May 2012 Archives

photo.JPG

Perhaps the last thing you’d expect to find hidden in the Japanese countryside, nestling in a beautiful forest, is Linn’s old exhibition stand from the 1987 London show “Hear Linn Live!”

But indeed there it is, the wooden cabin that Linn’s founder Ivor Tiefenbrun commissioned for the show, once he realised it would be more cost-effective, and reusable, to build an actual house than a typical exhibition stand.

Over an adequate sufficiency of drams after the show, so the story goes, Ivor pledged the cabin to Yoshihisa Mori, the legendary audio engineer and log cabin enthusiast. It was packaged, shipped to Japan, and rebuilt on Mori-san’s small freeholding, about halfway between Tokyo and Fukushima.

Mori-san began his career as a tonearm and cartridge designer at Grace / NHK Laboratories, before being recruited by Sony in 1973 to lead the engineering team at the Home Audio Group, where he remained for the next 27 years.

Sony was at the peak of its engineering prowess and global influence. A glorious list of audio engineering achievements followed, including many best-selling turntables, tonearms and cartridges, tape decks, tape recorders and dictaphones. Oh yeah, and the Sony Walkman. And the Compact Disc Player.

Motivated by a desire to improve people’s lives with music, and to put a smile on as many faces as possible, Mori-san’s inventive genius and charm is probably best understood through his Chorocco (also branded Record Rider and Sound Wagon), the smallest record player in the world. If you grew up in the UK in the 70s or 80s, you’ll probably remember seeing this on the popular BBC1 science programme, “Tomorrow’s World”.

1973 was also the year that Ivor founded Linn, and he first took the Sondek LP12 to Japan in 1974. He and Mori-san met at the various hi-fi shows, became close friends and remain so to this day. Ivor was an admirer of Mori-san's design for the Grace F9e cartridge, which Ivor distributed in the UK.

When Ivor wanted to make a “Unidisk” player capable of playing CD, SACD, DVD-Audio and DVD-Video, Mori-san made the connections between the engineers of Linn and Sony, and convinced chip manufacturer ESS to support the effort. This is how I came to know Mori-san, when, in 2005, as Linn’s fresh-faced R&D Manager, I was trying too hard to convince Sony to let Linn engineers contribute directly to their SACD software. “Soft push Gilad-san, Japanese always soft push”, he wisely counselled.

At the Tokyo Hi-End Show in November last year, I bumped into Mori-san and he invited me to visit him in his unique Linn cabin in the woods. And so I did, on my recent visit to Japan with Keith Robertson, Linn’s Technical Director. (We were there principally to launch the new range of DSM Systems to press and retailers in Tokyo.)

photo2.JPG

We took the bullet train up to Nasu on a sunny Saturday morning, and Mori-san drove us a further 10km to his idyllic countryside home .

Neither of us was prepared for the magical world we were entering. Mori-san has an unrivalled passion for everything connected to sound recording and reproduction, and his home is the audiophile’s equivalent to a shrine - full of artefacts, gadgets and memorabilia, including an original Thomas Edison phonograph and an Emile Berliner Victrola gramophone, which you can see him demonstrate to us in this video.

photo5.JPG

After retiring from Sony, Mori-san spent 10 years teaching History of Sound Recording at Tokyo National University of the Arts, earning just enough to cover the train fare from Nasu. The first year students were quickly shown how to make a rudimentary phonograph from two plastic cups and a simple motor. For Mori-san, this was a labour of love.

“Teaching is like sex”, says Mori-san. “The ultimate joy in life is to reproduce ourselves. Teaching, like having children, is our chance to pass on knowledge and passion to the next generation.”

In that sense, he sees teaching, product development and music as closely related: “We create products to improve people’s lives and change the world. Music allows us to travel through time, and experience the emotions of other human beings.”

We talked for hours about the evolution of recorded music, ate the amazing food that Mori-san was effortlessly preparing, and drank fine wine. The weekend had a profound and spiritual impact on both Keith and me, because we were in the presence of a remarkable man who has influenced the lives of millions of people for the better, who nevertheless remains totally humble, and always has a glint of mischief in his eye.

 

photo3.JPG

 

 

 

 

 Mori-san shows Linn's Keith Robertson the smallest digital tape ever produced

 

photo4.JPG

 

 

 

 

His Master's Voice advert for Emile Berliner's Victrola gramophone