Acoustical Society of America
Wallace Clement Sabine Award - 1961

Leo L. Beranek

Up to this day Leo L. Beranek has devoted his entire professional life to acoustics and has had successes such as come only rarely to a scientist. Again and again one is surprised how wide his interests are. From pure physical acoustics to building construction, from the mathematical theory of room acoustics to the construction of concert halls, from psychoacoustics and information theory to noise abatement everywhere his achievements have been outstanding. His textbooks, lectures and papers, published since 1939, are well known all over the world, and his advice is sought for and appreciated in many countries. Such universal (in the true sense of the word) minds have become very rare these days; too often it is believed that new contributions to science are possible only in a very specialized and narrow field.

In this wide acoustical world there is now one special subject on which Leo L. Beranek has set his heart and inquisitive mind: Auditorium acoustics. This is much more than a pure coincidence. In the first place, since the time of Wallace C. Sabine, Cambridge has been the genus loci for concert hall acoustics. But perhaps the factor that most determined Dr. Beranek's interest is that art and science join in this subject. Here, the acoustician must not only know the laws of sound waves but must deal with all the manifold and complex psychological problems involved in listening to music. This task is fascinating and rewarding, but it is also difficult and requires capabilities extending far beyond simple physical and technical knowledge and thinking.

By tireless work, Leo L. Beranek has accumulated data and material on the subject for years. He has measured and tested well known concert halls throughout the world; he has listened to concerts everywhere; he has interviewed conductors, musicians, critics and the public; and he has finally analyzed this tremendous amount of information and has carefully classified it. In this way it has been possible to translate the musician's language into that of the physicist's. For example, if the musician talks about the "intimacy" or "presence" of a hall, then the acoustician should know that the time difference between the appearance of the direct sound and the first reflections is meant; that "warmth" is dependent on the relation between the reverberation times at the low and at the middle frequencies; that "liveness" is determined by the reverberation time above 250 cps, etc.

Today, various publications bear witness to the success of these new findings, and they are, what is more important, being confirmed in construction. Furthermore, we know that Dr. Beranek has for several years been working on a book Acoustics of Halls for Music, a monumental work which promises to be of determining influence for coming generations of architects and acousticians.

Auditorium acoustics is, perhaps, the last field of architectural acoustics where fundamental problems are still awaiting their solution. A scientist who enriches our understanding of this fascinating field closes thereby an important gap in the knowledge of acoustics. No one knows more in this field than the man whom we honor this day with the Wallace Clement Sabine award, and no one seems more likely to find the solutions to the remaining tasks and mysteries.

Willi Furrer
Bern, Switzerland
Professor, Technical University of Zurich
and President, International Commission on Acoustics