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World-Class Jazz

This festival venue matches the art of jazz with acoustical engineering.

World-Class Jazz

Nov 1, 2001 12:00 PM,
By Alex Artaud

OVER THE COURSE OF 35 years, the Montreux Jazz Festival has evolvedinto what is arguably the world’s premier music festival. This year,with its eclectic mix of jazz, rock, blues, soul, world, reggae anddance/electronica, the festival enjoyed an attendance of over 60,000during its 17-evening run. Artists included blues legend and festivalfavorite B. B. King, funk-master George Clinton, as well as Sting,Beck, Van Morrison, Joao Gilberto, Jeff Beck and Bob Dylan, to name afew.

STRAVINSKI HALL IS AN ORCHESTRAL concert hall with optimal acousticsthat each year metamorphoses into an amplified venue for hot acts. Thetransformation of Stravinski Hall is a collaborative effort between oldfriends, the festival organizers and Meyer Sound, a speaker systemdesigner based in Berkeley, California. Each year, Stravinski Hallbecomes not only a showcase for the finest musicians in the world, butalso for the installation of Meyer Sound’s latest developments in soundreinforcement.

Completed in 1995, Stravinski Hall is a 4500-seat theater that hostsmany of Europe’s major orchestras, including the London SymphonyOrchestra. The hall was designed by Jean-Marc Jenny and Pierre Steinerof the College d’Architectes de La Maison des Congrés, located inMontreux. The Firm, G Bächli AG of Baden, Switzerland, wascontracted for the acoustic design of the space, with electro-acoustictuning done by Professor Mario Rossi of the Federal Institute ofTechnology in Lausanne, Switzerland, as well as the firm AudioPerformance SA, in Echallens, Switzerland.

“Professor Rossi was consulted for acoustic modifications andmeasurements for the Montreux Jazz Festival,” says Pierre-YvesNussbaum, head audiovisual technician for Stravinski Hall. Rossicollaborated with Meyer Sound in anticipation of the festival. He alsoestimated reverb time measurements under multiple scenarios to helpprepare the space for amplified music.


Since Stravinski Hall is designed for large ensembles and has amaximum reverberation time between four and five seconds, acoustictreatment to dampen the hall was essential. Stravinski’s walls arecomprised of scalloped wood panels that are 15 to 20 feet tall and 6 to8 feet wide. Between these panels are the legs of thick theatricalcurtains. These are house-install items; they open and close but neverget removed.

To treat the space, Meyer Sound brought in 2500 pieces ofsound-absorbing acoustic panels. Measuring 4 by 8 feet and comprised offiberglass, black cloth, sheet rock and plywood, the panels were hungfrom the ceiling and extended from the stage to the balcony. “Ittook three or four days to install them,” says Dave“dB” Dennison, crew chief and chief SIM engineer forStravinski Hall. “In the end, these panels cut the reverb time inthe hall down to less than a second.”

Dennison has worked at the past five Montreux Jazz Festivals as SIMsoftware engineer and house mixer at Stravinski Hall. This past summer,he also fulfilled the duties of crew chief, supervising the load-in andinstallation of Meyer Sound’s new M3D line-array system. Dennison metJohn and Helen Meyer through his engineering work with Jerry Garcia andMickey Hart. His credits include recording the well-receivedGarcia/Grisman duets, touring as front-of-house engineer for the 1995Gyuto Monks tour, as well as working on Mickey Hart’s recordingsPlanet Drum and Drumming at the Edge of Magic.

“I have experience at being a live mixer, a recording mixer,and, most recently, a system engineer,” says Dennison.“Often when I worked shows as a mixer, I was unhappy with thesound systems and usually [had to] work with them for a while before Icould start enjoying the concert. It pushed me to learn more aboutdifferent sound systems.”


The 2001 Montreux Jazz Festival system was a complete Meyer Soundself-powered system including a line array of six M3Ds per side, threeadditional CQ-2s per side (for near fill), three M3D subwoofers perside, plus 4 DS-4Ps and 4 MSL-4s for side fill. Seven UPM-1Ps lined thefront of the stage with two CQ-2s filling in the center.

Line arrays have recently come back in vogue in the soundreinforcement business, especially for large outdoor amphitheaters. Thelong-throw characteristic of a line array can be very effective inextending the near field farther into an audience area. While someengineers may wonder about the efficacy of having such a powerfulline-array system installed in a 4500-seat indoor venue, Dennisondoesn’t view that as a handicap with the M3D. “It makes all thedifference in the world that the M3D is a cardioid speaker,” saysDennison. “You’re not loading the proscenium and the stage withlow-frequency energy. This is great for an install because the wholestage volume comes down. In turn, the miking gets quieter on stage, andthe performance is allowed to come to life. So, while the M3D is along-throw speaker, its cardioid nature makes it easier to use indoorsthan other large speakers.”

To give the whole system a little more headroom, Dennison rolled thearrays off around 80 cycles and let the subwoofers take over fromthere. “The M3D will go down to 35 Hz, and the M3D sub will godown to 30 Hz. By rolling off the cluster at around 80 Hz, all thatsub-frequency energy was transferred to the M3D subwoofer. It’s amatter of headroom — and that little bit of frequency extensionfrom 35 Hz to 30 Hz,” explains Dennison.


Over the years that Dennison has worked in Stravinski Hall, one ofthe problems he faced was getting sub-frequencies into the balcony withground-stacked subwoofers. “One year, I tried puttingfloor-mounted subs in the balcony but got in trouble with the firemarshal. They made me put the subs to the far outside walls in thebalcony, which didn’t work at all.”

“The next year, we came back and flew three Meyer Sound USW-1Psubwoofers in the balcony directly above the mix position on the floor.It sounded like everything was coming from the proscenium. That workedincredibly well. The balcony subwoofers were at the edge of limiting,but it seemed like all the low frequency was coming off thestage.”

This year, sub-bass issues were solved with a novel approach. Whilethe top two M3Ds in the cluster were on their own send and dedicated tothe balcony, the third one down became what Dennison calls the“sacrificial sub.” He explains, “I took that M3D andput a low-pass filter all the way to 70 Hz. That speaker was workingfrom 35 to 70 Hz. That’s how we got sub in the balcony; and it workedreally well.” The other purpose for the sacrificial sub was togive Dennison a little more down-angle on the floor M3Ds. Otherwise,the third one down could have fired right into the front of the balconyand done nothing but serve as a very expensive spacer. However, puttinga sub in the array would have meant breaking up the line-array quality.“Next year, we’re thinking of swapping out that box for asubwoofer so we can avoid the drastic band limiting we did thisyear,” says Dennison.

Once sub-bass issues for the balcony were handled, Dennison was freeto focus on attaining proper vertical coverage throughout the rest ofthe system. “The fourth and fifth speakers in the cluster were ontheir own send and used for floor coverage, which included thefront-of-house area and under the balcony. The bottom speaker in thecluster was also on its own send and primarily for near thefloor,” he adds. “The bottom three M3Ds covered the floorpretty evenly. I had to do about 5 dB of amplitude tapering between thetop and the bottom M3D. That gave me a very even SPL from the back ofthe balcony to the front of the floor.”

The three Meyer Sound CQ-2s on either side, plus the two in thecenter, took care of everything 30 feet from the stage. “TheCQ-2s have always done their job,” says Dennison. “But toavoid spraying the wall with excess energy, I put the outside CQ-2s ontheir own send and attenuated them 3 to 4 dB.”


The configuration of the seating area in Stravinski Hall changedquite a bit from one show to the next. Some shows would have seats,others would be standing room only, and some would have a video trackin front of the stage. This would take up about 6 feet of space betweenthe stage and the audience to allow for video equipment. Sometimes, ifthe artist didn’t approve of the video setup, the whole barrier wouldget struck and audience members could walk all the way up to the stage.Once that happened, people could have walked out of the M3Ds’ coverage.To handle that potential problem, seven UPM-1P front fills were put in.“[The UPM-1Ps] really work well,” says Dennison,“providing that extra little fill that makes the image come fromthe stage as opposed to the sides of the sound system.”

Dennison continues, “With the M3Ds, the farther away you getfrom the line array, the less horizontal coverage you need since itnaturally gets wider. That said, the horizontal coverage may not havebeen as wide as in years past, so it made the two CQ-2s in the centercluster work a little harder. As it turned out, one of the challengesthis year was getting more energy into the center of the room. Toadjust for that, we decided to tilt the center CQ-2 cluster up.

“We also had a couple of UPM-1Ps on 80ms delay sitting on thelip of the console. They worked as a pre-fade listen so that when theFOH mixer was soloing something, they didn’t necessarily have to useheadphones. This worked really well, since it freed the mixer fromalways being in the ‘headphone zone.’”


To quickly equalize the system for each show, a Meyer SIM II systemwas used. Six Bruël & Kjaer 4011 microphones were distributedbetween the mix position, the down fill/center fill/front fill area andthe balcony. During sound check, the microphones acted as floaters andthen were dropped down from the ceiling about 8 feet off the floor inprime locations throughout the venue.

“Along with initial delay and EQ settings of the main andsub-systems, the multichannel benefits of SIM let me monitor severalmicrophone positions throughout the room during the show and comparesystem equalization to a mix position microphone,” says Dennison.“Also, with the temperature and humidity changes between soundcheck and show time, I could see, for example, that the notch filter Ihad at 2.2 kHz has shifted down to 2.0 kHz, so I could adjustaccordingly.

“Your ears will always be your strongest decision-making toolduring a show,” Dennison explains, “but SIM provides anaccurate measurement device to help hone your skill and confirm yourintentions. Besides, when the house is packed full of people, it’s verydifficult to leave the front of the house to hear how things soundelsewhere. With microphones placed in key positions, I could listen tothose areas using SIM from the front of the house and fine-tune as Isaw fit.

“Basically, I was comparing everything to the SIM mic: Thatwas my reference. I tried to get the sound in the balcony and in thenear field to sound exactly like the mix position. To do that, I didn’thave to cut the high frequencies in the near field, but I did have tobring up the high frequencies in the far field to sound the closest tothe mix position.”

Overall, Dennison was really pleased with the ease in setting up thesound system. “Aligning the M3Ds was a piece of cake compared toaligning MSL-6s with MSL-4s and CQ-2s in previous years. Trying to makethose three subsystems work as one speaker has always been a challengebecause they all have different acoustic centers.”

“This year, it was almost plug-and-play. That’s what I likeabout the M3D the most. Walking through the venue during sound check,there was no sense of transitioning from one speaker to thenext.”


Dennison reiterates that hanging the M3D system in Stravinskicouldn’t have been easier. “Rigging and system setup was abreeze. It took us about half an hour to rig and fly the arrays on eachside.” Even so, he’s already started making his wish list fornext year’s Montreux Jazz Festival. “I would have loved to havebeen able to tilt the clusters in a bit,” he says. “Thespeakers had to aim straight out because of architecturalconsiderations in the building. The hanging points in Stravinski Hallwere left and right, and Meyer Sound recommends front and back pointsfor the M3Ds so you can tilt the cluster. Next year, I’ll hang them offthe same points, then take some trick line and pull them in 4° or5° so that they aim toward the center a little bit.”

Meyer Sound’s summer installation at Stravinski Hall is but oneexample of how the company has helped the Montreux Jazz Festival cometo life and garner the respect and the following it now enjoys. Andthis year, as a sign of appreciation, founder and producer Claude Nobspresented John and Helen Meyer with a commemorative Swiss bell to thankthe company for “the golden sound” at the festival. As asymbol of pure, resonant sound, there couldn’t be a more fittingtribute.

Alex Artaud is a musician, sound engineer and writer living andworking in Oakland, California.


Bruël & Kjaer
Circle 234 on Reader Service Card

Meyer Sound
Circle 235 on Reader Service Card

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