Video footage of the PA at Tokyo Disney Sea shaking during the earthquake illustrated just a touch of the disaster's effect. The footage and more insight into the PA's construction are available here.
by Clive Young.

New York, NY—The 9.0 Tohoku Pacific Coast earthquake and resulting 23-foot tsunami of Friday, March 11 off the coast of Japan have devastated the country and its people. With aftershocks, rolling blackouts and a nuclear power crisis complicating matters, the impact of the events on the country—much less on the pro audio industry—are impossible to predict.

At press time, the official death toll has passed 11,000, while more than 16,000 people are still reported missing, and an estimated 125,000 buildings have been damaged or destroyed. Japan's Cabinet Office places losses to homes, businesses and infrastructure between ¥16 trillion and ¥25 trillion—roughly $185 billion to $309 billion. The disaster also created a state of emergency at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, some 150 miles north of Tokyo, resulting in radiation leaks and the evacuation of surrounding areas.

With Japan in such turmoil, the impact of these events on the pro audio industry for the foreseeable future is only starting to be assessed. In the weeks following the disaster, numerous pro audio manufacturers with presences in Japan confirmed the safety of their employees and began to take stock of where they stood.

“Upon review of our supply chain for our company’s Musical Instrument, Pro Audio and Audio/Video divisions, we do not foresee any significant impact in our ability to supply product to our customers,” reported Tom Sumner, senior VP, Yamaha Corporation of America. “Yamaha has sufficient inventory in place that can bridge any short-term demand. However, we are still assessing the full impact on and the stability of our supply chain, and are taking the precaution of looking at alternative sources for components to minimize supply disruptions to our global customer base.”

Component supply remains the big concern across the board; while Sony suspended operations at numerous production sites, variously producing everything from CDs to lithium-ion batteries, some were brought back online slowly in the days that followed, though a dozen remain either closed pending inspection or running intermittently due to planned power outages or availability of materials and components.

Facilities at Audio-Technica Japan, meanwhile, were not damaged by the disaster and have been only minimally affected by power outages. At press time, Audio-Technica U.S. didn’t foresee any major disruptions. “We are tremendously grateful that our colleagues in Japan are safe, and that our facilities have not been damaged,” said Audio-Technica U.S. president Phil Cajka. “Our deepest sympathies are with the victims of this disaster.”

With much of the pro audio manufacturing world dependent on the availability of semiconductors, the events in Japan have been cause for alarm, as the country is the world’s leading source of semiconductors and is responsible for 35 percent of global NAND Flash production, according to IHS iSuppli. Researcher Tom Starns of Objective Analysis explained, “Of the $300B of semiconductor chips sold last year, nearly $50B were sold to or within Japan, but nearly 25 percent of the world's semiconductor production capacity is in Japan when you look at total square inches of silicon processed, so this is a vital region to the global industry. Additionally, over 60 percent of the silicon wafers that are the starting point for making a semiconductor chip are made in Japan, and these are sold all over the world.”

Putting aside the fluctuating availability of components, semiconductor suppliers face an uphill battle. Texas Instruments’ manufacturing sites in Miho and Aizu were both affected heavily; both have undergone extensive repairs and are expected to resume production this month, though the Miho facility—which handled 10 percent of the company’s output last year—will not be fully operational until mid-July. As a result, TI moved 80 percent of the Miho site’s work to alternate factories in Dallas, TX and Germany. Meanwhile, Freescale Semiconductor’s Sendai Wafer Fabrication facility, which typically manufactures Flash memory embedded microcontrollers, analog/digital embedded microcontrollers, pressure sensors and acceleration sensors, has been hit hard by the disaster. The facility faces ongoing power and communications disruptions, a lack of natural gas and both water and waste management, plus supply chain concerns for its back-end manufacturing materials.

Images of the disaster flew around the world, repeated for days on the nightly news and on the internet; inevitably, many audio-related entities looked for ways to help aid the Japanese people. Charity music releases and events continue to appear at press time, and various businesses have also found ways to contribute. BeatPort and Antares each announced on Twitter specific dates where portions of profits on product sales would go to relief organizations.

“Response was good; we saw a spike,” reported Marco Alpert, vice president of marketing at Antares, which gave its proceeds to ShelterBox. “We did the same thing last year after the Haiti Earthquake; our CFO, Georganna Hildebrand, is also the president of the local Rotary, and ShelterBox is associated with Rotary. They did a great job in the Haiti days, and they were on the ground in Japan within 24 hours, before any of the government organizations were there, so it seemed like another good fit.”

The state of Japan’s touring market remains largely up in the air, caught between planned power outages, logistics, economic woes and an emotionally fatigued public. Many tours are built around album releases, and those too, are being bumped back, in part due to the region’s CD manufacturing currently sitting at 30 percent availability, according to Billboard. Dozens of Western acts were scheduled to play around Japan the weekend of disaster, including Iron Maiden and Jack Johnson; while tours were postponed or cancelled, none of the acts or their crews were directly affected by the earthquake.

The live-sound industry still had a few scares, however. Yokohama City-based Clair Japan, the Asian arm of concert audio giant Clair (Lititz, PA), was unreachable for days. “We started the e-mails on Friday morning since we couldn’t get through on the phone,” recalled Greg Hall, business manager for Clair. “An e-mail turned up at 10 p.m. on Saturday—probably more to do with electricity and e-mail servers that were overwhelmed, but the suspense waiting to hear back for two days was heavy. Luckily, all the employees and their families were safe and accounted for—that was our main concern. Also, there was no damage to the equipment on tour or in the warehouse either.”

Bringing an installer’s view to the event, noted audio designer/consultant Bob McCarthy of Alignment and Design, posted on his blog video shot during the earthquake, showing its effect on an audio installation he co-designed at Tokyo Disney Sea. The video illustrates the quake’s impact on the attraction and its audio systems before the tsunami even took place: eerily calm voices over the PA inform the crowd about the earthquake in multiple languages attest to the system’s fortitude, but the footage is nonetheless unsettling. “I well remember testing the emergency announcements over and over during the park's creation, but never actually saw anything more serious in actual use beyond, ‘Sorry, rain. No show today,’” McCarthy recalled. “Puts those emergency specs all in perspective suddenly.”

Relief organizations:

The American Red Cross: Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief

Save the Children: Emergency Relief for Japan Quake

Salvation Army

Doctors Without Borders