04.07.14 - How did concerts sound like in the historic venue of the Montreux Jazz Festival before the fire in December 1971? An EPFL installation inaugurated today allows us to plunge into the sounds and images of such a time and place.

On December 4, 1971 the Montreux Casino got literally on fire during a Frank Zappa concert – inspiring one of the most famous riffs in rock history, Smoke on the water’s, by Deep Purple.

This incident deprived the festival of its main site, but it did not stop it from growing and attracting the biggest names in jazz and rock year after year. Today, major concerts are held in the Auditorium Stravinsky, a beautiful hall. However, some believe its acoustics are better suited to classical music.

During the 2014 edition, which has just begun, Montreux Jazz Festival visitors can be part of an extraordinary experience. An installation consisting of a screen and several speakers will allow them to get back into the soundscape and visual environment of the festival’s early years. Codename: I.AM, for "Immersive Archives of the Montreux Jazz". 

The creator behind this sensory journey is a post-doctoral student at EPFL’s Audiovisual Communications Laboratory: Dirk Schröder. He patiently rebuilt the old concert hall virtually. "We only had a part of the architectural plans. We reconstructed the rest based on photographs and videos taken during the early years of the festival as well as testimonies," he said.

This authentic Benedictine endeavor led to the creation of a 3D model of the venue which also incorporates materials, furniture and even spectators. "I used a piece of software developed as part of my thesis that can recreate soundscapes by taking all parameters into account: size and shape of the room, speakers and visitors’ distributions, etc… ".

To transform this reconstruction into a real experience for the spectators, Dirk Schröder used the festival’s archives, held at EPFL, to conduct a "live simulation". Nine spectators are placed in a small room, surrounded by 16 speakers and two subwoofers broadcasting 17 different music tracks and are invited to listen to a hit straight out of the seventies: Give me the night by George Benson. There is also a "bonus" track, a more modern surprise. They listen to the music as they could have at the old Casino. On the screen, the camera moves from the back of the room to the front of the stage, leading the audience with it. The sound participants could hear is based on recordings made last year in Montreux and corresponds exactly to their virtual position in the disappeared hall.

The software developed by Dirk Schröder is characterized by its ease of use. Moreover, it works in real time and seamlessly integrates with standard software tools for architects who, for the first time, will be able to carry out the acoustical planning of their works. Its creator is in the process of developing a start-up and already imagines many applications, for example the generation of specific soundscapes for cinema, virtual and augmented reality and music production. For now, it will materialize a journey through time for festivalgoers.