Music Reaching Beyond Time #1
How a “Vacuum-Packed Live Performance” Takes You to a Whole New World of Music
January 18, 2023
Have you ever missed a concert you really wanted to attend because tickets were sold out, the venue was too far, or the band parted ways? A system recently being developed by Yamaha provides an alternative way to experience live performances.
Real Sound Viewing can reproduce concerts in the exact same way they were performed on stage, allowing people to enjoy the live experience regardless of time and place. The process starts by digitally recording the sounds played by an artist — every strike, every strum, and every touch — perfectly. It then converts this data into vibrations that “play” a physical instrument, faithfully recreating the nuances of the original performance. Combined with life-size videos of the artists, this mechanism can deliver a virtual stage that feels as if the musicians are performing right before your eyes.
“Vacuum-packed live performances” is the concept behind this new system, which Yamaha began designing in 2017. This system was made possible by integrating several of the company’s unique technologies, including digital sound processing, sound production employed in the TransAcoustic™ series, and the translucent screen technology used in virtual singer performances.
The Sensations that Sparked an Idea
Real Sound Viewing is the brainchild of one passionate designer, Yoshiyuki Tsuge. He wanted to do something about the lack of energy and believability of public screenings, which had become a popular alternative to live performances. Tsuge found it difficult to be immersed in the performances because, in the end, they are equivalent to watching a DVD performance, only on a bigger screen. It wasn’t the true live experience he knew.
“I was frustrated that we were not offering the real stage experience that so many people desire,” says Tsuge. “What I love most about live performance is the atmosphere. That feeling of nervous excitement right before the doors open; the solidarity of the crowd; the buzz that grows and grows in the venue as the artists start to perform. We needed a system that could preserve and reproduce those live sensations exactly the way they took place. It then occurred to me that we could do it by combining Yamaha’s existing technologies. That’s how Real Sound Viewing was born.”
Recalling the Atmosphere that Rocked His World
Tsuge leads this project with unbeatable commitment. His devotion to recreating live atmospheres is rooted in an unforgettable live performance that changed his life. During the summer of his second year in high school, Tsuge attended a farewell concert of his favorite rock band at Yokohama Arena. “I was desperate to go to that concert, so I worked part time and saved up for my travel costs. The competition for tickets was fierce, but I kept searching until I finally managed to get one.”
Tsuge reflects on his first ever live experience and says that he was “blown away” by the energy of the performance. He was so moved by the band’s performance that he went on to study at a university in Yokohama where the concert was held, and even joined a band out of sheer admiration. As he continued playing, he became certain that he wanted to work in the music industry, which ultimately led him to Yamaha.
“I might not be here today if I hadn’t gone to that concert. It had that much of an impact on me,” he says. “Music can move people in powerful ways; that’s why I wanted to find a way to preserve the complete atmosphere of live performances and recreate them in their true form. The phrase ‘vacuum packed’ perfectly captured that idea, so I started using it to convey the concept of the system.”
A World-Class Innovation Designed in Hamamatsu, Japan
It was back in 2017 when Tsuge’s personal vision struck a chord with a colleague, and the two set up a team. As more members joined, their idea quickly began to take shape. Tsuge attributes the rapid turn of events to the unique characteristics of Yamaha.
One of these characteristics is the diversity of talent. Tsuge says, “Because we are a musical instrument manufacturer, we have experts across all areas related to sound and music, whether it be instruments, acoustics, or sound production technologies. If we get stuck, we can just pop over to the department across the hall to find a solution.” Tsuge feels it was this work environment that helped him translate his idea into action.
Another characteristic is the “Yaramaika” spirit rooted in Hamamatsu, where Yamaha is headquartered. The phrase “Yaramaika” means “Let’s give it a try” in the local dialect, encouraging one to act without fear of failure. “Yamaha encourages us to take on challenges, and this culture added momentum to our team. One of my dreams is to work for a Grammys performance with my team, and then for us to win the Technical Award,” says Tsuge. His compelling vision makes it feel like anything is possible.
From His Imagination to Shared Excitement
The first public event using Real Sound Viewing was held in December 2018. It was performed by piano trio H ZETTRIO, who were enthusiastic about the project. Then, in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, Tsuge’s team applied the technologies of Real Sound Viewing to develop a next-gen solution for live viewing called Distance Viewing. Distance Viewing not only recreates the sounds, but also the full visual experience of a performance, including the lighting design and the artists’ movements on stage. The hope was to revive the music industry which was hit hard by the pandemic, and the team continues to refine the system to help live music venues offer new content to attract audiences.
“Shared experiences drive people forward,” says Tsuge. “For me, it was that concert I went to see as a student, but my team members also have a shared love for live performances. If you can find something that resonates with everyone, you’ll be amazed at how united a team becomes.”
Real Sound Viewing has been well-received at international exhibitions, and collaborations with various artists are already underway. What emerged from one person's idea is now about to touch the hearts of many, making music more exciting than ever.
Preserving Music as Part of Something Bigger
The ultimate dream of Real Sound Viewing is to preserve music like an intangible cultural heritage for future generations. Two immediate challenges Tsuge sees in achieving this goal are making the live experience financially viable, and continuing to expand the range of instruments the system can work on — finding a way to “vacuum pack” wind instrument performances, for example.
Tsuge says, “More and more people are relating to the concept and supporting our work. Music enthusiasts, both within and outside our company, are coming together to explore new possibilities. I have a feeling that Real Sound Viewing will turn into something significant within the next few decades.”
In a way, Tsuge is like an unseen member of every band or orchestra that performs through Real Sound Viewing — he contributes to the music by preserving it for future audiences.
And what kind of future does he see?
“Wouldn’t it be incredible if you could experience a live performance that happened in the past? I imagine a world where we have the luxury of picking between seeing a contemporary artist or an artist who lived a century ago. Soon, today’s artists might start jamming with artists living 100 years from now, connecting through time and space. That reality is just around the corner. We need to make quick progress so we can preserve the music of legendary artists before they retire. We’re committed to ramping up our efforts — as a team, as a company.”
(Interview date: September 2022)
Tsuge is a Product Designer at Design Laboratory. After joining Yamaha, he studied design at an art university while working in web marketing. He later joined the design department where he embarked on the development of Real Sound Viewing in 2017.
*Bio as of the time of the interview
Three-Part Series: Music Reaching Beyond Time
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