Monday, October 17, 2016

Leo Beranek

The polymath Leo Beranek has died at the astounding age of 102. To the extent that I was aware he was still alive, I had no idea of his great age.

Beranek was a computer pioneer, one of the developers of the Arpanet, without which we might not have the Internet as we know it, and thus you might not be reading me right now. But that's not the reason he's appearing here. From the Times obit:
Dr. Beranek was a sought-after acoustics genius, and Bolt, Beranek & Newman’s first contract was to design the acoustics of the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York. He also improved the acoustic environment in such landmark concert venues as the Koussevitzky Music Shed at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Mass., and Philharmonic Hall (now David Geffen Hall) at Lincoln Center in New York.
Philharmonic Hall has been an ongoing acoustical disaster, and BBN did the original design. The problems were not their fault: the NY Phil board wanted more seats and the only practical way to get them was to extend the length of the hall, which is what made the acoustics such a problem. The obit doesn't mention Davies Symphony Hall in SF, which BBN also designed, and which also is problematic. The acoustician Christopher Blair helpfully discussed these two halls when he wrote a series of guest posts at Adaptistration in 2009; at that point, I had to stop ranting about and blaming Beranek, given the NYPO board and the state of the art when Davies was built.

RIP, Leo Beranek, and thank you for your work in areas of interest to me.


kalimac said...

If those photos in Blair's third post are of the Nashville hall he's discussing there, that is the most stunningly 19th-century performing hall design I've seen since - well, since the 19th century. Just goes to show how the old ways are sometimes the best.

Bing Hall at Stanford is an extremely new-fangled design, with acoustics foremost and handled with great sophistication, or so I was told at the press viewing before it opened. And much of it is indeed excellent acoustically. But there are bad seats in Bing, and I know where they are, because I've sat all over it.

Lisa Hirsch said...

No "if" about it. From Blair's third post, above the first photo:

"As an example of how this can work, I would like to return now to our experience in developing the Nashville Symphony project, to highlight the organizational elements that led to what the Wall Street Journal referred to in its review of the opening as the “most successful auditorium built in a century”."

kalimac said...

That doesn't say that the photos are of the same hall. I'd guess they are, and image Googling seems to confirm it, but I've seen strange cases of articles with photos that are actually of something else than what the article is talking about ...