Grace Design Newsletter - September 2004 Japan Spotlight!
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<<User Spotlight >>

Seigen Ono-
Saidera Mastering
Seigen Ono at work

Segein Ono is a great example of a true modern day composer. By necessity, the role of the modern day composer has become the person who not only collects the notes out of the ether, but also oversees their care and feeding until they are delivered to the listener's ear, whether in performance or a recording. It is a complicated task, which has become ever more difficult in the face of record companies owned by huge media conglomerates, whose existence is for profit, not the pursuit of high art.

So Mr. Ono, like many of his esteemed modern music colleagues, has evolved his role as a thriving artist in modern society by playing ball- not only by composing and performing beautiful, genre defying music, but by expertly recording, mixing, mastering and packaging his music as well. The results are a singular, undiluted and undeniably beautiful body of work from an individual who is firmly in control of his artistic destiny.

Digging deeper into Mr. Ono's catalog, we learn that he has been at the epicenter of some astonishing musical events. From his work with Miles Davis, Arto Lindsay, John Zorn, the Lounge Lizards, the Kronos Quartet and Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso, to his own remarkable Septet and other amazing projects in his homeland of Japan, Mr. Ono has produced records for and with a jaw dropping list of musical luminaries.

We became aware of Mr. Ono through our esteemed friend Tom Lazarus (Classic Sound), who recorded Seigen Ono’s 2001 release entitled “Maria and Maria”. This record, along with many in Mr. Ono’s Catalog, have been released on hybrid disc, providing standard stereo, SACD and Surround versions of the music on one disc.

Lately we have been quite enchanted with his 2002 Saidera Records release “So Peaceful, Simple and Strong”. This beautiful record is an remarkable document of a virtuosic ensemble stretching their individual and collective creative boundaries, while being impeccably recorded, mixed and mastered. It is highly recommended.

Mr. Ono is a Grace Design fan, owning and using a model 801 and recently the new m906 5.1 high fidelity monitor controller. The m906 has been installed at Saidera Mastering, which is a division of Saidera Paridoso, Seigen Ono’s recording Studio/ Record Label complex in Tokyo.

So we are honored with his association and are simply thrilled to be able to help contribute to the cause of this remarkable artist. We highly recommend investigating Mr. Ono’s wonderful body of work.

Seigen, thank you for taking the time to speak with us!

We understand that modern Western music, from Coltrane and Miles to your present day collaborators, is major influence in your music. However, could you tell us a little bit about some of your Japanese musical influences, traditional and/ or contemporary?

I listen to Western Pop/Jazz Music more than Japanese music. I didn't hear it live, but listened to LPs or radio when I was high school. Unfortunately I didn't understand the English lyrics then. Nowadays it is very interesting to listen back those records on Super Audio CD. It is a totally different experience if you understand the words that go with the music. And Super Audio CD’s are more able to carry the heart of the performer.

About my Japanese musical influences, I think I am influenced more by my surrounding environment, through how we think, hear, talk, walk and live. Naturally there is different “ma”, space and slowness, compared with the west. You can see this in Zen, tea ceremony, food like sushi, martial arts, etc. Japanese people or samurai often read the energy ("ki" in Japanese) existing in the air. Like the "ma" during a break in conversation. In the timely space in between the musical notes, again "ma", another layer of critical performance information is included that exceeds the level of expressed notes. That is where the "ki" exists. To me, "ki" adds a layer to the sound from before the moment the sound starts, and exists and disappears even after the sound has faded away. Recording to me is not just the registration and mixing of sound. The objective would always be to grasp the "ki" that exists in that specific place, and record it onto a certain media (tape, hard disc, etc...).

Seigen with Tom Lazarus at Classic Sound, NYC

Your compositional and musical prowess speaks for itself, but we would be curious to know how you became involved in the recording and production end of the industry. What got you started as an engineer and producer?

I was a musician and I couldn’t make enough money to survive. When I was 20 years old, I was lucky to be hired at one of the top commercial recording studios in Tokyo called “ONKIO HAUS”. They let me clean up the studios and cables, and it was like training camp. There I learned most of the necessary skills for studio operations. I became the most convenient assistant for the studio, for the musicians especially. I learned what is important for recording sessions. You have to work quickly, know what the client will need next and always be prepared.

After a couple of years experience at this professional studio, I became a freelance engineer when I was 22 years old. I was very lucky to get jobs with Yasuaiki Shimizu, Kazumi Watanabe, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Toshinori Kondo, Sadao Watanabe, etc. Musicians network and introduce each other a lot. I have known Arto Lindsay, John Zorn and Bill Laswell since 1984. At that time, I could not speak English and John spoke only few sentence in Japanese (with cute girl’s accent). Somehow we communicated thru sounds and smiling. We were able to make a few good records in the studio and tour. If you are living in Tokyo, you meet everybody. Lots of great musicians come to Japan on tour. I am often hired to record their live performances, like Manhattan Transfer, Joe Jackson, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett, Lounge Lizards, David Sylvian, etc... I also travel a lot, so I get to meet lots of nice, talented musicians, and sometimes we make music together.

Besides being a producer/engineer, I am a musician. I like composing music much the same as I like cooking food. My music is my personal work- I make it but I don’t know how to sell it.

Can you tell us a little about the creation of Saidera Paridoso- how did this amazing facility come into existence?

In 1995, YAMAHA introduced the O2R onto the market and I was selected to help do its field testing. I loved it. I could not afford to buy an AMS Logic2, which had most of the functions you need in the studio. However, the O2R was even better. Also, Macintosh computer prices had become reasonable. So at this time, a few of my albums sold well and I had some cash to spend. There was the Sonic Solutions system, and I already had TASCAM, I found 1630 A to D, D to A converters in perfect condition. Sony manufactured the last serial numbered DMR-4000 for me. I started Saidera Mastering then. It is a small studio where you can do recording, mixing and mastering.

Commercial studios in Japan always choose large SSL or Neve consoles because they want to show them to their clients. They made a few big mistakes in that time. I mean, many of professional engineers and studio owners did not even compare the sound of O2R to large consoles. They could not imagine that a small digital console could make sounds clean and better than a large console with thier kilometers of wires.

You can carry O2R with TASCAMs to location. I asked YAMAHA to make bit splitting for the O2R’s buss for using an 8 track 16 bit recorder as a 4 track 24-bit machine. I was surprised to know there was no 24 bit machine at that time. I could bring in my jobs to my small studio- Saidera Mastering. A small studio needs to have minimum length cables. It makes the sound even better. It's easy to test to find what is important in a studio. Like DPA microphones, TC M5000 MD2 software, etc... We always upgrade our equipment when we find a better solution. Now we have a Sony SONOMA DSD Audio Work Station, Pro Tools|HD3 Accel, Genex GX-8500, TC electronic SYETEM 6000, Prism Sound ADA-8, and finally, a Grace Design model 801 and m906.

You have been a pioneer in the use of DSD and surround recording formats. Can you tell us more about how the model 801 fits into your current high-resolution recording systems? And also, what is the role of the m906 in Saidera Mastering?

1988, I was mixing a pop album for SME at Saidera Mastering. At the same time Sony had just completed the first professional DSD machine. I had a chance to use it to capture a final mix. I used to like half-inch analog, and my first impression was that DSD was confusing because I couldn't tell if it was playback or lineout from the console. But you need to pay more attention for setting balance as each small thing makes the sounds different.

There are two categories of my equipment: colored and transparent. If the sound needs to be changed, the first things you have to do is go and see the musician. Make sure he/she is creating the right sounds you're expecting. If not, ask him/her to make it. -then don’t change it unless you know and wish to use the color or filter curve of the microphone. Before you talk about it, be sure of the position and angle of the microphone. It’s like taking a picture of your lover. Do you want portrait, close up or with a neighbor? In all of this at the earlier stage you have to use the model 801 to make the signal at a high enough level without adding any color.

Make sure you get the point A and B the same to make sure you've got everything in the playback. DSD dose not make serious difference between the sound before A to D converter and after D to A playback. Then all cables, amplifier (except Sharp 1 bit, 256fs which I love), speakers add colors on the sounds. Once a bit of color is added on the sound you can never clean it. You can make “cafe au lait” with black coffee, but you can not turn it back into pure black coffee even if you add 10 times more black coffee. The m906, pure water transparent monitor controller is the key of quality control in the kitchen. The same is for D to A converters- it is not easy to find a PCM D to A converter which does not add any colors. In the end, the m906 is the only available gear.

Finally, do you have any exciting upcoming projects at Saidera Paridoso or elsewhere that you would like to tell us about?

I love helping musicians. Good music makes people excited and happy. Good sound makes people healthy. I just finished DSD mastering for the Verve 60th anniversary, with albums like “Getz/Gilberto”, “Oscar Peterson Trio”, “Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival”, “Ella and Louis”, etc. Great American culture, music and jazz- I simply love it like everyone.

Now all we need are good speakers. I don’t trust speakers. I mean, we need speakers to listen back to the recording and make sure everything is on the tape (HDD). All speakers carry and add colors, so you have to know exactly what color is added by the speakers. Maybe someday GRACE can produce speakers which will make me happy- maybe collaborate with Sharp 1 bit. It is very difficult to sell such a product to the consumer audio market because everyone has a different opinion about what they like, e.g. when hungry, some folks like a steak and some want oysters with Champagne. Not many people eat just plain bread without butter. How many types of water are there on sale?

Seigen at Verve

<<Dealer Spotlight >>

Second Staff, Tokyo

The amazing Second Staff Crew

For a relatively small pro audio company, establishing solid international distribution is as challenging as it is essential. It simply requires great marketing recourses to establish your name and create a reputation abroad. So we rely on making and maintaining strong partnerships with distributors in other countries who understand the subtleties of their particular region’s recording industry as well as our mission as a company.

So when we became acquainted with Second Staff in early 2000, we were excited to have a new advocate and partner in Japan. For the past 4 years, our friends at Second Staff hve done amazing work promoting our equipment and establishing our reputation. We consider them an essential partner and are continually amazed with their professionalism, hard work and wonderful attitude.

It’s these relationships that make professional audio a wonderful industry to be in, so without further adu, we are thrilled to have a conversation with Second Staff’s Pro Audio specialist Takeo Yamamoto.

Thanks for your time Takeo!

Can you give us some background information about Second Staff Corp? How was the company founded and how long have you been in business?

Second Staff Corporation was founded in 1990. We have over 10 years experience. Our president MASAMI SATO had extensive experience in marketing and distribution of leading pro audio companies in Japan. His view was that professional studios always need professional level support, so our company name "Second Staff" came from that. We are like a pro studio's invisible 2nd person who is always available with technical support. So while we carry many first class products, we can also just sell a single XLR connector. Also, every studio needs DATs, CDRs and other media, so we take care of that too.

Originally when we started, we were two separate businesses- a CD replication and mastering service and pro audio equipment sales. Early on we installed a Sonic Solution digital work station (when it was still too expensive!) and began digital mastering (PMCD) and CD replication service in our small office. I think we were probably the first people to do digital mastering with a Sonic Solution system in a small office. We got many requests from customers and independent labels. We still have CD replication and digital mastering business and we are still using Sonic Solutions but have also now begun using Merging Pyramix for DSD productions.

At first, our pro audio sales were only to professional studios and we were not yet importing products. In 1999, we started internet and telephone retail sales for all customers, including an increasing amount of home studio musicians and amateur recording engineers, who always want to know what professional studios are doing and what kind of high-end equipment they are using.

Around this time we found the Grace Design Lunatec V2 in MIX magazine. We had many classical music recording clients who were looking for a high-quality battery powered portable microphone pre amplifier for their TASCAM DA-P1 or SONY DAT recorders, for which the Lunatec V2 seemed just perfect. We soon learned about other Grace Design products from their website and were impressed when we saw a picture of the inside of model 801. It was amazing and beautiful. So soon thereafter we contacted Grace Design to be their authorized dealer in Japan.

For the first few years, we traveled all over Japan with GRACE design products and little by little, people slowly started to learn about Grace Design products......

Since 1999 we have word very hard to develop sales for imported pro-audio products from the all over the world. We are representing 15 companies now and every product line is doing very well.

Still, Grace Design products are our main import products. Our target customers are those who mainly pursue high-end sound quality and Grace Design products are the most reliable products in the world. Our core distribution business is always with Grace Design. We hope to continue developing this relationship.

What is the current condition of the Pro Audio Industry in Japan right now? Are there many large scale commercial facilities being built, or is there more focus on project studios?

10 Years ago, every professional studio had SONY PCM-3348 and an SSL console. There were no individual characteristics in audio production because every studio had all the same gear. But protools and other D.A.W products have greatly changed and expanded the studio world. We have recently been making many project studios for musicians and freelance sound engineers. Small project studios can complete projects all the way up to CD mastering. And engineers and musicians have started looking for more individual equipment. Grace Design products are the best for D.A.W systems. 192 kHz to DSD high resolution recordings need higher quality monitoring paths and headphone amplifiers than normally exist in most playback equipment.

We just finished a studio in Tokyo which is large and everything is handmade. Project and private studios have the benefit of providing a good, relaxed atmosphere for clients to work in- relaxed atmospheres which tend to generate good music.

What types of customers does Second Staff tend to work with the most?

Most of our clients are looking for high-quality sound only. There are so many cheap pro audio products made from China on the market right now, but we are always recommending higher quality products for our clients. Some of our clients buy cheap products which they end up not using after just few months. With microphone preamplifiers, for instance, if a client can afford a slightly higher price they can get model 101, which provides amazing sound while not being very expensive.

We work with many professional musicians and engineers. Also, many amateurs frequently call us for consulting with high-end recordings. While we work with many pop and rock artists who work mostly in multi-track studios, we also have many customers who make live classical and jazz recordings in stereo or surround. These customers generally need more precision and details for judgment the sounds they record.. Many of our clients have received excellence in recording awards in Japan (using Grace Design products). One of our customers, OCTAVIA RECORDS INC., has won many awards. They are most valuable classical recording company. We co-produced our own high-quality audio cables and power cables called EXTON.

Our staff's knowledge and experience are always a help to our customers. I (YAMAMOTO) know how to promote pro audio equipment, OKUNO has worked in pro studio engineering and Yukuzawa has genius technical knowledge. We have 8 people in our office, and everybody on our staff is friendly, helpful and knows good sound.

We are happy to work with pros or amateurs- whoever is looking for quality sound. We love to help people who are driven to create beautiful, true art (music).

DSD system demo with a m906 at Second Staff

4. Second Staff has had amazing success promoting our products in Japan. Why do you think Grace Design and Second Staff have been such a great match for each other?

It is only because Grace Design keeps making great and beautiful products. Japanese people now know that Grace Design products are always well made and hold to uncompromising standards. Our clients always make judgments with their own ears. While some people buy gear just from hearing from other people's comments and reviews, we always feel that without hearing it, one can not make a clear decision on what to buy.

We always demonstrate how Grace Design products are great sounding. The Grace Design team is always giving us full support. They always give us quick and proper advice to us. Grace Design team is best and kind! We can make sales without anxiousness, because Grace Design products are very well-made and are almost trouble free and sound perfect.

We always exhibit model 801 with see-through clear top panel at pro audio shows. Everybody stops and says "Wow! Look at this! ". That really helps to make sales!

5. Who are some of your more noteworthy clients in Japan?

Tomoyoshi Ezaki (Octavia Records Inc.) - Most respected high-end classical recording company in Japan. They frequently record with The CZECH PILLE HARMONY ORCHESTRA and many of famous classical musicians and conductors. They are now releasing many DSD and SACD recordings. SONY Sonoma D.A.W system and Genex DSD recorder, also DPA 4006 microphones always using with GRACE design model 801R.

Kazuyuki Matsumura aka Zak (ST-ROBO) -- He is most cutting edge sound creator and engineer in the world. He built his own studio named ST-ROBO in 2000. He has (2) model 801 with 16 channels for PRO TOOLS HD recordings. He is also finished DSD recording with Merging Pyramix systems for Buffalo Daughter's SACD.

Seigen Ono - He is one of the most famous mastering and recording engineer in Japan. He has his own Saidera Mastering Studio. He is also very beautiful musician and composer. He was recorded many great artists including Art Lindsey, David Sylvian, Lounge Lizarz, Miles Davis, Keith Jarret, Bill Laswell, Joe Jackson , Ryuichi Sakamoto ...and many more! He is using m906 for his surround SACD project monitoring. He also own model 801 for critical recordings.

Fuji Television - Most popular TV station in Japan using model 801R for live recordings.

Victor Entertainment - Leading major record company has model 201 and Lunatec for acoustic instrumentals.

Mr. Okuno

About Grace Design

Grace Design was established in 1994 and is a leading manufacturer of world-class hardware for the professional audio industry. Grace Design’s mission is to provide audio professionals with exceptionally engineered and built products coupled with best-in-class customer service. The product line currently consists of the model 801, 801R, 201, 101, Lunatec V3 microphone preamps, the model 901 reference headphone amplifier and the m904, m904B and m906 reference monitoring systems. The company’s customers include audio professionals in the music, film, television, live sound, education and corporate markets.

Thanks for your continued support!
-The Grace Design Team

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