Happy Birthday Elizabeth (Betsy) Cohen, Ph.D.
Scientist, Educator, Activist, Fairy Godmother

For Elizabeth (Betsy) Cohen, Ph.D. becoming an acoustical engineer was the perfect way to combine her love of science and music. We were introduced by a family friend in the late 60's and we've remained friends and collaborators for the last 40+ years.  A physicist who specializes in acoustics, we are kindred spirits indeed. 

As an undergraduate at Bennington College in Vermont she earned degrees in both fields (Music & Physics) in 1975. After completing a multi-year internship program at Bell Labs, she earned her Master’s in Electrical Engineering at Stanford and went on to earn her Ph.D. in Acoustics from Stanford as well. Dr. Cohen is considered a thought leader in pitch perception, architectural acoustics, the cultural preservation of music and film as well as big data stewardship. She is a role model for all women interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM).

Betsy would come to know everyone in the scene. Bill Graham, Jerry, Phil, Bob and many others. She helped to expand the Grateful Dead circle to include academics, artists and the important thinkers of the time. Jerry would often refer to Betsy as "our double Ph.D. crazy people friend that steers people to us occasionally..and every once in a while somebody really incredible pops through." One of these people that popped through happened to be Joseph Campbell. 

For her birthday, we're sharing her request to join her and March for Science on Earth Day April 22nd and/or The Peoples Climate March on April 29th. 

Image result for march for science


Please join or create a march in your city. (https://www.marchforscience.com). Please join or create a march in your city. (https://peoplesclimate.org/)








Betsy is a woman of many firsts. The first intern ever at KSAN, the first woman President of the Audio Engineering Society, as well as the first woman to serve on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Technology Council. From discussing gravitational waves and the rhythms of the universe with Dr. George Smoot or discussing the proper acoustics for a new music venue, she's the perfect compendium of scientific and musical knowledge.

When Elizabeth was 14 she went to the Fillmore East shows as a reporter for her high school newspaper. Upon meeting Bill Graham for the first time he said to her "We already have an Elizabeth working here so you are going to be Betsy." From then on, Betsy it was. Soon after her visit to the Fillmore, Betsy would come out west to attend Stanford.

As a grad student she attended the very famous "salon" hosted by Nobel Prize winning Physics Professor Luis Alvarez. It was at this salon she'd meet a young researcher named George Smoot. Betsy would ultimately be the one who introduced the two of us. George would go on to also win the Nobel Prize 30 years later.

The late 60's and early 70's in California were a really special time. Jerry and Betsy would hang out and study Slonimsky. Betsy and Phil could often be found deep in discussions about early computer music. Betsy and Bob would geek out together on guitar acoustics. All the while she and I would have something brewing relating to drumming, percussion and rhythm.

I often reminisce about the day Betsy introduced me to Joseph Campbell. He was a friend of a friend of Betsy's. She knew everyone, which included the head of the Jungian Institute that Joe was active in. All of a sudden he turned up one day at Bob's house for dinner. Me, Joe, Jerry & Bob. It was the start of a lifelong friendship. Nicholas Meriwether, the preeminent Grateful Dead scholar and archivist, would describe our relationship with Joe as "The start of an association that not only resonates with the spirit of the Grateful Dead, but also one that forged an important link in the scholarly reception of the Dead phenomenon." We'd collaborate with Joe on many things over the years - one of which is my personal favorite, our symposium, “Ritual and Rapture, From Dionysus to the Grateful Dead.” Learn more about it here.

One time she came to my studio and helped us install this totally crazy duct work so we could study reverberation. She didn't hesitate to get her hands dirty.
She was also the person who took me to NASA for the first time in the early 80's. We spent the day with percussionist Andy Schloss, the late great magician Jerry Andrus, and the Mary V. Sunseri Professor of Statistics and Mathematics at Stanford Persi Diaconis recording a variety of instruments to create the basis for new computerized sounds.

We worked together along with UC Santa Cruz music professor Fredric Lieberman on several projects and there is a plethora of Betsy's knowledge and influence in my books; Drumming at the Edge of Magic (1990), Planet Drum (1991), and Spirit into Sound (1999). She was my co-author along with Dr. Huston Smith of our paper "Digital recording techniques involving vocal and percussion ensembles: The Gyuto Tantric Monks" which can be found here.

Betsy is also an activist for the arts and sciences. She's heavily involved with cultural preservation and contributes to multiple organizations supporting this mission. Preservation of the voices of diversity is a passion we share. Learn more about the National Recording Preservation Board here. She's one of the driving forces behind the movement to make sure the Arts are added to STEM as she believes that the "arts and sciences are the innovation engine of our country." Art plays a big role in critical thinking and helps to develop imagination. 

Together we continue to advocate for the healing aspects of music and rhythm to be recognized as a real discipline and covered by health insurance. Learn more about our exciting research and the progress we're making with the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function here. 

When she's not teaching, volunteering, or doing research, Betsy can be found designing high tech acoustical environments for clients like Dolby, The Hollywood Bowl, and many major motion picture facilities. She consulted on the design of the Joan & Irving Harris Concert Hall in Aspen which came to be known as the "The Carnegie Hall of the Rockies."

Related image
Hollywood Bowl
Circa 1988
Renee Fleming at the
Joan & Irving Harris Concert Hall

Her contributions to my life cannot be measured in words. She has been an instrumental, pun intended, mentor and friend.  I look forward to many more opportunities of learning together. Onward grasshopper.

In Rhythm,

Further Reading: 

STEAM Rising - Why we need to put the arts into STEM education.

"The Sounds Inside Our Heads" - By Karen Kaplan

Panel: Audio Workflow: Sound and Sync
Elizabeth Cohen, Cohen Acoustical Inc. (moderator); Peter Otto, UCSD; Steve Morris, Skywalker Sound; Pierre-Anthony Lemieux, Dolby Labs
Download Panel Here

Read a collection of her papers over the years.

"No Time to Dawdle: Folk Heritage Collections in Crisis" - By James B. Hardin

"The Influence of Signal Processing Devices on the Timbre Perception of Electrical Guitars"-  By Elizabeth CohenRobert H. Weir and Jeff Hasselberger

STYLE MAKERS; Elizabeth Cohen: Acoustical Engineer - By Florence Fabricant

It's Truly A Grand Opening For Aspen's Harris Hall