Quietness, Comfortable Sound and Excellent Acoustics NAGATA ACOUSTICS

News 11-07 (No.283)

Issued : July 25, 2011

[ Japanese Version ]

Thoughts on Nearing the 40th Anniversary of Nagata Acoustics

by Dr. Minoru Nagata, Founder of Nagata Acoustics

<< My Student Years in Wartime and My Start at NHK Labs >>

I entered the Tokyo Prefectural High School in April, 1942. Japan was already embroiled in World War II, but I was able to spend my first two years of high school concentrating freely on my studies. However, by the time I advanced to my first year at Tokyo Imperial University's Faculty of Engineering, the Japanese government's momentary hallucinations of a Japanese victory had ended and, day by day, the country's impending defeat loomed ever more ominously on the horizon.

During my first year of college, I was periodically conscripted into mandatory labor activities that interrupted my attendance at classes and, when I did attend classes, the lectures were frequently cut short by air raid sirens and the need to take cover. In this fragmented environment, I don't think I learned much of anything scholastic in my freshman year.

When I matriculated to university, I intended to study Aviation, but, in August, 1945, with Japan's surrender, Tokyo University's Department of Aviation was abolished. After some indecision, in April, 1946, I entered the Department of Instrumentation. This department was established during the war and continued as an available course of study even after Japan's defeat. I received my degree in March, 1949. My college education included mechanics, vibration theory, optics, electromagnetics, physical measuring technologies and physics experiments in a lab, but courses in acoustics did not exist.

When my school years ended, a friend referred me to NHK for an internship. The official name of the organization I joined was Technical Research Institute of Japan Broadcasting Corporation. During this time, the late Mr. Hiromi Nakajima spoke to me about the importance of expanding NHK's radio network and encouraged me to consider a career in acoustics. I picked up an acoustics textbook for the first time in my life ("Acoustics" by J. Obata, a paperback published as a volume in Iwanami Shoten's "Iwanami Zensho" series), studied the book and passed NHK's employment entrance exam.

<<The Thrill of New Technologies during 22 Years at Technical Research Institute of Japan Broadcasting Corporation >>

NHK offered me a permanent position and I happily accepted. I became a permanent employee in March, 1949, was briefly assigned to the NHK Nagano Bureau and then, after 10 months, took a reassignment to the Science & Technology Research Labs in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward. I worked in this organization for 22 years, until June 30, 1971.

Under the mentorship of Mr. Shigeo Shima, Mr. Yoshio Tomita, Mr. Hiromi Nakajima and Mr. Yasuo Makita, men who were the lab's acoustical luminaries of that time, I worked and learned primarily the discipline of architectural acoustics, including fundamentals of acoustics, acoustical measuring techniques and how to design room and building acoustics. In this era can be found the origins of Japan's acoustical engineering advances and technological contributions.

For 20 years, I worked in a place where everyone knew that our work pioneered new ground in the field of acoustics. I felt fulfilled professionally and greatly enjoyed every minute of my work.

<< Changes at NHK Labs Lead to Doubt and My Decision to Leave >>

Soon after I passed my 20-year milestone at NHK Labs, I started becoming aware of a gap between my professional interests and the Lab's focus. The Labs had allowed me to spend more than a year studying in West Germany and it was two or three years after I returned from abroad that my doubts about continuing to work at the Labs began. Starting around 1968 the confluence of the following five circumstances culminated in my decision to resign.

  1. Soon after the end of World War II, NHK Corporation's leadership decided to change the focus of the network's operations from radio to TV. They charted a course aimed at increasing the number of viewers and implemented it progressively over time with decisions encompassing every department in the organization, including human resources decisions, facilities and equipment investments and other management decisions.
    In 1970, Technical Research Institute of Japan Broadcasting Corporation underwent a major reorganization to align the Labs with goals set by the NHK leadership. The Acoustics Research Department was disbanded and its employees became one of several groups charged with working on technologies related to the broadcasting of TV programs. Improving quality of the acoustics of TV broadcasts would not directly contribute to increasing revenues (by increasing the number of subscribed viewers), and for the NHK leadership of the time, this consideration determined the decisions it made about technology research done at NHK Labs.
  2. After the Labs designed the architectural acoustics for Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, the Labs continued to participate in the architectural acoustical design of other halls and lend expertise to hall projects. However, some time before I resigned, the Labs' willingness to take on this kind of work became unclear and, each time the head of the Labs changed, the question of whether to engage in this work was again debated. The position of NHK Labs with regard to engaging in this kind of work lacked consistency.
  3. During my year of studies at Goettingen University, I participated first hand in organized research into the nature of early sound reflections in indoor sound fields and the subjective impression of early sound reflections. Based on the results obtained in this research, I was strongly convinced that early sound reflections would become adopted as a mainstay of future room acoustical design work. However, given the situation at Technical Research Institute of Japan Broadcasting Corporation, I knew that it was not realistic for me-given my individual standing and academic credentials-to attempt to establish at the Labs organized research that would advance the study of early sound reflections.
  4. I submitted a paper to the European Broadcasting Union about acoustical improvements we designed for NHK's Studio CR509 and I planned to personally pay all expenses to attend the meeting where I would present my paper, but the head of NHK Labs refused to give me permission to travel to the event. At the time, NHK's labor union had recently and suddenly become very vocal and bullied the NHK leadership into fearing the union. As I watched the NHK leadership's submissiveness toward the labor union, I lost my feelings of attachment to the NHK organizational hierarchy.
  5. In this situation, I could see that the achievements of the Acoustical Research Department would soon be "cast to the wind" and forgotten. What was there for me to do other than to pursue enriching and developing my profession of architectural acoustical design and expanding the availability of technical information so that acoustical design would become a valued specialty component of architectural design?

Because of the confluence of these five circumstances, I made the decision to raise up and strengthen the profession of architectural acoustical design. I separated myself from NHK and single-mindedly embarked on reclaiming and cultivating the professional role of acoustical design consultant. I turned the dissolution of NHK's Acoustical Research Department into the opportunity to establish my own acoustical design firm.

<<Starting from Scratch as a One-person Company Working from Home >>

When I started Minoru Nagata Acoustic Engineer & Associates, the acoustical design work I had done at NHK Labs provided a solid footing on which to build my new business because I already had valuable contacts and interactions with a number of architects and builders. Nevertheless, even though I was 46 years old and in good health, just about everyone I knew worried that I was making the wrong decision to leave a top tier organization such as NHK and become the proprietor of my own business. My friends and relatives tried to get me to change my mind. Only my wife fully agreed with my decision and supported it wholeheartedly from the very beginning.

I began my new business in one room of our home in Higashi Nakano, a residential Tokyo neighborhood, with just three employees: me; my wife; and a part-time administrative helper. Even though I had left NHK, I still sat on a number of committees and commissions that held regular meetings and I needed to prepare for ICA that would be held in August of the same year. In addition, I filled my schedule with visits to all of my contacts, keeping so busy that I thought I could feel the sweat crystalizing on the back of my suit jacket. I don't have the details of all the people or companies I visited each day, because I did not find the time to keep any written diaries or records during this period.

One of the first people I approached to wish me success in my new venture was Prof. Koji Sato at Kobayasi Institute of Physical Research, where he was serving as the head of the institute. Kobayasi Institute is a privately funded, non-profit foundation that engages in noise and vibration research, as well as materials testing and research on sound transmission in architectural acoustics. I clearly remember the advice Prof. Sato gave me that day. He said, "Nagata-san, do quality work. If you do this, the people you need and plenty of money will naturally come to you."

Six months later, I moved the business to a small office condominium in the Shinanomachi section of Tokyo. Nagata Acoustic's Hideo Nakamura happened to leave his employment at NHK Labs around this time and when I learned of his availability, he came to work with me. Soon thereafter, Katsuji Naniwa and Satoru Ikeda also joined us. Financially, these were poor times, but somehow we always brought in enough revenues for me to pay our salaries.

In 1974, I incorporated the company. Now the company includes Nagata Acoustics in Japan, Nagata Acoustics America, Inc. in the United States and an office in Paris, with a worldwide total of 19 employees.

<< 40 Years' History in Brief >>

In the decade of the 1970s, Japan hosted Expo '70 and the Tokyo Olympics. Throughout Japan, municipal and prefectural governments funded the building of public halls. The fast pace of capital spending on hall construction continued into the 1980s, becoming the concert hall building boom.

The success of each hall project led to multiple new projects. Nagata Acoustics' work earned international approbation so that we now have contracts and projects underway in Europe, the United States and other Asian countries, in addition to our projects in Japan. In 2001, we established our U.S. subsidiary, Nagata Acoustics America, Inc., located in Los Angeles, and in 2008, we opened our Paris office. The success and scope of our business today vastly exceeds what I imagined and hoped I might achieve.

<<My Thoughts about Hall Acoustical Design >>

Acoustical design requires using the methods of the science of physics to analyze and examine ("unpack" might be a more accurate term) physical phenomena, and it also requires stepping into the world directly experienced by the human senses. The success of Nagata Acoustics, both in Japan and internationally, confirms that our clients, concert patrons and musicians value this approach, which is a fundamental to our design work.

From the days a half-century ago when reverberation time was thought to be the sole important interior room acoustics parameter until today, we've participated in and witnessed huge advances in how acoustical professionals analyze and characterize sound fields. However, in many disciplines, the gap between the physical, scientific knowledge and knowledge gained through the world of our own sensory experiences only continues to widen. How we understand and relate to sound is no exception.

I find it problematic to use parameters defined by physics to try and capture how the acoustics of a concert hall affect the listeners in a general audience, what they think they sense and the impressions they acknowledge. For me, designing acoustics is akin to how chefs work with the world of taste. Just as a chef begins by taste-testing, so I want to first listen and experience at the sensory level. With this beginning as the foundation, the technical methods and expertise can develop and grow.

<< Where Classical Music Goes from Here and the Performance Spaces of Tomorrow >>

For years, Japanese government policies led to the building of halls while denying funding to the very performing arts that would use the halls. These policies have come to a screeching halt, and the banking crisis followed by Japan's March 11 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami have created adverse times for the performance hall industry. The future of concert halls in Japan seems uncertain. This future is of vital concern to Nagata Acoustics. In sharing my opinion on this topic, I do so with my company's approaching 40th anniversary fully in mind.

Across some 500 years, music evolved through Renaissance, Baroque and Classical eras, then culminated with the Romantics. What kind of music will future generations create? Like the Japanese Kabuki theatre, the traditional classical music genres will likely continue to be passed on to future generations and halls for their performances will also be preserved for this purpose. Whether the scale of a hall be large or small, the acoustical design of specialty concert halls can be successfully achieved using today's architectural acoustical design methods and technologies.

The question is what developments will occur in classical music? Like trends in acoustics for musicals and popular music, I expect that sound system support and visual media collaborations will become increasingly common for classical music performances, too. Also, like trends in other contemporary arts, I can foresee increasing inclusion of ethnic music and non-European musical instruments. Performance spaces will likely become more diverse. Instead of large European cathedrals, music may be performed in fields, forests and even desert spaces.

In performance spaces, the first, basic acoustic property is sound volume, then comes achieving the proper balance between clarity of sound and rich presence.

"Quietness, Comfortable sound and Excellent acoustics"-what will this mean to the next generations? I hope that we will seek the answers to this question humbly and with open minds and that we will continue as a business, charting a course that provides enjoyable, desirable acoustical environments.

Remembering Norio Ohga

by Dr. Minoru Nagata, Founder of Nagata Acoustics

On June 23, 2011, Sony Corporation and Sony Group held a memorial concert at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan for former Sony Chairman Norio Ohga. Mr. Ohga served as the head of Tokyo Bunka Kaikan from 2004 until his recent passing. The memorial concert, attended by a full audience, included performances of Mozart's Requiem by Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and Sony Philharmonic Choir, four other orchestral works and Bach's Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello, performed by Tsuyoshi Tsutumi.

My association with Ohga-san goes back a long time. Also, the bonds that connected us had multiple wonderful threads.

I first met Ohga-san when I was employed at NHK Technical Research Laboratories. I think the year was around 1950. Surely, the occasion was a meeting of Mr. Masaru Ibuka, company president of Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (the name of Sony Corporation until 1958) and Mr. Shima the chief of acoustics dept. of NHK Labs at that time. Ohga-san came to this meeting and was introduced to us as a baritone and graduate of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. I remember being somewhat awestruck that despite his fine arts academic background, I could not keep up with Ohga-san's technical audio discussions; they were way over my head.

After Ohga-san rose rapidly to the top of Sony's corporate ladder, he continued to stay in touch with me by phone from time to time. One of the topics we discussed more than once concerned sound fields in concert halls. Until the very end of his life, Ohga-san doubted the merits of the shoebox hall configuration and the sound fields obtainable in concert halls of this shape. The concert hall built in Karuizawa, in 2006 with funds donated by Ohga-san reflects his opinion about sound fields and hall configurations in its pentagon-shaped footprint. In this five-sided hall, Ohga-san took the stage himself one time to conduct an orchestral performance and he confirmed the comfortable ambiance of the hall's space with both his eyes and ears. Nagata Acoustics served as the acoustical consultant on this project and it moves me beyond words that we were able to deliver this hall of fine acoustics to Ohga-san while he could still enjoy it.

When Ohga-san assumed the leadership role of Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, he asked me to become a member of the hall's steering committee, and I accepted his request. Now I know that around the same time Ohga-san's health began to decline. At steering committee meetings, it was not unusual for Ohga-san to be absent. This man who always had a powerful presence no longer had a gleam in his eye, and his once strong voice became soft. Perhaps because we'd not seen each other for an extended period, the last time we met he took the initiative and extended his hand to greet me. When we shook hands this time, I felt the extent of his physical decline.

Entrepreneur and musician, a Renaissance man of many interests, Ohga-san achieved just about everything he ever set out to accomplish. But it seems the faster a person climbs the road of life, the more quickly he may exhaust the energy allotted him. If only he had lived through the rest of his octogenarian decade, leisurely enjoying Karuizawa and the music in its Ohga Hall. May he be long remembered and may he rest in peace.

Orchestra Rehearses for the First Time in New Kansas City, MO Concert Hall

by Dr. Yasuhisa Toyota

Last month, I wrote about the first rehearsal held in Finland's new Helsinki Music Centre Concert Hall. This month, I have the pleasure of reporting on the completion of a new concert hall in Kansas City, Missouri and its first rehearsal, held on May 18 by the Kansas City Symphony. The rehearsal was captured on video and excerpts can be heard and seen on YouTube.

Named Helzberg Hall, the new, 1,600-seat concert hall is designed specifically for the performance of classical music and, together with a new, 1,800-seat, proscenium-stage theatre comprise Kansas City's new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The Kansas City Symphony will use Helzberg Hall for all of its rehearsals as well as for performances.

Like the Helsinki Hall, Helzberg Hall's seating surrounds the stage on all sides in the so-called vineyard configuration. However, Helzberg Hall's footprint has a more elongated shape compared with the Helsinki Hall, making Helzberg Hall's configuration closer in some ways to a shoebox configuration. Perhaps this is why the Helzberg Hall's acoustics impress me as having greater density or weightiness than the sound in the Helsinki Hall, where I have more of an impression of the sound spreading spatially. This difference between the two halls cannot be classified judgmentally as one being better than the other hall. Rather, I'm simply aware of a difference in the acoustical personalities of the two halls. Also, in both these halls, we achieved very high levels of richness and clarity of sound. In terms of these characteristics, the two halls resemble each other greatly.

Currently, three months are being used to install the hall's pipe organ. The hall's grand opening concerts will be held this coming September 16 and 17. I will write more about this new hall and its concerts in a future newsletter.

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 ]