July 2011 Archives

Industry Close-up: Playwood CA-20 Series Castanets

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Advanced contemporary models at attractive price
Barock Music has just introduced traditional flamenco style castanets made of fibra resin material at reasonable price under Playwood brand which will be distributed in August.

The Playwood products have won high reputation in the percussion society for their distinguished originality and high standard of excellence. The new CA-20 Series castanets developed with help of Yuji Singai, solo castanet player in classical music, and president of Japan Castanets Association, has achieved both professional level quality and unrivaled cost efficiency.

Tsutomu Chiba,  president of Barock, (photo right) says, "When it comes to castanet, Japanese people may remind of 'Miharu's', a pair of red and blue wooden pieces. It's a product originally designed by Japanese for children's rhythm training, and it has been distributed and played for 50 years exactly in the same design and play style. Mr. Shingai and we set a design concept that is to develop castanets matched to today's music education and children's taste for rhythm."

Spanish castanets for flamenco are expensive regardless of the materials in use. Made of either wood or plastic, one set consisted of one individual castanet for right and left hands is sold between ¥30,000 and ¥50,000.     

The CA-20 Series using fibra resin that is commonly found in light socket, and highly rated for its stable structure and durability comes at quite reasonable prices between ¥3,000 and ¥4,000 a set. They are easily accessible by players of amateur orchestra and symphonic bands as well as children and students. S, M and L sizes are available. The M size  comes in single- and double- hole  models which produce bright or slightly deep sounds.

Market for flamenco style castanets is not limited to music scene as increasing number of people experience Spanish dance at Spanish restaurants in Japan where guitars and castanets are accompanied. Flamenco lesson studios also look to be a prospective market. According to Japan Flamenco Association secretarial office, approximately 80,000 students are enrolled at 650 flamenco studios throughout Japan. And most of them buy castanets at early stage of lesson.

Explore the market with original products
Barock Music's product lines include ebony and rosewood castanets. The problem of them was that they cause cracks and chips as they are used. That is why plastic castanets are more favored these days in Spain. Flamenco dancers are likely to select plastic castanets by durability rather than by tonal characters.

In the Japanese orchestra music scene, players once favored wooden castanets as their mellow tonal color well coordinates with acoustic wind and string sounds. In the last 20 years, their preference whether they are professionals or amateurs shifted to the more solid and crispy plastic instruments which can carry over the sound of full symphony orchestra as performance skills advanced and the instruments greatly improved.

Not a few percussionists have come to learn flamenco dance and music these days. As castanets and play style increase recognition, demands are growing for true high quality flamenco style castanets.

In developing the CA-20 Series, Chiba says that the company set highest level of perfection as a musical instrument rather than seeking tonal color resembles to wood. The most critical part that determines playability of castanet is shape of the contact point around the tied string. The player makes sounds by pulling the string on his thumb, and strikes the shell-like pieces with 4 remaining fingers. If the contact area around the tied string is roughly shaped, the struck (closed) two pieces don't immediately gain open status which affects smooth performance.

To make right shape of the contact point, manufacturers have hand-processed it for professional models regardless of used materials. It naturally increases production costs. Barock has solved the problem with high precision mold technology enabling every manufacturing process done by automated machinery. The result is product of equal quality and significant cost reduction.

Chiba concluded, "We all know that Japanese music products market has matured. To generate new demands, we must present consumers something new and exciting never experienced before." Promotional plans for castanet are making way teaming with Mr. Shingai and Barock's business partners.
Thanking Chiba and Barock products development team for their passion to design affordable and high quality products, Shingai commented, "The CA-20 Series advanced quality castanets are easy to play and come at attractive price points I had long expected to increase new castanet players." (http://www.playwood.co.jp/)


1st Steinway Competition in Japan

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Steinway Japan announced recently that it would stage 1st Steinway Competition in Japan in April, 2012.

The project follows the Piano Competition for Youth Under 16 years old that Steinway & Sons initiated in 1936. Seventy five years later, it has been expanded to 8 countries including Germany (in Hamburg and Berlin), Belgium, France, Denmark, Holland, Spain, Sweden and very recently China.

The contestants are required to play music selected from Classical, Roman periods to modern times. The competition aims to provide young budding pianists with an opportunity to play Steinway piano at an early stage in front of large audience and pleasure of playing the piano.

The 1st Steinway Competition takes place on April 1, 2012 at Ohji Hall, Tokyo. The juries include Ikuyo Kamiya, Kyoko Tabe, pianists, and Motoyuki Teranishi, music critique. Among the winners, one pianist will be invited to perform at International Steinway Festival staged from September 7 through 10, 2012 in Hamburg.

Not originated to cite performing level, but the Piano Competition for Youth Under 16 Years Old sent out such world-class pianists as Christoph Eschenbach (1995 winner), Martin Helmchen (multiple awards winner from 1989 and 1997), Yu Kosuge (1995 winner) and Alice Sara Ott (1999 winner).

Kazuhiro Goto, president of Steinway Japan, said, "We are expecting very much to stage the first competition in Japan. It will serve young pianists an opportunity to experience prestigious Steinway piano, and also our small grand models." Not directly linked to sales, he believes that the competition will increase exposure of Steinway piano and communication with future promising pianists.

Major concert halls in Japan have equipped with Steinway piano, but not all pianists have access to the famed brand. For young children and students, it surely will be a dream experience. Preliminaries will be staged at 6 Steinway dealers having a concert hall throughout Japan.

Launched 14 years ago, Steinway Japan has expanded its business with 20 full-time staff now. Goto is pleased that the company has grown to stage the 1st competition in Japan. Application should be submitted from June 1 through August 1.

Yamaha Digital Pianos

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YDP-161J (photo)
The YDP basic models of the ARIUS series digital piano are now upgraded with a matched height-adjustable bench.

The features and functions are the same as the previous models which are high-quality piano voices produced by Pure CF sound engine, GH (Grade Hammer) keyboard action, 2-track recording capability, built-in metronome, 10 demo music, 50 music for practice, and 3 pedals.

Further information is available from:

Korg Percussion Synthesizer

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WAVEDRUM Mini ¥27,000
WAVEDRUM Mini in compact form is the latest addition to WAVEDRUM percussion synthesizer. First introduced in 2009 the WAVEDRUM with built-in versatile percussion and drum voices as well as synthesizer and characteristic sounds has won high reputation from percussionists throughout the world.

With 100 built-in sound variations including authentic percussion, drum, synth, SFX sounds, bass, tuned percussion and string voices, it allows the player to play even melody.

A new sensor clip is provided which turns nearly everything into percussion instrument simply by attaching it to an object. By assigning different voices to the pad and the clip, it delivers 2 sounds simultaneously. The sound dramatically changes by object that the clip is attached.

The pad responds to tapping intensity and position with palm top such as open and slap shots.

Other features include Looper function which allows the player to record performance for 25 seconds, 10 multi-effects from spacious to warm analog-style distortion and 100 factory preset rhythm patterns of versatile music genre to be used as backing patterns in session play.  

It works on AC power and 6 Ni-MH batteries, and is suitable for street performance and outdoor applications with a built-in speaker.

Further information is available from:

Playwood Castanets

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CA-20S ¥3,000
CA-20M ¥3,500
CA-20L ¥4,000
These fibra resin flamenco style castanets are more durable than wooden and plastic models, and attractively priced.

Developed with help of Mr. Yuji Shingai, president of Japan Castanets Association, in pursuit of professional quality, they are suitable for orchestra and symphonic bands players, and as school instruments.

All models come with a mute pad for practice at home. A soft case is sold separately.

Further information is available from:

Suzuki Tremolo Harmonica

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SU-21W ¥7,500
Suzuki Humming tremolo harmonica line has a new hybrid model featuring resin body made of natural wood fiber which is also employed for the MANJI 10-hole model.

It has upgraded features of wooden body known for warm tonal quality, and durable, easy to play characteristics of resin body.

It comes with new chrome-plated bronze cover plates matched the body made of the new material to realize natural wooden sound and comfortable play feel.

The reed plates respond to delicate expression of the players enabling them to concentrate on playing keeping correct position with marked "Do."

It has 21 holes, 24 keys, and comes with an ABS resin case.

Further information is available from:

Yamaha Acoustic Guitar

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LL-TAKA Limited ¥600,000
Japanese legendary guitarist, Takahiko Ishikawa's signature model is now available. It's packed with his original ideas to meet requirements of demanding guitarists. Thirty units are distributed at authorized Yamaha L-Island Platinum high-quality acoustic guitar dealers recognized for their long standing relationship.

It features bear claw Sitka spruce for the body top known for its characteristic wood grain processed with Yamaha's exclusive A.R.E. (Acoustic Resonance Enhancement) technology to provide resonant sound of good old guitar, and solid Indian rosewood back and sides.

New refined bracings based on those of FG2000 and LA Custom models offer heavy bass sounds and brilliant sustain.

The 5-ply neck made of mahogany and padoauk comes with narrow, easy to grip low part, and wide high part designed for easiness in lead play.

The slim LA Custom style headstock comes with a hawk inlay on ebony top. A hawk's beak-like pick guard and flower motif dot markers give the guitar a precious look.

A matched hard case and original "hawk" sticker are standard.

Further information is available from:

Steinberg DAW Software

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HALION 4/E (Academic ver.)
In addition to more than 1,600 high-quality factory presets, the latest VST instrument HALION 4 features state-of-the-art analog modeling synthesis engine and sampling engine for advanced, more flexible sound creation.

The sampler function provides upgraded workflow from reading sound files to setting tone range, velocity sensitivity level and reference pitch including advanced articulation of voices with help of the second generation MegaTrig.
Fully compatible with VST3.5, it features free-routing mixing console, 44 studio-quality effect voices and flexible user interface. It also supports VST Expression 2 so that the user can control individual chord parameters on the same channel and take advantage of top notch sound creation and delicate arrangement.

It works on Mac OS X 10.6 and Windows Vista/7.

Further information is available from:

Yamaha iOS Applications

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Yamaha has introduced 8 iOS applications designed for Core-MIDI-compatible musical instruments concurrently with launch of i-MX1 MIDI interface.
Free application Faders has 4 faders to control tonal volume and modulation. Two MIDI control change signals can be assigned to the individual faders, and 50 programs are registered as templates. (photos: from l. to r., Faders, Faders & XY Pad and Keyboard Arp & Drum Pad)
Faders & XY Pad with 8 faders and an XY pad provides characteristic tonal change controlling multiple faders at the same time with the multi-touch function of the iPad.
Keyboard Arp & Drum Pad offers rich phrases using drums, keyboard, guitar and other instruments with one single finger control.
Voice Editor Essential iPad app. exclusively designed for the Yamaha synthesizers allows the user to edit sounds of the MOTIF XF, XS, RACK  XS, and MOX S90XS and 70XS. Multi Editor Essential provides mixing capability of the songs and patterns for the aforementioned Yamaha synthesizers on iPad.(photos: Voice Editor Essential, left, and Multi Editor Essential)
Performance Editor Essential is another exclusive app. for the aforementioned Yamaha synthesizers except MOTIF-RACK XS enabling the user to edit voice combinations for live performance. (photos: Performance Editor Essential, left, and Set List Organizer)
Set List Organizer displays and edits sequence of music in live performance. Voice change can be done easily on iPad by plugging a MIDI instrument with i-MX1.
TNR-i is a TENORI-ON software providing intuitive performance and song writing functions controlling 256 buttons on the display. Four TNR-i and TNR-W/TNR-O users can enjoy jam session on network (Updating is required for TNR-W/TNR-O). (photo right, TNR-i)

Further information is available from:

Yamaha MIDI Interface

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Specially developed for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad to plug with MIDI-equipped synthesizer, digital piano and digital drum, the MIDI interface allows the user to expand functions of digital musical instruments with help of intuitive user interface.

It offers communication of Core MIDI-compatible application software and digital musical instruments simply by plugging with 30-pin Dock connector. With i-MAX1, the user of i devices can enjoy playing digital musical instruments, recording and playing back music with Core MIDI application.

The Core MIDI application is not included in the i-MX1 package, but obtainable from AppStore.

It supports iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, iPad2, iPad, iPod touch, and works on iOS4.2.

Further information is available from:

Roland Digital Recorder and Video Converter

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R-1000 ¥380,000
REAC (Roland Ethernet Audio Communication) technology-based 48-track recorder/player designed to work with the V-Mixing System or other REAC products offers high-quality sound recording in much stable operation. PC-connected DAW is main stream of today's multi-track recording, however, total reliability of the system much depends on PC in use. The R-1000 is the solution to the needs for simple and reliable recording.

Employing intuitive touch panel control, it provides an exclusive cartridge type 500GB hard disk for storing recorded data for 20-hour simultaneous recording on 48 tracks. The removable cartridge can be connected with PC via USB interface that offers the user with much improved recording environment without copying massive data.

VC-3DHD ¥185,000
The multi-input video converter and encoding device is capable of accepting HDMI, Component, composite, S-Video and analog/digital audio via RCA, XLR, and AES-EBU.

The dual output configuration allows it to archiving and wirestreaming together by linking it with PC through USB and Blu-ray disk record through iLINK. By connecting the VC-3DHD with 2 PCs, it provides two-output live streaming.

Its wide applications include medical and institutional purposes enabling high definition recording to inexpensive Blu-ray disk.

Further information is available from:

Korg Metronome

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MA-1 ¥1,900
The compact type metronome has realized much easier rhythm training thanks to rich functions and new beat-counting display.

It shows beat in icon moving on the display so that the user can easily understand and practice rhythm and phrasing.

Tempo display is offered in pendulum steps, full steps from 30 to 252 beats, and tap tempo setting. In addition to 0 to 9 beats display, it has 8 built-in rhythms for rhythm training of versatile music styles.

It provides reference pitches from C4 to B4 with adjustable calibration setting between 410Hz and 480Hz, memory backup function which remembers every parameter setting after power is shut down, and auto power-off function.

It operates for 70 hours on 2 carbon zinc batteries and for 290 hours on 2 alkaline batteries.

Further information is available from:

There are no production bases of major musical instrument manufacturers in the earthquake-struck area. No manufacturers reported serious damage in their manufacturing, however, supply of electronic parts and vast range of materials is another thing since not a few makers of semiconductors, machinery and steel materials have had their factories there. As the disaster stopped their production, it gave huge impacts not only on Japanese manufacturing industries but also on world producers of diversified industrial products.

Japan Music Trades interviewed 6 leading music products manufacturers, Casio, Kawai, Korg, Suzuki, Yamaha and Roland, to know what actually happened to the industry after 3.11?
What the industry manufacturers were most seriously affected was that semiconductor makers in the area had lost their manufacturing facilities and supply of IC chips staggered. The industry much relies of its sound generating chips on Renesas Electronics which supplies 30% of micro computers used in the world market. However, the heavily impaired main factory of the supplier is quickly recovering.

Happily, the 6 companies have substantial inventory of critical electronics parts, and it's unlikely that they suffer from manufacturing deficiencies in coming months. Renesas Electronics has assured that it would make the best efforts to meet the demands of long time customers.

Here are the comments of 6 manufacturers.
"We had no damage from the earthquake since we largely manufacture in China. Yet, we buy some electronic parts from Japanese manufacturers in the area. We see that the influence will be limited as the semiconductor makers have moved quickly and are returning to normal operation much faster than predicted."
   Shinobu Kurahashi, manager, Casio Public Relations Group,

"We are least affected by the recent incident as we have multiple supply sources for the semiconductors. For the time being we see no negative impact on our business."
   Tohru Yoshihara, Kawai Public Relations Div.

"There's no problem in our production since we have carefully planned purchase programs for semiconductors so far. Also we have shifted to new suppliers for some parts to maintain our production. In addition, not a few parts and materials are standardized and shared in the industry."
   Sakae Yoshinaga, manager, Korg National Sales Div.

"Our suppliers have assured us that our orders placed before 3.11 would be filled in July and August. We expect recovery of the electronic parts makers will accelerate for supply after fall. At this moment we don't worry about the production in coming months. But, future options include purchase of parts from overseas manufacturers to diversify our supply source to reduce operational risk. Our manufacturing facilities keep going as usual because our partner factories are all located in Western Japan."
   Takeomi Nishimura, manager, Suzuki Presidential Office

"As we informed in our annual sales report on May 9, our production will be affected in some fields because of the defect of electronic parts. We see consumer spending will diminish and our electronic parts business will have challenging time due to minimized demands. Given the downward trend, we estimate our sales for the first half of this year will decline 17 billion yen and net profit will go down 6 billion yen. But in the long run, there is no alteration in 2012 estimate, which is the final year of YMP125 mid-term business project, with 25 billion yen net profit.

"Aside from general electronic parts which can be provided by several sources, we have difficulties in procuring special sound generator chips and other custom-made semiconductors. Everyone concerns how long this condition continues, but we are optimistic that we can return to normal operation after October."
   Tsutomu Takizawa, manager, Yamaha Public Relations Group

"Our prospect for the future production is uncertain because it solely depends on the conditions of electronic parts suppliers. The point is we have substantial inventory of parts, and our production goes on without difficulties. They will soon tell us parts supply plans after fall. As far as we know from news paper articles, Japanese parts makers are doing very good job and we believe they will meet our request much earlier than the original schedule."
   Yasushi Aihara, manager, Roland Planning/Public Relations & IR Div.

Effect of the nuclear power plant failure
Another serious problem that Japanese manufacturers confront is the effect of the nuclear power plant failure. Though they are situated far from Fukushima, Kawai was quick to respond to worries from overseas customers by shipping its pianos after inspected radioactive contamination. Yamaha is also responsive to the request from German and other European retailers, and checks radioactive level of its products before shipping from the factories. Other 4 manufacturers didn't experience serious difficulties about this issue.

How much did the disaster affect the market?
Consumer spending sharply declined throughout Japan after the earthquake and tsunami hit Northern Japan. Sales of all industries significantly dropped during March and April. Leisure businesses were hardest hit.

Survey of Service Industries of The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry reports sales of leisure industries slipped down with the largest 49.9% decline for the playground/theme park businesses. The music products industry was never an exception with slow sales in March and April. Surprisingly, music dealers reported positive result during the early May Golden Week which exceeded the same period of the last year.

In Northern Japan, school music market sharply dropped by 40% in April over the same period of last year as not a few schools in the area suffered in various ways. Despite sales almost recovered in May, industry leaders say that it will take at least a year before school music activities return to normal.

Sendai, the largest city in Northern Japan, announced that it would organize established Jozenji Street Jazz Festival on September 10 and 11 as it was originally planned. Staging events and returning to normal life help support people in the stricken area. In this context, Musical Instruments Fair Japan which takes place in November in Yokohama will surely be an event to encourage the music makers and general music fans. It's widely recognized that music played an important role during the Hanshin Awaji Great Earthquake 16 years ago. It will surely serve as an exciting opportunity to advocate the power of music to wider walks of Japanese population.