Glenn D. White Acoustician
By Erik 4-A
Reprinted w/ permission of Tape Op Magazine. Copyright 2003/4
PREFACE: This is the Complete and Un-Edited for length (or content) version of my Interview with acoustician Glenn D. White, published in issue #38 of Tape Op Magazine. No Part of this Interview may be reproduced without the permision of the author or the interviewee.
All photos are property of their respective photgraphers and are used only for the examples of this particular article, so No Stealing!
-Erik 4-A -2004-
Glenn D. White has had a long and varied career in acoustics, sound re-enforcement, education, studio design and piano and organ repair for over 40 years. He has worked with people such as Kearney Barton (of Audio Recording Inc.) and acoustics genius Paul Veneklasen, and he did the sound for The Beatles at the Coliseum in August of 1964! He also wrote a textbook called, The Audio Dictionary [published by UW Press, İ1987, İ1991 ISBN 0-295-97088-X] that is now going into its third edition. All in all quite a range of experience for someone who was born on a wheat farm in Kansas and grew up on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. With a wry sense of humor, he sat down and answered my many questions.
What is your earliest audio related memory?
When I was about three or four, I used to go out in the kitchen and I would pull my mother's pan lids out of the cabinets, and I'd spin them on the floor and listen to them. You know how when you spin the pan lid it would go, [makes a noise] 'WRRM-WRRM-WRRM!' and they all sounded different. They all had different pitches and different characteristics and different lengths... I was fascinated by that.
What pulled you into audio?
I've always been interested in sound... that just seemed like the most important sense to me ever since I was a kid.
Where were you born? What was your family's background?
I was born on a wheat farm in Lewis Kansas. (in 1933) My father was born in the same town... he wasn't much of a farmer, he liked technical stuff. He built the first radio station in Kansas in about 1920. He also built a movie theater, and he got a job with Western Electric going around the country; this is a few years later in the later 20's, and putting sound heads on existing projectors and putting sound into theaters.
Where did you go to school?
We moved to Seattle when I was six years old. I went to Queen Anne High School and then I went to the University of Washington, majoring in Physics. I got my degree in 1955.
Were there classes in acoustics and how did you find out about them?
I investigated the Physics Department at the University of Washington and I found out that Professor Kenworthy was an Acoustician. I read a couple of the papers he had written for the Acoustical Society of the American Journal, and I thought he was a really sharp guy. I was offered a scholarship at Wazzu (Washington State University) for their Physics Department, but they didn't have any acoustics guy and they didn't have any Acoustics curriculum either. It wasn't that expensive to go to school in those days and I lived on Queen Anne Hill with my folks... Dr. Kenworthy was my advisor.
What was your first job?
The first real job that I had after I graduated was at the Boeing Company. I had hoped to be able to get a job in their Acoustics Lab, but they were not hiring anybody at the time. However, right next door to it was the Vibration Lab, in the same building (this was at the old Plant 1 building Boeing facility), so I took a job in the Vibration Lab. They had an opening in the Tape Room, which is where they did Data Analysis (handling all the data that has been recorded on tapes. Mostly data from accelerometers and velocity probes and occasionally microphones). I liked that; I knew how tape recorders worked. I stayed there for about 8 years. When I left there Boeing, I was in charge of Instrumentation for their Environmental Test Lab.
Why did you leave your first Job?
I left my first job to become the first Sound Engineer at the Seattle Center, the location of the Seattle World's Fair of 1962. I heard about the position from Lou Guzzo's column in the Seattle Times (Lou was the music Critic for the Seattle Times [back then]) and he was writing a series of articles about the construction of the Seattle Center Opera House. He had interviewed Paul Veneklasen who was the Acoustician. That's the first I had heard of Veneklasen, who was doing the acoustics at the Opera House. I was intrigued with that, in fact I was just nuts about getting there and seeing what they were doing (of course you couldn't do that during the construction). Guzzo said that the Opera House was going to look for a Sound Engineer to work with Veneklasen, to do some more acoustical changes at the Seattle Center and also to be in charge for Sound Re-enforcement for the entire Seattle Center. In other words, head up the Sound Department. I found out that 140 other people also applied for it. I figured well, I'll take my chances. I was interviewed by Paul Veneklasen and also the Opera House architctect B. Marcus Priteka (Ben, as he liked to be called), was there and he was a great guy and very sharp, he was old [then], but just a super guy. Anyway, I became theSound Engineer [at the Seattle Center].
Who was Paul Veneklasen?
I met him because he interviewed me for the job at the Seattle Center. He was an Acoustician, who lived in Santa Monica and he studied at UCLA. He had been a student of Vern Knudsen, who was the relatively well-known Acoustician that had worked with Harvey Fletcher in the old days (The Bell Labs acoustics guy, who had many, many patents and many accolades over the years and the father of the famous Fletcher/Munson effect [A historic study dealing with how humans selectively hear things]). I met Harvey Fletcher once. He was about ninety and wasn't in very good health, but he still had a certain spark of intelligence to him.
Paul Veneklasen and I had a nice relationship because we seemed to speak the same language and we seemed to think the same way; I learned a tremendous amount about acoustics from him. He was really my mentor in architectural acoustics. Kenworthy was a theoretician, and I got all the theory and all the rigor from him, but as far as practical acoustics was concerned Veneklasen is where I really learned that.
What is your most significant memory of working with Paul Veneklasen?
One thing that was really impressive was that he designed a wooden exponential horn to replace the horns that Altec/Lansing was using on their drivers (and also JBL). It is made out of wood, it's his own design and it is the most amazing thing. It is an 800 Hz cutoff horn, it's multi-cellular, with 8 cells and I swear it doesn't sound like a horn. You could never tell that you were listening to a horn by listening through this thing. I was amazed by that.
The sad part of it is, after I left the Seattle Center... they took out those beautiful wooden [Veneklasen] horns; just recently I was able to dig two of those wooden horns out of the surplus junk they have down there.
What effect did working with Paul Venklasen have on you?
It taught me a tremendous amount about auditorium acoustics. Also about the politics of dealing with architects, which was (and still is) a real problem with a lot acousticians. Mostly he was my mentor.
How long did you work at the Seattle Center? What is your most significant experience there?
I was there for five years [1963-1968]. The most memorable experience was when I was doing the sound for The Beatles in 1964 in the Seattle Center Coliseum. That was a monumental experience in my life. I had no idea what to expect. I was amazed at the audience reaction of course. It was great experience.
First of all, in 1964 bands like The Beatles and all the other bands didn't travel with their own sound systems. They relied on what was in the venue where they were performing. The Beatles sent two guys from New York ahead of them. They wanted to talk to me and they wanted to talk to the security people, because they knew that security was going to be a big problem. They knew the crush of humanity that would occur as soon as the Beatles came into town. Of course we had no experience with that, because we'd never had anything like that happen at the Seattle Center. They asked me about the sound system, and they said, 'Can you augment the system to make it just as loud as possible. Getting the music over the noise of the audience is going to be really difficult.' and I said, 'Well yeah, we have quite a bit of equipment around here, so we can add to the system.' So I did that. All of our amplifiers in those days were tube amplifiers. All of the amplifiers in the Coliseum were 80 Watts each. So I added three Altec/Lansing 300 Hz two cell horns (model 203, on 288 C Altec drivers). I put two of those, one on top of the other facing one of them back to cover the far end of the auditorium, the other one facing down a little bit to cover the far end of the main floor. Then we had some 800 Hz. horns also Altecs. They were 805s, two rows of 4 cells each, and I had one of them pointed right down on the stage so that The Beatles could hear themselves and also cover the audience close to the stage. The speaker cluster was right above the stage.
Was that the "State of the Art" P.A. system circa 1964?
Well I don't know about that, there may have been more powerful systems elsewhere, but I couldn't go out and buy anything. I had to scrounge amplifiers from other locations around the Seattle Center and put them in there. Each of those horns was driven by its own 80 Watt amplifier and the woofers were JBL 15' woofers and I don't remember how many we had, but we put them into the same cluster."
How did you overcome all that screaming?
We didn't. During the screaming, the sound system was inaudible... It was a big wave of screaming and then that would die down until they could hear a few words and then there came another wave of screaming and so on for the entire twenty-two minutes the Beatles were on stage.
I used EV655C microphones for the 4 performers. I used 1 mic for Ringo and his drums. Those are omni directional dynamic microphones. Very good quality dynamic microphones. The Beatles were really intrigued by that.
They said, 'These microphones are so small. How come they're so small?'
I said, 'They're small because they sound better when they're small.'
'Oh is that so, really? No kidding!'
Ringo tapped the mic with his drum stick! He'd say, 'Is this really working?' [makes a sound] (tick-tick)."
Were they actually able to hear themselves on stage from the way you set things up?
That must have been a surprise for them.
The only opportunity they had to rehearse with the sound system was very short. What they did was spend a lot of time in their dressing rooms practicing. I was floored by that. I went back there and listened at their door and they went over and over all the tunes they were going to use. They were really tight, really precise. I was very impressed by their ability and their musicianship. They knew exactly what they were doing.
How did you deal with the hysteria?
I just put in ear plugs and tolerated it.
The Coliseum was set up with sort of stadium seating, portable seating all the way around on the floor underneath the permanent concrete tiers. There were girls in the audience that would hide underneath the stands hoping they could stay there until the whole thing was over and be able to touch one of The Beatles, or something like that. Of course, the cops just kept running them out of there. It was also the time when the audience liked to throw peanuts in their shells at Ringo. One of them bounced off his shoulder and because it bounced off toward me (along side the stage) I caught it. I took that peanut and I gave it to a ten year old friend of the family and she treasured that peanut for years and years [laughs].
Did you get to meet the Beatles? What were they like?
Very serious, as far as knowing what they wanted to do. They were curious. They were good guys. I was impressed with them. They didn't seem to be arrogant at all. They liked to joke around. They joked around a lot with themselves. But they were really serious and they all agreed on what they wanted to do and how they were going to do it. There was no quibbling or anything like that.
Did you get any souvenirs and/or autographs from them?
No. I probably could have gotten their autographs. At the Press Conference, of course there was a pretty high stress level among the [crowd]. Pat O'Day was being inundated by requests for all kinds of favors.
Paul dropped his guitar pick on the stage at the end of their set, and both I and my assistant sound guy (his name is Dick Lavers), ran for it. He beat me to it and picked up Paul's pick and he still has it.
Did this affect your life in any way? or your opinion of popular music at the time?
No, I wouldn't say so. I certainly enjoyed it, I certainly liked their music. It was before 'A Hard Day's Night' came out, which was also 1964. I really enjoyed that movie, having dealt with them, because it was very realistic as far as the audience was concerned.
A GIF of a 1964 article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about The Beatles at the Edgewater Hotel
Also, another link to a great Seattle Beatles related website here.
What other big artists did you work with while at the Seattle Center? What challenges did you face doing each show?
I liked to experiment with stereophonic reinforcement, but that didn't go over well with a lot of performers. That was something new and they didn't want to risk trying it. But, I convinced the Smothers Brothers to use three channel stereo. I set three [EV]655Cs on a mic stand, and when they were doing their thing together, one of them was more in one mic than the other so they were actually reinforced in stereo. The center mic (the mic that was halfway between them) acted like a center fill. It really sounded good. It sounded very realistic out in the auditorium. The audience seemed to be very happy with it. Even the critics said they thought the sound was unusually good at this particular event.
The [Seattle] Opera House had the first stereophonic sound system in a permanent installation in the country [in 1963]. It was three channel stereo. It had two of these Veneklasen horns in each channel and three 15" JBL woofers for each channel. Plus, we had a fourth channel, which was the soloist reinforcement channel, a portable speaker with the same horns and same woofers, that we could hang at various locations on the stage or put it on the stage and wheel it around. We used it like a monitor. It was really fun experimenting with that new system,because it was the only stereo system in the country used for sound re-enforcement. Veneklasen, of course , was also interested in our experience with it, because it was the first one he had designed.
After I left the Seattle Center [in 1968]... they quit using it as a stereo system. They just paralleled everything.
We supported a lot of shows in the old Ice Arena (now it's just called the Arena). We also had a three channel system in there, that was designed by Veneklasen and installed after I started working there. I made sure that the contractor did everything correctly and everything met specs.
We had a lot of shows down in the Arena. We had Joan Baez, who had this unknown guy with her named Bob Dylan. They said it was his first public performance. He played harmonica and sang. I thought, wow that's kind of a strange guy! But he was good and nice to deal with!
Did you do sound for any NW bands (i.e. The Sonics, The Wailers,etc...)?
There were a lot of local groups too. One group I liked was Paul Revere & the Raiders. I think they were from Portland. Their drummer [Michael "Smitty" Smith, RIP, 1942-2001] was terrific.
Another interesting thing about drummers, we had was the Beach Boys in the Colluseum and we use the same sound system that we had used for The Beatles. I notice at the rehearsal that the drummer was reading music. I had never seen a Rock drummer have a score before, but he did.
So I asked him afterwards, 'How come you are using music? I never saw a Drummer use music before!'
He says,'I'm not their drummer. Their drummer so'n'so [Dennis Wilson] is sick. They just got me at the last minute and I had no idea what we were doing, so I'm just sight reading all this stuff.'
I said,'Your Kidding!'
and he said,'No, I'm just sight reading it.'
He was good, I don't remember his name."
We [also] had the Wailers. I don't remember the Sonics. We had Little Stevie Wonder (as they called him in those days). He performed in the Opera House, not the Coliseum.
What was your favorite concert that you did sound for? Who was it? Why?
That's a hard one. I enjoyed lots of them. One that was memorable was Stan Kenton in the Opera House. His concert was a part of the National Music Educators Convention. The place was full of music teachers. Stan Kenton is about six foot five [inches tall] and he has these huge long arms, he was a terrific conductor. Boy, he was good! His ear was absolutely acute; he really knew what he was doing. His arrangements were all really unusual and really good.
Another one I really enjoyed was Jack Benny, playing the violin with the Seattle Symphony.
Jack Benny? Playing the violin?
Yes, it was a benefit concert.[laughs]
Because they usually told me Jack Benny couldn't play his violin very well.
Oh yeah, he was a good violinist. He wasn't Heifetz of course, but he could play the notes. He was not an amateur violinist. He really could play, but he pretended like he couldn't play. Like he walked out on the stage with his violin (and I had a mic for him), the orchestra started and played for a bit and his part wasn't for about a minute into it, and he forgot his bow so he had to walk back to get it. The concert was a riot [laughs]. That kinda stuff. They played the last movement of the Weniowsky concerto, and near the end, the tempo speeds up, and Benny shouted 'NOT SO FAST' a couple of times. After the final chord, Benny kept on playing furiously for about five or six measures
Why did you decide to leave working at the Seattle Center?
Well by 1968 all of the new sound systems at the Seattle Center had been installed; Food Circus and the Arena and the Coliseum was up to snuff by that time. I was offered a job by Bill Bergsma, the director of the Music School at the University of Washington to become the University Acoustician. Also, I would have an instructorıs position in the Arts & Sciences department. I would teach a course in Electronic Music and Recording and Reproduction of Music and Musical Acoustics. So I thought, 'Wow that's good, I would like to do that', so I quit the [Seattle] Center, and went to the University. I was there for thirteen years. That was a very good job; I really enjoyed working with the kids.
How did you come to meet Kearney Barton of Audio Recording Inc.?
Well he was around for a long, long time. When I was in school he was around. I don't remember how I met him. I knew when he moved his studio from downtown up to 5th Avenue about Cedar St [2227 5th Ave]. He rented some space in there and he called me and wanted me to look at the space to see if he could put a studio in there. So I went down and looked at it and I said, 'Oh yeah you have plenty of space here.' He wanted to turn it into a studio, but he didn't really have a lot of money. We designed a control room and put that in, and then he also wanted some reverb chambers, so we built three reverb chambers in back behind his studio. They are nice big chambers; they're about fifteen feet tall, three of them side by side, isolated from each other. Nice sounding chambers, they are still there, but Kearney isn't there anymore and I think the present tenant is using them for storage.
What were Recording Studios like in the 60s, in Seattle?
There was a lot of two channel stuff around, but Kearney wanted three channels and he wanted me to build him a console. I had help doing that. My assistant at the Seattle Center was an excellent electronics technician, Ken Heidt. Ken and I built a console for Kearney [which he still owns and uses!]. The year was 1965 when we installed that console. It is a total custom job. The top plate is an aluminum panel that is engraved, and if you look in one of the corners the engraving has a little glitch in it. That was caused by the 1965 earthquake [laughs]. The guy was engraving it when the earthquake hit [more laughter]. So that is the reason I remember that it was 1965.
The console uses all Langevin pots and passive graphic equalizers. It's only three channels and everything is interconnected by patch cords, which I thought was a good idea, that's what we had at the Seattle Center in the Opera House and the Arena also.
What made Kearney's Place so special? What was significant about it?
The console sounds very good. It has those Langevin pre-amps, which are push-pull from the input to the output. It's two channels in parallel on every pre-amp; they are very quiet and sound really good. They hardly overload, but if you do overload them they smoothly overload; they don't sound bad when you do that. The line amps were also Langevin and a very good design. I thought they were quite a bit better than the Altec designs at that time. I think the electronics in there were good. For tape recorders he had Ampex 351-2[track] and he also bought a 3-track Ampex MR70, a half-inch machine. He didn't use that very much because nobody wanted 3-track. Kearney still has that machine at his present studio and he converted it to 4-track, and he took out that 3-track head assembly, which is still almost brand new.
What about the room?
We had to use the room as the size that it was. It was fairly decent sized [750-800 square feet]. We built a control room adjacent to it, not very deep but it was wide; space was limited. It sounded all right. We put some fiberglass on the walls at various locations to get rid of echoes and stuff. The cement slab went from his studio to the neighbor to the south who had a woodworking shop and all of his tools sitting on the concrete floor. His machinery would transmit vibration though the floor and into Kearney's studio. We built another wall right across in front of the existing wall, and isolated that. Kearney finally got the neighbor to put cork pads under his equipment to lower the vibration from them.
Were there any other obstacles that needed to be overcome?
The place was not very sound proof. Aircraft noise was a problem. Once in a while a loud airplane could be heard in the studio.
Kearney used [Altec] A-7's for monitors in there, three of them. I thought they sounded awful, but he was used to them.
How many reverb chambers did Kearney have at Audio Recording Inc?
There were Three. They were similar in size, but with different shapes, so they had different characteristics. They didn't sound all the same but they weren't drastically different. If you wanted stereo reverb, Kearney decided that that he wanted three-channel reverb (use one for each channel on his three channel system). The problem is, since they were different shapes, the reverbs didn't sound identical. It's much better of putting three mics in one of them and spacing the mics out.
What are some basic principles of acoustics to remember when designing and/or building a recording studio?
In general, a recording studio should be as big as you can afford to make it. There is no such thing as a recording studio that is too big, but there are lots of them that are too small. If it's small then it has to be really dead. Otherwise, the room mode resonances of the place will interact with the music. The bigger it is, the more densely packed the natural frequencies are; they're not so strong in a big room. Itıs the boundary reflections and to a lesser extent the reverberation of the room that gives it its acoustic and musical character. If you get rid of that by making it completely dead you might as well perform out in the middle of the desert, you don't get sound coming back.
A lot of people make mistakes in the ceilings in recording studios. The ceiling should be a diffuser, or a relatively good absorber, because you don't want a specular reflection off the ceiling. I have been in lots and lots of studios that had just plane surface ceilings, even if angled, if it is a plane surface, itıs not good.
Do you have to spend lots of money to get good acoustics?
Lots of money is a relative term depending on who you are talking to [laughs]. It depends on the requirements. If you have a sound isolation problem then it is going to be a lot more expensive to control that. You have to take special pains to isolate the noise sources from the studio and control room. That requires multiple walls and it requires special treatment of those walls, etc... .
What is important to remember about Control Room Acoustics?
Control room acoustics: that's a controversial subject. Nobody seems to agree on what they should be. You have the Live End/Dead End controversy (where one end should be live and the other end dead). That is a non-symmetrical acoustical space, and I don't think it sounds very good in either location, either at the live end or the dead end. I think the control room has to be deader than the studio is, because you don't want the natural acoustics of the control room to interfere with what you are monitoring. You want to hear what the studio sound is. It should be dead, the whole place should be relatively dead. In my opinion, a live end is not a good idea.
Is it a matter of taste?
You have to design the studio to satisfy the guy who is paying the bill. It isn't always to my liking, but if it is to the customer's liking then that is O.K. with me.
Are there a lot of Flavor of the Month ideas that come through when you are working with a customer?
That's what the Live End/Dead end thing was. That was the fad for a while.
What monitors do you like and/or dislike? Is placement essential?
Placement is essential for sure, and you have to experiment to find that out. As far as like or dislike I really don't have any preferences. The guy who is using it always has preferences; he always knows what he wants in my experience. I never had anybody ask me what kind of monitor speakers he should use and that's good, because you gotta satisfy him. If he is used to a particular kind of a speaker then thatıs usually what he wants to use. Unless it is something really bad, and obviously a disaster, then I might argue with him."
What about soffit mounting speakers?
Usually the soffit is too high and I think it is better if the height of the speaker is not that different from the height of the engineerıs head. I think if it is too far above you, it doesnıt give you the proper tonal image.
What about field of dispersion?
You don't have to have a very wide dispersion in monitors, because you are going to orient the monitors so that the sweet spot that they generate is right where the engineer is. If there is too much dispersion, then you may excite too many of the room modes and you don't need that. Not that you couldnıt deal with that, but why have to fool with it.
Is there a formula? or is it by eye and/or ear?
There are ways you can calculate it. You can measure the critical distances in the room (which is the point where at which the direct sound and the reverberant sound are equal in level) and that will not be too far away from the speaker in a small room. You want to have your monitoring position within that critical distance. The speaker itself will have a directivity cone, where most of the energy is, at least at high frequencies, of course at low frequencies they're not directional at all (especially small monitors). But the high frequencies above 700 or 800 Hz is where it is really important to get a relatively narrow distribution, if you don't want to excite all the room modes.
How do you "Tune" a Room?
Probably the most troubling thing about a room is the existence of flutter echoes and very strong Room Modes. A Room Mode is a situation where sound bounces back and forth between two parallel surfaces and it interferes with itself either destructively, or constructively at different locations. The sound of that particular frequency is very non-uniform in level in the room. You get right up to the wall and it sounds really loud and you get out to the center of the room and it could be very soft. If it is a higher frequency, in other words if it has several wavelengths between the two surfaces, then you got this up and down variation in level just by changing your position by a few feet. You have to eliminate that in a room. You do that by selective absorption and also by using angles, you don't use rectangular shapes.
What are some tools that people use to tune rooms?
People use a lot of stuff. There are people that use various software programs to try to optimize a room. These are approximations. I don't like any of them that I've heard. The best way to tune a room is by ear. Your ear is an amazingly sensitive measuring instrument if you train it. That is one of the other things I learned from Veneklasen.
Any common errors that people make in control room acoustics?
Usually the control room is too small, then they have to make it really dead, to prevent it being like a Boom Box. That is the most common problem I run into.
What is an "Echo/Reverb" Chamber? How does it work?
An Echo Chamber really shouldn't have any echoes in it. An echo is a discrete reflection, and you don't want that. A Reverb Chamber wants to have a completely diffuse field, so that if you're in there you have no idea where the sound is coming from - its all over the place. You can make a fairly small reverb chamber with a fairly long reverberation time. You wouldn't want to record in a reverberation chamber, because the reverberation is too high in level and too long, but also it is too close to the direct sound. You might want to do that for a special effect, but it would not be good for general recording. The thing to remember about a Reverb Chamber is that you have to delay that reverberated sound into the mix that you are making, delay it with respect to the sound from what went into the chamber. That delay will give you the subjective impression of how big the room you are trying to simulate is. If you have a long delay then it will sound like a cathedral and if you have a shorter delay, it will sound like a smaller room, etc... But I don't think that digital reverb, or vibrating plate reverb, or spring reverb is anywhere near as good as actual three dimensional acoustic reverb. It gives a true logarithmic decay curve, where as these others don't do that and they don't sound natural.
What are the advantages of building one?
The advantage is that the result is the best reverb you can get. You can't do any better than that if the chamber works. The pitfalls of a reverb chamber are that you have to avoid standing waves in them. You have to be really careful about the dimensions and avoid parallel surfaces and square corners. They don't have to be gigantic either to really work.
How would someone design and/or build one?
The walls of the reverb chamber should be as stiff and solid as possible and concrete and/or concrete blocks is a good material to use. You can make them out of lath & plaster, but you have to use lots and lots of plaster. The surface density of the boundaries in reverb chamber, should be about at least ten, or fifteen pound per square foot. The easiest way to do this is with concrete block, or with just cast concrete. Sometimes you are lucky and you find a concrete enclosure in a building that you can adapt to be a reverb chamber, like a space under stairway, or a stairwell. Youıve probably been in stairwells in buildings that just ³echo² all over the place.
My friend Joe Boles,[He was the one who recorded "Walk, Don't Run" by the Ventures] did a lot of home-studio recording back in the 60s. He used his downstairs bathroom as a reverb chamber. He put an Ampex 620 in it for a speaker and he used a [EV]655 for the microphone. He used a tape delay and it didn't sound bad.
Is there anything important to remember? Is it hard?
It is isn't so hard to do, but it can be tricky if you don't understand the principles. It has to have a good solid door and it should be a sound proof door if you can afford it. You have to keep background noise out of it. Ideally the reverb chamber should be a long way away to avoid sound leakage into or out of it. It could be in another building. Capitol Records has their's underground, under the parking lot. Theyıre huge. Each one is as big as this room [750 square feet] and they're all concrete, - talk about reverb!"
What kind of mics would you use in a reverb chamber?
You need an omni directional microphone and one that has as flat a response as possible. A good choice is an Altec 21 (if you don't have too much low frequency noise in there), or an [EV] 655 is a good dynamic mic, or a Neumann KM83 is a very fine microphone.
Veneklasen who did a lot of experimenting with reverb chambers, told me that the best place to put the microphone is glued into the corner about a foot, or eighteen inches from the ceiling or the floor, but actually glued right into the wall. If the microphone is right at the surface, then you don't have any reflection from the surface coming back into the mic. If you put a mic a foot from a wall and a sound hits the microphone and then the wall, at some frequency the reflected sound from the wall is going to cancel the direct sound, because it is 180 degrees out phase. Your response curve is going to look like a picket fence.
What about a PZM mic?
A PZM mic would be fine, if you mount it on the wall of the reverb chamber. You don't have to have a PZM mic, all you have to do is put a regular mic right up against the wall. The smaller it is the better.
What made you decide to write The Audio Dictionary ?
I taught a course in Recording and Reproduction of Music at the University of Washington, a very popular course. Lots of kids that were seriously interested in recording took the course. They were always asking questions about terminology. Most of the class time was spent answering questions. So I decided I'd copy some definitions and just hand it out to the class. I kept doing that and adding to it, and one of my students, Dane Butcher, (later founder of Symetrix) came into my office one day and he had all the handouts that I had been giving out, and he said, 'Why don't you take all this and turn it into a book. You are like a walking audio encyclopedia. Why don't you put that down in a book; you'd get rich,' and I said, 'Well, I don't think I'll get rich.' He said, 'Well why not put out a book anyway?' So I thought about that.
Naomi Pascal, the chief editor of the University of Washington Press was a friend of mine, so I called her up and I asked her, 'Would you be interested in publishing a semi-technical, but fairly lengthy dictionary of terms in the audio business?' Her son also was a student of mine, so he was all for this of course, so she agreed to publish it.
The first edition took me a long time, about five years. It was a lot more work than I thought. I wrote the whole book from memory, and then the hard part was going back and checking everything and making sure everything was correct. That was a big job.
It has gone into two editions. I am working on the third edition.
In all truthfulness, I think it's a pretty good book for what it is. It is not an encyclopedia, but hopefully it is written so that a person who is not a mathematician can understand it. There are very few formulas and equations in there. Everything is explained in plain English rather than math.
I found it easy to read.
What was the hardest definition to document for this book? What was the weirdest?
The Weirdest Definition? In the first edition, I had Balls in there (you know, like 'Put some Balls on the saxophone!'), but I had a hard time defining it. How do you define that? [laughter]
So I put that in the first edition, and the editors weren't too happy about that [laughs]. But I said, 'It a term that is used a lot', so they acquiesced. I had to be kinda smart alecky about it so I said, 'Unfortunately, that there isn't any equivalent term of the feminine gender that compares with this'. They didn't like that [laughter], so I took it out of the second edition.
How many clarifications and/or corrections did you have to make between the first and second editions?
Not a huge number between the first and second editions. Mostly additions to the second edition. The third edition will include more additions. The second edition came out before we had 5.1 sound, before we had this home movie [theater] sound craze. All that has to be described. That is a complicated subject all by itself.
What inspired you to write about "How to Subdue a Hi-Fi Salesperson" in Apendix 3?
Well I wanted to make the book so it would be interesting to read, so that wouldn't be too boring. I also think that, How to Subdue a Hi-Fi Salesperson that what it says in there is correct. I don't think it is so true now, as it was in those days when the first edition came out. I think that Hi-Fi salesman tended to be salesmen, but they didn't know anything about Hi-Fi and they have spouted B.S. all over the place and that used to drove me nuts. They used to drive me crazy. "
Is there any one experience that you might have had that brought this on?
Yeah, a friend of mine called me up and he says,
'There's a guy down here that has some new that are really terrific and we have to go down and listen to them!'
and I say 'Well who is it?'
'Well it is so & so at _______ Hi-Fi.'
and I thought,'Oh brother, he does't know what he is talking about!'
'but these are soemthing else.'
So we went down there and there are thes huge speakers that sounded awful and they cost big, big bucks. And I told the guy,'Why do you think these speakers are good? They don't sound to me, they sound awful.'
and he says, 'what do you mean they don't sound good?'
and I said, 'They don't sound natural. Listen to that voice, have you got a recording with a speaking voice on it?'
He replied, 'Well no I don't.'
I said, "well I didn't think so, well I have.' [laughter]
So he put this record on of a male voice ant it sounded like the Jolly Green Giant and I said, 'You call that a natural voice? That not Hi-Fi at all. Listen to that high end' ...
The speaker had no coherence at all between the various frequency ranges of the speaker... The guy [saleperson] didn't understand what I was talking about at all. So it was that experience that gave me the idea to write that appendix.
How did you find the text by Charles Garnier from 1871 which you quoted in Appendix 4 ("Some Notes on Good Acoustics")?
I took a course in French at the University [of Washington] and the French teacher said that the architect for the Paris Opera wrote a book about architecture and he has a chapter on Acoustics in there. And I said, 'You got to be kidding? Is the book still in print?'
and she said 'Oh, no it's not, but you could find it in some archive someplace.'
So I asked who the author was and she told me and I went to the University Library and sure enough, they had it in their archives. You couldn't check it out because it was a rare book, but I could look at it. So I looked at it.[laughter]. They had a copy machine there, and I copied the chapter. It was in French and I didn't feel comfortable translating it, so I had a friend of mine translate it. I think it is interesting quotation, and I think todayıs architects has almost the same problems that Garnier had.
How is this is still relevant today?
Well Charles Garnier says that when he was going to build the Paris Opera he wanted to be sure that it had good acoustics, so he wanted to find out about good acoustics, and then he started to ask questions all over the place and began visiting concert halls all over Europe. (which he did, and he took a trip and went to Germany and France and I think he even went to England) He said that he found out from the Germans that you had to have a dome above the auditorium in order to make decent acoustics. And he found out from the English that you had to have a flat ceiling... and he found out from this guy that you had to do thus & so... and this other guy that you had to do this... [laughs] ... and he said, putting all this stuff together, that none of that makes any difference. [More laughter]. I just thought it was kind of a nice thing.
Are acoustics subjective?
They're subjective in the sense that some people like different types of acoustics more than other people do. In that sense, they are subjective. But, the Physical Acoustics of a space are not subjective, they're measurable and they define what's actually going on in the room. They actually exist. However, there is just no accounting for the taste of what people like. Also people's hearing is not uniform either from person to person. There are many people going around today whose hearing has been damaged by excessive noise. A lot of it may be Rock'n'Roll music, but also a result of wearing a Walkman, I think.
What?? Huh? [laughter]
A person with a large high frequency deficiency in hearing is going to rate a room much differently than if he heard the high frequencies. He would think that itıs a completely different style of room than a guy who had good high frequency hearing. So in that sense, there is a subjective quality. It's a very complex thing when you are dealing with the interaction of sound with people."
What was your most challenging Acoustics project? What made it so challenging? Why?
The most challenging acoustics project I did was designing a church; it was challenging because the architect thought he was an acoustician which he was not. He was completely at odds with everything I wanted him to do in the design of that place. We had argument after argument, and the church people were on my side, they believed me. We had all these meetings with the architect, just knock-down-drag-out arguments and it was too stressful. I decided right then, the next time I get involved in an acoustic design I would talk with the architect at some length before accepting the job. Architects can be very difficult. On the other hand, a good architect is worth his or her weight in gold.
When did you start working for Bruel & Kjaer? What did you do?
I started with B&K in 1980. I knew the Seattle rep for them, and he called me and said they were looking for a field applications engineer. B&K was a very highly regarded company, making the best instrumentation in many areas. As a field applications engineer, I helped customers and prospective customers solve their measurement problems and also I sold B&K products.
How long were you with them? What was your Job?
I was with B&K about eleven years. In addition to dealing with individual customers, I also presented seminars in measurement technology and techniques in noise control, acoustics, sound intensity measurement, modal analysis, machine diagnostics, etc. I had access to all the products they made, a lot of instruments.
Why did you finally leave?
B&K was owned and operated by the two guys who started it in about 1946, Per Bruel and Viggo Kjaer. They were great guys, very smart, and very wise. They were getting old, and decided to retire and sell the company to a German holding company. The new owners promptly closed a number of local offices, including San Francisco and Seattle, so I was out of a job.
Are you still working these days in Acoustics? What do you do?
Yes, I have been doing acoustical consultation for more than forty years. I get involved in noise control, acoustic design, sound system design and operation, etc...
Thank you very much Glenn.
Glenn & Kearney photos by David Miller
Archival Photos supplied by Kearney Barton and Neal Skok
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Originally published in issue #38 of Tape Op Magazine. A publication devoted to the Art and Skill of Recording.
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