On 7 July 2013, invited by Meyer Sound, the ZioGiorgio team went to the French part of Switzerland to stay two days in Montreux, the beautiful town on the shores of Lake Geneva, which, since 1967, has been hosting one of the most famous music festivals in the world: Montreux Jazz Festival (MJF).
For the ZioGiorgio team it was an opportunity to hear, for the first time, the new Meyer Sound LEO system, chosen for the PA system of the Stravinski Auditorium, the biggest concert hall of the Festival, seating an audience of about 3,500. Over the years, the stage of the Stravinski Auditorium has hosted some of the most important musicians, and this year is no exception. This year’s edition, in fact, had a long list of important artists from all types of music: Diana Krall, George Benson, David Sanborn and Marcus Miller, as well Sting, Leonard Cohen, Prince, Joe Cocker, Ben Harper and many more. The evening we were at FOH position, we had the pleasure of seeing a real top act: Green Day, the US punk/pop band, who are touring European festivals this summer to promote their new triple album Uno! Dos! Tre! The following day we had lunch with the staff of Meyer Sound, including John and Helen Meyer, and, as the perfect ending to the day, we visited the magical chalet of Claude Nobs, visionary and historic founder of MJF, who sadly passed away at the beginning of 2013. What a fantastic day … but let’s get down to the facts.
Meyer Sound has been the sponsor of the Montreux Jazz Festival since 1986, and 2013 was their 27th year at Montreux! This year, as usual, all the stages of the MJF were equipped exclusively with Meyer Sound loudspeakers, supplied by Swiss rental company Skynight. In the afternoon before the concert, thanks to the excellent organization of the Meyer Sound team, we also had the possibility of a technical tour around the different venues of the festival. Miguel Lourtie, European Technical Services Manager at Meyer Sound, presented the products used on the different stages, such as the M’elodie speakers, 700-HP, UPQ-1P and UPA-1P, in “The Studio”, the hall dedicated to clubbers. M’elodie and 700-HP were also used for the outdoor stage “Music in the Park”. MILO systems with 700-HP as main PA instead in the “Montreux Jazz LAB” hall, with 2,500 seats, previously called “Miles Davis Hall”, and which, this year, also had a dedicated system for disco events with JM-1P and 1100-LFC speakers. For the “Montreux Jazz Club”, and its smaller, more intimate hall with 350 seats, UPA-1P and UPJunior speakers with 500-HP and M1D Sub. At the end of our tour, we reached the Stravinski Auditorium, where the supporting band of Green Day were finishing off their sound check. We had the chance to hear the last two songs and get a first idea of the new LEO system.
Miguel explains: “The PA system has two arrays with seven of the new LEO-M elements together with three MICA systems, which are the main left/right arrays. There are also two UPA-2P each side as Out Fills. To give the area just behind the first central rows a sound image of the l/r array we use two UPQ-1P as In Fills. And to cover the triangle created between the two main areas in front of the audience we use four MICA speakers as Center Fills. To have precise control in the area directly in front of the stage we’ve used eight M’elodie right along the edge as Front Fills. And for the reproduction of low frequencies there are six 1100-LFC elements on each side, hanging behind the Main arrays, in cardioid directional configuration. The system management for the alignment and equalization is done by a Galileo 616 AES and two Galileo Callisto 616 processors.”
And now for a real juicy bit of exclusive news! Who else, if not John Meyer himself could give us the details of the project and installation for the audio system in the Stravinski Auditorium, the historical collaboration of Meyer Sound at the MJF and the idea behind their new linear system LEO? John is a real visionary and writing his ideas down in an interview doesn’t really give an idea of his personality and charisma. Just imagine that after the first question, John spoke non-stop for almost 30 minutes, answering the questions I had prepared even before I asked them – doing me out of a job! In fact, at the end of the interview, in his really laid back way he said: “in any case you’ll put the question in, right?” ‘ So enjoy this rare interview with John Meyer…
ZioGiorgio.com: Who worked on the system design at the Stravinski Auditorium?
John Meyer: It was teamwork. We’ve been working for many years with the Montreux Jazz Festival and on the system at the Stravinski in particular. The organizers’ initial idea was to have an auditorium that would work acoustically for both classical and pop music, but they soon realized that a single physical solution didn’t exist. We then worked with them on a solution that would combine both acoustical treatment and active sound reinforcement. This resulted in improved acoustics for the festival’s programming, although we would have achieved an even more dramatic effect if we could add even more curtains and damping material.
ZioGiorgio.com: What reverberation time would have been best in a venue like this?
John Meyer: If sound reinforcement is involved, a room should have a reverberation time of around a second. Reverberation is a complicated topic. Even though the coefficient of reverberation is a constant, the effect of reverberation can change from one instrument to another depending on the sound source. At a lower volume, the sound of an instrument fades out quite rapidly. With a strong sound source, on the other hand, it can last longer. Different types of materials require different reverberation times. Having proper room acoustics is only half way through the job because sound reinforcement works hand-in-hand with the room’s acoustics.
ZioGiorgio.com: The other half of the job is to build high-performance sound reinforcement systems?
John Meyer: Right. The first sound reinforcement systems were primarily used for the broadcasting of speaking/speeches and in cinemas. With the arrival of pop music, companies started to put together dedicated “sound systems” for concerts. For example, the Grateful Dead’s “Wall of Sound” gave more sound power to each musician to be heard in bigger venues. But when we reached areas for 60-70,000 people, the stage became too loud for the musicians. And so we started to move a part of this sound away from the musicians, and also introduced delay.
The concept at the time was to build customized systems to amplify single musical instruments for the artists, and these systems would also serve as an extension of their instruments and amplifiers. Nobody made linear systems that would faithfully reproduce audio content. When I was at the “Institute for Advanced Musical Studies” in Montreux, six years before we founded our company, I went against the trend to build a system that could amplify classical and other types of music.
They were relatively powerful systems that could be used for jazz, classical, and rock’n’roll in outdoor situations. I was most interested in moving away from having a dedicated speaker for classical, and another for rock’n’roll, and so on. Having a neutral and linear system that can handle different content faithfully is and has always been the Meyer Sound concept for sound systems.
ZioGiorgio.com: And this is where the new LEO system comes on the scene?
John Meyer: Right. One of the things that we wanted to demonstrate with LEO is that we have the power to satisfy really lively bands, but that we can also do more ‘delicate’ acts such as, for example, Leonard Cohen, who was the opening act of this year’s MJF. LEO is a really powerful system, it’s just like having an 800hp Ferrari. This type of engine means more flexibility for any situation.
ZioGiorgio.com: How long did it take you to create LEO?
John Meyer: The development of the LEO system took up to five years. Making a linear system so powerful, lightweight, and reliable was quite a challenge.
ZioGiorgio.com: What’s behind the linear technology?
John Meyer: The idea of ‘linear theory’ actually comes from the FM radio in the 1940s. The networks at that time found a way to mix together different sounds of instruments, like violins and voices, transmit them as a single signal, and then separate them again as single instruments. And this is why linear theory was developed, to avoid using ten different transmitters for ten different signals. It was just a way of combining signals, to then separate them at destination. For a speaker system this means being able to reproduce the sound of a violin and a human voice together. It was later taken up with Linear PCM digital technology transmission.
ZioGiorgio.com: So you have in fact made speakers using linear technology?
John Meyer: Linearity has always been a fundamental value for Meyer Sound. When we buy a preamp or a mic for audio recording, we want it to be high quality, without distortion. But most people have long accepted different speakers to have different sounds. For us, speakers should reproduce audio in a linear manner and not add sonic characteristics to the signal.
In the 1940s, linear theory first blossomed in the high-end home audio system market, but it didn’t catch on in PA and cinema. Budget concerns hindered innovation, as innovation often required taking risks. Many companies built very similar products. We are a small company with different dynamics from the conglomerates. While it’s important to make a profit, we have the flexibility to invest in R&D and new ideas, like implementing the linear concept.
Before we develop new products, we try to anticipate the advantages new technology can bring before the demand arises. This approach can be risky, as it’s rather difficult to convince people to be excited about technology that they don’t know anything about. You can try to describe this new linear system, but it doesn’t really mean anything until you have heard it being used during a show, as we did last night at the Green Day concert. The positive feedback we’re getting from all over the world is incredible, and this is really exciting for us. LEO has reproduced at least 500 bands and many promoters and FOH engineers seem to be really impressed. My favorite testimonial came from Big Mick [Hughes, FOH engineer for Metallica] when we met up in San Francisco: “It’s really funny, you just push the fader up and it gets louder”.
Meyer Sound supplied all the audio systems, and Shure was there as a partner for all the mikes and wireless systems. DiGiCo was, on the other hand, chosen once again by the MJF as official music provider for mixing. All venues had SD series digital consols of all sizes, from SD-Ten in the “Jazz Club” up to SD-7 in FOH position at the Stravinski Auditorium. But this last aspect was actually “snobbed” by the sound technician of Green Day, who chose a similar solution, with a Midas XL 200 desk and three racks full of sophisticated outboards (api, Maselec, Chandler, Empirical Labs, Universal Audio, Jensen, TC, SSL, Lexicon, Eventide etc.).
The concert that we just saw in FOH position was really exciting. Right from the very first song, Billie Joe Armstrong and his fellow musicians set the Stravinski on fire, with the unconditioned support of their fans. The almost 4,000 people present were there to enjoy themselves and they sure did, singing at the top of their voices for over two hours, and responding to the continuous incites from the frontman of Green Day.
Right at the start, the sound was a bit mixed up, but about two songs in, Kevin Lemoine, the FOH sound technician for Green Day, had already created a really strong ‘in the face’ sound. The yield of the PA system was impressive. The sounds of the guitars, especially Billie Joe’s, were devastating, really beautiful. Very tight low and medium low frequencies. The bass drum was a real punch in the stomach and the bass guitar, rigorously played with a plectrum, could be heard perfectly along all the range of frequencies. Billie Joe’s voice was sounding very similar to the recent records of Green Day, that is: super compressed and even a bit boxed in. Mixed together with the instruments it worked really well. And not only the voice, but generally all the instruments were quite compressed, and observing the Midas console, a lot of channels of the XL 200 were at saturation level.
The new Meyer Sound LEO system is certainly the winner of this concert; we can imagine that the sound technician had a painter’s ‘palette’ to create his own idea of sound in complete freedom. Great power, lots of punch and high transparency: these are the impressions we got from the new Meyer Sound linear system. Just a note: the volume of the concert was really high. Let’s say that Kevin Lemoine really did his stuff. Keeping the volume at an average of 106 db RMS (measured in A and with refresh every 15 minutes) means having peaks of even 120 db. Ok, we’re talking about rock’n’roll, but that was maybe a little bit too loud.
This year’s edition of MJF, the 47th since its set up, will also be remembered as the first without one of its historical founders, Claude Nobs, who directed the event for many years, and who, unfortunately, passed away in January this year at the age of 76, due to an unfortunate skiing accident. His life was a marvelous story, and visiting his magic chalet “Le Picotin” you really get an idea of his enthusiasm, seeing the collection of an impressive number of the most diverse types of objects and, of course, his biggest passion, music, with an incredible archive of audio and video recordings – more than 5,000 hours of concerts in high definition. Thanks to the company Montreux Sounds, which manages the archives of the festival, these recordings are digitized and indexed to preserve them for years to come. With regards to technical levels, the MJF is and has always been ahead of times, and alongside the high definition recordings already 20 years before the appearance of digital in homes, the first concerts in 3D were recorded right here in Montreux in 2010.
On the top floor, up in the roof of this ‘house of marvels’, there is a special room to watch and listen to concerts of previous festivals. Thanks to a large video screen and an excellent audio system like the Meyer Sound Constellation, you seem to be watching the musicians live at the concert. The sound is reproduced by a system of speakers installed in front, behind and above the heads of those listening, which makes this experience a real visual and listening journey of sight and sound. Surrounded by the sound, we really seem to be in the Stravinski Auditorium or in the Miles Davis Hall.
We have to say it: class is class. Meyer Sound at the MJF has, once again, demonstrated that it is an innovative company, that is not afraid of investing its resources in new projects, and the great success it has confirms this. The high esteem that many professionals have all over the world for their products, and more recently for the new LEO system, is just further proof. In these two days at Montreux, we now understand the reasons behind this success even more. Obviously, at the base, there is the important high technical quality of their products, but it was also nice to be able to see that at human level, Meyer Sound is a company with important values too. Sure, finding a couple like John and Helen Meyer at the helm of a team certainly helps a lot, but we were also able to see that their employees and collaborators are a really close and dynamic group. You can see the satisfaction that they have in doing their job well, and the atmosphere is really relaxed and positive. Our great thanks to all the staff of Meyer Sound at MJF, for having made us feel at home and part of their big family during our two-day visit. It was a real pleasure…
Particular thanks go to our “Hosts” Scott Gledhill, Meyer Sound European Sales Manager, Jodi Hughes, Meyer Sound Marketing Manager and, of course, John and Helen Meyer.