News 15-11 (No.335)
Issued : November 25, 2015
By Daniel Beckmann
In the German capital city of Berlin, the Barenboim-Said Academy is building a new home for itself. The Academy is the brainchild of the Argentinian-Israeli pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, currently the Music Director of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (Berlin State Opera) and its orchestra the Staatskapelle Berlin, and the late Edward Said, the Palestinian cultural critic and author. The future Academy is the outgrowth of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which was founded by Barenboim and Said together in 1999, joins young musicians from Arab countries and Israel in order to foster understanding between young people from different sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Academy offers "Education through Music," Barenboim's concept of a combined musical and humanities curriculum. Up to 90 students from the Middle East will be enrolled for four-year scholarship terms.
The Academy is building its new facility in a historic scenery warehouse for the State Opera in the Mitte (Middle) district in Berlin, steps away from the Berlin State Opera and the Konzerthaus Berlin. The warehouse will house academic and practice facilities, and the centerpiece will be the 620-seat Pierre-Boulez-Saal designed by Frank Gehry. Local architecture firm RW+ has handled the overall building with the academic facilities, as well as executive architecture services for the Hall, in collaboration with the donated services provided by Gehry's office. Nagata Acoustics was invited by Frank Gehry to participate in the design of the hall, to provide excellent and innovative acoustics suitable for the artistry of its namesake, Pierre Boulez, as well as its founder Daniel Barenboim.
<< Architecture of the Pierre-Boulez-Saal >>
The Pierre-Boulez-Saal is the insertion of a new function into an existing, historic structure, similar to the Auditorium Giovanni Arvedi in Cremona, Italy (please see the September, 2012 newsletter). Therefore, the existing historic building has defined the overall available space for the room. The hall is intended to serve first of all as a rehearsal space for the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and also as a performance venue for chamber ensembles and recitals by the students and guests of the Academy. Overall, a space of approximately 25m square and 14m tall was available in the existing building for the performance hall, requiring a unique vision of a flexible layout in order to accommodate all of the necessary program.
Gehry Model #1
Gehry Model #2
The innovative design by Frank Gehry organizes the seating in an oval shape around the performers in the center of the square room. (See the photo: "Gehry Model #1".) Audience enter the performance hall on one side, from a four-story tall atrium separating the performance hall from the academic facilities, at the top of five rows of seats which step down to the central stage area. A dramatic oval balcony with two rows floats above the audience, and is rotated gently against the oval shape of the seating below. The balcony is apparently supported only by four slender columns, in addition to touching the main walls of the room near the mid-point of each wall, allowing the corners behind the balcony to merge with the main volume of the space. The most dramatic element of the balcony is the gentle rising and falling of the floor level around the room: in the course of walking all the way around the balcony, one has risen and fallen by roughly one meter. (See the photo: "Gehry Model #2".)
In order to accommodate the 622 planned audience seats as well as the space for large orchestra rehearsal, a highly flexible seating layout was developed. At the center of the room, on the same level as the musicians, there are three rows of loose seats. Then, four rows of seats are installed on retractable risers. Finally, at the level of the audience entry, one fixed row of bench seating is installed as the last row of seating surrounding the stage. Together with the balcony above, the loose seats and retractable risers offer many different performance configurations.
<< Acoustical Design of the Pierre-Boulez-Saal >>
Pierre-Boulez-Saal Under Construction
The acoustical design of the hall is focused on providing a space for full orchestra rehearsal within a concert hall for chamber music. The most important design direction to accommodate a full orchestra is to keep enough ceiling height above the stage. Since the project is the renovation of an existing building, there were many restrictions. The final result places the stage at the bottom of the building so that we can make the most use of the existing structure. Thus the entire volume is used acoustically. The overall shape of the hall is a typical shoebox. The best direction of acoustical design remains to use this basic shape. To keep the strong benefits of the shoebox style, our aim was to design the floating balcony with the greatest possible acoustical transparency. The guard rail in front of the audience is made of thin pipes, in order to keep maximal transparency. Furthermore, the overall structure of the balcony was designed to be acoustically transparent, resulting in the concrete truss punctuated with many large holes. (See photo: "Pierre-Boulez-Saal Under Construction".)
<< Project Status >>
The project is currently under construction, since May 2014. The building is planned to finish construction activities in May 2016, followed by four months of preparation for the opening in October 2016. More information can be found at www.barenboim-said.com
The Stereophonic Audio Experience of Trending 3D Audio Systems
By Kosuke Suzuki
The Audio Engineering Society (AES) Japan Section held its 4th Japan Conference in September on the campus of Nagoya University of Arts. The overall theme of the conference was “The Future of 3D Audio”. I attended the demonstrations entitled “The Stereophonic Experience of Trending 3D Audio Systems” and will use this space to recount my impressions on some of the products I saw and heard.
The term “audio system” is used to refer broadly to not only sound reproduction equipment, but also to systems for recording and its data mixes, formatting, and writing into media such as DVD/Blu-ray, as well as total systems for sound reproduction in a room.
The conference included discussions and workshops about the various processes involved in each of these systems, but in this article I will focus on my impressions experiencing the content at the demonstrations. The conference had 4 systems set up for attendees to experience. I describe and review each of them in turn below.
<< 22.2 Multichannel Sound System >>
22.2 multichannel system layout
The 22.2 multichannel sound system is the surround sound technology developed at NHK Science & Technology Research Laboratories in Japan as the audio component of 8k Super-Hi Vision TV, which is also developed at NHK. As can be seen in Fig-1, the basis of the 22.2 multichannel sound reproduction system is the use of 22 loudspeakers plus 2 subwoofers (22.2 channels) to create a 3-dimensional sound field surrounding the audience.
Originally, surround sound systems for home had 5.1 or 7.1 channels, with 5 or 7 loudspeakers located at the height of listeners’ ears. For 5 channels, loudspeakers to the front left, center, right, and rear left and right of the location where people would be seated are set up. For 7 channels, side left and right are added to the 5 channel set up. More recently, as technology has become able to support more channels, surround sound systems with 9.1, 11.1 or 13.1 channels have become increasingly popular. These technological developments have now made 22.2 channel systems possible so that these systems can be marketed together with 8K Super-Hi Vision TVs for the residential market. Currently, a main focus of research is to maintain the sound quality of 22.2 channels while reducing the number of speakers actually needed by the system.
A 22.2 multichannel sound system and 85-inch 8K display were set up at the AES conference. One after another, a diversity of programs appealing to different tastes, NHK Orchestra subscription concert, Japanese figure skater Mao Asada’s performance at the Sochi Olympics, some documentaries, a pro wrestling event, and etc. were continuously shown. In these content I had my greatest interest in Ms. Asada’s figure skating performance. The camera angle of the video put the viewer at the same height as Ms. Asada’s line of sight and the clarity of video reproduction made it seem to the viewers as if we were skating alongside her on the ice. With the video recording following Ms. Asada at a precisely maintained distance, the sound of the skate blades on the ice also consistently made us feel very close to the skater without any sense of the sound seeming sometimes closer or more distant. When the Sochi Olympics’ audience burst into resounding applause, the sound—combined with the sound of the musical accompaniment—was truly phenomenal.
By contrast, I found the 8K video of the NHK Orchestra subscription concert the most disappointing of the demonstrations shown in this system. The video recording’s camera mostly stayed in a fixed placement showing the entire orchestra. From time to time, the image would shift to a close-up of a particular musician and during these moments we could see the person’s facial expression as it changed and gestures such as a wink of the eye that made us feel as if we were watching from a seat on the stage. But the audio track was a mix of recordings from an assortment of microphones that had been placed at various locations. It was discomforting to listen to this audio track though perhaps my unease was exacerbated by my inexperience watching and listening to an orchestra concert on TV.
<< Dolby ATMOS >>
11.1 channel (7.1.4 channel) system layout
Dolby’s most recent product of focus is its new audio format “ATMOS”. Previous formats such as MPEG2-AAC or Dolby Digital lacked any spatial information and were entirely “channel based” so that if, for example, the sound being reproduced was of a helicopter in flight, the sound could only be described as moves between channels. By contrast, with ATMOS, the flight pattern of the helicopter is written as 3-dimensional data and appropriately assigned in the helicopter’s audio file. Sound designers in the movie industry have been quick to adopt ATMOS, which is said to be the first "object based" audio format. In Japan, both studios and movie theatres are rapidly jumping on this technology and advertising their venues as supporting DOLBY ATMOS sound technology. Regardless of whether a video is watched in a commercial theatre or in a home theatre or on a mobile device, and regardless of differences in the number of loudspeakers due to the playback device or environment, same ATMOS audio file is provided. Installed software in a supporting device automatically adapts the audio to the playback device or environment.
At the conference, the set-up for this demonstration used the 7.1.4 channel surround sound system shown in Fig-2. The configuration augments a typical 7.1 channel surround sound system by adding 4 loudspeakers above, one at each of the left, right, rear left and rear right loudspeakers. The layout was intended to simulate how this kind of system might be set up in a residential living room or family room.
The content used for this product’s demonstration again spanned numerous genres and interests. It included the trailer for the latest Mad Max Maestro Yutaka Sado conducting a concert hall of 10,000 Japanese people singing the “Choral” of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, an ATMOS promotional music video by the J-pop band Def Tech, studio sessions of bands, a quartet and a quintet performances recorded at Ohga Hall in Karuizawa, Japan, and a soon-to-be-released Star Wars video game trailer.
ATMOS made the movie and the game incredibly powerful. The sound truly smoothly in space and I found myself easily immersed in the content on the screen. The Def Tech promotional video included sound effects that traveled up and down in the space and was—for me—an interesting first-time sound experience that showcased the ATMOS product. This intense content would be good for a lively party but, sadly home theater audio systems are currently designed to be enjoyed by only a few people in their seats.
<< Auro-3D >>
9.1 channel system layout
Using a technology developed in Belgium, Auro-3D is a new “channel based” audio format that enables high quality 9.1 and 13.1 multichannel sound to be written to DVDs and Blu-ray discs, going beyond the previous limitation of 7.1 channels for high quality audio on these media. This format has the significant advantage of being able to reproduce a sound recording as is—without mixing—through the number of channels used. In addition, the encoding and decoding process from 13.1 channels to 9.1 channels or 5.1 channels, and vice-versa, can be done with almost no degradation of the sound quality. Some manufacturers have already begun marketing devices for Auro-3D format Blu-ray high-resolution audio sources and preamps and processors that can do audio playback using the Auro-3D technology.
The content for Auro-3D’s demonstrations were presented by 9.1 channel set-up as in Fig-3. Here I watched trailers for DreamWork’s How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Turbo and a video of gospel singing filmed in a church. When the dragon in the DreamWork’s film first came bounding onto the screen I surely felt the space expand upward by the sound and I had the same experience listening to the singers in the church. However, the demonstration room was not darkened but, instead, was well lit during the demo and the sound volume was lower than the Dolby ATMOS demo that immediately preceded it. I unfortunately found it difficult to feel immersed in the content and thought it regrettable that this demo lacked the compelling powerfulness.
<< Eclipse Loudspeakers >>
Unlike the 3 systems I discussed above, the last product I will review here is a line of loudspeakers. The Eclipse series manufactured by Fujitsu Ten Corporation has a distinctive egg shape that makes it immediately identifiable to those of you who may have seen it. The product line focuses on the concept of accurate reproduction of sound in a space and uses both digital and analog sound source signals. Since its debut in 2001 the line of speakers has gained adherents among many well-known engineers and musicians. Compared with the entertainment value, extreme and powerful experiences that are the talking points of the first 3 products I discussed, the value of Eclipse speakers deliver might be described as delivering an accurate experience of reality.
The Eclipse loudspeaker demonstration proposed using the speakers as part of a sound system and, like the Auro-3D demo, used a 9.1 channel set-up to present the product. High resolution audio piece by Akira Fukada, Hideo Irimajiri and Morten Lindberg entitled “Natural 3D Sound Source” was presented here. During this demo, the content sounded as if musicians were playing in the room live. The entirely natural sound made me forget that the sound was being emitted from speakers. In the same room I also had a chance to listen to a compressed MP3 sound source, I could clearly hear that the Eclipse speakers deliver more natural sound than typical box-shaped speakers. The one truly irritating aspect of this part of the event was the lack of opportunity to listen to the same content on other speakers. I found myself wishing that this part of the event was a session comparing speakers instead of a single product line’s presentation.
<< In Summary >>
These were the 4 systems presented at the conference. Each system represents a particular technology and comparing them to each other just by their output sound would be inappropriate.
The conference used the phrase “Future of 3D Audio” as its theme, but the 4 systems presented are products already on the market today, not systems still in the experimental phase of development. Installing sound effect loudspeakers from the ceiling or upper walls of theatres is already typical so the concept of adding speakers in this manner is nothing new.
Attendance at this demonstration did not give me insight into the future. Nevertheless, it did give me ideas I’d like to incorporate in my home sound system and from this perspective it was an interesting event.
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
1990 S. Bundy Drive, Suite 795
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tel: +1-310-231-7878, Fax: +1-310-231-7816
75, avenue Parmentier
Tel: +33 (0)1 40 21 44 25, Fax: +33 (0)1 40 21 24 00