In his role as director of R&D for Danley Sound Labs (DSL), Tom Danley has found a home for his unique talents that offers him more freedom to indulge his passion for invention and problem solving than ever before.
But although the Gainesville, GA-based company is Danley’s professional home, he does most of his work from the northern Illinois suburb where he was born and raised.
When he was growing up, Danley says, the area was far less developed. “Not in the middle of nowhere, but getting there, and literally, on the other side of the tracks. So I spent a lot of time slogging around in the mud and water in the woods.”
Though developers have discovered the area in the interim, it still offers an ideal combination of working environments, he says. “If I have an idea and want to measure something I can go downstairs at 11 pm and see if my idea is right, or if I’m stumped and need to go walk in the woods, I can do that, too.”
While the environment he works from may be familiar, the work the 58-year-old inventor and innovator does with DSL – and has done throughout his career – is almost entirely concerned with the unfamiliar; an ongoing exploration of the fringes of possibility in the development and application of audio technology that goes well beyond sound reinforcement.
Working with NASA hardware contractor Intersonics from 1979 to 1996, Danley designed and built hardware for sounding rockets, the KC-135 zero gravity “vomit comet” and the space shuttle program.
There he was awarded 17 patents for a variety of inventions, among them the Servodrive subwoofer and a variety of acoustic and electromagnetic levitation devices - the first of which was a sound source 100 times more effective than what Intersonic had used previously.
He’s also designed sonic boom simulators for BBN, an outdoor Flow Modulator-based unit for GTRI/NASA - affectionately dubbed “the speaker from hell” - and acted as principal scientific investigator on various research contracts, including one that explored the use of low frequencies to trigger avalanches.
Danley with a Space Shuttle payload at Intersonics.
Danley freely admits that from time to time his fondness for low frequencies has resulted in his scaring the wits out of those around him and himself. One of the early users of the TEF-10, he once demonstrated acoustic levitation in the Charlton Heston-narrated documentary The Mystery of the Sphinx.
Later, in the mid-90s, he was asked back to Egypt to measure the acoustics of the Great Pyramid with a TEF-12+, an experience he covered in detail for a Live Sound International cover feature in July 2000.
“In the pyramid, I scared the heck out of everyone. After the first TEF sweep the producer asked me to turn it up - I also went down lower - and it literally felt like it was shaking the place.” It was just air moving back and forth, he adds, but he moved closer to the chamber entrance anyway. “I tried not to act like it scared me, but, yeah, it did.
“I’d say that’s a bit of a pattern,” he continues with a laugh. “When I was a kid my uncle worked for the telephone company and he gave me a hand cranked generator out of an old telephone. With very little turning it gave you a nasty shock.”
Fascinated by this powerful force he couldn’t see, he decided to share his experience with others. “In third grade I had my entire class, including the teacher, hold hands and let them experience it. The shock wasn’t strong enough to hurt anyone, but it woke you up.”