Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I just found out something kind of interesting in my research.  The original acoustics for Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center were designed by the firm of Bolt, Beranek & Newman, now known as BBN Technologies.  I received a nice email from Leo Beranek, he's 94 years old and the only surviving person to work on the project.

The complex calculations required by acoustics led them into computers and in the late 1950s, they bought some of the first computers, including Digital Equipment Corporation's PDP-1, the computer hardware that played history's first video game.  They implemented the first person-to-person computer network, ARPANET, which became...this...and they were the first to use the "@" symbol for email addresses.

They had originally specified acoustics for a hall of 2400 seats, but the New York Herald Tribune launched a successful campaign to increase the size of the hall (it's now 2742), which completely negated all BBN's acoustic design specifications.

For the record, the hall was renovated by Cyril M. Harris and Philip Johnson in 1976 with $10.5-million from Avery Fisher and the name of the building was changed to thank him.  It's somewhat problematic that they intend to renovate again in 2010, because the Fisher estate will raise legal issues if they try to change the name again.  It may lead them to keeping the Avery Fisher name for the building, and naming the auditorium after a new donor.

I thought this was a little strange until I realized that the auditorium at the Met is actually called the Sybil B. Harrington Auditorium, because Harrington bequeathed like $7-million a year to the Met or something outrageous--money which can only be used for classical opera, by the way, nothing new.

I tried to get in contact with Cyril Harris at Columbia University, in fact, but he's evidently not in the best of health and doesn't lecture there much anymore.  He's well into his 90s, also, I'm sure.

Ryan Witte

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