Feature: The future’s orange
Feature: The future’s orange
Genelec custom monitors form the backbone of a new postproduction facility at the Avex headquarters in Tokyo. Caroline Moss reports
The Avex building rises like a landmark from Aoyama, central Tokyo. Built before height restrictions came into effect in that part of the city, the purpose-built, 18-storey tower, which the company moved into in 2017, coincides with Avex’s internal restructuring, and a concerted push into the world of virtual reality.
Avex – which stands for ‘audio visual expert’ – was set up in 1973 as a CD wholesaler. By 1990, with investment from the Mitsubishi Group, the company was opening a recording studio and creating a record label of its own. Avex has continued to expand and diversify into areas such as events organisation and venue management. Today, around 200 artists are represented across Avex’s record label, management company and live division. And the move to the new building has facilitated the company’s progress.
‘We wanted to transform Avex into a company that would produce innovation at a higher degree than in the past,’ explains Avex group executive, Shinsuke Kato. ‘We realised we had to encourage active collaboration both inside and outside the company.’
Part of that collaboration policy has included the installation of in-house audio and rehearsal facilities on the fourth floor of the new building. ‘By having an in-house audio studio, you reduce the physical distance between management on one side, A&R people and artists on the other, making it easier for everyone to meet and confer,’ says Avex group administrative division general manager, Tomoyuki Murayama.
The newly equipped postproduction room on the fourth floor has been set up to promote Avex’s entry into virtual reality and immersive experience, which began in earnest four years ago. This room has a 7.4.2 setup comprising seven Genelec 8350 SAM monitors with four 8340 SAMs and two 7360 SAM studio subwoofers. The bright orange, customised finish of the 8350s – RAL 2008 to be precise – was chosen by Yasuhiro Okada, chief producer/recording engineer at Avex Entertainment.
Okada joined Avex from the Japan Victor Company 22 years ago, and he’s worked as an A&R manager, producer and engineer over the course of his almost three-decade career. This is the first time he’s used Genelec, and the decision to install them in the new room was largely based on the brand’s reputation in the field of immersive audio, with the added advantage of the SAM range’s GLM (Genelec Loudspeaker Manager) function. This allows configuration, calibration and control of speaker systems, optimising performance in individual acoustic environments. Using the software, Okada designed the room himself, in conjunction with acoustic design company, Sonar.
‘Using the presets in the GLM software, it’s very easy to switch between formats, for example, from 5.1 to 7.1,’ he explains. ‘The audio imaging is so good with these monitors that you can hear where each instrument is very clearly, and that’s vital for working in immersive audio formats.’
The postproduction studio is also installed with a Pro Tools rig and an Avid MTRX audio interface. ‘I do most of the audio work in the box in Pro Tools, using Mackie’s Big Knob Passive monitor controller, and I connect to the Dolby Atmos encoder with MADI,’ he says, adding that he also uses Adobe After Effects video effects software for his VR work. Microphones are of vital importance at Avex to get as high-quality source material as possible, and the facility uses a selection of the classics: Neumann U47 FET condensers and U87Ai studio mics, Electro-Voice RE20 voiceover models and Sony C-800G studio tube condenser mics.
Learning to mix in immersive sound is a learning curve, even for an engineer of Okada’s great experience. Before the new studio was ready, he worked on developing his first mixes for Dolby Atmos-enabled headphones. ‘With headphone mixes, we try to emphasise what’s coming from the top but, with our new setup, the emphasis has shifted to the front channels,’ he says. ‘One thing that you have to be aware of with live recording is to determine where the listener is situated. For example, if the listener is right in front of the stage, they would hear the vocals very clearly but it’s difficult to get the overall sound, whereas if they are at the back, the vocal becomes smaller and there’s more of an overall feeling of the performance. So the microphone positions are crucial. You absolutely can’t make a mistake when it comes to positioning the microphones as you don’t get chance to redo it.’
All content that arrives in the postproduction studio comes from projects carried out in Avex’s in-house facilities, including a virtual reality motion capture studio in the new building. Avex has targetted the consumer market by offering VR content as a mobile phone app, viewable with special disposable glasses, which was downloaded 650,000 times. Live concerts play an increasing role, and a recent project was an immersive audio broadcast of the Live Nation festival, A-Nation, featuring popular artists signed to Avex. Okada mixed the concert from a temporary broadcast studio that had been created in a truck, installed with a Genelec 5.1.4 monitoring system comprised of 8030s, with a 7360A subwoofer. The concert was broadcast live from Ajinomoto Stadium using infrastructure provided by Japan’s largest mobile operator, NTT DoCoMo’s, with a 5.1.4 mix created in the truck for home broadcast and a 7.1.4 mix for theatres.
‘Right now, not that many people have the ability to tune into this format at home, but the market is getting ready for it,’ says Okada, who’s been consulting with Sony to develop new home broadcast entertainment systems, including a solution for the corporation’s new Bravia 4K television. ‘Japan has just started broadcasting in 4K and 8K and we are working on supplying content for broadcast in the new formats.’
This process should be expedited by two major forthcoming sporting events in Japan: the Rugby World Cup 2019 and the 2020 Summer Olympics. National broadcaster NHK started broadcasting in 8K last December, although, for now, most consumers will only be able to view 8K 22.2 broadcasts in special theatres and public viewing areas.
As Japan pushes the envelope when it comes to the latest in broadcast standards and dives headfirst into VR and immersive audio, Avex is already in a good position to lead the way with its new in-house facilities.