All that jazz: a virtual concert archive is making noise at EPFL

All that jazz: a virtual concert archive is making noise at EPFL

The world’s largest audiovisual library has opened at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland – and it’s setting a new jazz standard. Housed in Kengo Kuma’s angular new campus building, right next door to the Montreux Jazz Café, the Jazz Heritage Lab consists of the largest collection of live audiovisual recordings in the world, with a special emphasis on jazz, earning itself a place on the UNESCO ’Memory of the World’ register. 

The intention was not to replace or recreate the electric experience of going to a concert – this would be impossible, admits project curator Nicolas Henchoz. The goal instead was to ’make the most of what digital has to offer, in order to create an alternative, complementary experience’.

Statistics, dates and times flash along the walls as the concert recordings play. Photography: Joël Tettamanti

All 5,000 hours of audiovisual recordings were made at the Montreux Jazz Festival over the last 50 years – which has hosted the genre’s most renowned and pioneering performers, from Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis to contemporary jazz masterminds like Marcus Miller and Mac Demarco.

Alongside the researchers and doctoral candidates at architecture-meets technology firm ALICE, Henchoz developed a unique, ’double-curved’ central screen on which to project films from the concert archive. LED-lit partitions flash with information and statistics from the concert on display, while semi-transparent outer walls offer views towards the Montreux Jazz Café, providing intimate cultural context. 3D speakers absorb sound reflections within the installation, creating a vacum-like listening space, so every cross-rhythm, crush and cadence is vivid. To select their track from the 44,000-strong list, visitors flick through an innovative browsing system, scrolling along a horizontal timeline.

The immersive library offers unparalleled access to special moments in musical history, preserving and celebrating them. Although, of course, this digital environment could never feel quite the same as standing underneath the bell of Davis’ blowing trumpet, it’s a pretty sound alternative.

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