Back Issue Article

January 2003

Record it Right and They Will Come

The DVD-Audio format has its share of detractors -- there have been more folks nailing the last 16-penny in the coffin of the format than there is space on which to hammer. And SACD? Well, there are a fair number of harbingers of destruction on that side too. I can’t blame them, not fully, as missteps are numerous and entirely frustrating.

To put it bluntly, I couldn't care less which format wins. My primary concern is that we have a medium that can deliver higher-resolution music in a multichannel configuration. If a third format popped up tomorrow that gave us all that and decisively captured the hearts of consumers, I’d likely jump right on the bandwagon too.

I don’t think it’ll happen though. Why? It’s not any technical limitations of the individual formats that are causing the problems. It’s how the formats are being handled -- or not handled properly, as the case may be. Putting aside SACD for a moment (there’s at least one more bitch-session "Surrounded" coming), and looking at DVD-Audio exclusively, you can begin to see the problems.

There’s been a prevailing lack of new releases to tempt consumers to buy new music in the DVD-A format. Not that many people are going to buy older recordings they already have just because it is now available on DVD-A. There will be some, of course -- those who must have the very best mastering of a title they cherish (and I know, very best is assuming a lot). But those sales alone cannot prop up a format’s numbers enough to make a huge difference. We need fresh recordings produced to take full advantage of the format’s considerable technical advantages.

And they need to be recorded right. Which means that for each and every work, the correct amount of surround information should be dialed in by the recording engineer. Surround information should be recorded to add to the experience, not just to add noise behind you. Show off the true advantages of multichannel music -- what a concept. Maybe I’m a little naïve here, but I do believe that if you can demonstrate how wonderful the DVD-Audio format can be -- specifically what it adds to what CD has been able to give us thus far -- it has a better chance of succeeding.

So who’s recording right? A man named Tatsuo Nishimura, for one.


The Düsseldorf, Germany-based Nishimura label sports six classical DVD-Audio titles to date: Franz Vorraber: Wiener Abend [Nishimura DVDA-001, Pioneer PIAC 1001]; Bernhard Leonardy: Organ: New Dimensions [Nishimura DVDA-002]; Marion Basting: Abendmusik [Nishimura DVDA-003]; Franz Vorraber: Fantasie-Stucke [Nishimura DVDA-004]; Marcus Bosch: Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major, op. 52 "Lobgesang" [Nishimura DVDA-005]; Southwest German Chamber Orchestra: Mozart-Liszt-Sibelius [Nishimura DVDA-006].

The recording detail included in each package should be the first giveaway that the approach Nishimura takes is different. Each piece is recorded on location, not in a studio. Take, for example, Mozart-Liszt-Sibelius. The recording session was conducted at the Chapel of Bad Homburg Castle in Hessen, Germany. Nishimura states:

"According to historical references, the chapel was built about 1680 by Friedrich II of Hessen-Homburg as the last section of the so-called Friedrichsburg. The first restorations took place in 1758 and 1782. In 1787, a new organ was built for the church by Johann Conrad Buergy, a citizen of Homburg. Restoration work from 1986 until today has focused on reproducing the original character of the building, though the organ has seen the most attention. Extensive wooden paneling is a feature of the interior of the church, the stage of which is 8 meters wide and 8.5 meters long. Audience seating comprises three levels, with 300 seats in an area 10 meters wide and 20 meters long."

I relate these details because, as you consider the music, you just can’t escape the venue it was performed in. And that’s the purist approach, folks. You’re supposed to hear the music as it was created in a unique space -- both music and space captured by the recording as an event -- not a collection of songs that could be each produced in any studio anywhere. And that’s precisely what multichannel recordings on the DVD-A format can deliver better than CD: a better rendition of the event.

Nishimura’s results are admirable. The sound is clean and uncluttered with excellent dynamic range and weight. But it’s the surround information -- and more specifically, how it was designed to interface with the listener -- that makes these recordings special.

Franz Vorraber’s piano fills the space with tonal colors, and is expertly played. The Czech conductor Vladislav Czarnecki commands the Sudwestdeutsche Kammerorchester to impressive heights -- and you hear it all as it intermingles with the Chapel of Bad Homburg Castle to thrilling effect. You’re truly surrounded by the venue. The music is inspired, as are the choices made by the recording engineer. You’re hearing ambient information in the surround channels, and with the right system, dialed in so that all the levels are precisely matched, the walls will disappear. What else could you ask for?

Nishimura has chosen his own path for his productions, and it’s one that I can happily embrace. These are 5.0, single-layer, single-sided recordings with an available stereo down mix (except for the Lobgesang, which uniquely has a dummy-head microphone configuration and a one-point configuration). 5.0? That’s right, there’s no low-frequency-effects channel to hog all the bass. Instead, you’re going to get five full-range channels, which of course are best suited to a system comprised of five identical full-range speakers (I did say this was a purist approach, didn’t I?). The performance was recorded with five B&K (Denmark, not Buffalo) omnidirectional microphones, and the analog signal (routed through the shortest possible cable path, I might add) was then converted to 48kHz/24-bit digital and stored on a computer hard disk for minimal editing. It all comes together beautifully.

Where does that leave us?

The lesson here is that it’s not the format that really determines what the outcome will be, or necessarily the quality of the music available. The recording engineers, labels, and artists can deliver, and we all know there are talented marketing people that can figure out how to sell anything (watch some TV at 2:00 AM if you don’t believe me). It’s what all these folks in charge choose to do that will decide for us what we have to choose from. I hope to see some positive things come of multichannel music in 2003. I also hope the Nishimura label continues to give us its creator's vision of what the DVD-Audio format can deliver.

...Jeff Fritz

Tatsuo Nishimura
D-40239 Düsseldorf
Phone: +49 211 641 3415
Fax: +49 211 641 3416

E-mail: nishimura@t-online.de
Website: www.nishimura-music.com


[SoundStage!]All Contents
Copyright © 2003 SoundStage!
All Rights Reserved