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

Nagata Acoustics News 03-09 (No.189)
Issued : September 25, 2003

Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center Opens at River Walk Kitakyushu

by Dr. Keiji Oguchi

Exterior of River Walk Kitakyushu
On August 8, 2003, the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center opened its doors as the cultural anchor of Kitakyushu City's new River Walk Kitakyushu complex. River Walk Kitakyushu combines government and private sector resources and participation to create a multi-building destination designed to become the new symbol of urban Kitakyushu City.

The new Performing Arts Center celebrated its inauguration with traditional Japanese theatrical performances by two internationally acclaimed artists. Mansai Nomura performed "Sanbasou," a work associated with auspicious occasions and Mansaku Nomura starred in the Kyogen play "Suehirogari" ("The Fan of Felicity").

<< River Walk Kitakyushu Location, Exterior and Facilities >>

River Walk Kitakyushu came to life through a redevelopment project of land located north of Kokura Castle and Kokura City Municipal Building on the west bank of the Murasaki River. Before the construction of the new complex, the old Kokura Kita-ku Municipal Building, the Tamaya Department Store and the Daiei Super Store stood on this site, which has the address of Muromachi 1-chome. The name "River Walk" was chosen in order to highlight the planners' hope that residents and visitors who come to this destination will take advantage of the location by enjoying a stroll along the nearby banks of the Murasaki River.

The exterior of the complex looks like a striking modern art sculpture formed from five separate shapes. The lively exterior appearance matches the many diverse functionalities and activities housed inside. These include Daiei Super Store's commercial and food hall space, specialty shops, and an information and media generation hub composed of NHK Kitakyushu's Broadcasting Bureau and the Asahi Newspaper's Western Japan Headquarters, as well as the T-Joy Cinemaplex and the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center.

<< River Walk Kitakyushu Project Participants >>

The River Walk Kitakyushu project's Executive Producer was F-J Urban Design & Development, known for their work in this capacity on Canal City Hakata. Likewise, the architectural firm that designed Canal City Hakata, the Jerde Partnership, also created the architectural design for River Walk Kitakyushu. Nihon Sekkei performed the construction management role, the theater consultant was Theatre Workshop, and Maeda Corporation served as the general contractor.

Nagata Acoustics joined the project during the latter stages of construction documents development. The scope of our responsibilities on the project included the acoustical design and construction-phase consulting for both the Performing Arts Center and the entire River Walk Kitakyushu complex as well as noise assessments work required to comply with the Japanese law that regulates construction of large shopping facilities.

<< Performing Arts Center Layout and Sound Isolation Needs >>

The Performing Arts Center is a multipurpose cultural facility that includes a large hall, a medium size auditorium for theater use and a third, smaller performance space as well as other ancillary rooms. The three performance spaces all have their main audience seating areas and stages on River Walk Kitakyushu's fifth floor, but in different wings of the complex's sculpture-shaped structure, so that the Performing Arts Center traverses three of the complex's five wings. The large and medium-sized halls, respectively named simply the Hall and the Theatre, occupy the top floors of their parts of the complex, with no other floors above them. The small hall, which initially was known as the Playhouse, but has the formal name "Asahi Memorial Theatre," is a single level auditorium and has other floors above it.

The floors below each of the performances spaces (and, in the case of the Playhouse, the floors above as well) have occupants engaged in other pursuits, such as business offices and shops. Therefore, sound isolation was a major theme in both our acoustical design and construction phase consulting on this project. For the Hall and the Theatre, our basic approach was to build double-layer concrete slabs between these performance spaces and the floors below, and we augmented this strategy with resiliently supported sound isolating structural designs around the floors and walls of each auditorium's stage area. Because the Playhouse can be impacted by sound from both above and below, we adopted a box-in-a-box sound isolating structure for this space.

<< The Hall and Its Unique Orchestra Shell >>

The Hall (1,269 seats) is a proscenium-style, multipurpose hall. The abundant use of curved wood paneling enveloped in the Hall's audience seating area makes it be in a warm ambience. Despite having a total seat count of slightly less than 1,300, the Hall has two balcony tiers, for a theater-style hall design clearly prioritizes that gives high priority to the audience's sense of visual intimacy to the stage.

The Hall replaces an older Kokura City Community Hall that sat 1,492 persons and was used for concerts as well as drama. For concert performances in the new hall, we installed a uniquely designed retractable orchestra shell. When the shell is slid into place and set up, arms extend from the portion of the shell that is at the rear of the stage to support the shell's side and overhead panels. By this unusual design for the orchestra shell, we have fully useful space for hanging theatrical batons and lightings in the fly space.
Interior of the HallRetractable Orchestra Shell
<< The Theatre and Playhouse >>

Interior of the Theatre
The Theatre (700 seats) also has a balcony and a proscenium style stage. From the stage to the farthest seat in the Theatre the distance is only 17.5 m. (57 ft), making the stage extremely close to all of this auditorium's seats. The Theatre's interior uses an entirely dark color scheme, even for the color of the floor, intentionally creating a space in which audiences can easily focus all of their attention on the performance on stage.

The Playhouse (120 - 261 seats) is a flat-floored performance space. Support for this space by the Asahi Newspaper Corporation has been recognized by officially giving the Playhouse the name Asahi Memorial Theatre. The floor and walls of this space use standard, unembellished construction and finishing techniques, while the entire ceiling has a grid that can be used to suspend lightings or other performance equipments. In this sparsely designed "empty space," a performance artist's creative expression can begin with the arrangement of the stage and seating in any configuration desired, giving this room the personality of an experimental studio.

<< Performance Space Reverberation Times >>

The reverberation times of all three performance spaces reflect the high priority given to their use for theatre works. At mid-range, and unoccupied, the rooms have the following reverberation times.

<< The Hall's Acoustical Performance for Orchestral Music >>

Shortly before the Performing Arts Center's official opening, I attended an open dress rehearsal in the Hall by the Kitakyushu Junior Orchestra. The orchestra shell was in place and I judged the audience attendance to be about 900 persons. While the reverberation time was not very long, the Hall's sound had softness and warmth, pleasant acoustics that enabled me to breathe easily with the successful completion of this project. At the inaugural Kyogen performances, I also noted the hall's clarity of speech.

<< The Performing Arts Center's Operational Organization >>

The Kitakyushu Foundation for the Arts and Culture manages the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center, together with the 720-seat concert hall named Hibiki Hall. The Performing Arts Center summarizes its mission with the three keywords "create," "nurture," and "experience," placing the focus of the new facility not on inviting performers from other parts of Japan or the world, but rather on the creation and dissemination of original performance work and on nurturing the performing arts and their appreciation among local residents. By fostering the growth of regional arts networks and obtaining support from local organizations, the foundation plans to develop a strong, grass-roots performing arts culture in the Kitakyushu area.

To achieve its goals, the foundation has staffed the Performing Arts Center with a robust organization of more than 60 employees, including producers and one directors. Kitakyushu's vibrant cultural life already has an excellent foundation, with the annual Kitakyushu Theater Festival that is now in its 11th year and receives attention and audiences from throughout Japan, as well as the Kitakyushu International Music Festival, now in its 15th year. With these wonderful examples and ongoing local support, I am sure we can look forward to Kitakyushu's performing arts community creating many new and exciting undertakings at the Kitakyushu Performing Arts Center.

Hall Loudspeakers -- The Past, the Present and Some Manufacturers

by Makoto Ino

To really understand the differences among competing manufacturers' loudspeakers, it is not sufficient to read the specification literature and listen to product demonstrations. You have to visit the companies and manufacturing sites. Last year, I visited France's NEXO and the U.S. company JBL Professional. In July 2003, I visited Germany's d&b audiotechnik.

The loudspeakers installed in a hall are more important than any other piece of equipment in determining the quality of amplified sound in the hall. Because it is through the loudspeakers that electrical signals are propagated into a room's space and transformed into sound, understanding the unique characteristics of different loudspeakers is the starting point for sound system design and a fundamental criterion for the creation of fine acoustics. A comparison of different loudspeaker models and manufacturers reveals considerable variations among them. This is why, for sound system designers like myself, specs, performance data and product demonstrations cannot take the place of visiting a loudspeaker manufacturer first hand.

<< Goals of Visiting Loudspeaker Manufacturers >>

When I visit a loudspeaker manufacturer, I aim to learn the kind of information that is not usually found on data sheets or may be "in-between the lines" of formal marketing and technical literature. This includes subtle details regarding optimal use conditions, the manufacturer's performance and sound quality objectives, obstacles and technical challenges that were encountered during the product's development, and what original objectives the company was unable to achieve for the product. I want to learn the entire story of the specific manufacturers' products, exactly what the loudspeaker is and is not, what it can and cannot do.

By visiting the manufacturer first hand, I can speak directly with the key development and management personnel who determine the company's vision and direction. I can learn about the manufacturer's work processes, the background that led the company to develop the product, and the product development and manufacturing processes used. As a sound system designer, it is essential that I confirm this information with my own ears and eyes. The value gained from this experience is comparable to the insights pipe organ selection committees seek when they visit organ builders.

<< Establishing Two-way Communication with the Manufacturers >>

An important additional purpose of my visits to loudspeaker manufacturers in Europe and the United States is to create the opportunity to tell these manufacturers about the audio preferences and tastes of Japanese audiences and speak with them about loudspeaker installation requirements in Japan. During my visits, I also request and encourage the European and U.S. manufacturers to modify their products so that they are easy to incorporate into Japanese sound systems.

Through these visits, I establish ongoing relationships and information exchange with the manufacturers and their personnel, and my understanding of loudspeakers increases. Over time, the result is greater confidence that the speakers I install will perform well for a long time. Confidence in a brand or model of loudspeakers depends on trust and confidence in the people who manufacture them.

<< Fast-paced Change in Loudspeaker Technology Trends >>

Despite the fact that for more than 70 years the fundamentals of loudspeaker technology have remained unchanged, loudspeaker selection has been subjected to more waves of changing technology preferences than any other kind of sound system equipment. Just one kind of microphone technology has continued to be used for decades and, while mixers and sound effects equipment have implemented digital signal processing technologies (specifically, LSI and signal formats advances), these changes follow a straight linear progression of technology enhancements. By contrast, developments in loudspeaker technology during the past 30 years include a diverse list of changes and focuses.

<< Hall Loudspeakers in the 1970s and 1980s >>

The first wave of hall loudspeaker technology trends came in the 1970s and prevailed to the early 1980s. During these years, 2-way component-style loudspeakers with separate high-frequency drivers, horns and low-frequency units became the dominant kind of loudspeakers installed in halls. The primary manufacturers of these loudspeakers were Altec Lansing, Electro Voice and JBL.

In the second half of the 1980s, a new wave of loudspeaker style came to the fore. Tweeters and woofers were now combined in integrated models. Apogee Sound, EAW and Meyer Sound led the way in establishing these loudspeakers as the most popular style for hall loudspeakers, and other loudspeaker manufacturers followed with competing models. Thereafter, mid-range horns were added to create 3-way integrated loudspeaker models and these rode the next wave of popularity. When subwoofer loudspeakers were added, 4-way integrated configurations became available that, from a practical perspective, expanded the frequency range of reproduced sound, enabling unrestrained reproduction of popular music genres. And by using mid-range horn, we got more intelligible sound suitable for speech.

<< Current Integrated Loudspeaker Functionality >>

Because the integrated loudspeakers were initially developed specifically for popular music concert use, they are characterized by low distortion and maximum output. Dedicated processors have contributed greatly to the technological achievement and improvement of these characteristics. Dedicated processors now enable these loudspeakers to feature pre-set frequency balancing and basic equalizing so that fine quality sound can be obtained easily. Also, these loudspeakers now achieve broad dynamic ranges and can anticipate and prevent collapse, making them known for their durability and reliability. Because processors now play such a key role in these loudspeakers' functionalities, these loudspeakers are sometimes referred to as "processor-controlled loudspeakers" or, simply, "controlled loudspeakers."

The nearly ubiquitous adoption of dedicated processors in the loudspeaker units has spurred changes and new integrated products to replace the equalizers, limiters, delay machines and channel dividers that may be installed between a mixing console and power amplifiers. The new generation of products that can perform all these functions incorporate digital signaling technology and are called loudspeaker management systems.

<< Line Array Loudspeakers >>

In the 1990s, line array loudspeaker configurations appeared, with multiple units of integrated loudspeakers connected in a vertical row, end-to-end. Line array configurations are characterized by horizontal directivity with minimal disturbance and clear sound quality even at long-throw distances. At pop concert venues in Japan, the easy rigging and facile sound quality correction features of line array speakers have led to their rapid adoption.

Initially, the French manufacturer L-Acoustics was the sole provider of line array speakers. Now the product lines of many manufacturers include line arrays, and new models continue to be announced.

Line arrays have proven their suitability in large rooms with flat floors. But there is not yet enough experience with them to determine conclusively whether they are an appropriate choice for theaters and concert halls with steeply sloped floors and multiple balcony tiers. A number of Japanese venues used for musicals have started implementing small-sized line array loudspeakers, and I am eager to take a close look at the reviews and critiques they receive.

<< d&b audiotechnik's Strong Reputation >>

At listening demonstrations in Japan, d&b audiotechnik's loudspeakers consistently earn high approvals. This company's loudspeakers produce high frequency tones that sound smooth and coherent , a quality of sound that may well be a perfect match for the tastes of Japanese listeners. The d&b audiotechnik loudspeakers achieve this sound quality primarily because d&b audiotechnik inserts appropriate compatible filters and delay circuitry into the dedicated power amplifier of each of its loudspeakers. Aside from this technological innovation, the loudspeaker units themselves are similar to the generic units of other manufacturers, and do not have significant distinguishing characteristics.

<< d&b audiotechnik's Home Office and Manufacturing Facility >>

d&b audiotechnik's home office is located in Backnang, a small town in southern Germany that is about 30 minutes by train from Stuttgart. The home office and manufacturing operations occupy a renovated textile-factory building that stands along the banks of a creek. The location reminded me of my visit to the U.S. company EAW, in Massachusetts, which also renovated a former textile mill in order to expand its manufacturing capacity.

d&b audiotechnik's loudspeaker manufacturing operations are not on the large scale that one typically sees at U.S. manufacturers, but the company has adopted the Toyota Kanban Process, and the well-ordered, efficient appearance of the manufacturing areas made a memorably strong impression on me.

<< Can a Manufacturer's Native Tongue Affect Loudspeaker Design? >>

In the streets and restaurants of Backnang, I could overhear the local residents conversing in German and, while the meaning of their words was unintelligible to me, I was surprised at how the balance of vowels and soft consonants seemed to resemble my native Japanese language. This made me think of the often-repeated adage that the best way to grasp the unique personality of a loudspeaker is first to hear it reproducing human speech.

Even before my trip to Backnang, I had begun to consider the likelihood that the sound characteristics of a region's spoken dialect have considerable influence on the sound quality of loudspeakers produced there. My experiences in Backnang brought me closer to confirming this hypothesis. In my opinion, the loudspeakers produced by French manufacturers NEXO and L-Acoustics share in common sound characterized by polished, detailed mid-ranges and lucid bass, and my impression of spoken French is similarly characterized by these same sound qualities.

The popularization of European-manufactured loudspeakers in Japan brings with it a welcome expansion of loudspeaker choices. As I completed my trip to Germany, I thought that Japanese manufacturers, too, should surely be able to offer the world loudspeakers with uniquely Japanese sound qualities and characteristics. I returned home with this tiny bud of an idea providing me enjoyable imaginings of future loudspeaker developments.

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Nagata Acoustics News 03-09 (No.189)
Issued : September 25, 2003

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