Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, November 1, 2000
Memorial Resolution: Earl D. Schubert


Dr. Earl D. Schubert, Professor Emeritus of Speech and Hearing, passed away at his Stanford home on December 1, 1999 after a long battle with lupus. He was a member of the Medical School faculty from 1964 to 1987 and after retirement volunteered at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) where he held a courtesy appointment in Music.

Earl Schubert was born on a farm near Fostoria, Ohio, in 1916. His father died when he was quite young and he and his two brothers were raised in an orphanage where their mother worked. Instrumental and choral music captured his interest in high school and continued, with the addition of tennis, to hold his attention at Manchester College in North Manchester, Indiana, where he graduated in 1938 with a double major in music and math. He began his teaching career as a high school math teacher while also directing the band. In 1939 he attended a summer session at the University of Iowa following which he went back for a final year of high school teaching in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

By the next year he was a graduate student at Iowa and played contrabass in the University Symphony Orchestra. In 1942 he received his Master's degree in Music under Arnold Small, Sr., and Carl Seashore, the preeminent musical psychologist. Many of the research problems he worked on involved the analysis of complex periodic sounds, which, in those days, meant harmonic analysis utilizing the Henrici Harmonic Analyzer. He was drafted into the Army Signal Corps and served (1942-1946) on Detached Service to the Air Force. For a while he was on John Black's army project at Waco, Texas, along with Jim Curtis. Much of their research was concerned with problems of speech communication under conditions of high levels of noise. He later became a member of Don Lewis's communications survey team, mostly in radar, in the South Pacific.

Don Lewis persuaded him to shift graduate school emphasis to experimental psychology with an emphasis in audition. On leaving the service in 1946, he married Mildred Nelson, a biologist from Illinois and returned to the University of Iowa to continue graduate work with Lewis, Gustav Bergmann, and Kenneth Spence. He and his new wife, known to all as Mid, solved the post-war housing shortage at Iowa by acting as house-parents for 30 speech- and hearing-handicapped boys. This action of theirs was the beginning of a Summer Residential Program for children being seen by the clinic. In 1948 he received his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology, specifically in sensory psychology and statistics.

Professor Schubert served in his first academic position at the University of Michigan. He taught there for three years before being invited back to Iowa as Associate Professor in the Speech and Dramatic Art Department. Audiology was a new area and Iowa had formed a center called the Council on Speech Pathology and Audiology. The Council collected into one unit efforts previously distributed among other departments, including Psychology and the Department of Otolaryngology and Maxillofacial Surgery. Schubert, along with Jim Curtis, a phonetician and his benchmate from the Signal Corps days, helped develop a curriculum for the program. Schubert's contributions were courses in Fundamentals of Hearing and Experimental Audiology, the latter including Testing and Measurement in Audition, Problems in Clinical Diagnosis, and Electro-physiology in Audition. By the time he left Iowa in 1955, there was strong evidence of his involvement in basic psychoacoustics, clinical testing, and rehabilitation of those with hearing difficulties.

In 1955, he was charged with establishing a major new research program at the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center at Western Reserve University. There he served as Professor and Director of Research until 1960 having taken on, unexpectedly, administrative duties for the entire Center. He was able to return to his preferred academic role in 1960 by moving to Indiana University, where he was Professor of Audiology for four years. In the midst of that period, he spent a summer session at Stanford University which helped draw him, in 1964, to the Program in Hearing and Speech Sciences at the Medical School.

He was a crucial resource for all involved with hearing research at Stanford. His doctoral students continue to make notable world-wide contributions to the science and art of sound. A representative sampling includes Elizabeth Cohen, recent President of the Audio Engineering Society, W. Andrew Schloss, Professor of Music at the University of Victoria and co-organizer of the 2000 International

Computer Music Conference (Cuba), David Zicarelli creator of Max/MSP, probably the most widely employed software system for real-time computer synthesis, and Steve McAdams, Director of Research in Psychoacoustics at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique / Musique (IRCAM) in Paris. These students and many others received a special kind of Schubertian quiet, enthusiastic guidance in their research, and in their lives on campus and off. It is through the contributions of his many students that we appreciate the prescience of this preface to his 1979, Psychological Acoustics, in which he wrote

"Most of our knowledge of how the auditory system processes signals has come from taking the system into the laboratory. Perhaps a similar volume written fifty years hence would be concerned primarily with processing music, environmental sound, and especially interesting speech signals. But at present the papers that have contributed to the advancement of knowledge in psychological acoustics deal necessarily with the engineering aspects of auditory processing, using the perceptual response as the quantifying index." And... "The fact is that the auditory system is so versatile in its analysis of simultaneously present sounds that, even with modern methods of fabricating and controlling signal sources, we cannot hope to imitate some of its most relevant behavior in sufficiently practical ways to make study of some aspects feasible."

Dr. Schubert continued at Stanford through and beyond his official retirement in 1987. An active presence in Music, he volunteered his energy and knowledge to students and projects in psychoacoustics at CCRMA for several more years. His latter work portrays an interest in studying more natural stimuli, including projects with Dr. John R. Pierce at CCRMA. Members of the Hearing Seminar (now entering its eleventh year of weekly meetings) will remember Earl's wonderful contributions to the intellectual environment at CCRMA. Malcolm Slaney writes, "There were innumerable times when Earl knew exactly the right bit of acoustic knowledge to settle an argument. He was always eager to help and taught us all much about hearing in the most gentle manner."

His professional and editorial affiliations included the Acoustical Society of America, American Speech and Hearing Association, The American Board of Examiners in Audiology, and the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Blindness among others.

Earl Schubert is survived by his wife Mildred, two children, and four grandchildren. A memorial service was held on January 14, 2000 in the Memorial Church at Stanford University.

Chris Chafe, chair

Carl Muller

Max Mathews