Monthly Archive: February 2016

Yamaha’s R&D center: la place des artistes

Stains of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” fill the room as Yamaha’s manager of R&D Pro Products Jeffrey Gusman seemingly dances along, leaping between mixer and sequencer, exclaiming that the bells just don’t sound right, do they? A couple of more magically mixed timbers and the bells peal richly, transforming the control room into an evening at the ballet… electronically speaking.

Gusman, who heads up the new Research & Development Division for Professional Products at the recently opened Yamaha Communications Center (YCC) in Manhattan, says he achieved that sound last year while musical director for the New Jersey Ballet. “They’d been using taped music for the ballet. I came in and programmed the music of The Nutcracker in about a month. Then I sat myself down, one man in the orchestra pit, surrounded by synthesizers. People couldn’t believe it was just me down there.”

Now firmly situated at the R&D Center, Gusman says he couldn’t have found a more well-suited job if he’d written his own job description. A graduate of NYU, and a student of the Juillard School, Aspen Music Festival, Akademic fur Musik in Austria and Lehman Engel’s BMI Theatre Workshop, Gusman began as a classical composer in New York around eight years ago. “I also worked as a music producer for ABC-TV, Texaco, Atari and Warner Communications in LA. But I missed the stress of New York. So I came back,” he grins.

These days he’s only a weekend composer, spending most of his time helping other artists discover new applications for existing technology. “My job now is to serve other artists first,” he says somewhat wistfully.

The opening of the YCC coincided with Yamaha’s 100th year celebration. The YCC is an impressive office situated in Manhattan’s Metropolitan Tower on W. 57th Street, with over 17,000 square feet of studio and display space. It offers a veritable “playroom” for musicians and singers alike. The YCC offers several specific research areas: Pro Products R&D with a 32-track digital recording studio; Concert Grand Piano R&D, with an acoustically engineered concert grand piano studio; Wind and Band Instruments R&D, examining the use of wind instruments; the Electronic Keyboard Center, exploring the uses of FM synthesis as applied to electronic keyboards; and the Music Gallery for special events, all with Yamaha’s Assisted Acoustic system that allows control of the room’s acoustic condition, making it possible to sound as though you’re playing in a small jazz club or a stadium.

“The main concept in the Pro Products division is to combine three disciplines: MIDI, audio and video,” explains Gusman. “We’re marrying new technology to create new and better tools for artists around the world. It’s not a commercial recording studio. We’re strictly research and development. But we’re not strictly Yamaha either, we have non-Yamaha equipment too. Since the artist may have brought music in various formats, it helps them feel more comfortable when they recognize familiar equipment.”

The YCC has already had a handful of artists visit the studio, with more expected in the upcoming months. Invitations are being sent out to artists ranging from classical to pop, the goal being that artists will come to visit and hopefully will propose a new use for the equipment — at no charge to the artist. So far the cross-section of artists include background singers and recording artists for Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie and Madonna. Gusman stresses that the center isn’t a training ground, but rather a think tank for artists already knowledgeable in electronic equipment, who simply want to exchange ideas and further develop their expertise. Yamaha’s show room on the first floor is better suited for a more basic education on the equipment. “It’s an even exchange,” Gusman reiterates. “We hope to inspire creativity. It’s ultimately a professional place. Relaxed, but purposeful.”

When asked whether or not he feels this sort of electronic haven is encouraging the replacement of “live” musicians, Gusman replies with an emphatic no. “Personally, I’m creating a palette for the artist, not replacing the musician. In reality, sure, a one-man band is more relative today,” Gusman admits.” But I’d rather work with live musicians playing acoustics and synthesizers.

“What I’d really like to do here is ‘demystify’ some of the uses of these devices. I want to find out how the artist is using the equipment and what their needs are,” Gusman adds.

The newly opened YCC hopes to gain momentum in April and May as it gains a foothold in the music industry in Manhattan. A similar R&D Center has been operating in Yamaha’s offices in Tokyo and London, although the New York office is supposedly the most advanced. If interested in the YCC, contact Gusman at (212) 265-1111.

Mark Morris Dance Group

But authenticity in dancing is not only a historical issue. Watching Turocy’s Terpsicore explain the emotion of jealousy to Apollo by gesturing far outward–a terrible power running through her back, along her arm to her clenched fist, away from her source of strength and stability–I thought of the young modern-dance choreographer Mark Morris, who has managed to achieve a vivid communication with Baroque music in a language apparently foreign to the period. In his setting of a Handel aria on jealousy, for instance, Morris has the dancer double over, pitching his body off-center, then melt to the floor in a sideways roll, like a slow, broken barrel dislocated by the wind. As he revolves, his eyes gape at his raggedly stirring extremities. It’s the same message: jealousy decenters you.

Last fall, for the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, Morris presented his dancers in an all-Baroque program: Marble Halls (Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor), Pieces en Concert (Couperin airs) and Stabat Mater Pergolesi). It was a gamble. The program was painstakingly varied in tone and scale, but kept within a narrow philosophy of dance-making: music, and specifically musical rhythm, drove on the visual elements. Still, it would have been easy to miss the mosaic of conceits on manners and gesture in dancing in the Couperin piece, as winsome as a portrait by Watteau, because the brilliant jokes were sometimes embodied in a clownish guise and because the saddest moments popped out from the most bumptious steps. The Stabat Mater, muted and flattened like a grisaille copy of a cenotaph frieze, was so unassertive and patient in the development of lyric tension that even a Morris admirer like me couldn’t get the drift of it after one performance; only the second time around did I see the implicit equation between massed, architectural elements in the choreography and the metaphor of suffering masses so reminiscent of Doris Humphrey, one of the modern dance pioneers whose work Morris admires.

If, however, you can hear Bach and Couperin–or, as Morris has used them elsewhere, Yoko Ono and the Violent Femmes–without preconception, his dances make wonderful sense. He seems to respond to the heft of a melody as if it could be held. His imagination is curiously submissive, and the emotions that he excavates from music, sometimes deeply confessional, can be disturbing. In Baroque music, he finds a personal, wounding power.

The New York Baroque Dance Company will perform on June 8 and 9 at the Boston Early Music Festival and on July 19 and 23 in New York’s Avery Fisher Hall. The Mark Morris Dance Group will perform a program of works on Roland Barthes themes (Mythologies) from May 6 to 10 in New York City at the Manhattan Center Grand Ballroom. They will also appear May 14 through 16 at the Kennedy Center in Washington and May 19 and 20 at the Virginia Museum in Richmond.

“Heartbeat” is honored at 16th Mobius Awards

“Heartbeat of America,’ Chevrolet’s advertising anthem for 1986, showed no signs of cardiac arrest as it dominated at the 16th annual U.S. Television & Radio Commercials Mobius Awards Presentation held January 23 at Chicago’s Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Over 200 guests, representing the international and domestic commercial industry, attended the black tie awards banquet that honored the world’s best awards banquet that honored the world’s best and most creative television and radio commercials. A screening of the international award winning television spots kicked off the festivities that included a speech by Lou Centlivre, executive vp and managing creative director at Foote, Cone & Belding/Chicago.

Advertising giant Campbell-Ewald, based in Warren, Mich., received “Best of Festival’ honored and nine Mobius awards for “Heartbeat of America.’ Amidst the cacophony of a strong heartbeat, the commercial epitomizes the ambience of middle-class America and its incessant love affair with the automobile.

“We hit a responsive chord in the American public and we have done it in a very responsible way,’ insists Sean Fitzpatrick, executive creative director at Campbell-Ewald. “”The Heartbeat of America’ captures the resurgence and renewal of Chevrolet and this makes people feel good. The commercials are a very special vision of the people of America.’

The series was directed by Bruce Dowad of Jennie & Company, New York, for Chevrolet Motor Division of General Motors. Fitzpatrick and Dennis H. Plansker, broadcast creative director at Campbell-Ewald, worked with agency producers Ken Domanski and Chris Firestone on the project. Joey Levine of Crushing Music provided the musical score. Bill Riss of Image Express was editor; Fred Schuller, dp.

“”Heartbeat of America’ embodies all of the good aspects of commercials in the last year,’ explains J.W. Anderson, chairman of the awards festival. “The music is what has made it such a big hit as well as the excellent editing.’

By night’s end, Campbell-Ewald garnered the most accolades–a total of eleven first place Mobius statuettes have been carted back to Michigan. Two of the awards were for “Auto Teller,’ a humorous Sedelmeier spot for General Motors Acceptance Corp. The agency was also honored with a special plaque recognizing its outstanding creativity, innovative and execution of the award-winning commercials.

Winning “Best of Festival’ is not a unique experience for Campbell-Ewald. The agency has made the Mobius acceptance speech before when its 1984 Chevrolet Corvette series “Never Before’ capture top festival honors. And in 1985, “Lean On Me,’ a Chevrolet truck commercial created by the Michigan agency, won a Mobius award.

The Mobius award celebration honored 15 nominees for best of festival represented by products or services advertised for Chevrolet, McDonald’s, Kodak, NBC, Hawaiian Punch, Budweiser, Lee Jeans, Bounce, Citizen Watches and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. International nominees included Tourism Canada; Land Rover, England; Volvo, Sweden; Hamlet Cigars, England; and Radio Rentals also from England.

Among the other top winners were England’s Collett Dickenson Pearce & Partners Ltd. The London-based ad agency received nine first place awards, all for television commercials for various clients. J. Walter Thompson, who last year set a Mobius record with 18 first place awards, captured a total of eight statuettes for ads from its offices in Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Detroit, Toronto and London.

Chicago agency winners included J. Walter Thompson’s “Peas,’ the Gerber/Baby Food spot, winning for best candy, food and beverage in the children’s products category. The spot was produced by Ampersand Productions, New York. A Mobius was also given to JWT for its “Spike & Speck’ Quaker/Kibbles ‘N Bits spot–it was best of pet products: food.

California-based EUE Screen Gems produced. Leo Burnett Company picked up three Mobius awards for its McDonald’s campaign “Silent Persuasion,’ “Golden Time’ and “Recital.’ All won in the category of food: eating out industry. New York-based Steve Horn, Inc. produced “Silent Persuasion’ and “Recital.’ Pytka Productions, located in California, shot “Golden Time.’ Cramer-Krasselt/Chicago won with its entry “Demonstration With a Twist,’ for Skil Twist Cordless Screwdriver. The commercial received highest honors in the utility category. It was produced by Wilson-Griak, a Minneapolis-based production company.

Sedelmaier?

A commercial award show just wouldn’t be the same if at least one mention of Joe Sedelmaier didn’t slip in. Although no special honors were bestowed upon the man this year–last year’s Mobius Award Presentation spotlighted the Chicago-based director and awarded him 10 first place accolades–Sdelmaier still managed to collected three prizes. “Auto Teller,’ a spot created by Campbell-Ewald/Michigan, placed first in two categories–services: banking and financial and production technique: humor. “Texi,’ “Washroom,’ and “Airplane,’ a Check-Up Gum series directed by Sedelmaier in conjunction with ad agency Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon & Eckhardt/Minneapolis, also won for production technique: humor.

A total of 106 first place Mobius statuettes were presented to commercials submitted into various subject and production technique categories. Of this total, 84 went to television commercials and 22 to radio. Over 3,000 commercials competed in the competition from over 22 nations. Although the number of commercial entries was down from last year’s high of 3,400, a larger variety of countries participated in the 1986 competition. Anderson attributes the number shifts to marketing and industry changes.

“There is a lot of turmoil in the advertising industry right now,’ Anderson says. “At the same time, shifts in expenditures in advertising dollars are moving away from broadcast productions and this was reflected in the number of entries for this year.’

The quota of commercials may have shrunk for the 1986 competition but because of better marketing techniques, more nations got involved in the event than ever before, Anderson adds.

Over 75 percent of the commercials entered in the festival were from the United States, a fact reflected by the amount of awards taken home by Americans. A total of 61 Mobius statuettes went to U.S. agencies, producers and sponsors. The United Kingdom acquired 27, Canada eight, Sweden three, New Zealand and Australia both garnered two and Holland, Singapore and South Africa each received one award.

The honored commercials uniquely displayed a flair for the creative and innovative approach to advertising but, however different they were, the similarities between the entries were just as apparent.

Towards :15s

“I saw a lot of quick scene changes and condensed information,’ observes Anderson. “I think this is a result of the move towards the use of 15-second commercials. The idea is to convey as much information in as rapid time as possible. I am finding that there is a shifting away from the “Americana’ theme commercial of last year. There are still some commercials that use that theme but I am seeing less and less.’

Cost concerns and budget restraints have not affected this year’s batch of winners, according to Anderson. In fact, the opposite seems to be occurring. “Many of the commercials are using very strong computer-generated effects to create a futuristic look,’ Anderson says.