Forever ahead of the technological curve, the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival has recently been digitising its entire archive in conjunction with the Claude Nobs Foundation, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and data specialist HGST.
Established in 1967 by a team led by Claude Nobs – a legendary figure in the music industry who also served as the event’s general manager and all-round global cheerleader – the Montreux Jazz Festival (MJF) remains one of the world’s best-loved music festivals. Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett and Santana are among the countless major acts to have played historic sets at the Festival, whilst the fire that devastated key venue the Montreux Casino during a show by Frank Zappa in 1971 famously inspired Deep Purple to pen one of rock’s most sacred texts, Smoke On the Water.
Despite the tragic death of Nobs in a 2013 skiing accident, the spirit and purpose of the festival he spearheaded for so many years remains undiminished. An integral element of this vision was an interest in documenting performances that saw it become one of the first festivals to instigate the systematic recording of concerts for the benefit of future generations. Since then, it has explored the potential of technologies such as 3D (in partnership with the Nagra Kudelski Group in 2010), 4K 3D (with NVP3D and RTS in 2012), and, most recently of all, 360-degree video and 3D audio in collaboration with the companies PRG and Audioborn.
So it is perhaps unsurprising that it has also been a trailblazer with regard to the digitisation and long-term preservation of its considerable archives. Initiated in 2007, the Montreux Jazz Digital Project sees the festival and the Claude Nobs Foundation working in partnership with the Metamedia Centre of research institute/university École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), and aims to digitise the entire, near-five-decade archive.
We are talking here about some 5,000 hours of concerts, involving more than 14,000 tapes covering 11,000 hours of video recordings and 6,000 hours of high-quality audio (including multitracks). Underlining its long-term importance, the collection is logged in the Memory of The World register – the UNESCO initiative that recognises documentary heritage of global significance.
A few years back EPFL engaged the services of data specialist HGST, whose Active Archive technology provides the basis of the new storage infrastructure. Speaking to PSNEurope during IBC 2016 last September, HGST senior director market development Data Center Systems Business Unit Jeff Greenwald (pictured) says that the archiving team – which includes many students at EPFL – had an immediate advantage in the fact that “they had audio and video of everything! Nothing was missing at all. And the quality of the coverage has consistently increased over the years; they started filming in HD as early as 1991, whilst today they can be doing a 17-camera shoot in 4K/HDR [High Dynamic Range], with 360-degree audio. So they have always been ahead of the curve technologically and the result is an archive that is regarded as a global treasure.”
The primary workflow for the project entails EPFL’s own software being used for duties including ingest, management, transcoding and playout. The Institute’s students are conducting the not inconsiderable task of metatagging all the content, whilst the HGST Active Archive System provides storage. Designed to address the need for rapid access to massive data stores, the Active Archive System delivers 4.7PB (3.5PB usable) in a single rack. (HGST has just increased that capacity to 5.8 PB with the new 10 TB HDDs.)
“Effectively we are delivering [the archive systems all] ready to rock’n’roll; they just have to plug them in,” remarks Greenwald.
Lynn Orlando, senior manager outbound marketing Data Center Systems Business Unit at HGST, notes that the EPFL and MJF teams are also “adding all kinds of other material, such as press cuttings and interviews, to the archives. They will really help to tell the stories of the concerts and the events surrounding them.”
Whilst the digitisation process is now nearing a conclusion, Alain Dufaux – operations & development director of the EPFL Metamedia Centre – says that there are numerous other ongoing aspects to its collaboration with the festival. “Around this famous archive, the engineer school in Lausanne has launched many innovative projects in technology, adding value to the archive through the competences of researchers working in domains such as signal processing, acoustics, design or architecture,” he says. “Automatic video defect detection and correction, musical recommendations, solo detection, aesthetic song thumbnail creation, or virtual acoustic reconstitution for the Montreux concert venues are topics that were or will be developed in the future.”
In terms of public access to archive material, Dufaux adds that “a new building is about to open on the EPFL campus, with a special Montreux Jazz Café to present [these innovations] to the public – for example, allowing people to discover the archives on iPads placed under sound showers, or in an immersive video + 3D audio platform called the Montreux Jazz Heritage Lab.”
In addition, the scope of the overarching archival initiative is set to expand further in the future. “Next to the ingestion of new festival recordings every year, the sustain phase of the project will now start,” says Dufaux. “As a challenge, it aims to maintain access to the archives for the researchers [for many years ahead]. New projects will start improving metadata and develop studies in different fields of digital humanities, such as musicology, history and social sciences.”
Main picture: Asgeir performed at this year's MJF. Their contribution will be archived and eventually digitised. Credit: Daniel Balmat