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

Nagata Acoustics News 99-10 (No.142)
Issued : October 25, 1999

Chuo Ward's Nihonbashi Theater Opens

by Akira Ono

Nihonbashi Theater
In July 1999, Chuo Ward's Nihonbashi Theater opened in the Nihonbashi Kakigaracho section of Tokyo. In Japan, the name "Nihonbashi" evokes many historical and legendary associations. The word means "Japan Bridge" and refers to a location in Tokyo from where the Tokugawa Shoguns calculated the distance to the capital of every town, city and hamlet in the country. Today, there is neither bridge nor moat in the area of Nihonbashi. Instead, it is a section of the city that mixes department stores and office towers with remnants of traditional Japanese culture and architecture.

To Japanese ears, the name Nihonbashi Theater sounds like the entertainment center brain-child of private industry. In fact, It is a public building funded by Chuo Ward. (A "ward" is an administrative unit in Tokyo, similar to a borough in New York or counties elsewhere.)

The Nihonbashi Theater building is a multipurpose structure. The first and second floors provide space for a local branch of the Chuo Ward office. Residents of the ward will therefore be frequenting the building to conduct such mundane transactions as registering births and marriages, and to file property, tax and other business documents.

Nihonbashi Theater is just a five-minute walk from Suitengu-mae Station, on the Eidan Hanzomon subway line. Nearby are Ningyocho and Kabutocho, traditional Tokyo neighborhoods that date back to when Tokyo was named Edo. Here one can still find craftsmen of Japanese dolls and other traditional arts. Once the crossroads for travelers entering and leaving the capital city, Nihonbashi Theater now helps make this section of Tokyo a cultural crossroads of old and new expressions of the traditional performing arts that have been performed here for centuries.

<< Nihonbashi's Long History of Traditional Performing Arts >>

During the Edo Period (1650-1868), Nihonbashi was home to three popular theaters for the dramatic arts: Nakamura-za, Ichimura-za, and Morita-za. Today, as well, Tokyo's three most prestigious venues for traditional Japanese theater are also located in Chuo Ward. These are the internationally known Kabukiza, for kabuki performances, Shinbashi Enbujo, and Meiji-za. As a result of this geographical concentration, many of the traditional musicians and dance studios, and the artisans and craftspeople who create props and provide other support for traditional Japanese productions continue to reside and work nearby. The masters of traditional Japanese music and dance preserve the guild structure of yore, bringing a limited number of apprentices under their wings to learn their arts. And, not surprisingly, the masters of 10 major traditional music houses and dance families reside in Chuo Ward.

<< The Hall's Clearly Designed Focus to Foster Traditional Japanese Arts >>

One stage of the planning process for the new facility required Chuo Ward to decide the purpose(s) and objectives of the building's hall. Often, publicly funded facilities have only ambiguous directives for this part of project planning, which is called the conceptual programming, Luckily, Chuo Ward's outspoken traditional artistic community expressed its desire to use the hall as a cultural springboard for the "Edo Bunka" genres that have long thrived in the ward's neighborhoods. This suggestion matched the ward's self-image and responded to the needs of a large proportion of the ward's population. Accordingly, it was successfully adopted as the aim of the new hall. Chuo Ward Chief Yata voiced the ward's concept for the hall when he said, "We aim to carry on the traditions of vibrant traditional Japanese dance and musical arts in Chuo Ward." Thus, unlike so many publicly funded facilities, Chuo Ward gave the project team clear and decisive directions to design a theater that would primarily cater to performances of traditional Japanese music and dance. The project's architectural firm, Kuni Sekkei, held meetings with Chuo Ward's master dance and music artists to learn about their hopes and expectations concerning the equipment and functionalities of the new hall. This gave the future users of the hall the opportunity to participate in the design process.

<< Traditional Japanese Dimensions for the Theater and the Stage >>

Nihonbashi Theater seats an audience of 440 persons. It has a traditional hanamichi runway that passes through the audience seating to the stage, complete with a "suppon" trap door in the floor that enables a performer to "magically" appear from below. Thanks to modern technology, the hanamichi can be mechanically raised and lowered, and it can be lowered to floor level when not needed. The stage's opening is 6.5 mats wide, and the usable depth of the stage is 5 mats, traditional Japanese dimensions for a performance space. (One tatami mat measures 1.8meters x 0.9meters)

The audience seating is configured with a balcony in addition to the seating at stage level. As befits a traditional Japanese theater, the side balcony seating includes areas installed with tatami mats. Theater guests who choose these seats sit on the tatami mats and enjoy a truly Edo-like immersion in Japanese theater.

<< Acoustical Considerations for Traditional Japanese Music >>

Thus far I have used the phrase traditional Japanese music as if I was referring to a single kind of music. But the phrase encompasses numerous different genres, not all of which are best served by the same acoustical environment. I had previously addressed these differing and sometimes conflicting acoustical requirements in my design work for the small hall of Kioi Hall (also in Tokyo), so I was not surprised when the same issues and questions arose in designing the acoustics for Nihonbashi Theater.

Several genres of traditional Japanese music have always been performed in theater settings. These include Naga-uta, Joruri, and Kiyomoto. Acoustical reverberations and sound reflections are essential to these genres. When performances of these kinds of music are held in a typical multipurpose hall, on-stage reflection panels may be added, and the sound reflections from the beautiful Japanese screens that are always stood behind the performers figure importantly in what the audience hears. At rehearsals for these genres, the distance between the performers and the Japanese screens is tested and adjusted with great care to ensure precisely the desired acoustical benefits.

In contrast with the musical genres just discussed, other forms of Japanese music, such as Ko-uta and Ha-uta developed as entertainment performed for private parties in square, tatami-matted rooms enclosed by papered, sliding doors, and covered with flat, wood ceilings. The genres of Japanese music that began as entertainment for intimate settings are not meant to be performed in a hall with reverberations appropriate to a Naga-uta performance. Rather, the fundamental approach to an acoustical design for Ko-uta and similar genres should employ amplification equipment to enhance the audience's ability to appreciate the subtle vocal qualities unique to these genres.

There are also particular acoustical considerations for performances of the Japanese koto. This Japanese stringed instrument is placed directly on the floor when it is played. Unlike other stringed instruments, the sound from plucked strings of the koto travels not only into the air but also through the stage floor. Depending on the stage's construction, the percussive sound generated from the action of plucking the koto strings can be annoyingly loud. Koto performers find this "side-effect" of some stages especially distressing. Unfortunately, regardless of the construction method or design strategy used, there is no foolproof way to design and/or build a stage so that it does not produce the undesired vibration noises when used by koto performers. The two most frequently used prevention strategies are: (1) to have the koto player(s) sit on tatami mats brought out on stage; or, (2) to place under the koto several layers of the rubber sheets usually used to prevent objects from slipping horizontally.

<< The Nihonbashi Theater Stage is a Stage for Many Genres >>

Nagata Acoustics design for the stage of Nihonbashi Theater reflects the differing needs of the various genres of Japanese traditional music and dance that will be performed there. In addition, we designed the hall to also be readily adaptable for use as a multipurpose hall. To accomplish this versatility, we installed a number of adjustable elements on and around the stage. We installed reflection panels above the stage and provided the stage floor with a retractable proscenium. The stage wall panels can be manually rotated to vary the hall's reverberation time, and are designed to be used in conjunction with a sound-absorbing rolling stage curtain operated by an electric motor. Figure 1 shows the variety of stage configurations that are possible, including the configuration for use as a multipurpose hall. Through our flexible design strategy, we enabled the hall to successfully respond to the stage set-up demands of diverse genres of traditional Japanese performing arts on a case-by-case basis.

Fig.1 Variety of stage configurations

<< Nihonbashi Theater's Reverberation Time >>

The reverberation times for the hall with its various stage configurations is also noted in Figure 1. Our understanding of the reverberation times for traditional Japanese music is based on the considerable research that was conducted as part of the planning for the Japanese National Theater and Shinbashi Enbujo Theater. These studies determined that the best reverberation time for traditional Japanese music is plus-or-minus one second, regardless of the size of the hall. Our own research, conducted in connection with the planning work for Kioi Hall's small hall, produced the same results, especially for live performances of Naga-uta and similar genres. Since Nihonbashi Theater's longest possible reverberation time is 1.2 seconds, and its shortest reverberation time is 0.8 seconds, our design meets the desired range of reverberation times for performances of traditional Japanese music.

However, because Nihonbashi Theater is a publicly funded facility, we must keep in mind the likelihood that the hall will also be used for piano recitals and other performances of western music. Chuo Ward bought a Bosendorfer grand piano for the hall, but audiences may find the sound of piano recitals held at this hall to be slightly lacking the richness they would prefer.

<< The Hall's First Performances Match the Concept Set by Its Funder >>

During the first three months that the hall has been in operation, most of the performances held at Nihonbashi Theater have been traditional Japanese music and dance. Chuo Ward's decision to provide specific direction for the hall's concept programming will ensure that Nihonbashi Theater will be well-utilized by the people for whom it was built.

To contact Nihonbashi Theater directly, call +81-3-3666-4255.

Katsushika Symphony Hills Begins its Seventh Year

by Satoru Ikeda

On the east side of Tokyo-not considered the trendiest part of the city-in Katsushika Ward, a thriving cultural center will soon enter its seventh year. The activities and vibrancy of the facility, which boasts a "Friends" membership list of some 3,500 people, can be glimpsed in its bimonthly newsletter, Symphony Press. The September/October 1999 issue (Issue No. 45) contains information on 13 upcoming concerts for which tickets will soon be available, ticket purchasing information for 17 concerts that already have tickets on sale, a two-month calendar full of events and explanations about how to purchase tickets, including both how to reserve tickets by phone and how to receive purchased tickets by mail. The newsletter also provides an overview of available childcare services, information on how to become a "Friend" of the center, requests for volunteers to display posters about upcoming performances and a call for local musicians to audition for the Riverside Orchestra.

The Symphony Hills September/October newsletter lists 13 hall-sponsored events and 39 other events for the two-month period. This includes performances in both the large and small halls, but may exclude some private events that the presenters did not want listed. The facility's gallery will hold eight exhibitions, and will have artwork on view for a total of 48 days. That autumn is Japan's most lively season for the performing arts and cultural events may partially explain the flurry of activity at this facility, but there are also other, non-seasonal reasons why Symphony Hills is so full of life.

Among the performances on sale now at Symphony Hills, as well as among those that will be on sale later in the fall, are a number of concert and symposium series. There is even a regular series of concerts by a wind and string orchestra that owes its very exists to the support and encouragement of Katsushika Ward.

The Symphony Hills newsletter is printed on both sides of one large (A3-size) sheet of paper that is then folded for distribution. An equivalent amount of space for a newsletter printed in English would probably require about eight sheets of 8"x11" paper. The newsletter's lack of white space is a testimony to Symphony Hills' successful programming and operations. Here are not only performances and events, but also opportunities and the space to create, practice and rehearse, room for assemblies, gatherings and exhibitions, and an administration and publicity vehicle that "gets the word out" about what is happening. This combination of operations and resources make Symphony Hills a model cultural center.

<< Symphony Hills' Location and Exterior >>

Mozart Statue
Located at only a five-minute walk from the Aoto Station of Tokyo's Keisei train line, the modern granite and metal exterior of Symphony Hills creates a striking contrast beside the many small traditional and utilitarian-looking buildings of Katsushika Ward. In front of the main entrance, a statue of Mozart stands as a symbolic monument to the aesthetics and outlook of the cultural center. This statue is a perfect replica of the Mozart statue that stands in Vienna's Royal Bruch Garden. Katsushika Ward is the sister city of Vienna's Florisdorf Ward, which cooperated with Katsushika Ward in having this rare replica produced for Symphony Hills' entrance. Both Katsushika Ward's sister city relationship with Vienna and the hall's "Symphony Hills" name indicate the strong influence Viennese culture had on Katsushika Ward's planning when it funded the construction of this cultural center nearly a decade ago.

<< Symphony Hills' Facilities and Interior >>

The cultural gems of Symphony Hills are its two halls: Mozart Hall, which seats 1,318 persons; and, Iris Hall, which seats 298 persons. The main building also contains an exhibition hall and rehearsal rooms. A "pedestrian deck" connects the cultural center's main building with the ward's old community center. This annex building has been totally renovated to provide a wedding ceremony room, banquet rooms, conference and meeting rooms, and a restaurant.

Mozart Hall was designed primarily-but not exclusively-for the performance of classical music. While its proscenium-style stage makes the hall easily usable for performances that require a multipurpose hall, the stage has deployable sound reflection panels that give the hall's space the feeling of continuity found in concert halls that have open stages.

Symphony Hills' small hall, Iris Hall, has an interior design that uses woodblock materials, giving the hall a memorably warm ambience. This hall was specifically designed for the performance of piano, chamber ensemble and other classical music performances. In order to maximize this hall's appropriateness for classical music, Iris Hall has both an open stage and a shoebox configuration.

<< Pros and Cons of Multipurpose Hall Design >>

In the past, publicly funded halls were usually multipurpose halls with proscenium stages. While a preponderance of the events in these halls might be classical music performances, the halls were also expected to accommodate groups and individuals who wanted to stage plays, dance, cinema, ceremonies, and symposiums. Typically, the large and small halls in the same facility were both designed for multipurpose use, with their only differing characteristic being size.

The danger in opting for a multipurpose design is that one might end up with a "no-purpose design." This concern aside, the choice of a multipurpose facility may well have been the correct one for Japan back in the 1960s and 1970s when the first round of publicly funded halls was built. In any case, the decision in favor of a multipurpose hall was usually made without any in-depth consideration of the kind of use the hall would actually have.

In the case of Symphony Hills, however, at the planning stage of the project, Katsushika Ward already had a clear understanding of who the users of the hall would be. The size of both the large and small halls reflects the ward's decision that: (1) the hall would be used by local cultural organizations; and, (2) that the hall would develop hall-sponsored programming. At the planning stage for Symphony Hills, statistics showed that 33.6% of the utilization of the ward's then existing cultural facilities was for music performance. This information helped the ward decide that the main purpose of the halls should be as venues for the performance of classical music.

<< Mozart Hall's Proscenium Stage and Concert Hall Look and Sound >>

The result of Katsushika Ward's clear objectives was the creation of Mozart Hall, which has a proscenium stage, yet looks as if it has the open stage of a concert hall. Mozart Hall implemented a shoebox configuration and emphasized achieving a high level of acoustical excellence. Its adoption of on-stage, sliding sound reflection panels significantly enhanced the functional capabilities of the hall for non-music performances. The success of this design with Mozart Hall led to its becoming a model for other halls of similar scope. It also had a stimulating influence on the trend toward building specialized halls and higher quality multipurpose halls.

<< A Chronological Summary of the Symphony Hills Project >>

The Symphony Hills project began in 1986, when Katsushika Ward decided to address the problem of the aging Katsushika Kokaido Hall. The Katsushika Kokaido Hall was built in 1958 on the same plot of land as the new cultural center. The old hall had a seating capacity of 689 persons. The plan for a new facility included use of adjacent gymnasium land as well. A committee was established to investigate the possibility of constructing a new facility, followed by a concept programming phase, meetings with the residents of the ward to hear their ideas and opinions, and consultations with construction experts. In 1988, the project entered the architectural design and drawing phases, and by April 1992, the construction of the project was completed.

During the construction phase of the Symphony Hills project, Katsushika Ward organized a Culture Promotion Foundation. This foundation immediately began "campaign" activities for the new cultural center, including holding lunchtime concerts at the project's location. By the time construction was completed, approximately 38,000 people had already visited the site of the new community center. Today, it is not so unusual for new halls to hold pre-opening events, but Symphony Hills had its planning and programming operations fully functional long before the cultural center opened.

<< Symphony Hills' Programming Operations >>

In planning the operational activities for Symphony Hills, Katsushika Ward began with the precept that the cultural life of the ward depends on the people who live in the ward. With this understanding as a foundation, Katsushika Ward set out five focus areas. These are: (1) participation and contact with others; (2) the pursuit of quality; (3) an emphasis on individuality and diversity; (4) the implementation of a flexible administration; and (5) vigorous development of hall-sponsored programming.

Responsibility for implementing the hall's programming operations is overseen by the Katsushika Ward Culture Promotion Foundation. At the top of the facility's personnel hierarchy are a director and a board of trustees. A number of persons are employed jointly by the ward and the foundation, and other employees are on loan from the ward or are employed solely by the foundation. Four departments perform all of the functions associated with the operations and programming: Administration; Facility Maintenance; Business; and Promotions.

In addition to the full-time organization dedicated to the facility's operation, genre-specific producers are retained on an annual basis to provide proposal and negotiation expertise for Symphony Hills' in-house concert programming activities. At the time of the facility's opening, four producers were hired on contract; at present there are two. The hiring of such production professionals is another sign of Katsushika Ward's commitment to in-house programming operations.

<< The Important Role of the Culture Promotion Foundation >>

The Katsushika Ward Culture Promotion Foundation plays an essential role in the success of Symphony Hills' in-house programming operations. It runs events and exhibitions and is in charge of finding and retaining the facility's professional producers. The foundation does publicity and public relations work and facilitates the administration of an Operations Council composed of representatives from cultural and artistic groups, academics, and representatives of the ward's residents.

The foundation oversees the administration of Friends of Symphony Hills and fosters the growth of local participation in cultural activities through its support of the Katsushika Philharmonic Orchestra and Katsushika Wind Ensemble. The foundation was responsible for the creation and development of the Katsushika Ward Mixed Chorus and of a culture and arts school to further increase and support the artistic endeavors of the people of Katsushika Ward.

The Culture Promotion Foundation is also in charge of nurturing Katsushika Ward's relationships with overseas sister cities through concerts and other cross-cultural events and activities. In addition, the foundation publishes the Symphony Hills newsletter and has been entrusted by the ward to oversee the operational management of all of the ward's cultural facilities.

<< The Evolving Content of the Katsushika Ward's Cultural Facilities >>

Promotional Poster designed by Makoto Wada
The in-house programming for Symphony Hills has been a staple of the facility since its opening, consistently representing 20%-30% of the facility's events, and spanning the entire spectrum of artistic genres. Three years ago, the ward opened its Lirio Hall in the Kameari section of the ward. This hall is designed primarily for theatrical performances. Nevertheless, many of the performances at this new hall have a musical component, perhaps reflecting the preferences of the Culture Promotion Foundation.

The focus and efforts of the Culture Promotion Foundation are also revealed in the graphics it uses for promotional posters. Certainly, many ward residents would notice any illustrations of Mozart or Beethoven. Nevertheless, the foundation sought distinctive graphic imagery for its posters. Since the beginning, therefore, it has employed the visual talents of illustrator Makoto Wada, who has created a series of heartwarming illustrations that are now considered visual symbolic hallmarks of the foundation's programming work.

The content of the foundation's programming has realized the ward's desire to nurture diversity of expression. It includes cycles of Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin sonatas and symphonies, a Young Virtuoso Series, concerts of best-loved works, chamber music series, live jazz talks, and live pops concerts with talks. Recently, the programming has expanded further to include performances of-and symposia on-traditional Japanese performing art genres, as well as cultural and artistic classes for these traditional genres. One proud milestone of the foundation's efforts will take place in December 1999, when the orchestra whose auditions were first held during the construction of Symphony Hills will play its 18th regular season concerts.

<< The Importance of Monetary Support and Human Dedication >>

Symphony Hills' first seven years tell a success story for concert programming, the fostering of creativity and the nurturing of local performance and artistic talent. It could not have been realized without the fiscal support and underwriting provided by Katsushika Ward. Yet, while the commitment and financial support of Katsushika Ward were necessary for Symphony Hills to achieve all that it has accomplished, it is equally important to recognize the valuable contributions made by the people who work at the facility and at the Culture Promotion Foundation. Their passion and dedication were phenomenal. Today, when every local government is feeling the pinch of less affluent times, the passion and dedication of a hall's staff are increasingly critical.

In tight financial times, cultural facilities must reevaluate themselves. The question to be asked may not challenge the desire for quality or the frequency of in-house programming. Rather, it may require a shift from passive enjoyment of performances to greater emphasis on participation in the performances. Where investments have been made in support of nurturing and fostering local cultural talent and institutions, a cultural harvest will surely be reaped and enjoyed. At Symphony Hills, in-house programming continues, and I have heard that new programming innovations are planned for next year. Katsushika Ward's cultural future promises to be a vibrant one, thanks to the ward's ongoing dedication to planting and tending its own local talent and nurturing the interest of its local population.

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Nagata Acoustics News 99-10iNo.142j
Issued : October 25, 1999

Nagata Acoustics Inc.

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