. I have heard no noise from anywhere else in that building. The next condo over us, the guy’s got three dogs. When I go down the hall outside the doors into the corridor, I can hear the dogs barking inside, but there’s not a sound of barking that comes through the common wall into our place, we hear no footprints, no scraping. It’s beautifully engineered thing done with the help of Acentech. So what I’m saying is there seems to be more and more organizations willing to put money into good acoustical consulting and making sure the details are followed out.
I think we’d better stop.
We’re talking about the acoustical consulting businesses. There’s one thing that bothers me, and that is that it seems to me that so much of building, which includes education, concert halls, public buildings and so on, is being done in the Asian countries, and I’m not sure that we can handle that business from so far away. And yet if you try to go into China and set up a company, you’ll find that it’s not going to work out too well because the Chinese have the idea that they really don’t want outside help, and they’ll learn all they can from you and then discard you. Also they’re somewhat dishonest. They’re liable not only to discard you, but they won’t pay your share of the money. The Chinese are basically a dishonest society. They even cheat each other, and they’re sort of happy about it. The normal way you operate in the world is to be a little bit cleverer than the other guy, including your closest friends. Then that’s why you find that funny business going on in China right now. The government is claiming that certain big operators are crooked and they’re investigating them and the papers are full of this right now. But the Chinese have always been crooked. Then the government can catch a few of them to make a case out of it, but they aren’t really serious. They let all this go on anyhow. The result is only a few people are successful over there and they are mainly the biggest companies who have so much sales power that the Chinese don’t dare to become dishonest with them. But when they are smaller, they’re unlikely to even get paid for what’s happening. So the Western world working over there is not an easy goal, and I don’t know where this will end because so much of the construction, so much of the new business, is going to be in the Asian countries and that’s where the activities is. You wish you were there.
I know Acentech has been talking to a potential partner in China. I don’t know how that’s going, but it’s certainly seeing the possibility of a market. Maybe by working with some company that is established there, they can get around some of these problems —
Well, they might find that they don’t get crooked, but it’s such a dangerous country to do business with because they’re basic philosophy is to be crooked.
Well, maybe it comes from the fact that during the so many years, the only way you got anything done was to pay someone a bribe. Subject: research, consulting, and industry. The consulting business has a certain level of activity, but because it tends to be job to job, you don’t get a lot of basic research done. I remember that at BBN, it was kind of bootlegged. You had a lot of projects and somehow out of all those projects, you could pull some themes and maybe write a paper. The industry, in terms of its acoustical activities, tends to be very specialized in terms of their work with acoustics. In other words, if there is a microphone, hearing aid, or driver company, they spend a lot of effort and time on that, but it’s a very narrow activity. Teaching depends on the research funds that are available, in particular for the Graduate level, where anybody who is going to get a doctorate or a Master’s Degree is supported by research funds that come into the University. These may or may not be terribly related to consulting or the needs of industry. You’ve been involved in some degree in all of these aspects. I wonder if you have any observations in terms of how it might be improved, how we might have a broader support of activities for acoustics. I’ve left out the military in my comments, which is also big. The Navy In particular supports a lot of research. Where is all this going?
Well, one small hint we have — the National Academy of Engineering with George Maling as the head guy is putting a big report now on the — let’s see, I don’t know quite what words to use here — on how the government ought to finance acoustics really is what it’s talking about. But it’s narrowing down to acoustics as affects hearing, and in particular damage to hearing, industrial noise, how they can work on noises like airplane noises and so on, how they can figure out measuring techniques or methods that can allow you to rate the noise that comes from different kinds of machinery so if you’re going to buy machinery, you can know for sure how noisy it’s going to be. It’s a big report that’s coming out that covers about half a dozen areas in acoustics. It’s trying to show how the different branches of government who now are independently doing things, ought to be working together too. Maybe acoustics ought to be focused through EPA rather than being separated in different divisions. This report will be out, I think, by the 1st of next year. I’ve read portions of it and it seems that there are some arguments there that the government ought to put together a more centralized focus on acoustics and try to be of more help to small companies to make their products quieter, how to make measurements on products that are more meaningful, and how to combine the efforts of government (they focus on things like aircraft noise and so on) as a combined government thing, rather than have it get separated in different compartments. It’s an interesting study.
One of the things that comes out of that, of course, is the fact that the support in activities are so uneven because aircraft research has a whole agency behind it like NASA whereas the guy who’s trying to develop a quieter leaf blower is on his own.
Exactly. That’s part of what’s in the report, of course. Well, that is one way that the research question is being looked at. We’re always going to have more interest from somebody like the military where they see a need and they’ve got money. The military has always got money to spend. If they see a need, they’re going to put the money there. Whereas, if you’re in the housing industry or something, they may see a need, but they don’t have any money to finance it or don’t think they do. That’s my feeling. Now with consulting, there are different techniques of course for making a consulting business successful. One of the important techniques is to have successes and the successes get to be projected outward so people say that a company does this kind of thing well. We’ll get them to work on our problem. That’s the way the BBN succeeded because we started off doing just plain building acoustics. Then we went in to the jet age with test cells and the quieting of airplanes and the big project we had with the Port Authority where we got mufflers put on the new jets. And then classroom acoustics came to be more important with time as working again really with architects. But you have to get the buyer interested in getting good classroom acoustics or they won’t get done. So there is this business of getting to be known for doing certain things. I think that in effect, Acentech has suffered from not trading on the Bolt Beranek and Newman name because I thought that was already a pretty good trademark and you have to establish your name anew in Acentech, but I think it’s being done now.
They’re certainly make their connections to the BBN background very much —
Yes, I know, but Acentech is the name that you’re selling. Now, I’ve been showing Ben (Markham) how the Japanese firm, Nagata Acoustics, operates. They put out an email newsletter once a month in both Japanese and English. Maybe in other languages, I don’t know, but at least I know it’s in Japanese and English. I get the English version. They talk about one of their projects each month and they send this to an enormous mailing list they put together. They’re trying to advertise through email. I don’t know what the result of this is. Certainly, Nagata Acoustics is the only successful acoustics consulting firm in Japan. They made themselves be known by everybody. Could you do something similar to that in the United States or is the cost so great that you don’t think you would recover it?
I don’t think the cost is that great. Generally, by having an email newsletter, that’s a very inexpensive way to —
You have to get the mailing list together.
You have to get the mailing list together, that’s right.
That’s the main thing.
But I think Acentech probably does have a pretty good mailing list.
Well, I’ve been sending the Nagata things to Ben to read. What he’s concluding in my talk with him on this, I feel that they’ve gotten their name out and their job’s successful and their different jobs out so Japan knows really knows what they are, who they are, and where their work is going, where you can go look at it even. And that might not be a bad way to approach it if you can afford to. I don’t know what the costs are. The only thought that I’ve had, other than concert hall acoustics, has been in the area of sound from small things. I’m amazed about how much sound you get out of the cell phones. You can understand what is coming out from a little hole in the thing. It’s not coming from a big radiating surface. I don’t fully understand how you can get that good a sound out of such small things. Now, Tim Mellow that I’m working with who’s at Nokia, the acoustics guy, he’s of course very concerned about these things. He’s working, for example, at taking the display and making that be perforated so you can radiate sound out of bigger area and still have a picture. So this is something he’s playing with as well as looking at how you get sound out of these. Where’s the little hole on this that it’s coming out of? You probably can’t find the hole it’s so small. The facts are that these little radiating things are getting a lot of intelligibility out of it. I’d like to know more about that area.
It doesn’t seem that you can pump enough volume velocity to get that much sound.
That’s right. I say maybe what the Nokia guy’s thinking can increase the radiation by combining the display and the radiator somehow.
Well, people, of course, have done something like that with laptop computers where they make the screen a radiating surface. We did some work with a company several years ago that was interested in doing that. So I guess maybe the last question I had was legacy thoughts of the future. What do you hope to be remembered for? When people think of you in the future, what would you like them to think?
Well, I think that my memoir Riding the Waves sort of puts that forward. There are two things. On the personal side, I’d like to have people feel that I tried to do a good job and that I was sympathetic and fair in the way I dealt with other people, and that we set up certain basic principles that were followed and they were good principles. But mainly that I got along with people and built things that worked to get a better world to live in. That’s sort of the way I’d like to be remembered. I guess the fact that I still write things indicates that I would like my work to be seen still. I don’t like to go into a hole and die. That is part of why I’m even suggesting going to Australia and teaching for a week or something. You still want to be useful. You like to do something that’s worthwhile, something that’s wanted.
Have you ever been forced to not work for a significant period like a week or two weeks? Is the process of work and producing something, whether it’s a technical paper or a new fund raising activity for the symphony, the process of being involved with a goal. Does that continue to be a driving force for you?
Oh yes, I think so. Trying to solve a problem, working with Hidaka, I’m very interested in seeing if there really are some advantages that we can measure in, say, a rectangular hall compared to a surround hall. So far, most things we come up with say that if you make them small enough, there’s not going to be a great deal of difference. We can make them sound alike. We haven’t got a good measure for taking the large halls and comparing them in shape and that’s what we’re seeking right now. So there is an inquisitiveness there, but I can’t do it alone. I have to have somebody who’s taking data and getting information. I’m not getting information and new data. It has to come from somebody else. And Hidaka apparently is willing to do something on this. His company actually spent some time on that.
So it’s not a paying project at the moment?
No, I don’t think it is for him. Certainly, not for me.
Well, anything else before we sign off?
Well, I can’t think of anything we ought to talk about. The only thing that the Acoustical Society is doing relative to me is they’re putting a disc out. You know about this, do you?
No, I don’t.
Well, they’re going to put out a series of discs. The first one is for Isidore Rudnick. And I’m the second one, I think. is going to be Harvey Fletcher next, or somebody. And take everything they’ve ever done and put it on one disc. That means even taking the pages of all the books and putting them there. So my stuff is pretty much down at the American Institute of Physics, and I talked with Elaine Moran the other day, and she said that they wanted to get the Rudnick thing done first so they understand all the problems and that my stuff is there and ready to put into the disc. Actually, (Bill) Cavanaugh has helped them put this together. He took an interest in getting this disc made. I’m not quite sure why he put that much time in it, but he sort of worked hard on looking up papers and books and making lists for them and sending them to me to be corrected. So they have all the books now, so they can transcribe them in there page by page.
My goodness. Are they taking an electronic version of your book or are they scanning it?
They’re scanning the book. Of course, for the old books, there’s no electronic version. I expect on the new ones there are. So this disc will come out sometime in the next five years. I don’t know just when.
Yes. Well, we look forward to it.
I don’t know anybody who would be interested, but at least for each of these characters; it will be a life history. That’s what it’s for.
See, the oral histories don’t get anything like the book histories.
No, of course not. Okay. Well Leo, thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.