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Montreux Jazz Café, London

The latest incarnation of the Montreux Jazz Café has opened in a Knightsbridge department store, and had some exacting requirements, writes Tom Bradbury

This past holiday season, many shoppers who wandered London’s luxury shopping district of Knightsbridge chanced on something delightfully unexpected: Switzerland. Not the entire country of course, but rather a rhythmic and delectable embassy of the famed Montreux Jazz Festival known as the Montreux Jazz Café. 

The café offers visitors a distinctive mélange of concert recordings from the Montreux Jazz Festival and a menu of lighter fare selected by the festival’s founder and CEO, Claude Nobs. Inspired by the original Montreux Jazz Café – opened in Switzerland in 2000 by Nobs and Quincy Jones – the year-round London rendition allows visitors to sample many of the same menu items (including Funky Claude’s Pancakes with 50g of Prunier Caviar) while enjoying – in HD video and premium sound – succulent musical fare such as BB King’s memorable 1993 concert or Paolo Nutini’s stunning 2011 performance.

Two other Montreux Jazz Café locations were already in operation at Zurich and Geneva airports prior to the London debut, but setting up shop inside one of the world’s most celebrated luxury stores presented a particularly daunting challenge to Laurent Buri, COO of Montreux Jazz International, the arm of the festival charged with the café’s operations. 

“We knew it was important to have only the highest audio quality, and not to in any way interfere with shops adjacent to the café,” Buri observes. “We wanted visitors to have a satisfying concert sound experience inside the café, but also to manage it in a way that would not carry outside the immediate area.” Long historyIn matters of audio, the story of Meyer Sound has been intertwined with that of the Montreux Jazz Festival since the festival was barely 10 years old. Accordingly, in early discussions regarding AV installations for the new café, Buri consulted with Roger Harpum, Meyer Sound’s UK representative. In turn, Harpum recommended Pro Audio Systems of Bradford, UK, based on the company’s extensive experience in the installation of Meyer Sound’s low-voltage self-powered systems at World Duty Free Group (WDFG) shops in numerous airport retail sites.

Pro Audio Systems was also responsible for all the latest video and digital signage requirements in WDFG locations, and that one-stop shop capability also appealed to both Buri and the design studio for the new location, Portland Design Associates of London.

“We have been using various Meyer Sound products in high-profile retail locations for years,” notes Brian Lumb, managing director of Pro Audio Systems. “More recently, we’ve also been asked to take on video and digital signage, because clients like the way we work – we are extremely particular about how things are done.”

Lumb was also well aware of the importance of the AV component of the Montreux experience. He continues: “The cafés are essentially designed as ambassadorial experiences for the Montreux Jazz Festival, the concept being to give visitors a flavour of the event by delivering an AV experience based on festival archive material. The quality of all the recorded material is extraordinarily high regardless of when it was captured, so the AV system had to be capable of delivering that quality experience throughout the whole location.”

The audio infrastructure, as designed by Pro Audio Systems with assistance from Meyer Sound, is split into three separate zones plus a listening booth. The largest area is the 70-seat café, which is fitted with three discrete stereo systems aligned in transverse rows across the space. Each system comprises a ‘main’ left-right pair referenced to their screen plus stereo delays. In total, 14 Meyer Sound MM-4XP speakers are distributed throughout this area, plus one M1D loudspeaker and two MM-10XP subs.

The areas dedicated to the Montreux Jazz Shop and Claude’s Collection are each fitted with further Meyer Sound-based systems, both of which comprise a pair of MM-4XP loudspeakers and a single MM-10XP subwoofer. All three audio systems are driven by a single Yamaha DME24N digital mixing engine, which manages zone control, delays and EQ. A Yamaha ICP-1 connected to the DME24N allows staff to control volume levels independently for each zone.

A listening booth, independent of all other audio systems, allows café patrons to audition selected festival CDs and DVDs prior to purchase, viewing the programme on a Samsung 26in HD screen and listening through stereo headphones. The listening booth gear list also comprises Denon DVD and CD players, a mixer and source selector by Cloud, and an ART headphone amplifier. Festival footageA total of eight high-definition Samsung screens are mounted around the place, some of which work with the zoned audio systems to create individual experiential areas, and some of which operate independently. Two 32in displays handle the ‘music artifacts’ sections just outside the lounge, and a single 46in screen is central to the cafe section. The three entrance displays and the screens in the kitchen area are all 26in models.

A 55in screen dominates Funky Claude’s lounge, a flexible space which can also be configured as a live performance area if required. The Meyer Sound audio systems are designed to handle this extra duty as well as pre-recorded programme material, and appropriate connections for a supplementary mixing console are provided. A separate preset in the Yamaha DME24N accommodates the live performance mode.

At the heart of the control and distribution network is the ~sedna Presenter software from ~sedna of Berlin. “The ~sedna software gives us flexible distribution of audible and visible media content at will among all the individual AV systems,” notes Pro Audio Systems’ Brian Lumb. “It allows us to control playlists and schedule everything according to the client’s needs. It uses Mac hardware exclusively, and we find that accrues substantial benefits in reliability and ease of set-up.”

The main player for the visual system is an Apple Mac Pro running ~sedna Presenter Player Pro. It is linked to the screens via Extron units, which handle signal format conversion and the long Cat6 cable runs. A Sonnet Fusion R800 RAID Array supplies primary on-site data storage, while a specially configured Mac Mini – also running ~sedna Presenter Player Pro – runs a smaller version of the same setup for the peripheral playback systems.

In addition, four 64GB WiFi-enabled iPads are installed in a tabletop configuration within the ‘kitchen‘ area’, with their content managed by the ~sedna Player iPad app, developed for hospitality installations such as this. In this case, the fixed iPads are locked in to a function that restricts access to only the Montreux Jazz Festival website, allowing users to browse through concert footage and artist interviews.

All the media content is acquired directly from the Montreux Jazz Festival HQ in Switzerland via a Cloud-based FTP server. It is then published to the various delivery systems in the café through an Apple Mac Mini Server 2 with dual 500GB drives. The ~sedna Creator Pro suite, hosted on this server, is the primary scheduling and content management system for the whole site.

The programme sequence for Montreux Jazz Café in London is pre-programmed to the minute before the Cloud transfer to the local system. The London staff control is largely limited to ‘start’, ‘stop’ and level control by zone. The on-site servers store eight playlists, each 10.5 hours long, matching the operating hours of the café. An eight-playlist rotation means that guests who visit regularly will experience fresh concert fare weekly.

As a side note, all current concert material is drawn from the more recent festival recordings – from about the last two decades – made since the advent of HD video technology. Beginning with the earliest years, both video and audio recordings have used the best available technology; the older analogue audio tracks are of excellent quality, and most transfer successfully direct to video. The older video formats, however, benefit greatly from specifically applied advanced digital processing techniques in the transfer to HD files. This digital upgrade of older archives is underway at the École Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne (EPFL).

The critical importance of sound quality to the Montreux Jazz concept is evident in the thematic décor of the café. The principals at Portland Design decided to integrate recording equipment into the interior design. Vintage microphones hang from the ceiling, Swiss-made recorders – a Studer A62 and a Revox B77 – stand prominently on shelves, and reels of analogue recording tape provide visual punctuation. Most of the recording gear is from the festival’s own collection or that of suppliers, but the tape is all new RMG 900.

By all accounts, the AV systems at the Montreux Jazz Café have been a great success. The clarity and linearity of the speakers bring the Montreux experience to full life within the café, while directional control allows those in the adjacent lands of toys and antiques to carry on blissfully unaware.

“The quality of Meyer Sound allows us to strike that right balance,” Buri says, “where you can hear and enjoy the music while you carry on an intimate conversation. Everybody seems quite pleased by the sound, and the way it works within the store.” Meeting challengesFor Lumb, the challenge of the new Montreux Jazz Café location was well met, and should prove yet another feather in the company cap. “Essentially our role here was to interpret the experiential demands of the Montreux organisation,” he reflects, “by which I mean that we had to understand what they want their visitors to feel while here, and then create a physical and technical infrastructure capable of doing just that. The combination of world-class products from Meyer Sound, ~sedna, Yamaha and others, plus our own experience, has delivered a unique set-up that temporarily transports visitors into the world of the Montreux Jazz Festival.”

Visitors were first able to experience Montreux in London a few days prior to the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games, though the formal Grand Opening Party was not held until late October. Both Claude Nobs and Thierry Amsallem were on hand for the occasion, along with more than 270 special guests. The audio system for the lounge was switched to live mode for an evening of music. According to Laurent Buri, the highlight of the occasion was a blues harp solo by the 76-year-old Nobs, a man who has done a lot for the soul of jazz and blues. EDITOR’S NOTE: CLAUDE NOBS 1936-2013This article was at an advanced stage of production when we learned of the passing of Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs in a skiing accident. Installation offers its condolences to all who knew him, and dedicates the article to the memory of a man who did so much for the world of music.