Montreux Jazz Festival and Meyer Sound M'elodie Celebrate Landmark Year
Given that jazz festivals began less than 60 years ago, the Montreux Jazz Festival's 40th anniversary this summer qualifies as a landmark in the history of jazz and music festivals in general. When the festival was barely 10 years old in the 1970s, the festival's founder, Claude Nobs, encountered John Meyer, then director of the acoustics laboratory at Switzerland's Institute for Advanced Musical Studies. Excited by the sound of the prototype loudspeaker Meyer demonstrated for him, Nobs resolved that they would work together sometime in the future.
That time came in 1986, when Nobs called John and Helen Meyer, who had, by then, been running Meyer Sound for seven years, and said that he needed better sound for the festival. Could Meyer Sound help? The Meyers jumped at the chance. In addition to aiding an old friend, Montreux Jazz would be a prestigious showcase for the company's products. As well, the variety of venues and breadth of musical styles presented the opportunity to see how new products and even prototypes of products in development performed in the real world. Meyer Sound became the festival's official sound sponsor.
Since that time, each succeeding year has seen the festival grow larger, the sound system get more sophisticated, and the friendship between Nobs and the Meyers deepen. Musical premieres were matched by equipment debuts. In 2001, on the occasion of Meyer Sound's 15th year sponsoring the festival, Nobs presented the Meyers with a giant, golden Swiss cowbell in appreciation of their support. The cowbell was inscribed, "To John and Helen Meyer: Thank You for the Golden Sound of the Festival."
This year's edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival boasted an estimated crowd of around 250,000 for the 16 days of concerts, which featured over 200 artists performing at a variety of venues, indoors and out, through 370 self-powered Meyer Sound loudspeakers, including the new M'elodie ultracompact high-power curvilinear array loudspeaker. In recognition of the milestones being reached, John and Helen Meyer and their family were all in attendance at the festival.
Five Swiss and one French hire companies provided the Meyer Sound systems. Primary system design was done by Marc de Fouquières of Paris-based Dispatch. The festival crew was headed by Production Director André Vouilloz, Sound Director Patrick Vogelsang, Sound Crew Chief Loïc Joliat, Technical Support Chief Pascal Menghini, and Designer and SIM Operator Martin Reich.
As ever, the centerpiece of the festival was the impressive Auditorium Stravinski, where the likes of B.B. King, Gilberto Gil, Mory Kanté, Santana, and Sting performed to audiences of more than 3,500 people each night. A system built around the MILO high-power curvilinear array loudspeaker worked in conjunction with an array of 700-HP ultrahigh-power subwoofers to let every person in the audience hear clear, full-range sound. "In the front left and right hangs we have 10 MILO cabinets each, as well as an array of three MICA (compact high-power curvilinear array loudspeakers), running in mono, for center fill," says Stefan Wyss, FOH engineer for the venue. "In addition we have M1Ds (ultracompact curvilinear array loudspeakers) across the front of the stage for near fill, running in stereo. Finally, we have six 700-HP subwoofers per side running in an end-fired cardioid configuration."
Subwoofer steering is not a new concept, with the end-fired array being detailed in Harry F. Olson's classic 1957 book, "Acoustical Engineering." At Auditorium Stravinski, three stacks of two 700-HP cabinets were rigged one behind the other and delayed back to the main array appropriately. This arrangement steers the energy from the subwoofers in a cardioid dispersion pattern into the audience where it is wanted, keeping it off the stage, where it most certainly isn't. "The stage is clean (of very low frequencies), which is really important for me. We have a lot of acoustic instruments — bass and piano, for example — and it makes it very easy to deal with any feedback problems (when the stage is not flooded with low frequencies). It works very well," Wyss enthuses.
Monitor Engineer Gerome Burri worked with a system consisting of sidefill arrays of four M'elodie cabinets hung downstage left and right, supplemented by two 600-HP high-power subwoofers and prototypes of a new Meyer Sound self-powered stage monitor. Two UPA-2P compact narrow coverage loudspeakers worked together with a single USW-1P compact subwoofer to provide tightly controlled monitoring for drummers and percussionists.
Located beneath the main auditorium of the Auditorium Stravinski is the smaller but equally prestigious Miles Davis Hall, where Tracy Chapman put on a performance many called the show of the festival, with her long-time front of house engineer, Chris Ridgeway, helming the sound system at front-of-house. The 2,000-capacity venue was served by a system of eight MICA compact high-power curvilinear array loudspeakers per side, supported by three UPA-1P cabinets providing fill in front of the stage, and four 700-HP subwoofers. Ridgeway was already familiar with MICA, having used it on Chapman's most recent tour. This system served acts as diverse as Chapman, Eels, reggae artists Prince Buster, The Twinkle Brothers and Dub Judah, and hip-hoppers like Gnarls Barkley, Atmosphere and Brother Ali. DJs and drum and bass from the likes of Richie Hawtin, Maurizio and Q-Bert also graced the Miles Davis Hall stage.
The main hangs in the venue were each driven from three outputs of a Galileo loudspeaker management system. "On each side, the top five boxes are controlled on one output, the next two on another output, and the final MICA in the hang is on it's own output. This allows us to correct the level throughout the room," details venue FOH engineer Benoit Saillet.
"The system is working really well," Saillet continues. "There is so little EQ on it, just a few dB in a couple of places to correct for resonances in the room. It is really very flat." At full capacity, space is at a premium in this venue, which prohibited using a subwoofer setup similar to that in Auditorium Stravinski, but the groundstacked 700-HP cabinets provided enough low end for even the most demanding DJ sets. For performances with less intense bass requirements, the Galileo system was reconfigured to allow an aux send on the console to regulate overall level control of the subwoofers, allowing song-by-song control.
When the hall was full, Saillet used the Galileo system to route a mono mix of the show to the Miles Davis Club next door, where those unable to fit into the hall itself could still watch it on video and listen on a main system of M'elodie arrays and 600-HP high-power subwoofers, with sidefill from CQ-1 wide coverage main loudspeakers. Apart from overflow broadcasts of shows from the Miles Davis Hall the club also saw performances from DJs and the occasional live band.
Just down the road, the elegant Casino Barriére hosted major artists ranging from jazz masters Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Diana Krall to pop icons like Randy Newman and Van Morrison. The Casino provided some unique problems for the system designers and engineers. Says Rémy Beuchat, FOH engineer for the venue: "We knew we would have to put some additional loudspeakers in the left side of the auditorium because of the unusual shape. The audience is to the left and right of the stage, as well as in front of it, which causes some problems. The left side is much longer than the right, so we get uneven reflections coming back off the walls. Additionally, the roof is very low which doesn't help. But, with the M'elodie we have nice coverage for all of the audience and it is physically very small — we hung it up with our hands," he said.
The system design used just five M'elodie cabinets and one 600-HP subwoofer per side, supplemented on the left side by three M'elodie units and one 600-HP subwoofer and on the right by one UPA-1P compact wide coverage loudspeaker. A 600-HP was used to fill the low frequencies in the front, with additional UltraSeries boxes providing stereo mid/high frontfill.
The loudspeakers were driven from a Galileo system, using multiple outputs to enable fine tuning adjustments to parts of the system as needed. "The line array is split across the Galileo with four M'elodies of each array being run from one output and the fifth from another output," details Beuchat. "Additionally, the left/right subs, center subs, frontfill and sidefill are all split onto different outputs. Because I have six inputs I can have left, right and sub feeds for myself plus I can use the other three for guest engineers if they want to make changes to the system. I just take a snapshot and off they go. Galileo is a fantastic machine." Beuchat finds Casino Barriére one of the best listening rooms at the festival. "It is a very quiet room and I love that. Everyone sits, doesn't make any noise and really concentrates on what is happening on stage," he concludes.
Another way to soak up the atmosphere around Montreux was to escape to the more informal (and cooler) outside stages, such as the Parc Vernex stage, which utilized another M'elodie system with 600-HP subwoofers, or the Stage Under The Sky.
Meyer Sound Executive Vice President Helen Meyer provides the best summary of the significance of this year's Montreux Jazz Festival. "From the very beginning of the company, John and I felt that we needed to support the arts. We believe it's important to share whatever we can, and saw sponsoring the festival as a meaningful way to use our resources," she says. "John felt a real desire to meet Claude's needs and make the festival sound amazing. Over the course of 40 years, the MJF has grown artistically, in size, and in prestige, and Meyer Sound has grown similarly in the 20 years we've been sponsors. We've tried to raise the bar a notch every year with new equipment and techniques, so when we hear all the incredible musicians playing through our systems, see the audience completely enthralled by the performances, and watch Claude taking it all in with a huge grin on his face, we feel the satisfaction of knowing we've done something good for everyone involved and for the music."