Title means "Quietness", "Comfortable Sound" and "Excellent Acoustics"

Nagata Acoustics News 00-01 (No.145)
Issued : January 25, 2000

An Acoustical Perspective on Entering the New Millennium

by Hideo Nakamura, Nagata Acoustics President

New Year's greetings to all our readers!

The year 2000, in the Western calendar, arrived amidst an uneasy atmosphere of Y2K worries. But there was more to Y2K, and the start of a new millennium, than just worry. Even in countries such as Japan where the turning of the millennium does not have religious significance, the year 2000 has captured everyone's attention, becoming a personal as well as a public milestone.

In our first News & Opinions of the new millennium, I, too, will take my cue from the calendar. This article looks back over some of the issues and accomplishments that affected the world of acoustical engineering prior to the turn of the 21st century. After taking a look at where we have been and where we are today, we will be ready to forge ahead toward the next 1000 years.

<< Hall Acoustical Design in Japan >>

Looking back at the recent history of halls in Japan, the most noteworthy phenomenon has been the concert hall building boom that began more than a decade ago and has continued to the present. Today, when musicians, orchestras or agents come to Japan from abroad, they are amazed to find concert halls with excellent acoustics wherever they go in Japan, be it a major city or sparsely populated rural locale.

That Japan built so many halls in a comparatively compressed period of time was a positive contributing factor in the strides and advancements in acoustical design technology made by the Japanese acoustical engineering industry during the same period. Japan gained an international reputation for acoustical design expertise thanks to the word-of-mouth reports from orchestras and their entourages that toured here.

Domestically in Japan, until a few years prior to the last decade of the 20th century, much criticism was leveled at the limitations of the nation's concert halls. The nation had focused almost exclusively on building multipurpose halls. Even halls that were designed specifically as concerts halls tended to contain elements allowing for more multifunctional use. Now that true concert halls have been constructed throughout the country, we no longer hear these complaints.

Instead of complaints about poor acoustics, now halls' concerns have turned to operations. Hall representatives lament that their halls go unused on too many days. Recently, the Japanese news media focused on this problem, raising general awareness of the situation. As our readers know, Nagata Acoustics' News & Opinions is now in the midst of a series of articles that address the question of successful hall operation. We initiated this series in the hope that it may help those who are engaged in hall operations to benefit from the good ideas and experience of other hall administrators.

<< The Focus of Future Projects in Japan >>

Since nearly everyone in Japan now lives in relative proximity to a recently constructed hall with excellent acoustics for musical performances, future public works projects will likely focus on shimin kaikan ("community hall") renewal efforts. There are many of these halls in Japan and most were first constructed several decades ago.

Because expectations are different now than they were when the community halls were originally built, limiting the renovations of these halls to architectural upgrades may be insufficient. There will be many situations where the purpose and future functionality of community halls will cause heated debate. In our experience, one of the most frequently expressed dissatisfactions with the old halls is poor acoustics. Therefore, it is certain that acoustics will be a major consideration in any renovation plan for this kind of hall. However, we believe that there must be an intimate connection between the acoustical plans for these halls and decisions on how and for what purposes the renovated halls will be operated and utilized. Assisting our clients in rejuvenating their old facilities and making them "work" in today's environment is now integral to our role as acoustical consultants.

<< Hall Acoustical Design Around the World >>

Groundbreaking ceremonies of
the Walt Disney Concert Hall
Looking back at some developments around the world that began pre-2000, the Walt Disney Concert Hall project in Los Angeles is high on Nagata Acoustics' list. After being on hold for some time, the groundbreaking ceremonies to start construction finally took place on December 8, 1999. The expected completion date is now set for Autumn, 2002. As the new century dawns, Nagata Acoustics is gearing up to add our presence to this work site which will soon be bustling with activity. Our on-site participation in the construction management requires expertise and resources on U.S. construction materials and building codes, and an understanding of the job-site culture and procedures.

The fact that Nagata Acoustics is the acoustical consultant to the Walt Disney Hall project is evidence that the acoustical design industry and Nagata Acoustics' business are now truly borderless. Our participation on the Disney project earned us a place on the international acoustics' stage. As a result, we are now participating in projects in Australia, China, Taiwan, Korea, and Finland, as well as a number of other projects in North America. Nagata Acoustics looks forward to encouraging the international arm of our business and increasingly strengthening it.

In all of our international work, we find that we receive not only respect for our technical acoustical engineering expertise, but also equal treatment and the opportunity to participate fully. We are continuously grateful to all of our overseas colleagues, partners and customers who make this possible. Further, it makes me wonder how an overseas company would be treated if it participated in a construction project in Japan. Would the Japanese companies on the project ensure that the non-Japanese firm was treated equally and help eliminate legal and cultural barriers?

<< Halls in Japan and Overseas Share Similar Operational Worries >>

As we begin the new millennium, most operating budgets of halls in Europe and the United States are faring no better than those in Japan. Money is tight everywhere. In the United States and Japan, halls are trying to increase their utilization rate by expanding the range of genres and programs that can be performed in their facilities. Japan's extensive experience and success with multipurpose hall technologies may be of increasing value internationally as more halls in Europe and the United States work toward the goal of expanding their functionalities for additional performance genres.

<< The Coming Digital Revolution in Stage Sound-system Equipment >>

Looking forward now to the coming year, I can predict with certainty that we will see rapid conversion of sound mixing boards to digital format, and mixers can be considered the mission control center of any stage sound system. While stage lighting equipment switched to digital format long ago, the digitization of sound systems lags far behind. There are a couple of reasons for this: (1) The signal level used in sound systems is weak; and, (2) the quality of sound desired has always been considered to be very subjective and subject to delicate adjustments. Digital mixers were either too crude or too expensive to gain a following. However, we hear that the major manufacturers of this equipment are getting ready to launch digital mixing boards at prices that make them competitive with their analog siblings.

The digitization of sound mixing boards means that there will no longer be deterioration of the signal during processing. Operational settings can be saved, stored and retrieved, functions that were impossible with analog mixers. Nevertheless, the stage technicians who use the mixers are cautious about jumping on the digital bandwagon. They say that they do not care whether their equipment is in analog or digital format. They do not care about new functionalities. What they do care about is the stability of the equipment and excellent sound quality, and these parameters interest them greatly.

The manufacturers of sound mixers will do well to heed the opinions of the people who use their equipment. Too often, technological advances in hardware happen in ways that are good from the hardware perspective but decrease user satisfaction. As acoustical consultants, Nagata Acoustics often acts as the intermediary between sound system equipment manufacturers and the technical stage people who operate the equipment. Therefore, we also see ourselves as well situated to help users and manufacturers come together to develop the best possible digital hardware. We are ready and willing, and hope that we will be given this opportunity.

In addition to the digitization of sound mixing boards, the use of optical fiber transmission will bring us rapid digitization of entire sound systems in the near future. But even with these advances, there is one aspect of sound systems that will probably continue to be a thorn in architects' sides for some time to come. This is the presence of speakers, objects that architects probably wished did not exist at all. I wonder what kind of speaker systems will be developed by the end of the 21st century and regret that I do not have the time travel technology to go see them now.

<< Adopting a Different Standard for Environmental Noise Ratings >>

In Japan, in the 20th century, environmental noise ratings were measured against the median noise level value (L50). As we enter the 21st century, use of the ISO's Leq (Equivalent Continuous Sound Pressure Level) is gaining general acceptance throughout the world. This standard measures the average amount of time that energy is propagated as noise. Put another way, instead of measuring statistical calculations of noise volumes as was done under the old method, the new ISO standard measures the amount of energy generated.

In order to adopt the new standard in Japan, legal changes are under way. In 1999, Leq was implemented as the environmental noise standard, and the Japanese standards organization, JIS, established labeling and measuring requirements for using the ISO standard. Since the measurement method has changed, so has the equipment we use to measure noise levels. Signal processing functionality has been added to our noise level measuring equipment, which is more complex than the old equipment. Nagata Acoustics is in the process of getting up to speed on using this new tool as quickly as possible. Environmental noise and vibration investigations and solution development may seem like uninspiring work compared with the pomp and excitement that surrounds hall acoustical design. But reducing and controlling environmental noise and vibration directly impact the quality of our daily lives, so this is an area that will continue to be a focus of Nagata Acoustics well into the new millennium.

<< Living and Working in the New Millennium: One Year at a Time >>

My readers may be disappointed that they have reached the end of this article without any fantastic predictions and revelations of startling innovations expected in the years to come. If so, I apologize for my lack of sci-fi imagination. In Junichiro Hashimoto's book, Humanity's Long Afternoon ("Jinrui no Nagai Gogo"), the author writes about a 36,000m-high elevator to outer space that will be built to rise from earth's equator by the year 3000. Rather than making such dream-like prognostications for the far-off future, I would like to concentrate on the year that is here now. In keeping with this approach, I will conclude by extending to each and every one of our readers my wishes that you will have a very happy and healthy year 2000!!

A Case Study of Hall Operations at Nakano ZERO Hall

by Akira Ono

Nakano ZERO Hall is located in Tokyo, near the south entrance of the Chuo Train Line's Nakano Station. The facility, which is just a seven or eight minute walk east of the station entrance, is built on a street that runs parallel to and alongside the Chuo Line tracks.

<< Nakano ZERO Hall's Facilities >>

Nakano ZERO Hall first opened to the public in July 1993. Its facilities include a 1,300-seat large hall and 550-seat small hall, an audio-visual listening/screening hall, a rehearsal room, library and planetarium, and an exhibition gallery. The building stands next to a verdant park, Momijiyama Koen, and together the building and park form a popular community recreation area.

<< Nakano Ward's Competitive Multi-hall Environment >>

In the six and one-half years since Nakano ZERO Hall opened, many other excellent public facilities have been constructed in Tokyo. In Nakano Ward alone, two other halls were built.

In order to learn about how the hall operates in Nakano Ward's competitive hall environment, and what role the hall plays as a public cultural facility in this urban, residential and commercial section of Tokyo, I interviewed Mr. Sen Kanai of the hall's Facilities Administration Department. Mr. Kanai participated in the planning of Nakano ZERO Hall as Nakano Ward's representative on the project. Prior to that assignment, Mr. Nakai worked in the old public hall that was torn down when Nakano ZERO Hall was built.

<< One of Many Facilities Governed by a Single Organization >>

The administration and management of Nakano ZERO Hall is the responsibility of the non-profit Nakano Ward Culture and Sports Promotion Foundation. Nakano ZERO Hall is just one of many venues that the foundation oversees. In addition to responsibility for a theater (Nakano Geino Shogekijo) and another hall (Nogata Kumin Hall), the foundation's administration and management functions extend over all of the ward's cultural and sports facilities, including gyms, outdoor sports parks, and martial arts studios.

<< Hall-sponsored, Promoter-packaged Productions >>

Last year, the large and small halls' operating budget accounted for about \48 million ($40,000+) of Nakano ZERO Hall's total annual budget, which provides for all of the diverse facilities housed in the structure. The hall management produces 40 hall-sponsored concerts each year, including concerts produced for both the large and small halls. However, the hall's control over the planning and content of its productions is extremely limited. Most of the hall-sponsored concerts are simply selected from the "packaged" offerings of music agents and other promoters who do all the content planning and program production work. This approach to "in-house" production is common among public halls in Japan. Some halls may negotiate with one promoter or agent to provide a certain number of concerts to match the hall's overall budget. The promoter provides the requested number of concerts, adjusting the content according to the available funds. Perhaps the thinking is the same as marketplace logic and the halls that negotiate in this way hope to receive a discount by "buying in bulk."

Since the residents of Nakano Ward expect Nakano ZERO Hall to provide cultural fare for their consumption, it is both natural and necessary that the hall purchase some of the concert packages promoters offer. But if the hall's entire budget were spent on promoters' packages, the hall's own identity would never be developed, regardless of how many box office successes it achieved. If a hall increases its operating budget for in-house productions and management's only response is to purchase more "off-the-shelf" concert packages, then money alone is not the answer needed to establish a hall's unique personality.

<< "Kumin On Stage" Amateur Concerts >>

Poster of
"Kumin On Stage" concerts
Luckily for the residents of Nakano Ward, Nakano ZERO Hall's entire budget is not spent only on promoters' packages, though the majority of the budget does go to purchase professional concert offerings. Each year, Nakano ZERO Hall's unique personality comes vividly into the foreground during its "Kumin On Stage" ("kumin" means "ward residents") concerts by local (and primarily amateur) cultural and performing arts groups and clubs.

Kumin On Stage generates a lot of excitement for Zero Hall among the residents of Nakano Ward. Each year, the hall provides information to neighborhood music, dance and drama clubs, studios and schools encouraging them to enter their names for selection as participants in that year's Kumin On Stage. Zero Hall then judges the applications it receives and selects eligible groups to perform at the hall during the annual Kumin Festival. Selecting eligible groups is mostly a formality. To date, every group that has asked for a chance to perform has been included in the program. This year, there will be eight Kumin On Stage performances, scheduled during five days of a nine-day period: January 29 and 30, and February 4, 5 and 6. Both the large and small halls will be used, and the Nakano ZERO Hall administration also reserves time in both halls prior to the performance dates, so that the performing groups can rehearse in the halls.

Some of the more innovative of the Kumin On Stage performances are the joint effort of more than one performing group. For example, this year there is a joint concert by a Korean dance troupe and a Ryukyu (Okinawan) music and dance troupe. In this case, the two groups applied to Nakano ZERO Hall separately, but through discussions with the foundation responsible for the hall, a plan developed for the joint performance. Instead of simply dividing the available performance time between the two groups and each "doing only their own thing," they decided to try to create something together. The result is a joint performance by Ryukyu Uta-shamisen and Korean drum musicians.

Because local performers representing many different performing art genres participate in Kumin On Stage, this program creates many opportunities for "cross-pollination." Communication between and among diverse performing arts groups resident in the same or nearby neighborhoods can lead to inspired new kinds of performances by local artists eager to use Nakano ZERO Hall.

<< Producing Kumin On Stage: Small Budgets and Lots of Work >>

Because local performing groups and the Nakano Ward Culture and Sports Promotion Foundation jointly sponsor the Kumin On Stage concerts, concert production costs can be kept much lower than for concerts by professional performers contracted through a promoter or agent. But the additional workload that the program places on Nakano ZERO Hall's staff is exponentially greater than the workload entailed in purchasing promoters' packages. For Kumin On Stage, Zero Hall's staff meets with all the performing groups and assists them in planning and producing their concerts. This year, the hall's staff spent many long hours to enable eight different concerts to be staged in the short period of less than two weeks.

<< Nakano ZERO Hall's Successful Rental Strategy >>

Nakano ZERO Hall tallies its hall rental activity by counting morning rentals, afternoon rentals and evening rentals as one unit each. According to this method of calculation, in 1999, the large and/or small halls were rented for 1035 units of time (equivalent to 345 full days). The large hall was rented for 925 units of time (308.3 full days), giving it a utilization rate of 90%, and the small hall was rented for 858 units of time (286 full days), giving it a utilization rate of 83%. These rates show that Nakano ZERO Hall's large and small halls are used almost daily.

Most of Nakano ZERO Hall's rental activity comes from amateur groups such as student orchestras, choruses and dance troupes. The hall reserves one week per month for preferential rental to residents of Nakano Ward, and rents out its facilities on a no-preference, first-come-first-served basis during the other weeks of each month.

Even allowing that a portion of Nakano ZERO Hall's rental patrons are not residents of Nakano Ward, the high 90% utilization rate for the 1,300-seat large hall is astounding. According to the hall's staff, its Kumin On Stage programming has established bonds between the hall and local performing groups. There is a desire to work together to make concerts happen. Amateur groups who rent the hall feel at ease with the hall's staff, making Nakano ZERO Hall a friendly location and the venue of choice for many amateur performing groups. The hall's staff credits the friendly, easily approachable reputation it earned from the Kumin On Stage concerts as the reason for Nakano ZERO Hall's high rental utilization rate.

<< Technical Assistance and TLC for Amateur Group Needs >>

Nakano ZERO Hall is a publicly funded facility and subject to the many bureaucratic rules, regulations and procedures that seem inevitable in such institutions. Nevertheless, Nakano ZERO Hall's staff has found ways to make their hall extra easy for amateurs to use. For example, one benefit of renting Nakano ZERO Hall that is especially appreciated by amateur orchestras is that large instruments, such as the contrabass and timpani, can be rented from the hall. Nakano ZERO Hall rents these large instruments to performing groups when they use its practice and rehearsal rooms as well as for actual performances in the large and small halls. In addition, amateur group performers especially value and trust the technical support, advice and detail-oriented attention provided by the hall's staff concerning use of the large and small halls' equipment, such as setting the variable reverberation feature of the large hall. Nakano ZERO Hall's Mr. Kanai believes that amateur groups prefer his facility as their performance venue because of the trust they have in the hall's staff, trust that comes both from the technical expertise of the staff and from knowing that amateur groups are welcome and will be accorded an extra measure of attention and care.

Nakano ZERO Hall operates within a limited budget, but there is no limit to the creative energy of the people of Nakano Ward. Rather than exhausting the hall's precious dollars solely on promoters' packaged concerts, Nakano ZERO Hall also draws on the creativity of local residents to keep its hall lively and relevant to the people it serves. It is an excellent example of a facility that relies on something other than money and famous names to ensure its ongoing success.

Nakano ZERO Hall can be contacted by telephone at +81-3-3540-5000.

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Nagata Acoustics News 00-01iNo.145j
Issued : January 25, 2000

Nagata Acoustics Inc.
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