Audio Engineering Society

Chicago Section

Meeting Review, February 23, 2010

other meeting reports

2/23/10 Meeting Highlights
by Bob Zurek

Riverbank Acoustical Laboratories: Acoustics, Cotton and Cryptology.

Presented By: David Moyer Tour By: Dean Victor and Marc Sciaky


On February 23, 2010 40 members of the AES Chicago Section traveled out to Geneva Illinois to the Riverbank Acoustical Laboratories to tour the facilities and hear David Moyer give the history of the Lab.


David began the history of the Riverbank complex by telling the attendees about the original owner of the Riverbank estate, Colonel George Fabyan. Colonel Fabian came from a family that made its money in Cotton and built his estate on the shores of the Fox river in 1907. Davis described how being a rich philanthropist, Colonel Fabyan excelled at “collecting” professionals in all sorts of fields. Mr. Moyer told how the history of the Acoustic laboratories began with Shakespeare or more specifically Elizabeth Gallop’s study of codes in original editions of Shakespeare’s works. Elizabeth with the help of William Friedman discovered that the printings of Shakespeare’s works printed by Sir Francis Bacon contained coded messages hidden through the use of differing font width in the editions. The code which came to be known as Bacon’s Bilateral Code consisted on 5 digit “digital words” where the zeros and ones making up the alphabet were two distinct font widths. The reason that this work led to the founding of the Acoustic laboratory lay in one of the coded messages found in the text. The message described an acoustic levitation machine that Colonel Fabyan was interested in building. The machine was built up, but experienced problems when tried out. Colonel Fabyan decided he needed an acoustician to solve the problem and wound up going to his brother at Harvard University who introduced him to Wallace Clement Sabine. While Professor Sabine was never able to get the levitating machine to work he did become friends with Colonel Fabyan who offered to build an architectural acoustic facility for him in quiet Geneva, IL.  Sabine took Colonel Fabyan up on his offer and Riverbank Acoustical Laboratories was completed in 1918, the year before Sabine died. Sabine was however able to use the facilities during that time to come up with the Sabine formula used today to determine acoustic absorption coefficients.

Wallace’s distant cousin Paul Sabine was hired to direct the lab after Wallace’s death and worked to develop Riverbank into the internationally recognized laboratory that it is today. Along the way Paul was instrumental in many advancements in architectural treatment, acoustical testing apparatus, and hearing aides.

The lab currently contains six reverberation chambers and is still active in the characterization of acoustical materials.


The presentation was followed by a tour of the Riverbank Acoustic facilities given by Dean, Marc and David.