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.

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