LEARN - Everest 701

Abendrot Everest 701 On-scene interview

Toshiharu Yamauchi, Chief Sound Engineer, Blue Note Tokyo

Blue Note Tokyo: One of Asia’s most famous Jazz bars that has regularly invited some of the world’s most prominent musicians for the last thirty years. The Abendrot Everest 701 audio master clock is an integral part of its digital audio setup. We talked to Blue Note Tokyo’s Chief Sound Engineer, Toshiharu Yamauchi about his sound engineering creeds and the charm of the Everest 701.

── Tell us about your career?

I have been working for Blue Note Japan for almost 15 years. I was living in New York during the beginning of the “DJ era” in the 90s, and would go record-hunting in search of sampling material for hip hop tunes I would compose at home. This is where I probably discovered my love for Jazz music as most of the material I would use were from Jazz records. Jazz bands usually consist of several musicians and I would be fascinated and occasionally surprised with things like which artists actually played together in the same band. The more I learned about Jazz music, the more I started to really get into it. It was not long after this that I was frequenting New York’s Jazz clubs for live performances while also relentlessly listening to records at home as I just couldn’t get enough. It wasn’t long until I started wanting to work for Blue Note Tokyo.

I started out my career by washing dishes, waiting, attending artists, and help set up and dismantle sound environments until I was able to work full-time as one of the sound engineers of the venue. I definitely had my fair share of hardships and really had to put in a lot of effort in expanding my skill set to accommodate as many requests from the musicians as possible. Luckily, I am in an environment in which world-renowned musicians and engineers pay visits from around the world, which helped me in learning a lot about the operational skills required to operate a world class sound environment.

── What points in particular do you pay attention to when engineering onstage sound?

Blue Note Tokyo is a pretty small venue with all customers seated pretty close to the stage, and some seated right next to my booth. Making the audio coming out from the speakers act as a supplement to the live sound, and making the sound from the speakers sound like it is actually coming directly from the performing artists are points that I always keep in mind.
For example, if a piano is used during a performance, I would try to emphasise its natural tone by amplifying the piano’s microphone as high as possible right up to the limit, and then use the piano sound as a benchmark when testing the other sounds. For each individual microphone, it is practically impossible to create a microphone environment in which there is no sound interference from other musical instruments onstage. So I try and make the most of the situation I am handed with, and try and control the central focus of the overall vibe of the sound. My main goal is to create an environment as faithful as possible to the intentions of the musician, and I make sure to listen to each musician’s “sound” in advance. I would listen to them over and over again until I get a grasp of the kind of sound they want to create, and then flavour this sound with some of my own tastes to create an ideal sound for their performance at Blue Note Tokyo.

── Tell us about the consoles you have used throughout your career?

When I first joined the team, we were using a CREST AUDIO V12 analog console which was able to produce such a soft sound that also had such a strong presence. This is a strong characteristic shared among good analog consoles and I am sure anybody who has used an analog console would agree. Our next console was the YAMAHA PM5D digital console, which was then replaced with the YAMAHA CL5 which we still use today. My initial impression of digital consoles was that their sound was a bit too neat and perhaps uncharacteristic and distant, but I have kind of gradually gotten used to this attribute as time has passed, and now think more about their advantages over analog consoles such as the ability to fine-tune EQ characteristics during a live performance in a timely manner.

── Have you tried using an external clock since turning digital?

Many outsourced engineers would bring in external master clocks, starting with Apogee’s Big Ben, and then products by Antelope and Black Lion. I learned that there were quite a few reasonably priced and compact sized products available on the market, and also the important role of not just master clocks but also clock cables when considering installation at Blue Note Tokyo. I had heard about Abendrot’s reputation as a super master clock, so I decided to listen for myself if the Everest 701 was genuine or just hype. The results were even better than I expected, and I remember the goosebumps all over my body and uncontrolled laughter as I was in awe of the changes it had made to the sound.
In more specific terms, there was an added sense of delicacy which made me able to clearly “visualise” each and every individual sound. I could also comprehend the interference coming from other instruments, which previously wasn’t possible, and separate the unnecessary sound coming out from each channel. Not only does the sound become much clearer, but the response level of the digital equilisers are enhanced significantly as well. There was a clear difference in the way I was able to generally operate. After this experience, I decided to rent the Everest 701 for important live performances, gradually gaining a real grip on all of its huge advantages, and realised how “unrefined” the sound used to be, quickly coming to the conclusion that I needed the Everest 701 for all of our live gigs moving forward.

── What was the main reason in deciding to install the Everest 701 at Blue Note Tokyo?

The building is highly sound-proof and hardly vibrates. Some musicians, especially those using horn instruments, who had usually just completed a tour of concert halls would even tell me that they weren’t sure how strong they should play their instruments as there was no “reverberation” from the walls. It got to the point where we began discussing plans to adjust the acoustics of the entire venue, and the installation of the Everest 701 was one of the first steps of this plan. Despite being an external master clock, the Everest 701 never intrudes. It never even adds a tint of its own flavor. Yet at the same time, the sound commands such a presence that wraps around you. There is a clear improvement in everything from the clarity of sound coming out from the speakers, right up to the overall sound of the venue.
I used to have an inner battle with my ego sometimes and tried to create sound characteristics that I personally preferred and felt were “good”. I don’t have this inner struggle anymore and take a much more neutral approach when on the job. I have learned that my role is to try and tighten the connection between the musician and audience through my sound engineering. I definitely sense a change in the atmosphere when the vibe of the performers and the entire audience come together, and when I sense this change I know I am in the process of witnessing a great live performance. I absolutely love it when I can feel this sense of unity between the performers and the audience, with the audience eagerly following each and every note coming from the stage. The Everest 701 expresses the performance in such a natural manner, and always heightens this sense of unity between the performers and audience.

── 2018 was the 30th anniversary of Blue Note Tokyo. Tell us about your plans moving forward?

One of the key concepts of Blue Note Japan is to “connect”. This could mean connecting a person with another person, an event, or anything else. I have been blessed with support from musicians and non-musicians alike throughout my career. I have no idea when I will decide to hang up my boots, but would like to continue to help make customer’s feel that their visit was worthwhile. Listening to your favourite CD or record at home is a nice experience, but a live performance has a unique charm. My goal is to continue to promote the virtues of a live performance and have customers, even if they generally don’t listen to or even like music in general, to pay a visit to Blue Note Tokyo. If you have never visited us before, give it a try and we will try to “connect” you with some very enjoyable time!

Blue Note Tokyo : bluenote.co.jp