April 7, 2011

The Road to Surround – Part 7: Let's build a surround studio!

By. Mick Sawaguchi

In the last section, I discussed my encounter with surround expression method and my visits to places concerned to promote it in hope for the realization. In this section, I will discuss the installation of surround mixing facility with requirements for production practice and my memory concerning the first program production.
In 1985, I submitted a proposal for mixing room supporting surround production. My thought was that experimental productions in those days challenged surround production with High Vision, and the experimental broadcast of analog High Vision was going to start in 90, and if digital broadcasting followed, it would enable expressions that used surround sound-field as well as a 2ch stereo in various genres of programs. Broadcasting media in particular have a merit that offers various software beyond the genres that movies handle such as sports, live concerts, various music from classical to pops, traditional arts including but not limited to Kabuki, documentary, and dramas, and furthermore the audio-only channels like FM radio also cover drama, music and variety programs. Here in my hand is a copy of New Year discussion article by this publication's editor in 88, and there are some remark points that I underlined with a marker pen. I noted such remarks as "broadcasts recently do surround productions but they are merely pyrotechnic", or "it is questionable how many audience listen in surround even if programs are broadcast in surround". I believe that a feeling to "demonstrate that we are serious and will deal with it really in longer term" forced me to draw the lines. In fact, it is clear that tries-and-errors of about a decade is necessary to build the production know-hows, if we watch the history of development in former stereo production by many seniors. In the spring of 1987, two years after my submission, the first post-production studio for surround completed. But the hard center speaker was postponed until certain results would be confirmed, and only the space of installation was prepared.

Picture 1: A discussion session in this publication in '88

The finally completed console through all-night arguments
First of all, the possibility of the mixing console which functions as the main equipment in the mixing was investigated. In the movie industry of Hollywood, the time was when the large-sized consoles exclusively for the use by dubbing engineers such as Harrison and Quad Eight were produced by special orders. Looking into the general market, SSL was the only console in those days to offer 4ch bus outputs. However, this 4ch bus structure was designed in thought of 2-2ch with the basic philosophy of 4ch stereo mix in 70's. Because this was not the bus and the panning which can localize in front L-C-R we wanted to use, it was given up.
Subsequently I percussed to Neve whether they had a plan to produce a console with surround bus, but the answer was no plans again because of their lesson in 4ch. Mmm, what would you do? We decided to work with a domestic manufacturer, TAMURA, to build the console with new specifications after all. Our daily life to follow was to repeat hot arguments with all the staff involved as to how to design the module layout that is easy to use and to make the layout drawings spending all night to show up in the meeting following morning.
(It was these days when the rumors ran that a strange man was always sleeping in the office in the early morning!)

When I saw the completed sample in the factory of Tamura Corporation in Oizumi, I felt indescribable rejoyce emerged. Mr. Tanaka and Tamura's engineering staff in charge of product design surely must have had the same feeling. With the toast congratulating the completion in the factory, I felt the garbage stuck in my throat was finally flowing down at a stretch.

Picture 2, Congratulating the completion of the console for surround in Tamura Corporation factory

Picture 3, celebration party in Tamura factory

Grope for the control room sound design
The next theme is the acoustic design of the control rooms. There was acoustic design technology in U.S.A. for the large-scale rooms called dubbing stage in Hollywood in the field of the studio acoustic design, but the surround acoustic design principles for a smaller space of 40-100 square meters were barely seen in those days. This was totally an unknown field for us, too, with no experience at all. It resulted as choosing the structure of composing wooden blocks with the assumption that the sound of monaural surround channel reproduced from multiple speakers should diffuse by the diffusive rear wall structure, while the front channels remain live in a traditional manner. As for the surround speakers, following the practice of 3-1 format in movie theaters as our model, we placed seven small speakers to be evenly spread across the side and real walls. For realizing the live character of the front side, we built a solid apiton wall in which the monitor speakers were integrated, but the resultant sound was shocking and all the members' mouth was open.
We could have realized this if we considered more carefully taking time, because the sound generated from the surround channel perfectly reflected by the surface of front buffle, and it was heard almost as the sound of reverse phase in the mixing engineer's seating area to confuse his monitoring. Afterwards, the experiment was repeated by the architectural acoustic team members, and we arrived at the design with acoustically transparent type for the front, also acoustically absorbant structure but diffusive for mid-to-highs only for the rear wall.

Picture 4: The setting in CD -809 studio

Organizing a working group
I felt it needed to devise the acoustic design guideline of the mid-to-small size control rooms in order to run the surround production in the High Vision era from my experience as a reality.
It was later in 1991 when the cross-sectional experts from hardware to software industry gathered by an open call for participation, and a working group called HDTVMSSG(HDTV Multi-channel Sound Study Group) started. The call was posted in the trade papers, and the total members of a little less than 60 gathered from hardware manufacturers, universities, research institutes and software productions, and this was divided into subcommittees such as Speaker, Monitor level, and Sound design to run the research and experimental study in each area. This research activity was funded by the furtherance from Broadcast Cultural Fund for a substantially long term of four years. I would like to express my appreciation here once again. These 4 years of activity was a significantly large lesson for me, and I also managed to arrange a presentation regarding our research achievements in 100th AES Convention in Copenhagen in 1996. Studio designers who studied architectural acoustics of small surround studios were extremely limited such as Neil Grant in England at that time, so the session was received with interest by the people concerned.

I intended to write in detail in the other section further, but I asked professor Yoshikawa to be the chairperson who was then in Kanagawa Institute of Technology. A digression but it was my debut in AES with a technical presentation in true sense of professional standard for me.
It was eleventh year since around 1985 when I thought that some day I would like to be on the stage to present with some technology rather than in the side of audience. Professor Yoshikawa as the chairperson took lead in the entire HDTVMSSG presentation, and I was in charge of the part of HDTV surround sound production and the production technique with regard to 3-2/3-1/2-0 composite mixing. In those days, the manuscript was still printed as blue-back transparencies to use as an explanation document, or some presenters prepared the manuscript in OHP form. Slender tools like PowerPoint were yet to be seen.
Let me introduce you a funny story of this time. I had blue slides to show as my document, but the projector focus was way off when my turn came, so I shouted "GIVE ME FOCUS" to the staff, then the hall turned into a roar of laughter suddenly. After the session, I asked one of my acquaintances why, and he told me that the meaning saying "GIVE ME FOCUS" was an expression to ask listeners for their attention. They must have thought it was my eagerness to present coming all the way from Asia.

The first surround FM drama "Travel of Shuna" production starts
In the studio completed in the spring of 1987, the production of the first surround FM drama was started. The director was Mr. Hoshina who was positive to comment on my previous demo to do a program because it looked interesting, and the mixing engineer was Mr. Suzuki who already did an effort in High Vision experimental program of "Autumn Kyoto" earlier.
The original book was "Travel of Shuna" by Hayao Miyazaki who now has become an internationally renowned animation film director. Akira was in charge of the music, and the work was done in a farmhouse of Chiba that he modified into his home-studio. Because it was his first surround production, I asked him to write a commemorative card.
What to do with the production technique was the next challenge. As for the workflow in the surround, it was still the state of looking around to grope, and there were not yet such convenient tools as DAW in those days. In the studio were 2ch PCM recorders and a PCM-3348 multi-track recorder that could be used with no function to shift the time axis freely as DAW in either of them.
The decided procedure was that all the sound elements were stored in 2ch PCM, then reproduced along with the director's cues after all, and in surround! Consequently, we had to pre-mix each of dialogs, music and sound effects, and at the same time it was encoded in Dolby VE-3 to store and the decoding was engaged at the time of the reproduction to monitor surround. If the cue point was defined in the play of each material element, it was recorded one by one on PCM-3348 as one of D-M-E tracks, and they were reproduced altogether in the final mix running the multi-track tape, and the mixing data were adjusted and stored on the console to complete the final mix, and then it was mixed down to the master on PCM 2ch machine which was rather irregular as a flow.
Production in the live broadcast, regardless of producers, engineers, and effects, was accustomed to the single flow to gather up all the 2ch material on 1/4" tape machines following the director's cues, and if he saw any problems before its end, it was repeated again from the beginning. Therefore it needed time to train ourselves with the new method. Specifically, a slow and careful production style to record the mixing assisted with CPU and to rewrite only where you wanted to redo was not so popular as today, and it was a fact that the reliability suffered from CPU bugs to fail recording or to require inefficient amount of time to revise when the CPU caused a strange function.

Picture 5, First Dolby Surround drama "Travel of Shuna" in 1987

Surround People in Kansai
The following year 1988 should be remembered as the age of broadcast people in Kansai placing a stone for preparation of surround. A head start was MBS that had been experimenting the possibility of the broadcast in matrix surround for several years, and ran percussion of the possibility with their data to the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
The Kansai area has a benefit of location namely Koshien Stadium, and there are National High School Baseball Championship of the spring and of the summer as well as professional baseball games held. The sound engineers in Kansai say that there is a unique sound in Koshien Stadium, and the desire to convey to the audience this unique atmosphere in sound by means of surround may have driven their passion for the surround broadcast. The key stations including MBS to start with and Kansai TV, Yomiuri TV, Asahi Broadcasting continue to work for a common challenge.
Also at NHK Osaka, through the devoted effort of Mr. Imashiro, they accomplished a splendid achievement to broadcast all the games of National High School Baseball Championship live with surround. During this period, a request of cooperation was made to each main station from Kyushu through Hokkaido including some peripheral stations to record the program off the air and investigate whether or not and how much the effect on the carrier changed.
I have now in my hand a commemorative poster notifying the surround broadcast that Mr. Imashiro's daughter hand-made at that time. In a sense, it may be reasonable to refer this generation of 1987 through 90 as the first dawn in the world of surround broadcast. The seniors of the day in each station who devoted themselves are likely to meet their retirement age today, but the second generation "surround people" followed and are playing an active role in Kansai area. It may be said that it is the evidence of DNA's of those seniors that are not broken and keep growing after 15 years of time.

Picture 6, MBS surround broadcast application

Picture 7, NHK Koshien surround broadcast

Picture 8, Homemade Koshien poster by Mr. Imashiro's daughter

2006.7 Broadcast technology

Part 8: From 3-1 Surround To 3-2, and Then 5.1 Channel >>>

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