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

Nagata Acoustics News 03-01 (No.181)
Issued : January 25, 2003

Toyama Art Creation Center's New Wing

by Akira Ono

The JR Hokuriku Honsen Rail line stretches across Japan's Fukui, Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures, running parallel to the northern coastline of Japan's main Honshu Island. Traveling west on this major rail artery from Toyama Station towards Ishikawa's resort town of Kanazawa, the first stop is a station named Kureha and immediately outside the Kureha Station stands Toyama Art Stage Park.

<< A Converted Textile Factory Now Filled with Music >>

Toyama Art Creation Center
(the original facility)
Before being renovated and reconceived as Toyama Art Stage Park, this site of 110,000 sq. m. (27 acres) was occupied by a spinning mill and warehouses. The factory was built in 1930 and owned and operated by the Kureha Boseki Company (which merged with textile manufacturer Toyobo in 1966). I remember visiting this site about 10 years ago, and how it looked at that time. The factory buildings with their saw-tooth-shaped roofs and the empty warehouses standing in rows next to abandoned railway sidings looked just like the kind of unsavory ruins that movie directors choose for the final scenes of action films.

During the past decade, however, one of the original factory buildings was converted to Toyama Art Creation Center. Toho Gakuen School of Music built its Orchestra Academy here, and a spacious park designed around a performing arts theme has replaced the former bleak landscape. In addition, last year, a new wing was added to Toyama Art Creation Center. This article introduces the buildings and operations of the facility and its new wing.

<< The Art Creation Center Preserves the Original Factory Building >>

For the design of the original wing of Toyama Art Creation Center, Toyama City included the prerequisite that the saw-tooth-roof factory structure be preserved. The construction process involved retaining the metal framework of the saw-tooth-shaped roof and a piece of the building's original walls while digging around all of the building's original columns and supports to strengthen the foundation. The work was a complicated and time-consuming effort, and even though the project was considered re-use of an existing structure, the cost was said to be greater than the cost of an entirely new building.

Nevertheless, according to the man in charge of the project for Toyama City, Mr. Shima, of the city's Cultural and International Department, the cost and effort were well justified. He says, "The generations who preceded us in Toyama City worked hard to attract this large-scale spinning mill factory to our city and, thereafter, when the textile industry grew and prospered, Toyama grew and prospered along with it. Our ability to use this expansive 110,000 sq. m. (27 acres) of land for a cultural facility and park is thanks to our Toyama forebears and we owe them our gratitude. In order to transmit knowledge of their meritorious work to future generations and to perpetuate the community's memory of the spinning mill, preserving the saw-tooth-roof factory structure serves a purpose that has real value."

<< The Center's Rental Facilities and Policies >>

The original wing of Toyama Art Creation Center houses a 470 sq. m. (5,059 sq. ft) rehearsal room, five large-scale practice rooms of 180--280 sq. m. (1,937.5--3,014 sq. ft) each, 32 practice rooms of 15--25 sq. m. (161--269 sq. ft) each, a rehearsal and practice room for theater productions and acting classes, a workshop for building stage scenery, and a 160 sq. m. (1,722 sq. ft) artists' studio. Pianos have been installed in 30 of the 32 small practice rooms, and the remaining 2 practice rooms have amplifiers and drum sets.

The center does not allow any of its rooms to be used for performances. Instead, it rents the rooms exclusively for music practice and training. The one exception to this rule is the annual Art Stage Park Festival, at which time groups and individuals who rent space at the facility during the year join together to hold performances for the public. The facility reservation policy includes accepting room bookings for recurring use over periods as long as a full year. As a result, the center's clientele includes not only individuals who use the rooms for their own practice space needs, but also music teachers and dance teachers who use the center's rooms as their classrooms.

<< The Center's Strong Popularity Defies Some Expectations >>

Toyama Art Creation Center's unique focus on rental space for performing arts practice provoked a strong reaction from the director of Japan's Performing Arts Environmental Forum, Mr. Kisei Ei. Mr. Ei is also the author of the book, The Future Role of Governmental Administrations in the Arts and Culture, and a respected pundit on performing arts and cultural matters. He was quoted in one newspaper as saying, "In a word, this is a waste. It is a major mistake and the cause of this blunder is the lack of vision on the part of the people of Toyama City. The center's rooms are filled with inactivity. It is a meaningless facility to the average Toyama resident."

Given Mr. Ei's stature in Japan's performing arts world, his comments might easily lead the reader to believe that Toyama City built a worthless facility. However, the truth is that Toyama Art Creation Center boasts a high utilization rate. In particular, the center's practice rooms that have excellent sound isolation performance are consistently nearly 100% booked, even during weekday daytime hours. Apparently, Mr. Ei assumed that only grass-roots efforts to convert warehouse-type buildings into vibrant facilities can result in success, and that similar, city-government-led projects imposed on the general public are doomed to failure, but his preconceived opinion is not borne out by the facts.

I visited the center during mid-day on a weekday and saw almost all of the center's rooms occupied. I was told that because the facility allows non-residents as well as Toyama City residents to rent space, and because there is abundant parking, the center draws clientele from the entire region, including Kanazawa and other population centers.

<< Nagata Acoustics is Acoustical Consultant on the New Wing >>

Entrance to
Toyama Art Creation Center's
New Wing
Due to the center's high utilization rate, many people who wanted to rent practice rooms were unable to do so, and the city received increasingly strong requests from community members to construct more rooms at the center. As a result, the city embarked on a construction plan to add more practice rooms and a storage room.

The city held a proposal competition for Toyama Art Creation Center's new wing and selected the submission of architect Mr. Toshihide Mori with ARCO Architecture and Planning Office. Prior to designing the center's new wing, Mr. Mori, who is currently Professor of Architecture at Kanazawa Institute of Technology, was already well known for his creative activities in the Hokuriku region. He has been the architect of a number of structures acclaimed for their consummate design, including the Murou Saisei Memorial Museum and the Echizen Kani Museum. Nagata Acoustics served as the acoustical consultant on the new wing project, our first opportunity to participate in the design of one of Toyama Art Stage Park's structures.

<< Overview of the New Wing >>

The new wing has four practice rooms, including two main, medium-sized rooms of 120 sq. m. (1,292 sq. ft) each, with 5 m. (16 ft)-high ceilings. These practice rooms are used for orchestra and brass band practice as well as for flamenco and other dance ensemble practice needs. The other two practice rooms are of smaller scale of about 30 sq. m. (323 sq. ft) each and are intended for practice use by pop music bands.

The new wing has a semicircular footprint and connects directly to the original facility via a corridor at the new wing's entrance. The corridor is called the "Observation Corridor" because in addition to having windows on its outside wall, it also has interior windows that face the new wing's medium-sized practice rooms. The windows afford passersby a glimpse of the activities in these practice rooms and, for people inside the practice rooms, the windows create a feeling of continuity between the interior spaces and the out-of-doors that brings an atmosphere of openness to the wing.

<< Sound Isolation in the New Wing >>

Toyama City decided this project's sound isolation performance requirements for the new wing's practice rooms even before conducting the design competition, specifying in the competition's project criteria documents that the sound isolation performance level between practice rooms must be D-75 or above, a high performance standard. Toyama City's Mr. Shima has plenty of experience at the original facility listening to sound from practice rooms. His acute ability to discern how much sound is transmitted by different music genres at different levels of sound isolation performance surpasses our own ears' sound-isolation measuring capabilities. Mr. Shima determined that unless the sound isolation performance levels reached or exceeded D-75, popular-genre music bands would not be able to practice without causing problems for other musicians using the facility.

Given Mr. Shima's experience with a variety of operational situations at the original facility, it is not surprising that he was very detailed in his requirements and requests concerning the acoustical aspects of the project. When we performed measurement evaluations at the project's completion, he demonstrated his passionate involvement in the project by bringing a large Japanese taiko drum to the new wing and performing his own evaluation of the interior's resistance to vibrations. The project's general contractor, Hayashi Construction, Inc., and their superintendent, Mr. Hamai, accepted the zealous testing with good humor, taking down finished interior walls and reaffixing the wallboards numerous times until the evaluations passed muster. After the rigorous testing was completed, Mr. Shima expressed his strong satisfaction with the final results, which, in turn, certainly pleased me as one of the designers on the project.

I am hopeful that Toyama Art Creation Center, with its new wing, will continue its popularity and role in the cultural life of the city's people. Toyama Art Stage Park Foundation can be contacted by phone at +81-76-434-4100.

The State of Speech Amplification at Concert Halls--
My Observations from Performances Attended in 2002

by Dr. Minoru Nagata

Speech amplification functionality in concert halls must surely be a topic that arouses minimal enthusiasm among not only the professional music community and architects, but from professional acousticians as well. However, in my opinion, the output volume of a hall's public address system and the sound quality of amplified speech is a significant factor impacting that concert hall's sound environment.

Amplified speech equipment consists of just three components: microphones, amplifiers and speakers, the simplest of sound systems. Yet, while today's Japanese concert hall acoustics have attained world-class levels, I can hear the gap in the quality of these concert halls' public address and speech amplification systems even in the PA announcements advising patrons that a concert is about to begin.

<< Factors Affecting Speech Amplification Quality >>

Three main factors determine whether speech amplification is good or bad. The first factor is the quality of each piece of sound equipment. The second factor is the placement of the speakers, and the third factor is how the equipment is operated.

Concert halls are inherently spaces with long reverberation times. Acoustic feedback and similar phenomena are common concerns in such spaces and speech amplification therefore requires special attention and careful design. However, by selecting the right speaker system and placing the speakers appropriately, clear and pleasant amplified speech is not a difficult task from a technical acoustical engineering perspective.

<< Aesthetically Acceptable Speaker Placement >>

But there is the problem that, for aesthetic reasons, many people cannot accustom themselves to the concept of placing large speakers in a concert hall. In addition, to the room acoustician preparing finely detailed specifications for a hall's sound-reflective ceiling, the suggestion of opening holes in the same ceiling for loudspeakers is something that leads to heated debate even among room acoustics colleagues. The one design that solves these problems is to install the movable speakers out-of-sight, in the space above the hall ceiling.

Photo 1 Speakers in
Casals Hall
An example of how we handled a situation where there was insufficient space above the ceiling, is Casals Hall, where our only viable option was to hang an arrangement of six large speakers from the hall ceiling (Photo 1). In order to implement this solution we enlisted the cooperation of the hall's architect, Mr. Arata Isozaki. But in getting his support and even thereafter, we encountered some resistance to our design, until all understood that there was no other solution and we reached closure on the implemented system.

<< Speech Amplification Operational Issues >>

The third issue in this discussion of speech amplification is the attitude of hall operations personnel. Considering the numerous announcements repeated over hall PA systems prior to the start of performances, only a few halls take into consideration the rustling noises of the audience for even one of the many announcements and adjust the announcements' sound volume. Instead, many halls have a routine approach, mechanically setting tapes to play without any thought of adjustments. The progress of any performing arts event is punctuated by subtle adjustments to a hall's lighting while, by comparison, PA sound seems to have only the two settings of "on" and "off." The personnel who monitor PA sound volume and sound quality are not accomplishing what needs to be done; this is the state of hall speech amplification in Japan today.

<< Even More Care Needed when Speech is Part of the Performance >>

Yet, I can abide the sound volume and sound quality of PA announcements better than the next topic I will discuss. Last year, I attended two concerts during which the speech of the performers was inaudible to me.

The first experience I will share was one of the events of the 18th Tokyo Summer Music Festival, which had as its 2002 theme "Music and Literature." The concert took place at Dai-ichi Seimei Hall, on July 23rd, and the program was actor Toru Emori performing Richard Strauss' "Enoch Arden" and Jimenez's "Platero and I," two staged readings with musical accompaniment.

The only ticket I could obtain for this event was a seat on the second floor side balcony. During the first half of the program, while I could hear all the nuances of Daisuke Suzuki's guitar playing, for all intents and purposes I could not hear any of the content of Toru Emori's reading of the poetry in Jimenez's composition.

After speaking with one of the event's staff, for the second half of the program I moved to a first floor seat towards the rear and side of the hall. In this seat, I had no trouble at all enjoying both Mr. Emori's staged reading and Rikuya Terashima's accompanying performance of Richard Strauss' piano piece.

This evening event was the first time I experienced that varying the combination of musical instrument and voice, plus changing the direction of sound from the loudspeakers can make such a dramatic difference. The persons in charge of this event said that they tested the loudspeakers prior to the performance, but my guess is that they were probably constrained by limited rehearsal time and did not sufficiently check the audibility at the balcony's side seating. At halls that have side balconies, be they shoebox or vineyard configuration halls, the appropriate precautions should be exercised when staging performances that include amplified speech.

<< Difficulty Hearing an MC at Suntory Hall >>

The other experience I will share occurred at the 16th annual anniversary celebration of the opening of Suntory Hall. In 2002, the gala concert included a program of 20 performances across an evening lasting three and one-half hours. In between each of the musical performances, the gala's master or mistress of ceremonies inserts some refined talk in his or her comments, in what has become an entrenched and eagerly anticipated tradition of the gala concert.

When MCs were first introduced as part of the gala concert, there were difficulties with the amplification of this spoken part of event. But from the time that the MC role was given to Ms. Tetsuko Kuroyanagi (a veteran Japanese performer and TV hostess), the problems disappeared. However, in 2002, whether a change of the MC to a certain TV network's announcer precipitated the return of the difficulties or the cause was something else, during the first half of the evening the MC's jokes were difficult to hear. My seat was about the same as it has been in previous years, on the first floor, practically at the center of the audience seating area. During the MC's comments, the air around the audience became filled with restless rustling. During the intermission, I discussed the situation with one of the hall's personnel. The MC's audibility was restored for the second half of the evening, and the concert concluded without incident.

<< Prioritizing MCs' Speech Amplification >>

Photo 2 Speakers in
Suntory Hall
Suntory Hall is equipped with a vertically movable cluster system of large speakers that installed in the space above the ceiling at the center of the hall (Photo 2), the purpose of which is precisely programs like the gala concert. The speaker system can be pulled out into the hall from the space above the ceiling (just like hanging from the ceiling) depending on the types of performances. According to hall personnel, this speaker system was not used during the gala concert because using it would interfere with a laser display included in the program. Here, again, given the tight schedule of this large-scale program, there was probably insufficient time to confirm the audio quality of the MC's remarks. But if a Japanese audience listens to remarks spoken in their own language, and is not be able to hear what is being said, nothing could irritate them more.

Clear and pleasant voice amplification is a fundamental acoustical criterion that anybody is capable of evaluating. The persons responsible for concert hall operations should become fully informed about this topic and give due consideration to the quality of voice amplification at their halls.

Nagata Acoustics' US Branch Office Moves to New Address

We are pleased to announce the relocation of our US Branch Office.
New address is as follows:

1610 Broadway, #A
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel & Fax: +1-310-526-0329

We would also like to announce Miho Oshima joining our staff at our US Office.

From June 2005, the U.S. Branch Office of Nagata Acoustics was relocated to the following address:
2130 Sawtelle Blvd., Suite 307A,
Los Angeles, CA 90025 USA
Tel: (310) 231-7818
Fax: (310) 231-7816

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Nagata Acoustics News 03-01(No.181)
Issued : January 25, 2003

Nagata Acoustics Inc.
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