December 10, 2003

Mick Sawaguchi Q&A. PRO-AUDIO ASIA 2003

Mick Sawaguchi FM-AES/IBS/ M-CAS
Director of Program Production Engineering / Operations Center NHK

It is probably fair to say that as an audience many of us are familiar with surround sound production in broadcasts, whether viewing sports, music ,DOCUMENTARY,or drama productions. However, do we know who the pioneers of this format are?
Well, Asia can be proud, as one of the key influential players in the development of surround sound production within the broadcast environment is NHK Mick Sawaguchi. Pro Audio Asia was very fortunate to be able to find out a little more about the man and his pioneering work.

Question: First of all how did your career in the audio industry begin?
Answer: I started my career as a broadcast engineer at NHK in 1971 after graduating from university. The first 3 or 4 years I worked as a FRESHMANstudying the general applications for broadcast engineering. During this period I had to decide which discipline to focus on and as I have liked sound from the beginning (I was a young ヤradio boyユ making tiny radios and stereo kits) I decided to become a sound engineer. Following on from this I transferred to NHK Broadcasting Centre in Tokyo to start as a sound engineer for radio drama production.

Question: What made you choose radio drama?
Answer: The music industry was very strong around the world, while I wasnユt that keen on mixing sound for television broadcasts. I found it very limiting, which made me frustrated. However radio drama was a new world for me that provided a soundtrack without the picture. This enabled me to be very involved in the creative process of the production.

Question: What led you to research surround sound?
Answer: When I started working on radio dramas it was all in stereo, but I found myself wanting more than two channels. I once again became frustrated, because I needed a larger sound space to work in. This was in the mid 1980s and at that time there was quite a lot of information and knowledge in terms of surround mixing in films. I researched and discussed this with many friends around the world, especially those on the US west coast, and one of them introduced me to Dolby. In the mid 80ユs this technology was an analogue and matrix based surround system, which required an encoder and decoder, but it gave me a great advantage over the ordinary two-channel world. Not only was I able to control the front two channels, but also the very static front three and single rear channel. At this time we followed the cinematic style with the single rear channel being distributed across a number of speakers.

Question: How did this interest develop?
Answer: Well, I continued to experiment with Dolby Surround and in 1986 studio CD809 was inaugurated. This, I feel, is my greatest achievement as CD809 was the first surround post-production studio, not only in NHK or Japan, but also the world. In 1986 no one outside of film new about surround sound, especially in the broadcasting industry. I asked Tamura to co-operate with us and they made a great surround-mixing console. We used this studio as ヤbase campユ and in 1987 we broadcast the first Dolby Surround radio drama titled The Adventures of ShUna ORIJINAL STORYby Hayao MiYazaki AND DORECTED BY YOSHIHISA HOSHINA.

Question: Where did this research lead to next?
Answer: In the 1990ユs NHK launched its High Definitition TV experimentation and this system utilised a discrete three to one digital surround system. However we found that this didnユt provide us with enough rear channels for many programs such as music, live concerts or sports. So we needed to find a three to two, front three and rear stereo, surround system. In 1992 we set up probably the first High Definition post-production studio in the world and this was fully equipped with a three to two format surround system, We also installed one of the first large AMS Logic 2 consoles as we needed to take advantage of digital control as surround mixing by this stage needed a higher number of channels, bus assignments and a higher degree of automation than analogue consoles could provide.

Question: Where has this development led us?
Answer: In 2000 we started to broadcast HDTV over satellite, which has enabled us to mix in 5.1 surround, while digital terrestrial broadcasting is due to commence from December 1st in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya THIS YEAR. This once again will allow for 5.1 surround and the great advantage is that it will be available to more people. Of course this is not just the realm of NHK, as all the other major broadcasters are now keen to make surround sound productions. My hope though is that we see surround sound productions not just coming out of the major cities, but also from the provincial areas.

Question: I hear you have been recognised as a key contributor in the development of surround sound.
Answer: Yes, I am very fortunate and am greatly honoured to have received an AES Fellowship award for contribution to surround sound. While this year I have also been awarded a similar IBS Fellowship.
This is a great honour for me.

Question: Tell me a little about the book you have written on Surround Sound.
Answer: My original idea was basically to share knowledge; therefore I contacted my colleagues around the world so that we could all contribute in writing this book. It included sections such as control room monitor speakers, use of microphones and room acoustics SO FAR. I started it about five years ago and wanted to publish it in English first, however it was first published in Japanese last year. I then contacted a publisher in Hong Kong and they have just release the Chinese language version. We are all part of Asia and I would really like to share this knowledge to Asian engineers who want to know the latest techniques.

Question: You are keen to share your knowledge aren't you?
Answer: Yes, very much. This is my responsibility. It has taken me many years to gain this level of knowledge with a lot of trial and error. I think it would be a waste if the younger generation of engineers end up doing the same thing. If possible I would love to present papers at broadcast exhibitions such as Broadcast Asia or BIRTV for example.

Thank you for your time and for sharing your experiences with us.

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