Tamco interview

Seigen Ono : I am so happy to see you guys again; this is a historic reunion! When was the last time we worked together?

Ito : Maybe 15, 16 years ago.

Yanatori : It was about 20 years ago, wasn't it? I worked with you many times.
SO : I was using Tamco most in the 80's. I can't even count how many times we worked together. I used Tamco studios in Akasaka frequently. How long have you worked in this industry? You guys are veterans!
Ito : It's been about 20 years. I joined Tamco in 1992.
Yanatori : I have worked at Tamco about 24 years. I joined in 1988.

[Mr.Ito] SO : It's very nice to see that the title on your business card is a “Live Engineer”. I want that title on my business card too!

My relationship with Tamco is quite a long one. I used Tamco a lot in the 80's. I often used Tamco studios in Akasaka for recordings of commercial programs and of course for mixing live-recorded music. At the site of the live recording, I could just push faders up for recording without any trouble because Tamco staff always checked microphones and lines perfectly in advance. That's the professional way! I rarely ran between the Mobile van and stage to change microphone placements, most of the time we used intercoms when we needed big changes for placements. I know right now there can be so many channels available for recoding, but at that time I often made track recordings direct to stereo. When the live show was finished, the mix master was also finished. Fewer microphones were not only better sounding but also gave a quicker response for live mixing, depending on how the musicians played; I was always very careful to check the actual sound from musicians where these microphones were placed.

I think these experiences of listening to top musicians are very precious for me, even though I didn't realize it at the time. I really appreciated Tamco; they were perfect partners and could prepare the setup without any trouble. I have worked with so many systems and staff all over the world but Tamco has been the best company in Tokyo; no one could go wrong with them. Tamco has been a leading force in an era, which has seen the switch from analog to digital, to Pro Tools in digital and to DDP today.

I feel very nostalgic; my first impression today is that even the console is different from before! Anyway, I also see Yamaha 10M speakers and they have been around a long time. How many consoles have you had?

Ito : This mobile van is called R-3 and the console is Stagetec Aurus. The one before was Neve VR.
Hayakawa : We had Neve V1 before the VR. It was Quad Eight before V1.
SO : How many mobile vans do you have?
Ito : We have 2 mobile vans. The other one is called R-4 with SSL Axiom-MT.
SO : I didn't come here to tell my story; I would like to hear your stories! Can you tell us about your story of live recordings, Mr. Ito?
Ito : When I joined Tamco, we stopped using Otari MTR 90. It was time to use an analog console with digital recorder. In this sense Sony PCM-3348 helped us a lot. We started taking the Sony PCM-3324 from Akasaka studios out for live recording.
SO : I haven't moved 3348 by myself. How much weight is 3348?

[Mr.Yanatori] Ito : It's about 250kg. Sony started putting a bumper on 3348 when Tamco and SCI started taking it out for live recordings.

I think 3348 was really well made as a tape recorder and the stability helped us so much. 

We usually took 2 machines but when only one machine could fit in a mobile van, we had to change and setup digital tapes (Sony D-1/2-2920 Digital Audio Master Tape ½”) in 30 seconds while MC in between live shows; we had to practice for that. Since there were more CRC errors depending on shipping lots, we had to check tape conditions by using our experience and intuition. I also had to clean heads very carefully using headlight. I could have had a very bad time if the cleaning wasn't done properly.

SO : It's quite hard work to take 250kg out for a live recording! The AD/DA converter of 3348 was very good.
Ito : We still can't throw out the machine and are keeping it at the entrance of our company!
SO : Big studios still keep the machine for playback of the archives and copying to hard disks. Even the big studios recently started using analog tape recorders such as Studer A800 or A80. At Avatar studios in New York they synchronize 2 machines; artists and producers want to use them again.
Yanatori : We used MADI to connect SSL Axion-MT and 3348HR on the R-4 van.
Ito : We were using MADI1 (56MADI) for 3348 specifications on the R-4 van. It was a short period of using 3348HR since Pro Tools then came out.
SO : It's very sad that Sony didn't develop a 96kHz version of Oxford digital console. My friend is still using that console in 48kHz. I think the quality of the sound is still highly thought of.
Ito : Yes, the sound was great. At that time Sony said it's zero latency. I don't think so, if I can say so.
SO : I heard that Dr. Jan de Wit at Ardis Technologies who developed DDP also developed a Hard Disk version of Sony PCM-3348HR that wasn't released. The situation for Sony Professional Audio would be very different if that product had been released. 

Don't you think the person who decided not to release the product was wrong? The product could be used to record the Oxford sound to hard disk. I couldn't believe that Sony didn't make a 96kHz version of the amazing 48kHz Oxford.
Ito : HR 48kHz was better sounding on 24bit compared to the previous one. Even we had a hard time with switching tapes because of the tape speed and we gained many advantages such as the better sound from simple microphone placement.
SOLive recording engineers like yourself are always listening to the sound from the instruments themselves and thanks to your experience know the full dynamic range as well as how much headroom you need and how you can compromise for lower bits.
What kind of experience do you have, Mr. Tsubai?

[Mr.Tsubai] Tsubai : I also met you a long time ago. When I was working at SES, I was delivering ½' tapes for Studer A820 at your Saidera mastering studios. After working 5 or 6 years at SES, I joined Sunphonix and had a working relationship with Tamco as I used Focuslite 12 channels remote head amplifier etc. You mentioned Oxford; Sunrise studio had one. I have had a relationship with Tamco since I was at SES and worked on A800, A820, 3348 and Pro Tools. When I was working as a freelance engineer, Tamco called me as a Pro Tools engineer.

SO : I started to use Pro Tools when they released Mix Plus. I couldn't really trust the one before.
Tsubai : That was version 5.
SO : When I was working on the album for Puffy in 1997.
Tsubai : It wasn't working properly at that time in Japan.
SO : Do you have any idea why Pro Tools took over the stable 3348?
Tsubai : I think lots of engineers wanted to use Pro Tools and Waves plug-ins for studio mixing. People wanted to use Pro Tools for mixing, and then it became better and more mainstream to record with Pro Tools in live recordings instead of tape recorders.
SO : You don't really need time to rewind tape. Also, even if you do punching in, it records where you playback from. Do you have any idea why it was a little later when Pro Tools was used in live recordings?
Tsubai : It didn't work properly and 3348 was too good to replace with Pro Tools at that time, so it wasn't really necessary.
SO : Hard disks were very expensive too.
Tsubai : Capacity was small as well.
SO : Are you in charge of DDP?
Tsubai : I took care of DDP as the system related to the Pro Tools system at live shows. I had done routine procedures for the previous system too.
SO: What were your routine procedures for the previous system?

Tsubai : I previously had a relatively stable way to hook up drives with Pro Tools system. Pro Tools 6.9 was the one that I had used for the longest at that time and we had to connect multiple 73GB SCSI drives (such as Digi drive or Media drive). Pro Tools could support 16 tracks per one SCSI drive, so when we had 48 tracks to record, 3 SCSI drives were required; I had to allocate 16 tracks for each SCSI drive.

While connecting 3 SCSI drives to a Mac, some people said that they would connect 2 SCSI drives to port A and 1 SCSI drive to port B. In my case I connected 3 SCSI drives in daisy chain to port A. The order I used was to connect a termination to the 3rd SCSI drive, connecting from the 3rd drive to 2nd drive, connecting from 2nd to 1st, and then connecting 1st to port A of the Mac. The order for booting up was from 3rd to 1st SCSI drive and Mac was the last to boot up. In this way it was quite stable.

Tsubai : I would say it might be ok to connect SCSI drives in any way but in my case it was fatal if SCSI drives weren't recognized (and of course Pro Tools had to work too). When I had trouble, for example when I needed to exchange a hard drive, I had to do the whole procedure just once to make sure the SCSI drives were recognized. I was trying to improve the success rate.
SO : It's necessary to use trial and error for DDP; you could apply your routine procedure and experience to DDP, couldn't you?
Tsubai : Yes.
SO : So you think that 3348 was replaced by Pro Tools because of plug-ins and a lot of requests from studios?
Tsubai : Yes. Also Pro Tools gradually became stable.
SO : When did you start using Pro Tools instead of stable 3348 for critical live recordings that can't be allow to be stop?
Ito : Actually it wasn't that early. We declined using Pro Tools for live recordings, even when our company bought Digidsign 888 systems because 3348 was so stable. The first system was Mac OS 9 and PT 5.3.1, but even before we got there we had to use trial and error for the details.
SO : What hard disk did you use?
Ito : We only used supported disks.
Tsubai : I think Seagate disks were used more than Hitachi disks.
SO : I heard you were recording comic monologue, right?
Tsubai : Yes. After working at SES I was working as a freelance engineer at Pro Tools department in Sunphonix and whenever Tamco needed the Pro Tools system I was the one who took the Pro Tools system on-site. At the same time, as a freelance engineer, I was recording comic monologue, a visual band and my friend's band that became popular. I bought a previous model of Pro Tools 24Mix and LE system and I also had Fostex hard disk recorder as a back-up system.
SO : Did you have any experiences where you were saved by the back-up system?
Tsubai : Yes! When I was using Apple G3 the bomb message showed up very often, and the back-up system saved my life. As the engineer who is in charge for the recorder, I can't stop recording; so the back-up system is very important.
SO : Yes.
What do you do as chief engineer for system design, Mr. Hayakawa?
Hayakawa : I have been involved in the production of the vehicle from the previous model of this R-3 van. I was on-site when this vehicle was welded from frames. There are so many restrictions for vehicles. It's not so easy to fit overseas products into a small Japanese standard.
SO : What is the hardest part when creating a mobile van?
Hayakawa : To make space is hard. To hear the sound, the space is very important and space is limited in a car so I have to maximize the limited space as much as I can. I also have to make it work even I can't see the product which has to work in the space. It's very rare to see the system that is actually working. I discuss where I can have cabling and so on with the staff who work at the site.
SO : What do you pay attention to when you are working on computer base? Electricity?
Hayakawa : I do pay attention to electricity, such as when making preparations for back-up systems. Also, I always try to keep log files as much as I can, because if I don't know what the cause of any trouble was, it's very risky to work on the next site. This system can save 3 days of log files for temperature and voltage for each system.
SO : Have you found any cause for log files?
Ito : Once a power generator car lost power during a live show. This mobile van had UPS backed up and was ok. When we checked the log file related to electricity, there were so many alerts on the history. It was so scary when we saw the log later.
SO : How long have you worked in live recording, Mr. Ishii?
Ishii : It's been about 10 years. My history in live recording is a struggle with Pro Tools.
SO : What is your motto as a recording engineer?
Ishii : I think that to enrich the imagination is very important. In my case, I try to read the engineers' minds what they don't explain verbally and to make plans for better microphone placements, cablings and splitting signals before coming to the work. For example, there are standard microphone placements for the audience at venues, and I try to provide the extra choice of my own microphone placement to the engineer. It's quicker to think about expanding the ability of Pro Tools than bussing in 3348 for me. I discuss with my colleagues what we can improve by having multiple channels for recordings.
SO : Do you mean you directly record from split signal without bussing?
Ishii : Yes. We send signals directly without using mix-busses and mix from monitoring.
SO : It might be hard to have many microphones. In the past, we didn't place that many microphones. I didn't even use the sound from the microphone placed for tam-tams, because there was such limited time to check lines for microphones because lighting had to be checked too. I think it's a pity for the people who place microphones not to be able to listen to the sound that the live musicians make because of limited time.
Ishii : I think so too. 
Sometimes people ask to make live recordings not using a mobile van. For example, people want to get signals from splitters and just use head amplifiers to record with Pro Tools for the whole live show.
Ito : Usually mobile vans are for broadcasting multiple channels and require more power.
SO : We have worked together before, Mr. Yanatori.
Yanatori : I remember when you were sitting in front of the Neve console and there were bare TOC speakers.
SO : I don't think there were very many proper studios at that time.
Ito : These are the same coaxial speakers that you were using. We used them recently and it sounded quite good.
SO : Could I use them upon my request?
Yanatori : Yes. I thought you were going to purchase those since you liked them so much!
SO : There are limited spaces in these mobile vans at Tamco, but sometimes these spaces are better sounding and more balanced than studios because the space designing is perfect and there aren't any standing waves or strange flatters. Therefore near-field monitors are good enough. When Pro Tools became popular, people started to use near-field speakers more and there were not so many good, balanced large speakers. This room might be the only one that had coaxial speakers for direct-to-stereo mixing. The distance from the speakers was close and precise such as mixing in headphones.
I also all relied on the Tamco engineers, who know the venue, for microphone placements for the ambience.
Yanatori : I wonder if you have specific microphone placements for 5.1.
SO : Yes, I have. Recently there are systems for 5.1 and also additional height information (z-axis). I try to use fewer microphones and find the ‘sweet spot' that is the critical distance of early reflections from some instruments, and when I push the fader of the sound it's already there.
For example, when I place a microphone around drums it picks up not only drums but also bass and so on, but when I push the fader of the sound it should sound nicer. Since that microphone has less direct sound from instruments, I don't need to compress that much. In my case I had to decide what it should sound like and mix sounds quickly for live recordings. In that case, fewer microphones were better for me and I didn't even use some of the microphones that were placed. I try to decide and mix as quickly as I can; make musicians happy and prepare to have empty channels. Maybe engineers at site might notice that some busses were not used. Sometimes, busses for multi-tracks were ON, busses for monitoring were OFF.
Can you give us some anecdotes, Mr. Yanatori?
Yanatori : When I joined Tamco, there were Sony PCM-3324 and no more analog recorders, but we were not using a computer for work, even circuit tables were being handwritten. It was surprising when we started to use Pro Tools and a computer. I still remember the surprise and tension when we took the new system to a site for the first time after we bought Pro Tools. It was Mac OS 9 and Pro Tools 5.3.1. When we brought Pro Tools system for the first time, we received the system the next day and I was asked if I could do a live recording; I said “yes”. At that time we were using SCSI drives and of course I had to check if the connector pins were all straight up or not, and then if they were connected. However, as expected, it didn't mount and I unplugged and checked again, and then saw there was a bent pin. I pretended that it was not the first time using the Pro Tools system in front of the customers and after finishing the live recording I was very relieved!
Right now, I am really surprised that it became so easy to make long recordings since we started to use DDP with this much capacity.

SO : Let's talk about DDP.
[Mr.Ito] Yanatori : When we started using Pro Tools, it was Mac OS 9 and Pro Tools 5.3 at that time. Recommended and supported maximum tracks were 32tracks per SCSI drive. It could work with up to 3 SCSI drives but it got unstable with more than 3 drives.
After DDP server system came out it became so easy. One connection with 1 cable, then 96kHz/96ch can be recorded without any stress. Well there are decades to get now.

SO : Finally DDP showed up!
Ito : Actually there is less stress for maintenance too.
SO : I think there are people who are not convinced they can handle sound just they do data by Ethernet cable. I think it's just psychological; it's just trust.
Yanatori : To me it's no problem at all. There has been great progress from the SCSI drives era to DDP now.
SODo you think it's strange what people worry about in the computer age?
Ishii : I didn't even know why some staff got angry with me when I put hard disk next to speakers while loading equipment. I thought, ‘It's just a hard disk'.

SO : I see. When you use analog equipment the sound can be very different depending on cables. Actually that's true when on digital too.
So when more channels needed to be recorded, is that a reason why you bought DDP? When more channels needed to be recorded, I haven't been asked for these kinds of works any more as increased channels. I haven't done just to record everything with many channels. Maybe some engineers can't take responsibility until final mixing.
Ito : Actually I think the reason why we bought DDP was that Avid didn't recommend 96kHz/96ch. At that time we didn't have a clue about DDP. The first step was to record internally somehow. At that time Mr. Keisuke Kuwata was planning to give the first live concert since he recovered and Mr. Nakayama wanted to record the concert in 96kHz. I was expecting it would be more than 64 channels. Our console in the mobile van can handle 96kHz but we hadn't had any experience of more than 64channels with the hardware as a recorder. Even within 64channels it would be very hard work using Pro Tools, but we just had to manage the live recording with our experience. Even if it was OK with a parked mobile van in a testing environment, we couldn't expect it to work perfectly. As a result we had very hard time with internal recording that isn't supported by Avid.
SO : What was hard for you?
Tsubai : Avid supports only 16 channels for 1 hard disk in 96kHz and that means you can only have 48 channels with 3 internal hard disks. However we had to record 92 channels - that was way too many channels. Moreover, we definitely had to keep all data of a 3.5 hours live concert.
SO : 3.5 hours is very long. That was just the event for DDP.
Tsubai : Yes.
SO : So was that the reason to get DDP?
Ito : At that time we were researching what products were around.
Ishii : I attended your seminar about DDP at ROCK ON PRO.
SO : Did you? I have been into high-resolution recordings and 96kHz is mandatory; I can't have lower resolution even when having more tracks. When I tested DDP, there were 10 Pro Tools machines connected and 4K streaming, but I didn't have any stress at all. While having just one DDP in the machine room, I didn't see any problems when there were 4 recording studios and 2 editing rooms working. I was playing 64channels of DSD and 4 Pro Tools at the time. I was recording vocals in one console and over-dubbed the version with opening on a different console. There was also one more console for mixing, but I didn't see any problem with these 3 systems working at the same time. This system is far superior to SCSI, USB, FireWire or MADI. I put more trust in DDP since I had multiple channels, DSD work in multiple independent rooms without any meeting before the work.
Did you spend a lot of time testing before telling Victor about your decision? Did you test together with Victor?
Ito : It was all up to our decision.
SO : Had Mr. Nakayama already told you that it would be more than 64 channels in 96kHz?

Nakayama : I was not so arrogant! (Laughing)
SO : Mr. Nakayama, you belong to Victor studios? My debut album as an artist was recorded at Victor studios. The master record belongs to Victor Japan.
I archived the BOΦWY album recorded by Mr. Ono when I was working as an assistant. It was about 20 years ago. I also checked out the sound.

SO : It's amazing that Victor keeps multi tracks and masters as archives. Japanese record companies have to pay so much money for storage which has proper air conditioning and dehumidifiers for tapes but since they have to cut their expenses they just dispose masters. I think they should return masters to artists. Also, it's hard to keep tracking personnel who were responsible for the tapes and it's hard to even tell what kinds of formats were used just by looking. For 3348 the playback recorder would be gone if it weren't archived properly.

Nakayama : I think all of your albums are there.
SO : If they don't release again, I would like to get them back. Or if they do release again, then I would like to do the mastering with current technologies.
(Conversation between Mr. Nakayama and Mr. Ono)
SO : Do you need a lot of channels for Mr. Kuwata's recordings?
Nakayama : Yes, a lot of channels are required. I needed a lot of channels for the first 96kHz live recording in Sendai.
SO : Once you have experience with 96kHz, you can't go back to lower resolution, can you?
Nakayama : No, I couldn't go back.
SO : We have more headroom for live recordings. I think there are cases when nice parts are in a lower level in sound meter and that improves the engineer's ear. You can't hear the differences between 8bit and 16bit when you work in higher level in sound meter or in the sound wave form that looks like sausage. The reproduction of the space is amazing in 24bit/96kHz for reverberations and acoustics of the live concert, especially in ballad songs.
Nakayama : Yes. I can hear so clearly.
SO : Do you use 96kHz for your work?
Nakayama : Yes. When I started using Pro Tools, I was using it just as a recorder. I didn't really use plug-ins with 96kHz recordings. When I started working for Mr. Kuwata, there was a lot of material and I also had to keep the material. In that case, I didn't think it was possible to complete all works with 96kHz, so I just took over the previous works in 48kHz. After a while, I was wondering if I could complete the work in 96kHz and I visited Sterling sound for audio mastering. When I had a conversation with the mastering engineer, Mr. Ted Jensen, he said that 96kHz/24bit was definitely the way to go. So I decided to try with 96kHz.
Recently I didn't really have any specific choice for AD converter, but when I worked for Mr. Kuwata I had to record over and over; the sound became different every time depending on the AD converter and I really didn't like that. At first I was using bounce to up-convert but in that case I had to create a session in 96kHz from beginning. So I started using 96kHz for 6 months before the Sendai concert in 2011. As you know, once I used 96kHz I couldn't go back to lower resolutions. When I just frankly asked Tamco staff if I could use 96kHz, they said “Yes”. I can imagine they had so much hard work - more than I can imagine.
Tsubai : We had one day for setting up, one day for rehearsal and 2 days for the show. In these 4 days we had only once completed internal recording on both Pro Tools systems on the last day.
SO : Do you mean Pro Tools system stopped?
Tsubai : Yes. On the day of rehearsal, one of the Pro Tools system stopped and on the first day of the concert the other one stopped. I am sure it was a lot of strain for the systems since it's above recommendation. We initialized drives every time after backing up data and tried to record, but failed. We also tried different playback engine settings and DAE buffer size, and released disk cash every time. However, we couldn't make both Pro Tools systems complete. I made a suggestion to have both systems to roll or to record 48 channels in 96kHz in each system to keep data in a safe way. Mr. Nakayama and Ito made the decision to have both systems to roll in 96kHz/96channels. As a result, both of the systems finally completed recordings till the end.
SO : Do you know what the reason for this was?
Tsubai : Not really.
Nakayama : We were recording both rehearsals and the live show on the first day for the show, but we rolled only for the show on the main Pro Tools system on the last day of the show. We rolled the sub machine from rehearsing to keep the material for fixing just in case, but rolled main machine just for the show.
Tsubai : As a result, both systems completed recording for the live show until the end. This was the first time for 96kHz/92channels internal recording.
SO : Did you test before?
Tsubai : We tested on the set-up day for testing. But one of the systems stopped working.
SO : Do you know the reason?
Ito : Avid took care of us, giving us some opinions that is was more than the recommended system. Maybe these small efforts made both systems complete the recording successfully.
Nakayama : It took so long overviewing and it couldn't save till overviewing finished.
Ito : When Mr. Nakayama finished mixing he looked at us like it was successful, but we couldn't be really happy till the overviewing finished.
Nakayama : Now it's unbelievably fast…
Tsubai : Yes.
Ito : That fast trial was September 2011, and we did same value of the live recording in December 2011.
SO : What was the result?
Ito : It completed without any problem.
SO : So, what is the procedure for live recording with DDP?

Tsubai : For example, when there are some bands for a live show, we prepare two sessions and once the first band finishes we start to copy the data and open the second session and record to it. This way we open a session alternately. In these recordings it would be about 40GB with 64 tracks. It would be about 320GB for 3.5 hours recording in 96kHz/96tracks so the strain would be totally different. Also you can just save 3 sessions in 1TB disk.

Nakayama : I was worried if I could mix when I opened the file. (Laughing)
SO : Could you open the session?
Nakayama : I could open the session but when I played back the session it stopped so quickly. Things have been changed from last year and now it's so easy to record with DDP, but I have a hard time mixing. When I need to do 5.1-surround mixing internally, one more card is necessary. When I finished stereo mixing and wanted to start surround mixing, the surround mixer couldn't start up.
SO : What is your current system for mixing?
Nakayama : I use 4 HD cards and normal internal drives, but it's quite hard. I use all recorded tracks for mixing so I can't decrease voices that much. I really had a hard time for bouncing 5.1 mixing. Since I couldn't import back the bounced 5.1 mix to the current session, I had to create one more session to import the mix and check the file. I just noticed that I was working on the edge of the limitation when I opened the file. At that time I felt really sorry that I asked too frankly about 96kHz/96tchannels recording to Tamco staff. However, right now it's no problem with the same live recording workflow. I am so impressed by the improvement in one year.
SO : Have you tried DDP at Victor studios?
Nakayama : I haven't tried, but I definitely want to try it at the studios. It's so stable too.