Quietness, Comfortable Sound and Excellent Acoustics NAGATA ACOUSTICS


News 13-12 (No.312)

Issued : December 25, 2013

[ Japanese Version ]

The New Pipe Organ at Nasunogahara Harmony Hall

By Akira Ono

Nasunogahara Harmony Hall Exterior
Nasunogahara Harmony Hall Exterior

Nasunogahara Harmony Hall Interior with New Pipe Organ
Nasunogahara Harmony Hall Interior
with New Pipe Organ

Nasunogahara Harmony Hall opened in 1994. The project was funded by two neighboring municipalities, Otawara City and the town of Nishi-Nasuno. We featured the awarding winning facility in our April, 2005 newsletter on the occasion of the hall's 10th anniversary. In November, 2013 the hall completed installation of a new pipe organ and on December 8 the hall held a ceremony to mark the completion of the installation and a concert celebration to inaugurate the new pipe organ.

<< Preparing for the Addition of a Pipe Organ to the Hall >>

Our original room acoustical design of the large hall included the basic preparations necessary to add a pipe organ to the hall. Specifically, at the rear of the stage is a concrete wall intended as an appropriate sound reflecting surface for the pipe organ's low frequency sounds. In addition, the original design included space for the pipe organ's ventilation system, with consideration given to the sound isolation properties needed around the space where the ventilation system would be installed.

In 1999, the hall administration formed a Pipe Organ Preparations Committee and the committee began the work of selecting a pipe organ builder. As the years passed, Japan entered a period of economic belt-tightening that threatened to derail the plan for a pipe organ and, in 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake added more delay. But throughout these years Hall Director Masahiro Kobayashi unswervingly persevered towards the goal of installing a pipe organ. With strong determination, Mr. Kobayashi unobtrusively moved the project forward.

The committee invited 7 organ builders to compete for the project and chose the Austrian builder Rieger Orgelbau as the winner. Rieger Orgelbau also built the pipe organ installed at Tokyo's Suntory Hall. The company can claim a long and venerable tradition of 150 years of organ building history.

<< The Defining Characteristics of the Nasunogahara Pipe Organ >>

For the project's organ consultant, the hall selected Belgian-born Mr. Jean-Philippe Merckaert. Mr. Merckaert's resume includes serving as the organist-in-residence at Sapporo Concert Hall and currently at Tokorozawa Civic Cultural Center "MUSE". The Tokorozawa hall's pipe organ was also built by Rieger Orgelbau.

I asked Mr. Merckaert to describe the salient characteristics of the newly installed pipe organ. He replied that the organ is in the French symphonic style and is capable of producing an extensive range of sound from tiny sounds to large and powerful sound volumes. Appropriately, Mr. Merckaert says that he wants to arrange orchestral works for solo performance on the instrument. In addition, he plans to perform duet concerts with one pianist on a piano and himself on the pipe organ. For the pipe organ's inaugural concert, Mr. Merckaert chose works by Saint-Saens and Messian, using these French romantic and 20th century composers to reveal the pipe organ's beautiful sound.

<< Funding the New Pipe Organ >>

The new organ cost ¥134 million (approx. US$1.3 million). Back in 1996, the two municipalities of Otawara City and the town of Nishi-Nasuno established a reserve fund for the pipe organ and this fund grew over the years to finance most of the cost of the pipe organ project. It is noteworthy that local residents also contributed directly to help finance the project. The community's donations totaled a significant ¥1.8 million (US$174,500).

Five years after Nasunogahara Harmony Hall completed, the popular Japanese weekly magazine Shukan Shincho published a piece by journalist Yoshiko Sakurai entitled "No Longer Needed: The Reality of Wasteful "Box Construction" Spending by Local Governments". In this article, Ms. Sakurai claimed that few people in Japan's regional towns and municipalities have interest in listening to classical music and that local governments were creating large amounts of debt by wasting money on building concert hall facilities. The true target of her criticism was governments' then focus on funding the construction of halls (pejoratively referred to as "boxes") while spending little on promoting and supporting the arts and artists who perform in the halls. In retrospect, it's clear that her initial assumption about interest in classical music was off the mark. If the residents of Otawara City and the town of Nishi-Nasuno thought spending on classical music concert halls a waste, further spending on a pipe organ would have been a perfect example of this. On the contrary, however, local residents donated a large sum of money from their own pockets to ensure that the pipe organ project would be realized.

Pipe organ music is not generally as well known or appreciated as the music of some other instruments. Over the course of nearly 20 years, Nasunogahara Harmony Hall's two hall directors-first Mr. Niwa and now Mr. Kobayashi-diligently worked to increase the community's understanding of the value of the pipe organ as well as local affection for and appreciation of the instrument's music, culminating in the pipe organ's addition to the large hall.

<< Reevaluating the Hall's Acoustics after the Pipe Organ's Installation >>

Acoustically, we generally consider a pipe organ to be a significant sound absorbing element in the room acoustics of a concert hall. The installation of a pipe organ can alter the reverberation time and the sound reflection characteristics of a hall.

After the installation of the Rieger organ in the large hall at Nasunogahara Harmony Hall, we measured the acoustical characteristics of the hall to see if something had changed.

To install the pipe organ, audience seating above the rear of the stage was removed. These audience seats were sound-absorbing elements so their removal reduced the amount of sound absorption in the hall, while the addition of the pipe organ added a sound absorbing element. Overall, the hall's sound reverberation time increased very slightly, previously measuring 2.1 seconds (in an empty hall, at 500 Hz) and now measuring 2.2 seconds (under the same conditions). As for changes to the quality of the acoustics, we will need to wait for audiences to hear a variety of concerts in the hall and learn from their comments and feedback whether they perceive a change in the way the hall sounds.

<< The Hall's Ongoing Programming Using the Pipe Organ >>

Mr. Merckaert will surely be involved in organizing ongoing programs that include organ music. In addition, I've been told that classes will be organized to give local residents the opportunity to learn more about the pipe organ, to interact with it and perhaps learn to play it. I look forward to learning more about the planning that the hall will develop around its new pipe organ.

The Nasunogahara Harmony Hall website is available in Japanese.


Right-Sizing Halls - Yesterday's "Bigger is Better" May Not Be Today's Answer

By Satoru Ikeda

For projects in cities and towns outside of Japan's major metropolitan areas, the basic programming for civic center and similar projects now often includes a hall mentioned as having between 600 and 1,300 seats. Moreover, the concept in these projects' documentation typically includes a request such as "design the space for ease of use by gatherings that have a small number of attendees" or "a space compatible both as a venue for large scale cultural events featuring visiting professional artists and for smaller scale recitals and other events performed by residents" or "a hall with first floor and balcony seating, with the seating placed effectively to eliminate awkwardness for events that attract medium-size and smaller audiences".

The planning teams that make these requests envision venues that they hope will attract large audiences, but for those times when the audience turnout is small, they want the patrons who do attend the event to enjoy a sociable atmosphere and feel that they are in a well-filled-not an empty-hall. Together with the overall character of the venue and its intended primary use, determining the seat count of a new hall can be one of the most difficult and important decisions during a hall's planning phase.

<< The Difficult Task of Determining Seat Count in Medium Size Halls >>

The planning work for small scale halls of a few hundred seats or, at the other extreme, for very large scale halls that seat thousands surely faces challenges related to the site conditions and constraints, defining the venue's mission and role in the community, but these questions often prove the most problematic for medium-size halls. The seat count for hall would change depending on whether to be built by public entities or commercial enterprise. For public halls, a first decision revolves around whether the focus of the hall will be as a venue where residents can showcase their own creative performances or as a hall where professionals will be invited to perform and the local community will participate as the audience.

When we think about the appropriate seat count for a hall, it's typical to consider what capacity will serve the local population, what size will be appropriate to the anticipated performance genres and what seat count will make the hall profitable. Also, in today's tight economy, the adage of "the bigger the better" no longer suffices as a compromise answer to how large a hall to build. Today, clients request a hall that is right-sized to their specific needs and situation. Figuring out what the right size is for a particular project is not an easy task.

<< Halls with Mechanisms to Vary the Seat Count >>

(a) Cross section view of a design for a hall partition that swings down from the ceiling
(a) Cross section view of a design for a hall partition
that swings down from the ceiling

(b) Cross section view of a retractable hall partition that can be raised or lowered from the ceiling
(b) Cross section view of a retractable hall partition
that can be raised or lowered from the ceiling

(b) Cross section view of a retractable hall partition that can be raised or lowered from the ceiling
(c) Cross section of a partition deployed
horizontally using panels stored at the side walls

Examples of the partitioning

In the 1970s, we built large-scale cultural facilities with both large and small halls around Japan. With the luxury of large budgets, mechanisms were implemented that enabled the large halls to be converted to halls with medium-size audience seating. This was the birth of multipurpose halls designed for use as both a large and medium-size hall. Sections of the audience seating would be partitioned to reduce the seat count to half or two-thirds of the large hall. A hall's thrust stage and orchestra pit might be designed so that the hall's seat count could be altered by lowering or raising the floors of these areas and repurposing them into audience seating as well. Conversely, a method to extend the audience area on to the stage could also be taken to vary the audience seat count.

For medium-size halls that have a sloped audience seating area and no balcony, some halls have a movable partition designed for temporary installation along an aisle that runs through the audience seating across the width of the hall or for placement on a center aisle that runs from the front to the rear of the hall. In larger halls that have balconies a variety of means have been devised to hide an unused balcony behind a partition. Motor-operated panels may be installed in the ceiling above the front of the balcony so that they can be lowered to create a wall or an angled ceiling above the balcony can have a mechanism that enables it to be rotated down to become a wall. Alternatively, deployable shutters, louvered panels or curtains can be installed either in the ceiling above the front of the balcony or at the sides of the balcony. Each of these solutions turns a large hall into a medium-size venue. Some halls even have mechanisms that convert the partitioned balcony into a space that can be used independently of the main part of the hall.

<< Acoustics and Other Considerations of Halls with Multiple Audience Area Configurations >>

In these kinds of architectural designs with mechanisms that vary the audience seat count and the overall spatial volume of the hall, the effect of each configuration on the room's acoustics must be carefully considered. The designs of the heating, cooling and ventilation (HVAC) systems as well as the lighting system also need special attention to achieve the desired performance and other characteristics for all of the hall's configurations.

For efficiency, the hall's HVAC system may be set up with zones for different audience sections. For energy savings, the hall's HVAC system should be designed so that it can be switched to adapt to the hall as a partitioned space. The same need for adaptability applies to the lighting system. The location of the lighting booth and the source of the stage spotlight that is installed in the rear of the hall need to be designed so that they can be used when the hall is configured with its entire audience area and when it is partitioned.

From the acoustical perspective, the sound system in particular needs to be designed for use with both full and partitioned hall configurations. The placement and directionality of the main loudspeaker at the proscenium and other main speaker units need to be carefully determined. The design should be evaluated to ensure full coverage for all seating regardless of the configuration and to confirm that the partitioned configuration does not produce undesired echoes.

During the room acoustical design of a hall that has more than one size configuration, acoustical characteristics appropriate to the reduced-size spaces must be obtained for the smaller configuration. Partition surfaces can become large sound reflecting surfaces that produce echoes. Prevention of these undesirable phenomena forms an important consideration of the partition design. Also, the partition will either form part of the ceiling or side wall design and will be visible from the stage both when the hall is used in full-size and reduced-size configurations. Creating a design that works from both the perspective of the hall's interior design and acoustical needs can be a challenge. Additionally, if the client wants to be able to simultaneously use the reduced-size spaces on both sides of the partition, sound isolation measures must be devised and installed. Because typical ceiling and wall designs that enable more than one configuration and the gaps needed for movable configuration are not compatible with effective sound isolation design, this objective is especially difficult to achieve.

<< Alternatives to Partitioning a Hall >>

This lightweight, easily deployed barrier screens empty balcony seats from performers' view.
This lightweight, easily deployed barrier screens
empty balcony seats from performers' view.

Recently, alternatives have gained interest as ways to adapt the size of overall audience seating areas to smaller audiences and create a feeling of congenial closeness while reducing the awkward feeling of an empty hall. In halls where local residents will be both performers and audience, one approach is to focus on the layout of the seating in the hall and also to design the lighting so that an inviting environment can be created for small audiences. For example, in a planned medium-size hall, instead of a single, sloped audience seating area, one half of the audience seating can be placed in a balcony. When the balcony seating will not be filled for a performance, the lighting over the balcony seats can be switched off to darken that space. The main floor seating derives the benefits of a space with tall side walls and ceiling while the darkened balcony seating becomes virtually unseen and the hall takes on the ambience of a smaller-size hall.

One reason for the adoption of alternative and simpler solutions for varying the seat counts of halls is the high cost of implementing a solution with moving ceiling or wall partitions. A client may prefer to spend the available funds on stage features and equipment. However, simply switching off the balcony lights may not sufficiently create a small hall feeling from the perspective of the performers on stage. To improve the performers' experience one simple and inexpensive method is to manually set up a lightweight visual barrier such as the one shown in the accompanying photo. The wooden ribs of this barrier are of sufficient height to screen the empty balcony seats from the performers' view, creating the illusion of a smaller hall and giving the performers the feeling of performing to a "full house". This solution has the benefit of being acoustically transparent due to the gaps for a rib, so there is no need for concern about echoes. The barrier can be easily set up manually because and simply rests against the balcony's floor or banister. The effect of the barrier is to create the illusion that the front wall of the balcony has simply been extended upward.

<< Balancing the Desire for a "Destination" Hall and a Venue for Local Residents' Productions >>

When deciding the appropriate audience seat count of a hall planned for a city or town outside a major metropolitan area, there will always be a tension between the desire of the client to build a facility that can accommodate major commercial productions, choruses, bands and national competitions that attract large audiences from a wide geographic area and the expected daily use of the facility by the local residents whose productions will have difficulty filling a large number of audience seats. As the scale of a hall increases, so does its rental price. The cost of renting a larger hall becomes one of the issues discussed during project planning. Local residents often express concern that the high cost of renting the new hall will limit its use by local residents and groups.

Even when the size of the hall is not debated, some participants in a hall's planning process may think that a fully-equipped stage should be accompanied by a configurable hall. However, both the project cost and the ongoing operational costs of a configurable hall need to be considered, including what fee will be added to the rental cost of the hall to configure it for each performance.

Right-sizing a hall requires negotiating with people of differing opinions and often concessions become necessary. We should remember the fundamentals of creating facilities for human cultural growth and enrichment. Rather than looking to academic theories, if we apply knowledge gained through experience and innovative thinking we can find the right solutions.


Nobuyuki Ebihara Talks about Traditional Japanese Residential Architecture at Nagata Acoustics

By Ryoichi Wada

On November 22, 2013, employees of Nagata Acoustics gathered together at our Tokyo office to listen to master carpenter Nobuyuki Ebihara talk on the topic of traditional Japanese residential architecture. Readers of this newsletter will be familiar with Mr. Ebihara through the articles he's written about his experiences on several of our concert hall projects as the builder of the precise acoustical scale models1.

We've been fortunate that Mr. Ebihara accommodates our schedule for a concert hall scale model when we need one. His main line of work is traditional Japanese sukiya carpentry. For his recent presentation at our Tokyo office Mr. Ebihara spoke about three aspects. He began with the introduction of Buddhism to Japan (in the sixth century C.E.). He traced how Buddhist ritual utensils and other artifacts were initially housed in standalone Jibutsudo structures and later came to be built as butsuma rooms attached or incorporated into the general architecture of the ruling elite's residences.

After speaking about early Buddhist architectural elements in Japanese architecture, Mr. Ebihara turned to the topic of partition-less Shindenzukuri residences of Heian Period (794-1185 C.E.) aristocracy. He explained how Japanese residential architecture evolved from residences without room partitions to homes with interior walls and "bedrooms".

Mr. Ebihara's third topic focused on the spiritual space of iori rooms. This topic and the knowledge Mr. Ebihara imparted interests me profoundly. In the following paragraphs I will share what I learned about iori from Mr. Ebihara's talk.

<< Iori and the Origins of Sukiya Architecture >>

Mr. Ebihara's speculated sketch of Kamo no Chomei's iori
Fig. 1: Mr. Ebihara's speculated sketch of
Kamo no Chomei's iori

Small scale tea ceremony room of Takeno Joo
Fig. 2: Small scale tea ceremony room
of Takeno Jōō

The meaning of iori is a small hut used by a recluse or hermit as his home. Mr. Ebihara focused his comments on two specific iori: the square iori where 12th century Japanese Buddhist author Kamo no Chomei lived in the last years of his life (Fig. 1); and Tougudo-doujinsai, the Jibutsudo in Kyoto's Gingaku-ji (Silver Pavilion), which was built for Shogun Yoshimasa Ashikaga in the 15th century.

Buddhism posits special meaning to square-shaped rooms, of which the Japanese 4.5-mat tatami room is one example. On a spiritual level, Buddhism holds that square-dimensioned rooms contain the entire cosmos2. In the 15th century, Murata Jukō3, the founder of the Japanese tea ceremony, adopted the use of a small 4.5-mat tatami room as part of his belief in chazen-ichimi, that the tea ceremony should be aligned with the path of Zen Buddhism. (Jukō's 4.5-mat room is shown in Fig. 2). Mr. Ebihara explained that Tougudo-doujinsai is the distillation of these two paradigmatic spaces.

Today's square, 4.5-mat tatami rooms have their origin in Murata Jukō's application of Buddhist principles to the architectural design of the tea ceremony room. Mr. Ebihara's talk about these origins put me in touch with the philosophy that infuses iori spaces. Mr. Ebihara explained that the sukiya style of architecture and construction had its true beginning in the small-scale tea ceremony room of Takeno Jōō. Sukiya architecture and the connection between Sen no Rikyū and modernist use of sukiya principles are topics of great interest to me and Mr. Ebihara's talk gave me fascinating new insights.

<< Japanese Rooms' Spiritual and Philosophical Meaning >>

In Japan, when we speak about the history of traditional Japanese architecture, we typically rely on the research and writings of two acknowledged experts, the late architectural historian Hirotaro Ota and architect and architectural theorist Chuta Ito. Both of these men wrote during the second half of the 20th century. There is much value in learning from their writings how Japanese architecture evolved together with the tastes, lifestyles and culture of people who lived in past eras of Japanese history.

Listening to Mr. Ebihara delve profoundly into the philosophical and spiritual origins of sukiya rooms greatly added to my understanding of this topic, giving me a different perspective than I learned from studying the writings of Mr. Ota and Mr. Ito. The talk with Mr. Ebihara reconfirmed for me the importance of learning the philosophical and spiritual meaning of the spaces created using traditional Japanese architecture and carpentry.


Note 1: Newsletters No. 287, No. 290, No. 292, and No. 294

Note 2: According to Buddhism, Yuima (the Japanese name for Vimalakirti, a bodhisattva of Shakyamuni Buddha) assembled a multitude of disciples to learn the Buddhist doctrines. The disciples gathered in his square-dimensioned room and no matter how many disciples entered the room and sat, space always remained for additional one to enter. The concept of square-shaped rooms containing the entire cosmos and having sacred inviolability is based on this story.

Note 3: In this article the names of tea ceremony masters are written in their original Japanese last name, first name order, and with an indication of pronunciation.

Descriptions of the names in Fig. 2:

TokoIn a room where guests are received, an recessed alcove built into the wall. A flower arrangement or artwork is placed in this space for visual appreciation and enjoyment.
Kinin-datamiThis tatami mat is always kept accessible to visitors in case a person of high rank arrived unexpectedly while a tea ceremony was in progress.
Temae-datamiThe tatami mat where the person preparing the tea sits.
FumikomiWhen people joining a tea ceremony enter the tea ceremony room, this is the first mat onto which they enter the room.
Kyaku-datamiThe mat where the guests of the tea ceremony sit and where they receive the tea from the preparer.
RoThe sunken pit where charcoals are placed to warm the water run for the tea.
Ro-datamiA small tatami mat cut to the dimensions needed for the sunken pit where the coals are placed.
FusumaA wood-frame sliding door with washi paper pasted on both sides.
Sadou-guchiThe door through which the person preparing the tea enters the room.
MairadoA wood-frame sliding door with horizontal wood louvers.
Akari-shojiA sliding door with a lattice-style wood frame and thin, translucent washi paper pasted on a single side.



Nagata Acoustics Inc.

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

(LA Office)
2130 Sawtelle Blvd., Suite 308
Los Angeles, CA 90025, U.S.A.
Tel: +1-310-231-7878, Fax: +1-310-231-7816

(Paris Office)
75, avenue Parmentier
75011 Paris, France
Tel: +33 (0)1 40 21 44 25, Fax: +33 (0)1 40 21 24 00

E-mail: info@nagata.co.jp

[ Japanese Version ]