Quietness, Comfortable Sound and Excellent Acoustics NAGATA ACOUSTICS

News 07-04 (No.232)

Issued :April 25, 2007

[ Japanese Version ]

An Authentic Opera House for Showa University of Music's New Campus

by Chiaki Ishiwata

Teatro Giglio Showa

Yuri Hall

As spring comes to Japan, university campuses see the eager students ready to begin the new Japanese school year, which starts in April. On the Showa University of Music campus, future performing artists, with their many dreams and aspirations for the future, are among the student population settling into the routine of a new term. This April, Showa University of Music moved the entire school to a newly constructed campus in Kawasaki City, entirely leaving behind the former Atsugi campus. While still within Kanagawa Prefecture, the move brings the university considerably closer to Tokyo. From Tokyo's Shinjuku Station, a commuting student can take the Odakyu Line to Shin-yurigaoka Station, a 30-minute train ride, and conveniently arrive on campus after a mere 5-minute walk from the train station.

As evidenced by the mass media popularity of the manga Nodame Cantabile, a story set in the milieu of music university life, classical music seems to be the current fad in Japan. Nodame Cantabile enjoyed a live-drama adaptation on Japanese TV during the autumn, 2006 season and a new cartoon adaptation began airing in January, 2007. The number of applicants to music universities is also said to be on the rise. When the live-drama TV series aired, in addition to viewers seeing a music university campus, some segments included scenes shot at concert halls built with the collaboration of Nagata Acoustics. The increased interest in music universities among the present generation of college students may not be the primary driver of construction activity by these institutions; nevertheless, it coincides with a recent surge we see in renovation and expansion building projects on college and university campuses in general and also at music university campuses.

<< Showa University of Music's New Campus >>

Showa University of Music has many unique courses. In addition to the traditional instrument-track and voice-track music education programs, Showa University offers courses in digital music, arts management, ballet and music therapy.

In keeping with the school's diverse disciplines of instruction, the new campus includes, in addition to the standard college classrooms, the 359-seat Yuri Hall, designed primarily for the performance of chamber music, as well as multiple rooms of various sizes for performing arts lessons, recording studios, and ballet studios and so on. These facilities are all located in the main building, and the campus also features the 1,265-seat opera house, "Teatro Giglio Showa," located in its own adjacent structure. (The use of the Italian "giglio" in the opera house's name comes from the meaning of the word, which is "lily" in English and "yuri " in Japanese. The school's new location, Shin-yurigaoka, literally means "New Lilies-on-the-hill.")

MHS Planners, Architects & Engineers designed the new campus in the capacity of project architect and Kajima Corporation served as the project's general contractor. Nagata Acoustics participated as the acoustical consultant responsible for the room acoustical design, sound isolation design and related acoustical design construction implementation oversight for both campus buildings.

<< Showa University of Music's Ties to Opera >>

According to Showa University of Music Associate Professor Yu Furuhashi, the school's founder was Japanese opera singer Keisuke Shimoyakawa, famous in Japan for his bass-baritone voice and a co-founder of the Fujiwara Opera Company. In 1940, Mr. Shimoyakawa founded Tokyo Seisen Ongakko ("Tokyo Voice Specialty Music School"), which later became Showa University of Music. At its founding in 1940, the school's stated pedagogic goals were "to educate and research the theory and practical aspects of the music including opera, the performing arts genre that encompasses all the performing arts." From this mission statement, we learn of Showa University of Music's historically deep connection to opera.

In 1957, Tokyo Seisen Ongakko took the unprecedented step of producing an opera performance by their students at a public theater. The opera performed was Mozart's The Magic Flute, and the venue was Tokyo's Nihon Seinenkan Hall. Thereafter, both before and after the school evolved into the current Showa University of Music, the students' opera production at a public theater became an annual event, billed as the "University Students' Opera."

In recent years, the production venues included Japan's New National Theatre and the Yokosuka Art Theatre. Now, at long last, the university can lay claim to its own professional-class opera house, and the school's students have the dedicated venue after which they have thirsted for many years.

<< Opera House Teatro Giglio Showa's Room Acoustical Design >>

Plan of Teatro Giglio Showa

Teatro Giglio Showa is an opera house with a fundamentally horseshoe-shape configuration and two balconies. Because the hall holds a reasonable number of seats, every audience seat in the house is in good proximity to the stage, creating a sense of immediacy between the audience and the stage and giving the hall space a feeling of intimacy.

The nature of opera performance dictates that proper balancing of vocal music's clarity and an appropriate duration of sound reverberation be a key element of opera house acoustical room design. For the Teatro Giglio Showa project, we made achieving this balance a focus of our design work, and we set as our goals to design an opera house with abundant low-register reverberations, a sense of sound volume and clarity of vocal music.

Like our design work for concert halls, we worked to create a space that promotes early sound reflections. We gave equal priority to achieving a sense of sound volume and vocal clarity. To do this, compared to concert hall design, we aimed to promote the very earliest of the early sound reflections, that is, those with the briefest time delay. Using computer simulation technique, we considered the sound reflections in each part of the audience seating, including the central area of the audience where there tends to be a deficiency of sound reflections that reach the audience, and we made sure that even this audience section receives a sufficient amount of the early sound reflections that occur with the briefest time delay. To this end, we worked especially carefully in shaping the portion of the hall where the proscenium arch meets the main floor's sidewalls and the ceiling above the front rows of audience seating.

To achieve low-register acoustics characterized by warm, abundant sound, we focused our attention on the materials and weight used in the interior design of the hall's wall surfaces. In particular, to obtain a high performance level of low-register sound reflections, we specified weighty, exposed concrete for the hall's side walls, and we used cosmetic framing to create fine, uneven surfaces that diffuse medium and high-pitch sound as a means to soften these reflections. Our proposal of exposed concrete walls matched well with the interior design's goal of a hall that looks appropriate in a university setting by being free of ostentation. Additionally, the use of exposed concrete walls would also produce cost savings. In this instance, our design proposal specifications aligned well with other goals of the project.

Teatro Giglio Showa's reverberation time is 1.4 seconds (at 500 Hz in a fully-occupied hall) and the lower registers have a somewhat long reverberation. I had the opportunity to listen to a practice session of vocal music performed in the opera house and found the hall's sound honest and clear with well-extended reverberation and robust low-register sound.

<< Teatro Giglio Showa's Opening Performance >>

On April 28, Teatro Giglio Showa holds its official opening performance, featuring Donizetti's L' Elisir d' Amore (The Elixir of Love). After the official opening, the opera house's schedule continues with musicals, engagements of ballet companies from overseas and other bookings, some of which have already sold out all their tickets.

The chamber music hall, Yuri Hall, also has a busy April schedule that includes a concert series named "The Nine Music Universities' Student Chamber Music Festival" beginning on April 26. During this series, students from nine music universities in metropolitan area will take the stage on successive nights. The sounds of these and other performances in both the opera house and the chamber music hall are nothing short of pure enjoyment.

Showa University of Music's homepage contains information and links in Japanese on the school and upcoming events. The school website also has artist renderings of the new campus and some of its facilities.

FBSR Holds 18th Annual Technical Workshop on Digital Multi-channel Audio Transport System

by Masaya Uchida

A band performs for workshop's demonstration

I/O units of digital multi-channel audio
transport system

Mixing consoles placed at audience area
for the workshop

On February 14 and 15, 2007, FBSR held its 18th annual technical workshop at Kitakata Plaza Culture Center, in Kitakata City, Fukushima Prefecture. The city of Kitakata is a Japanese tourist destination, best known as the city with the highest concentration of ramen noodle shops and also as a city with nostalgic kura storehouse architecture harking back to the 19th and early 20th centuries when the town's many merchants built over 2,000 storehouses and storehouse buildings combined with shops and residences.

FBSR is an association of sound system experts and technicians who work at publicly supported halls and theaters, broadcasting companies, event production and planning companies and related businesses. Originally organized to bring together professionals who live and work in northern Japan, the association's meetings attract sound system professionals from other parts of Japan as well, with Tokyo and cities farther to the west also represented. Since FBSR's founding in 1986, members meet annually around the February time frame to collaboratively improve their knowledge of emerging technologies and the practical applications of new products in their field. We reported about 12th workshop in our previous No.148, April 2000 News & Opinions.

The name FBSR is an acronym. The first two letters, "FB," have the multiple meanings of foldback (the use of monitor speakers to enable artists to hear themselves on stage), feedback (especially, feedback that the association's sound system professionals wish to provide to the manufacturers of sound system equipment) and fine business, a phrase taken from the world of Japanese ham radio, where it is used to mean "good." The "SR" portion of FBSR stands for sound reinforcement.

<< Traditional Analog Multi Cable >>

The topic of the 18th annual workshop's focus was digital multi-channel audio transport system. Before delving into the uses and benefits of digital multi-channel audio transport system, let me set the stage by asking the reader to recall some popular music concerts you attended recently or some years ago. Surely you would have noticed the thick black cables taped along the floor with duct tape through portions of the audience seating, winding their way to a mixing console. The thick black cable you saw was most likely the traditional kind of "multi cable," really separate multiple microphone cables gathered together as if they were a single cable. Typically, multi cable of 16 channels is most popular to pass signals from the multiple microphones placed at various locations on stage to the mixing console located somewhere in the audience.

Among the negative aspects of this traditional multi cable are its heavy weight and lack of pliability, making each event setup and take down a major chore. More acoustically important, because the signals sent through these cables are analog, if the cables run for long distances, high frequency range notes became attenuated and noise interference can easily become mixed in with the music.

<< Benefits of Digital Multi-channel Audio Transport System >>

The 18th FBSR workshop turned the spotlight on the relatively new, competing technology of digital multi-channel audio transport system. This system is composed of two input/output devices that transform analog signals to digital signals and vice versa and cables to connect them. Compared with traditional transport of analog signals with multi cable, digital multi-channel audio transport system —as its name implies—is a system that transports digitized sound signals. A single cable can transport 40-to-60 simultaneous signals using thin LAN cable or optical fiber. In addition, digital signal does not degrade when transported across long distances or split, and the technology is very noise resistant, so use of a digital multi-channel audio transport system eliminates the problems and negative aspects of analog that we identified above.

With the widespread adoption of digital sound mixers, it was only a matter of time for digital technology to be applied to audio transport lines as well. Some sound console manufacturers, especially those who produce models primarily for live concert use, already offer models that have built-in digital multi-channel audio transport system. While digital multi-channel audio transport system are being developed with the live concert market in mind, this system would be a very effective choice for the permanent sound system installations of halls and theaters where most of them are equipped with nearly 100 m. (328 ft) of cable and where there is a concern that equipment noise may interfere with the sound signal. In Japan, the opera house of New National Theatre in Tokyo installed a digital multi-channel audio transport system using optical fiber back in 2003.

<< Digital Multi-channel Audio Transport System's Limitations >>

Digital multi-channel audio transport system offers significant features and benefits, but we also need to acknowledge its limitations. The signal direction must be set to one direction, it cannot be used for signal with DC power like an inter-com line, and electrical power is required.

Another limitation of the system currently marketed is their maximum audio input level of +16 to +22 dB. When digital multi-channel audio transport system is used for sending sound mixed by console to amplifiers on stage, this limitation prevents them from being successfully used with the most powerful mixing consoles, which have good distortion sound at full power, because the digital multi-channel audio transport system would not be able to receive console's maximum output level of +24dB directly. The decibel limitation represents one of the current major differences between analog and digital.

<< Adapting to a Digital Multi-channel Audio Transport System World >>

At the FBSR workshop, the participants learned about benefits and limitations of digital multi-channel audio transport system via the presenters' technical explanations and demonstrations accompanied by an amplified live band performance.

The workshop lecturer, Stage Sound Association of Japan Director, Mr. Tatsuo Okada summed up the current situation in his remarks, saying: "At this point, we cannot state unequivocally that the currently available digital multi-channel audio transport system products are the best, and we continue to hope that the manufacturers will work hard to develop digital products that rival everything that is good about analog products. Nevertheless, we cannot avoid the trend toward digital equipment, so it will be up to us as the on-site professionals to find creative approaches to utilize digital equipment to the fullest."

With digital sound mixers becoming more and more the norm and digital microphones also becoming commonplace, it is easy to imagine that, the shift to using digital multi-channel audio transport system will occur without question or opposition. However, the cost of digital multi-channel audio transport system remains expensive and, from the perspective of the event production and planning companies that own this kind of equipment, not a priority investment. For these companies, loudspeakers and sound mixing consoles are the stars they name when promoting their businesses, while digital multi-channel audio transport system ranks as lowly as a stagehand. The companies would find it difficult to pass on an investment in digital multi-channel audio transport system by raising their service rates. For permanent installations, at present, in most circumstances digital multi-channel audio transport system would only be appropriate in addition to traditional analog lines because some equipment remains needing analog lines, so installing digital multi-channel audio transport system means additional project costs. For these reasons, I expect that some more time is needed before digital multi-channel audio transport systemfs use becomes ubiquitous.

<< Highlights of the FBSR 18th Annual Workshop >>

At the annual FBSR workshops, use of live band performances to demonstrate the technology of the workshop topic is a standard feature of the event. This year, the organizers brought some digital multi-channel audio transport systems to the workshop, and participants got a good look at them stacked in the stage wings of the main hall. During the presentations, attendees were able to experience the sound-mixing equipment with digital multi-channel audio transport system, firsthand, both at the sound booth in the main hall audience area and in rooms separated from the bandfs musicians such as the small hall and dressing rooms while the musician played on the stage of the main hall.

The opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the new digital multi-channel audio transport system technology and the deepening of artistic understanding between the musicians and the sound system professionals made this workshop a most rewarding event to attend. In previous years, the workshop typically brought together more than 100 participants, but this year only some 60 people attended. In particular, there were fewer sound system professionals from publicly funded halls and theaters. Changes in Japanfs laws regulating management of publicly funded performing arts facilities and resulting changes in these facilitiesf operational management structures may be the cause of the decreased attendance, and these previous participants were sorely missed at the workshop.

Nagata Acoustics Inc.
Hongo Segawa Bldg. 3F, 2-35-10
Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033 Japan
Tel: +81-3-5800-2671, Fax: +81-3-5800-2672

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Los Angeles, CA 90025, U.S.A.
Telephone: (310) 231-7818
Fax: (310) 231-7816

E-mail: info@nagata.co.jp

[ Japanese Version ]