April 9, 2011

The Road to Surround – Part 9: Surround Crusaders - to drive surround grow

By. Mick Sawaguchi

From "GIVE" to "TAKE"
The desire grows to involve other people and expand the circle of those motivated, as we continue surround production. I told before that the information is "give and take", and it is very important to deliver the experience and the know-how we acquired to others in order to maintain an equal viewpoint each other. While I compiled the various production examples that we produced from 1987 to around 1990 (including other companies), I thought "cannot we deliver this to abroad?" There are undoubtedly some people who struggle with similar surround productions in other countries, and they might be hoping to exchange the production know-how each other. So I translated mine into English and handed them to Mr. Fushiki of Dolby Tokyo to see if Mr. Mead in their SF main office finds any possibility to it.
I thought that it would be nice if we manage to report them in the professional MIX magazine or in some trade journal. The answer came from Bill who read the content. “How about you present it for yourself?” Coincidentally, there is a joint AES/SMPTE Conference titled "the TV broadcast sound for the future" in Detroit in 1991. A technical presentation? That should be it! The chance has come to realize what we wished to shift myself some day from the listener's side to the other side running a presentation to the audience.
Because this was my very first experience, I did not have a slightest confidence to cover entire 20 minutes myself, so Mr. Fushiki did the introduction, and then I presented our activities about surround productions with Dolby matrix system in Japanese broadcast environment.

Picture 1: AES/SMPTE joint conference hand-out, Detroit in 1991

The encounter with people rightly says a destiny, and the Chairperson in charge of this conference was Wieslaw of McGill University, Canada who later became Chairperson of AES in 2007. Furthermore, the Chairperson for the paper section of "surround sound" was Tom Holman, and among presenters was Bob from Shure, now in charge of AES T.C. who brought the theme titled “the new development of surround in home”. Shure's paper involved a progressive concept to improve Dolby Surround with a flat response for both front and rear without the band limiting. In addition, I had heard the news beforehand that a postproduction called GTN in local Detroit introduced the SSL network system. I asked Mr. Asano of SSL Japan for the contact, and then Jey Scott, the mixing engineer at GTN, visited our AES meeting place during the session and I managed to visit their studio. His studio was also experimenting the production of Dolby Surround behind the scene. Scott told me that he had learned of my presentation about the Japanese surround production situation and was interested to hear so timely, and our conversation consequently brought him to our surround family member. The surround monitors of this postproduction studio were placed on the floor surprisingly with the arrangement to radiate aiming the engineer's seat diagonally. Everybody was groping everywhere at that time. Being the first experience, my essential presentation exceeded by five minutes, and the chairperson Tom cautioned me with the bell to "be breaking off", so it was not an elegant start. What I considered as my next theme at that time was how to prepare and execute a presentation skillfully that would not make listeners bored.

Picture 2: After the first technology presentation with Mr. Mead and Mr. Fushiki of Dolby

Not being my native language, it took me ten years to get to such a level in English. A digression but the first occasion that I managed to make the audience laugh was the surround workshop in AES L.A. Convention in 1996 where I spoke to them in the beginning to "convince your boss is your first task to get a surround sound".
The audience must have expected some sort of know-how such as equipments, mixing technique or miking placements on the theme of "what was necessary to let surround succeed", then it goes like "the first thing to do is to persuade the boss" which was probably unconciously acceptable. When I left the meeting room after the session, a lot of people around there talked to me expressing "it was interesting".

Surround Crusaders Go Action!
I wrote in the previous section that I felt the need for standards of the acoustic designs regarding studios to support surround. It was in the activity of HDTV-MSSG for the period of 1992 through 1995. In a working group, we investigated and experimented where and how different the acoustic design would be in comparison to that of 2ch stereo, and what are the important factors in two different environments; a small studio of about 50 sq meters and medium-size studio of 100 sq meters. We announced this result in various occasions in Japan and abroad. We asked Professor Yoshikawa whose role was HDTV-MSSG Representative to present the complete summary in No. 100 AES Convention in Copenhagen in 1996. The member list is shown here (figure 1).

Figure 1: Organization and members of HDTV multichannel sound study working group

I think that you can see the working group gathered colorful variety of people as the member. In fact, this was the time I started the pilgrimage of "Surround Crusaders" with Akira Fukada. Let's talk about the circumstances. In 1990's, High Vision experimental broadcasting started as previously described, and it became possible for us to broadcast various programs in 3-1 format. In the entire world, there were some broadcast programs in Dolby Surround matrix, but it was only in Japan to have broadcasts in HD and also in 3-1 format.

If you ask what the foreign people show respect for, it absolutely comes down to the fact that you did something that nobody else has accomplished". No matter how trivial it is, they would pay great respect to the originality even if it did not result a successful track in the business. The reason why European people can still maintain some initiative globally is, I think, because they carry a solid confidence in themselves for creating the model and the way of thinking even if the resultant business profit is gone to U.S.A. If we always pay our attention to this point, originating information from Japan will be more active. In such a point of view, the fact was a truly pioneering attempt that we broadcast a program called "Singing Stage" produced weekly in live from NHK Hall in 3-1 discrete surround for HD and in Dolby Surround matrix terrestrial general TV service.

There were some examples in U.S. broadcasting surround programs live constantly, but very simply with standard definition NTSC image and one additional audience mic feeding surround; a rational American idea that rear suffices with only one mic because the format is 3-1. They declare that they make 70% of programs in surround in the recent digital sound broadcast such as HD-Radio and XM radio, but the most of them use an "Up-Mix" encoder that converts normal stereo program into surround. They can still appeal it as surround broadcast. NHK Hall facilities including the console, the production system and the monitoring environment did not support surround at that time, but we made efforts to arrange transmitting 2 separate mixes regularly on the air, which should be considered quite advanced. I proposed to Mr. Fukada to announce it in the AES and as his application was accepted, we decided to make a trip together. At this time, our presentation regarding Composite Mix, a simultaneous production method of 3-2/3.1/stereo that we developed in the production of "Cry of August" and "The Last Bullet" HD dramas was accepted. Anyway, an extensive presentation in a foreign country was for me the first experience (because in 1991 we shared one), and as for Mr. Fukada it was the very first time. But I think that the turning point of your life starts where you make up your mind to "go ahead!" I still remember the voices clearly that we spoke loudly, both of us, after the arrival at our hotel in Copenhagen to rehearsal our presentation by going through the manuscript in English until midnight.
In our joint presentation afterwards taking the opportunity of conferences and conventions at AES, IBC, Korea KOBA, Chinese ISS, I discussed the surround-sound design while Mr. Fukada presented demos and papers about music surround. As a result, it formed a group of friends and old familiar faces who came to listen to us every time, and the current surround family connection has been established, and the circle expanded by itself throughout U.S.A., Europe and Asia. I think it was because our presentation was always comprehensive with refreshing demos, and prepared an abstract that served as a valuable document.

Picture 3: In charge of surround session Chairperson in AES N.Y. in '97.
"FUKADA-TREE" was announced for the first time in this Conference by Akira Fukada.

Picture 4: The surround pilgrimage by Mick-and-Akira continued sharing a room to stay

There was another side story to it. During the period we sent our entries and participated in accepted conferences, we were cheered and supported by our workplace, but the situation gradually developed for us to receive requests from friends in overseas to "give a lecture in so-and-so conference next time". Then the logic of the organization "why the same two must go every time" came sticking out. Therefore we stayed in a shared room to save expenses, but overseas people seemed interpreting we were in a special relation if two men always stay in a same room. It was an inconvenient rumor. Mr. Fukada must be feeling relieved now that we are in separate companies! I appreciate him for his patience for such a long time.

How to make a presentation easy to understand - "Gripping" is the key.
Let's talk about the presentation. People who produce contents like us in foreign countries and particularly in U.S.A. tend to prepare nothing for a presentation but tell whatever topics that pop in their mind, and then play some commercial SA-CD or DVD-A available in the market. (Researchers in university and manufacturer however do know the need to prepare a splendid PowerPoint.) They might be always busy, but we seldom see a PowerPoint, a careful and intuitive explanation or a demonstration. In contrast, Mr. Fukada's presentation is always popular and applauded because his session is very carefully structured to analyze exactly what the participants want to understand. In this situation we Japanese indeed create a situation to "offer". I think that this is a result of steady, cumulative efforts of our progressive idea to "step forward" as was conceived in 1996.

It was 1996 when the project was launched to examine next generation audio as post-CD formats in Japan Audio Society. Through this activity, a report was submitted by a project called ADA in 98, and at that time I was in charge of Surround Working Group with Mr. Yukio Takahashi who was then in Denon. The project studied the entire process from production to reproduction environment at home, and set forth a clear direction-setting of SA-CD and DVD-Audio. We also made a surround demo and visitors' survey during Audio EXPO 1998 held in Tokyo Big Site in this opportunity by borrowing a corner of the show floor. The result here was quite interesting, showing an even split between surround-oriented and 2ch stereo-oriented groups while both of them looked into higher quality. In addition, regarding "the media in hope", the result showed that the digital broadcasting in surround followed the package media. The audio business was then said hitting a plateau for a long while, and my thought to make a breakthrough to it was a repeated effort to have the consumers experience the combination of superior imaging and sound. Audio is closely bonded with human relations and I sense that it can be cultivated by steady and continued hands-on activities.

In our Surround Crusaders' effort, the next challenge was how to run a long enough presentation enjoyably. The main concern of a technical presentation is how you tell your story and conclusion with efficiency and clarity within the limited time of normally 15-20 minutes. However, in the field of workshop or a hands-on seminar, you will be required to be responsible all by yourself for around 90 to 120 minutes. For the entire time, you will proceed with your own rhythm and structure, and you must assemble the content to make the audience find useful without being bored. To improve your skill for this, there was nothing but experiencing variety of similar lectures as a lesson and see things like unexpected development to be enjoyed by watching the participants' reactions.
Such an opportunity came true in the first AES Surround Conference in 2001. It was the very first attempt for AES for their conference to feature surround as the single only subject, and the meeting took place in a town called Elmau, Germany near the Swiss border. I was responsible for a workshop of 90 minutes regarding the surround production of radio drama there. It was actually a part of workshop of three hours jointly proposed with Florian of Austria Broadcast Association who planned to give a lecture regarding the production of documentary programs in surround.
The skill of the sound design that I cultivated through radio drama productions greatly served me in how to structure the PowerPoint and the demo without making the audience bored. In other words, the fundamental scenario structure of introduction, development, denouement and conclusion has the common value in the presentation and the mix not to bore the audience but modulate their excitement. When 90 minutes' session was safely over receiving big applause, the sense of this achievement was indescribably large and it formed a big confidence in me while recalling the night in Copenhagen reciting the manuscript repeatedly until midnight.

Picture 5: the first AES Surround Conference in Elmau, 2001

I give you some hints in order to avoid getting too nervous in such a situation. Let's think about an opening episode that brings a smile among the audience and yourself as well. Once you achieve a relaxing atmosphere here, the process afterward will move smoothly. It is said that the human beings emit "aura", and when you yourself in fact is in tense in your talk, the aura transmits to the listeners, and the entire atmosphere of the meeting room gets stiff. It leads to the worst as the session continues in the stiff mood and end resulting no gains each other. It often helps to talk as you observe a few eyes of the audience. Also if you see someone you know in the audience, you may try to involve them asking for their advice or knowledge on the topic. It may calm the air of the place and also work as a kind of lip service. The younger generation people seem better at doing such things.
One good example is Mr. Hamasaki of NHK Institute of Technology who carries a definite skill to always make the audience laugh in his speech. If I may tell you this, as many AES participants are already familiar, "the sweet spot of surround" is one of his popular presentations. Jeff of DTS really loves it. It says when one pursues the critical sweet spot, he will get on one's back inevitably, and another one will get on his back, and on and on showing an illustration of tortoises across the generations of father, child, grand-child, and the meeting place gets in a complete laughter.

Leading the "surround production handbook" publication
A conference is held on a specific theme and people sharing the same goal gather there and often discuss all night, therefore the acquaintances, exchanges of seminars and conversations about know-hows eventually work as a good opportunity to evangelize and expand surround itself.
A masterwork that I considered as a step of education and enlightment was to publish a production guidebook for everybody in this business. This idea welled up in about 98, and I thought I should make it to cover a wider genre as much as possible by asking surround friends in various countries to participate in offering some know-hows rather than doing it by myself alone. In the beginning, I considered to find some sponsor while the writers would cover only printing costs under voluntary participation, and issue free distribution in English and in Japanese gradually through some events. Several people who read my proposal responded me to join if we found a publisher to buy the project because it appeared to them a free distribution of such valuable contents was too much. While we found a prospective sponsor, we started looking for a publishing company to negotiate. I was introduced to a candidate, Focal Press in England, and submitted my conceptual proposal.
It was some lesson for me again. For this to proceed, they requested a very logical proposal that contained such factors as the purpose, expected readers and mutual gains, who would be responsible for proof-reading, the cost consideration and so on. I will show you below my message when I asked my friends for writing an article in the project, for your reference. Here it writes, "Let us gather the know-hows and the wisdoms that we managed to understand for the people who will be enlightened to do surround in the future. This is Surround Aid."
Then manuscripts began to gather gradually, and it consequently took me three years to complete collecting them. What I felt at that time was that American content producers tended not to want to display their know-hows. On the contrary, Europeans seemed finding a good value in writing, and fearlessly sent me their manuscripts even if they were only a few pages of content with know-hows not sufficiently accumulated yet.

Picture 6: Surround Production Handbook, Japanese/Chinese/Korean versions that gathered various know-hows

In the end, the English version was not realized. It was mainly because Tom Holman published a book of similar subject sooner. However, in 2001 the Japanese version Surround Production Handbook was published by Kenrokukan Publishing, and then Chinese and Korean versions followed later. I did not ralize the actual reaction at that time, but when I happened to be invited to lecture about surround in Asian Sound Forum in Guangzhou, China in 2004, many engineers there showed the Chinese version of Surround Production Handbook to my surprise saying that it was their Bible. Through this book, they were able to have the entire overlook of the surround world. It was a very encouraging event. Because the production know-how kept evolving at the stage of 2006, I want to start the second edition adding some new writers.

Picture 7: First surround seminar in China, Guangzhou, 2004

Picture 8: Second China surround seminar, Jinan, 2006

Picture 9: The booklet of Third AES Surround Conference in Sweden

2006.9 Broadcast Technology

Part 10: Steps To Surround School-shed and the Next Generation >>>

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