April 10, 2011

The Road to Surround – Part 10: Steps To Surround School-shed and the Next Generation

By. Mick Sawaguchi

George Massenburg V.S. Surround-shogun(?) 2007-2-27

Up to the last section, I talked about our activity for expansion and enlightenment of the surround sound world as "Surround Crusaders". I will describe this time mainly on the thought of people gathering in my "Surround School-shed" regarding how to convey the above issue to younger creators as a concrete example.
The Surround School-shed started in September, 2003, and takes place once a month in my home-studio in Mitaka aiming to form a workshop of three hours by surround producers then hot and in frontline carrying out a lecture and a production demonstration about the way of thinking, concrete examples, themes, and challenges. In case the participants exceed the capacity depending on the subject, I have someone offer a studio or a showroom in Tokyo and cater a "Surround School-shed" there.

The Start of Surround School-shed Emitted from My Home Studio
When I was in charge of surround seminars and workshops, I often heard voices from participants about the opportunities or physical places where they could learn surround production regularly. This may be an outcome of the desire to experience and gain the real world of practical production in parallel with their scientific study, and also the thought to distinguish themselves with a different skill set from others in the earlier stage to appeal their superiority in the business aspect.
I strongly felt this type of tendency in foreign countries in particular. In the surround workshop that I made in the AES Convention of 1996, a large number of participants lined up in front of the platform after the session to get a copy of my various surround miking information I showed. As I could hardly cope with them on the spot, they filled me with their address and I air-mailed to each of them a copy later, but it was only one person who wrote me back a thank-you letter! With regard to this type of things, there exists a considerable gap in their behavior and the way we Oriental people would express their appreciation. I wonder if they consider it unnecessary to express another appreciation by return once they thanked me on the spot.
With above all these things, I wanted to establish an environment that enabled me to organize private workshops regularly someday in my home. In spring, 2000, we decided to move to Mitaka city, and incidentally planned to build a long-cherished home-studio. Equipment were gathered for surround production environment little by little shifting from a temporary stereo setting, and finally completed in 2003 through 3 years of effort. The studio concept was "how far I could express my feeling only with a DAW and a keyboard without a mixing console". (It was a great challenge judging from my sincere respect for the sense of faders and knobs.) It very much arose for the room size consideration, but the essential reason was because I wanted to have the middle age generation including myself experience and understand the level of future computer environment as a tool to use. I chose for DAW a product of Swiss Margin Technology called Pyramix. It began to be used in foreign countries at the time particularly in European classical music productions, and I found its sound quality was quite straightforward. Its expansibility managed to cover the latest needs as a system such as from SD to HD imaging, mixing of DSD recordings, and the high bit sampling.
(Despite the fact that there was another DAW that already was gaining the position of industry-wide standard in the market ...)

Picture 1: My home studio in 2000 to support stereo only

Picture 2: Completion of long-waited construction of surround facility

Collecting equipments was pretty much done in 2003 for sufficient environment, and I decided to finally start “the surround School-shed”. However, there was nothing but practice without knowing the mechanism of publicity or the PR activity. I only considered the followings at the start:

• Words of mouth would spread to some people as this effort continues.
• Ask some surround friends I know for a lecture.
• Accumulate valuable contents steadily and faithfully that participants find truly instructive.
• Avoid the system for exaggerated organization or authoritative meeting, but to form a free structure where the people who want to study can participate with their own intention and also can leave anytime when they lost the interest or consider they have learned sufficiently.

As the seminars tended to be indigestive under the conventional format because of limited time, I allocated 3 hours for the lecture and the demo, and taking this opportunity, I arranged an "after hours" cross-industrial social gathering where participants bring their own drinks in a BYO style while my wife prepared just something to bite.

I asked the first session to the expert Akira Fukada for a lecture with the subject of music surround recording and mixing that many people were very interested. The publicity was spread through friends and relatives, and the number of participants in this first seminar was seven which looked exactly like a School-shed. The session proceeded around Mr. Fukada with copies of exhibits.
One of very first participants, Kayoko Kimura, saxophone player, later played an active role to promote my School-shed, and even introduce my School-shed activity in her own Internet community. (Much appreciation!)

Picture-3: September, 2003. The start of first surround School-shed session (top), and the participants in the second, the third, the fourth sessions (downward)

While I held the sessions regularly, participants themselves spread the words to bring new participants next time, and this community grew gradually. Depending on the subject, applications to participate came beyond the capacity of my house occasionally, and securing the new meeting facility was one of the next challenges. In 2002, I could get to know Mr. Suzuki of Marantz through the "Home Theater Event" held in Shinjuku Keio Plaza hotel sponsored by Monthly New Media, and he kindly offered me their show-room in Ebisu. Mr. Suzuki had been in charge of surround installations in U.S.A. for many years, and was one of people who wishes to spread surround in healthy form in the home in Japan as well. In their facility, it was fully equipped to our convenience, and 30 to 40 people could join. I was able to begin the catered Surround School-shed in this way. There was a suggestion by Mr. Seigen Ono who joined me to lecturer in 2003, and he uploaded the content digests every time on the web. "It's unfortunate if this ends only with participants. We should report the content every time as we can use my Saidera site." My need soon expanded beyond the borrowed home page in Saidera site, and I felt the serious need for a dedicated "Surround School-shed Home Page". However, I had neither the skill of the home page production nor the know-how. I tried various applications to see the ways in each program, and decided to use Dreamweaver with some advice from an expert. From here was a hardship ... just as hard as the road to surround!

School-shed Home Page Opened - The Growing Circle of Surround People
A customer of my wife's live house Unamas in front of Mitaka station extended the support who was a professional designer/illustrator. I took the lesson for beginner's class and asked for the entire design of my homepage at a bargain price. This completed the look of my web.

Picture-4: Surround Terakoya (School-shed) HP top page

Now what should we do with the report of each session? I hoped to rotate around the participants by assignment, but because everybody was busy, the reports tended to delay, and we faced difficulty in timely uploading the topics for a while. Sorry to say this, but if you look at my web page, there are many holes in the early days. As 2005 was the year of my retirement, I could have more free time and I updated the reports more timely using tape recording of articles occasionally with pictures of activities.
Other than reports, I upload my archives of skills and know-hows about surround production, information and the latest trends from overseas, and surround content production reports in the section titled Mick-News, and also upload example music that look inspiring to students as Recommended Software. A strong reinforcement appeared this year for this. It was Mr. Ishii of Otaritech who was a great surround music fan and collected some 200 titles, and he introduced to us among them those useful to listen to as reference.

A careful management of personal information became essential for compliance, and the proper contact-management on e-mail basis looked burdensome, and thus I added a BBS in my home page. This is the site that Mr. Yasumatsu, illustrator, participating the School-shed introduced me to. My intention was for everybody to exchange comments openly and freely in this place, but this is not functioning as expected. After all, e-mail seems most convenient to exchange opinions in messages, but at the same time it is delicate because a lot of open contact information is in the risk of spams these days.

Mr. Mitsuzuka is a shakuhachi player active in the traditional Japanese music group called TONE who was interested in surround performance for a long while, and visited our School-shed. His desire was realized in the autumn of 2006 in the form of DVD-A to be released. Other young generation artists and engineers also steadily experience and acquire the world of the surround sound. They experiment and produce a demonstration for themselves, and their efforts will soon be fruitful. A young engineer/musician, Ichiro recorded his first piano-solo concert in April, 2006 and brought it to our School-shed for a demo. It is delightful to see some participants recently brings their demo pieces saying "let's listen to my latest work" which generates an atmosphere of the School-shed not being one-sided passiveness.

Picture-5: The catered Surround School-shed at Sona

In addition, the members to travel long-distance to participate such as Toyama and Osaka are increasing, too. I now hope that School-shed branches pop up voluntarily here and there in many places, then the circle can expand further. In foreign countries, such an activity tends to turn into a business immediately, but I think that it may be the secret of perdurability that we run it relaxingly in the NGO style. (Naturally the reality side of reason is that I am not so good at business.)

Many invited lecturers came to talk voluntarily, and I learned this type of approach from friends in foreign countries. In fact top professionals think that once one has built a certain level of position in the industry, he has responsibility to hand his philosophy of life down to the next generation. Because the idea that unpaid devotion is his own honor is commonly penetrated, such an activity is often administered by a celebrity, and thus the circle can spread. Probably it may be due to the Christian view of the world. While I held a session on an interested theme every month, the exchange of opinions by the School-shed members heatedly swelled on the theme around present conditions of the music industry and the surround production by young generations after having Mr. Takada, Chief Engineer of JVC Victor Aoyama studio make a demo and a talk in the spring of 2003.
I quote here some e-mails exchanged at that time.

1. Regarding the path toward spreading surround:
Make people impressed to motivate them to get one. Arrange a surround corner in coffee shops where they naturally and unconsciously experience surround in their daily life. The strongest impact comes without expecting it while they tend to try to be ready if they know it is coming.
Appeal the way to remove the bottleneck when they feel the practical installation is a tough challenge despite that they want to have a surround setting in their room through the experience.
It's pricing. Ideally speaking, the price range should be comparable to cassette portables, below 30,000 Yen for DVD-Video system, or below 65,000 Yen for a system with DVD-AUDIO/SACD player. I think that surround package systems are available for less than 30,000 Yen, but many of them may not deliver sufficient quality low frequencies with such 5-channel speakers. Hopefully, it would be nice if they reproduce signals as low as 80Hz ...
So I think the third issue has come close to the reality. Then how can we deal with the first and the second after all? Anyway, until one experiences it, it remains as "the pie in the sky", so I want to have them try to find how "delicious". Being a person myself who ate a pie and was fascinated with its deliciousness, I really wish that this attractive fact is extended to other people in the world.

2. I may have expressed this repeatedly already, but musicians strive for not only ideas of compositions and arrangements but squeezed wisdom that would allow them to step out from the present condition, and I think that Surround School-shed is the perfect place for them to exchange their thoughts. People from various fields gather to openly voice their opinions and contribute in mutually present ideas. I really appreciate that I can participate in such a community every time. As in the previous e-mail, the lecture of Mr. Tomita covered from composition to final mix throughout, and above all it was the class to consider how you could make your own composition valuably fit in the music media and penetrate it to listeners. Perhaps no music colleges offer such lessons, and it was truly indispensable four years that money cannot buy. In addition, we learned here that the music that has assumed surround from the stage of composition bears a significant meaning and power. We composers without a support in our back must find a method that replaces the present for the next. I hope it can be found under the key-word of "surround to get popular".

3. Those who have surround environment around me (business partners, relatives, acquaintances) may exceed 30%. In each different home environment, people think and tweak ideas, and enjoy this process apparently. On the other hand, the lack of contents is disappointing, music in particular!
As you know, almost all movies are produced in surround. Surround is the standard format of the DVD, and even delivery formats cope with surround. Even NTT indicates their great expectation in the future Windows Media Player with surround (http://flets.com/square/51ch/51ch_what.html), and 30% of PS2 users enjoy games with surround. The situation continues to be improved. I feel the rapid growth of surround compared to five years ago.
How long did it take for stereo to penetrate in the home environment during its growing stage? I guess when the consumers bought or replaced a radio or a television set, the stereo feature was almost automatically found in the product. In contrast, the introduction of surround is subject to the consumer's choice. The playback environment varies and I wonder if it was same in the time of stereo?
Let's involve record company A&R. As for my working colleagues, surround is already a requirement. Pasting still pictures animation files along with audio within the DVD-V specifications is quite enjoyable. Let's stimulate the music industry more than ever through the .

Those were the topics discussed through e-mails for a while! In addition, some members wanted to hear the talk by Mr. Isao Tomita and I sounded him on its possibility through Mr. Fukada, then we received from him a willing consent in 2004. The actual session and the social exchanging opinions were very much swelled discussing the theme of "the relation of recording industry and retailers". The relation between the art and the business lives with a tangle any time. Having enjoyed the atmosphere at that time perhaps, Mr. Tomita told me "I will participate in the school as a member because I liked it", and has been a regular member thereafter. In addition, as he had had a master class in Shobi Music School, some students of his such as Mr. Nojiri and Mr. Oshima came to participate, too. When the composer who considers the space expression in the stage of composition gains presence in the world, a true surround sound space will be realized, and it rightly triggers the next generation music. Mr. Nojiri has already released 2 DVD-Audio albums of his own work in surround music.

Lecturers from Foreign Countries
Mr. Kobayashi of Sanken Microphone has been doing overseas business for a long time and said "we would want to invite lecturers to this Surround School-shed from foreign countries some day. Let's plan an opportunity for organizing it." And a chance unexpectedly came in 2005. Mr. George Massenburg sent to Mr. Kobayashi his surround recording sound source and a document with his recording philosophy for the School-shed members. Shown below is the part of his introduction:

An introduction to my work by George GML
To all of my friends in Japan, and also to one of my oldest and dearest friends, Minoru Kobayashi, but especially to my mentor and spiritual guide, Mick Sawaguchi, a master of all things audio.
Looking back over my work, I think I do the best job with acoustic instruments. One of my best-known records is The Trio, with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris, and it's basically an acoustic record. Why I do this well I don't know? Maybe I believe that an acoustic instrument - in its complexity, responsiveness and huge dynamic range - provides more of an opportunity to convey emotion and also the underlying story of a piece of music.
Or maybe it's because extracting a performance on an acoustic instrument is such an arduous, demanding endeavor that the musicians you meet are... well, better and smarter.

In the received sound source was a very impressive performance by a blues guitarist called J. Randy that realized spacious music perspectives. The recording was made in Capital Studio, and according to the data, the formation was purely acoustic strings of ten players laid out in the shape of a circle around J. Randy. For surround, four SANKEN CO-100K microphones were used, and his loving acoustical music wrapped the surround space to enchant all the members listening to this.
Later on, there was an opportunity for Eliot Scheiner to visit Japan on December 6, 2005 because he won "Expertise of the Sound" award, so I sent him a request to lecture in our School-shed on 7th following the award ceremony the day before while he was in Japan. He delightedly accepted it and spared approximately 1 hour 30 minutes in the afternoon despite his tight schedule to return home from Narita, and talked earnestly about his own music and why he did surround. Because it was a very stouthearted message regarding music and surround expression, I sincerely recommend you to read it in my School-shed homepage.

Picture 6: Document from George Massenburg

Picture 7: With Eliot Scheiner, December, 2005

In April 2006, I got an e-mail from W. Woszczyk, one of my AES pals and music department professor of McGill University in Montreal, Canada informing me of his staying in Japan for a couple of months, and I automatically invited him to lecture.

Picture 8: Catered surround School-shed at Onkio Haus, May, 2006

Picture 9: Pleasant exchange of opinions after the lecture, June, 2006

Picture 10: The latest catered surround School-shed in July, 2006 at Marantz

Studies of surround dimensions were active in this university, and we had him talk about height relations and immersive sensation of sound. In the wine party after the lecture, he praised the youths in Japan studying surround eagerly as their life work, and expressed that Japan was the exact field of his surround researches.

Japanese Surround Prize Foundation One Day...
I also want to promote a composition competition or an award as the gateway of such young composers devoted to surround. I want to deliver the process in which we bring up the young musicians to compose music with surround from their very beginning and provide them an opportunity to be recognized in the world from Japan. There are a lot of such examples historically as current Academy Award, Grammy, Cannes Film Festival, Tchaikovsky and Chopin competitions. However, we can see none that clearly brings surround as a subject anywhere, and I am eager to build a global situation for cultural creativity, especially form Japan. Furthermore, I think that it is my duty to introduce the thought of such artists to the world and with the advent of high quality networking, a development of some new business models would be possible.
The active efforts by Seigen Ono and Octavia Fine NF are the pioneers in package media, and in the foreign countries are sprouts of Nexos, PENTA-TONE, DMP, Telarc are Chesky producing surround titles, and in this year, a small label offering surround recordings of eastern European classical performance called Lipinski became visible. I think that it is important to offer high-quality contents contrasting to enjoy music anywhere with a mobile DAP.

This series proceeded quickly and now leaves only two more times. For the remaining two sections, I plan to introduce some thoughts and hints that I collected through my encounters with seniorities and younger people in the form of interviews.

2006.10 Broadcast Technology

Part 11: Special Interview with Mr. Kazutsugu Uchimura >>>

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