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Plunging into Montreux Jazz Festival history

© 2012 EPFL

© 2012 EPFL

The Montreux Jazz Festival and EPFL presented on June 19th the Montreux Jazz Heritage Lab, an interactive and inhabitable space that allows the user to plunge into 45 years of jazz, blues and rock concerts.

Seen from the outside, the dark structure lets beams of light and fragments of images escape. The prevailing intensity is unmistakable. The side wall opens, letting in new users. The light wood interior is distinguished by a low table and an interactive display of specially designed geometry. Four users take their seats and are isolated from all external noise influences. Two of them simultaneously explore the contents on the table. In a relaxed atmosphere, the forward position of the bodies encourages dialogue and sharing—evoking memories and discoveries. As the concert begins, positions change: eyes turn to the large curved screen, bodies press against the back of the chairs, images and sounds carry the senses into the chosen concert of the past. This unique archival experience breaks sharply with the traditional solitary and static consultation of a flat screen. This digital heritage has become a living space filled with movement and interaction.

The Montreux Jazz Heritage Lab provides a backdrop to the first results of a long waited initiative. The Montreux Jazz Digital Project, led by the MetaMedia center, had as one of its objectives to oversee the digitization of the festival’s archives since 1967. The legacy includes over 5,000 hours of concerts recorded, using the best technical resources of the time, as evidenced by the high definition videos taken from 1991 onwards. The project integrates technologies developed at EPFL laboratories, enriching and enhancing the world’s musical heritage as well as the school’s research.

A journey through the festival’s history
As part of this vast project, the EPFL+ECAL Lab was tasked to explore a way of transforming such a heritage into an immersive experience for the user through new technologies. Research was conducted in close collaboration with the Space Conception Workshop (ALICE - EPFL), led by professor Dieter Dietz who was in charge of working on the physical dimension of the experience. Several other laboratories also contributed to this project with their expertise, especially in the fields of acoustics (LEMA) and signal processing (LTS2). The indexing of the archives as well as a tactile table and intuitive browsing system have also been developed in EPFL labs.

The result, a 7x8m module containing no less than 1300 pieces of wood, opens new horizons by setting up a way in which digital formats allow you to travel amidst an almost infinite legacy, to cross decades, to evoke the ties between musicians and concerts and to access much more information. By combining architecture, interaction design and new technologies, the Montreux Jazz Heritage Lab showcases the power, richness and uniqueness of this particular digital content.