Sunday, May 31, 2009
Villette Sonique is an annual music event in Paris aimed showcasing new and old Rock, Pop and Electro artists ... this blurb is from their website
Will Future in music pass by a return to primitive instincts? These days, everybody speaks about tribalism, tropicalism and the new sound sensations quest. Villette Sonique 2009 takes place right in this mutation with a line up out of the usual musical boundaries. Following a breathtaking 2008 edition with rare bands performing amazing concerts (Devo, Shellac, Throbbing Gristle), this year’s leitmotiv is an unstoppable metronome.
We caught the opening night in the Grand Halle which was a bit of a rock all-sorts evening.
Men Without Pants were playing as we arrived, purported to be a "supergroup" composed of Dan The Automater (Gorillaz) and Russel Simmins (Jon Spencer Blues Explosion).
The live band only featured Russel Simmins. I love JSBX, they are a favourite live experience (especially when Jon Spencer is on fire with his "Elvis meets Jerry Lee via the bastard soul of a satanically possessed southern preacher man" persona) but Men Without Pants had none of that attitude. Simmins is a great drummer, but there were only a few interesting songs, and there was little interaction with the crowd. Russel Simins just walked off stage as soon as he had finished drumming for the last track without even acknowledging the crowd, or the rest of the group who were still doing their thing. They certainly weren't a supergroup, go and see Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
I have seen Sunn O))) before and know what to expect from their performance ... lots of extremely distorted, slowly strummed, heavily sustained chords, lots of smoke and the sartorial splendour of a medieval monk. That was exactly what we got.
Tonight SUNN O))) were performing The GrimmRobe Demos, but to my ears it wasn't that different to the gig I saw in Brisbane when they were touring Altar, an album they recorded and toured with Boris.
There was much smoke, much raised fists and slow punching of the air, much slow sustained, distorted chords, much more smoke, much holding guitars aloft to increase the grace bestowed upon them by their god of sustained, distorted chords, much more smoke ... and robes with hoods.
Sunn O))) are a bit of a joke for me ... a Jim Carrey type of joke with only one facet; he pulls "funny" faces; they play slowly strummed, heavily sustained, majorly distorted chords. I get it. It is a physical as well as aural experience. I get it.
If you haven't seen Sunn O))) before, here's a short video which will give you some idea (apart from the volume level and it's physical impact ... that sort of crapped out on my small digital camera).
I like their guitar sound but after 15 minutes it gets a bit repetitive. And they have the stage presence of watching a fire without the flame. There was even some booing after the set finished, although there were many fans with fists aloft at the front of the stage who seemed (un)happy enough.
Then The Jesus Lizard took to the stage as a part of their current reunion tour. Opening with a diatribe on the crappiness of the first two bands, they proceeded to tear the venue apart.
There was much stage diving, crowd surfing and spitting, and that was just from front man David Yow ... the audience joined in too. The power and energy from the stage was palpable.
Microphones were destroyed, kids kept invading the stage, sweat, spit and beer covered the stage, bodies leapt and were passed over one another, and still the music threatened and pounded.
The Jesus Lizard were the saving band of the night. Go and see them on their reunion tour.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Almost a month ago we were lucky enough to see one of the elder statesmen of electronic and experimental music in France, Pierre Henry, performing live at a six night spectacular of music and dance celebrating his amazing creations at Théâtre de la Cité Internationale.
Pierre Henry was possibly the first formally educated musician to devote his energies to the (then) newly evolving electronic medium. He was a member of the first group responsible for the development of musique concrète, one which often utilises "found sounds" and "synthesised sounds" rather than traditional instruments or voices and it does not necessarily contain elements traditionally thought of as 'musical', such as melody, harmony or rhythm.
At the event there were two dance performances using music created by Pierre Henry, but I'm not a big fan of dance so won't say very much about this. The man himself, assisted by Bernadete Mangin, played pieces which - over the six nights - spanned his career from 1950 until 2006.
For his performance, Pierre Henry was assisted to the front row of the audience, also facing the stage. On the dark stage there were a large collection of different speakers all facing towards the artist and the audience.
The room was darkened and (for our night) found sounds, creaking doors and windows, entered from the speakers on stage and surrounding the audience. We were then treated to an hour of electronic squeeks and belches, found sounds and synthesised stabs. It was great fun to see such a master at work.
Among his best known works is the experimental 1967 album Messe pour le temps présent, one of several co-operations with choreographer Maurice Béjart, which features the popular track "Psyché Rock."
But I can safely say that Pierre Henry's best-known influence on contemporary popular culture is via the theme song of the TV series Futurama . The tune is inspired by / a tribute to / ripped off from (choose your own position) Henry's 1967 composition "Psyché Rock".
Friday, May 22, 2009
It seems to have been months in coming, but the last few days in Paris have been lovely. The sun is constantly shining, and even warm. In fact there has been lots of sunshine all day long.
Not that even the cooler or wet days (of which there have been plenty since we arrived in March) would keep me inside for too long, most days I like to just wander around Paris for at least a few hours (as I have already mentioned). And many days would have a few fine hours here and there, you just had to choose your moments and occasionally travel with an umbrella.
But now that the weather is improving we are also able to sit out on the grass (without getting wet bums from the aforementioned rain).
So there are now more nice locations to do my french study in .. in the absence of the language school I've been enrolled in providing any quality tuition lately ... but that's another story which I hope has a happier ending than the one which currently seems to be suggested.
And with daylight savings implemented even the nights are still day.
On the daylight savings front, I was very disappointed to see that a recent referendum in my home state of Western Australia voted against implementing daylight savings, yet again. It seems most people in WA want to live in the past.
Anyhoo ... daylight savings in Paris has enabled us to spend much time outside into the evening.
So we can take our meals outside, and with a short stroll from the apartment down to the Seine we can join the hundreds of others eating, drinking, chatting and singing along the waters edge.
I'm sure as spring morphs into summer over the remaining two months we have left in Paris that there will be much more of this. Woo Hoo!
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
This post could also be titled "Free things to do in Paris once a year".
Saturday night was La Nuits Des Musees when most of the museums of Paris, and museums in many other european cities, open their doors for free from 7pm until midnight or 1am.
Unfortunately we also had a friend in town that weekend, so it was a balance between spending some time with them (as you do, there's nothing quite like spending time with friends in foreign cities) and visiting some museums.
We all met up at a bar in Beauborg and walked along the Seine to the Musee D'Orsay, a former train station in Paris.
Musee D'Orsay is a relatively small museum which we hoped wouldn't have too many people queued up to enter, and it also contains a good mix of (mainly french) art created between 1848 and 1914. But unfortunately our friend began tiring quite early, so after an hour or so we wandered off to dinner.
After dinner we left our friend to head home and we wandered off to see something a bit different at Musée du Moyen Âge which houses a collection of important medieval artifacts including sculptures, works of gold, ivory, tapestries (including the The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries), antique furnishings, and illuminated manuscripts.
It was interesting and very welcome to be queueing at 11pm at night, surrounded by a large number of 20-something year olds all seemingly excited about visiting the museum. In Australia I can only imagine such queues for a sporting event, and at 11pm one would expect such people to be queuing for a night club.
The building which houses the collection is the Hôtel de Cluny, constructed around 1334 (on the remains of Gallo-Roman baths dating from the third century) and the former town house (hôtel) of the abbots of Cluny. It is quite possibly the finest example still standing of medieval architecture in Paris.
I was also wanting to visit the Musée des arts et métiers to witness Foucault's Pendulum doing it's thing at midnight in the room made famous in Umberto Eco's novel called Foucault's Pendulum, but sadly we ran out of time.
But what a great idea, keeping museums open until (after) midnight, and for free!
Monday, May 18, 2009
I love walking around Paris, it is undoubtedly one of my favourite things to do here, especially when there is so much time to just enjoy the sights; the architecture, the people, the markets, the gardens, the public buildings, the churches and museums ... the history and culture.
Many days I will spend anywhere between 3 and 6 hours simply walking around Paris, the time just flies. As such I could be considered a flâneur.
One of the advantages of living in the 4th arrondissement is that one is in the centre of Paris, and because Paris is such a flat city it is very easy to walk everywhere within the peripherique.
Along the Seine is a favourite destination, starting near Hotel De Ville, walking along the Seine, where in many places you can get right down next to the water or stay up on the streets with the bouquinistes, past the Louvre and back to the Jardin des Plantes and finally back home.
There is a tourist boat which traverses a similar route, but I don't know how much it costs and I really don't know why domestic and international tourists want to be herded like sheep (i.e. both crammed in and blindly led) ... and charged for the "pleasure", especially along a route they can easily walk?
I also enjoy a gentle stroll along the tamer waters of Canal St Martin, and again there is a slow boat through the same waters, spending much time waiting at each of the locks.
But it is just as much fun to blindly wander the streets of Paris with no destination in mind, turning down whichever street interests me and seeing where that leads.
Recently on just such an amble with Elizabeth we wandered into the the Jardins du Palais-Royal where we stumbled across the public exhibition Mur De Berlin celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
We also spent some time listening to a talented orchestra playing many of the classics on the square at Place Colette.
I have recently started having some english <> french conversations with Elizabeth's french tutor Jean-Pierre. Jean-Pierre wants to improve his english for an upcoming holiday in New York and I obviously want to improve my french, so it is a win <> win situation for us both.
Some of these language exchanges are conducted sitting around in the small apartment Elizabeth has rented for our 4.5 months in Paris, but for others Jean-Piere and I wander the streets chatting in both english and french to help improve our skills. The other day we wandered through the streets of Belleville.
Jean-Pierre is also a talented and avid photographer and you can see his impressions of our wanderings here. Jean-Pierre has taken many very interesting photos, so take a good look around this site for some of his creations.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
It seems a little unfair to try to compare these two very disparate cities, but I can comment on my different experiences on this trip.
First up, in this modern day and age of travel, is the availability of wifi. When we began travelling with laptops in 2000 there was no wifi available in either Paris or London, but at least there were a large number of internet cafes in London. It was seemingly impossible to find an internet cafe in Paris then, with only a handful scattered through the city.
But as time moved on the availability of wifi in Paris has escalated dramatically, both "unprotected" wifi floating out of apartments as well as official free wifi sites around the city. There is very good wifi available at Centre Georges Pompidou, at several parks along the seine and throughout the city of Paris.
London, on the other hand, still has plenty of internet cafes available, and the occasional unprotected wifi connection available throughout the city or in some coffee houses, but London has very little in the way of official, free wifi apart from in the British Library. Even many of the cafes which "provide" wifi do so at exhorbitant prices.
Go Paris! I am even writing this blog entry using the free wifi at the Centre George Pompidou.
Next up I will look at museums and galleries. Both cities have very famous museums and galleries, much filled during their rampant years raping and pillaging other countries in the name of power and colonisation. Both have amazing collections from over the centuries and millenia, at times when the two "countries" were little more than a small collection of villages, if even that.
The museums in Paris are open to the public for free on the first Sunday of every month, whereas many of the museums in London are open for free, or for a nominal "donation", every day of the week. In London this means one can spend only an hour or two walking around looking at amazing history or art, in between visits to the pub, or the shops, or whatever else takes your fancy.
Go London, I especially like the Tate Modern Gallery and the British Museum.
Next up is pub/cafe culture, and this one especially comes down to my personal preference. The cafes of Paris are usually filled from morning to night with people drinking coffee, pastis, wine, beer .... it seems to be a part of their culture, and very civilised at that.
In London many of the cafes are the usual chains seen around the world, with people drinking milkshake sized (and tasting?) coffees from paper cups ... it makes me shudder. But London has some of the best beers in the world. I have a preference for their "hand pulled" real ales and no day when I am in the UK goes by without me indulging in one or two, and often many more, pints of real ale. Usually with some stodgy food thrown in.
But I must say that in the last 10 or so years the quality of food in British pubs has improved immensely. And the prices in London are much cheaper in general than those in Paris.
As far as food for vegetarians goes, French food has (always had) very little in the way of choice whereas in London there is a (slowly) growing amount of options, especially the vegie sausages available in many of the pubs over recent years. But Paris does provide an amazing selection of good quality fresh fruit and vegetables in their various markets and supermarkets.
Both cities have very interesting and enjoyable river walks, with both the Thames and the Seine flanked by colossal buildings celebrating the might and power of their nations, with a number of bridges dedicated to the pedestrian. With the Thames winding through historic old London and the Seine constantly moving around several islands in the inner city of old Paris I am unable to choose a preference here, enjoying the river walks in both cities.
As far as canal walks go, I much prefer strolling along the Canal St Martin than the occasionally difficult to find Regents Canal in London, which is often a bit more "industrial".
The architecture is unique in both cities, especially a walk around the old areas with their tiny winding roads and small buildings. And I like the fact that both cities have not been inundated with skyscrapers, although the introduction of new laws in Paris may see that change in the (not too distant?) future.
Paris recently introduced the velib, bicycles available on the street to all with a credit card and a few euros. Although the bike paths could be greatly improved, it is dangerous riding on the Paris strets with drivers not looking what they are doing, but it is still a wonderful initiative to see and it is soon to spread outside of the city. There are a number of these located outside our apartment and most days there are technicians checking the bikes are in the best possible condition, and with the Voie Georges Pompidou street along the Seine open to the public every Sunday, there are always hundreds of people using the velibs.
So it looks like I will have to be comfortable on the fence and agree that there are many aspects of both cities that I enjoy.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Last Saturday there was a very interesting music/performance/science experiment at Saint Merri, this time celebrating Alvin Lucier.
Two pieces were presented, Music for Solo Performer (from 1965) which is a performance for enormously amplified brain waves and percussion and Music on a Long Thin Wire (from 1977) which is a sound installation for audio oscillator and electronic monochord.
Alvin Lucier was an american composer and music professor who was most famous for his more experimental compositions. His performances were sonic science experiments as much as musical experiences, often creating relatively simple sounds and allowing them to forge a life of their own within the performance space.
The prelude to Music for Solo Performer was as entertaining, and almost as long, as the performance itself. The audience arrived for the scheduled start of the evening's performance and were treated to the artists still preparing the event, with a selection of percussion instruments spread across the stage.
Each of these was to be triggered by EEG electrodes attached to an artist's scalp (which we also witnessed being applied). The EEG machine (lent to the performers for the evening by a local hospital) detected bursts of alpha waves generated when the wired artist achieves a meditative, non-visual brain state. These alpha waves are then amplified and the resulting electrical signal is used to vibrate the various percussion instruments distributed around the performance space.
It really was as much a piece of science and theatre as a musical performance, with the rattling of plastic, metal, wood and water attached to or spread across the other end of the EEG machine creating something more akin to a clatter than anything resembling rhythm or melody, but it was a much appreciated and very entertaining performance which I enjoyed immensely.
It was then time for the artists to clear the percussion instruments and EEG machine from the stage and to set up the next piece. But this provided an opportunity to wander through Saint Merry, with only the distant glow of the lights from the stage and the nearby candles with the early evening light filtering through the stained glass windows.
For the performance of Music on a Long Thin Wire a 50(?) foot length of wire was strung across a section of the church and activated by an amplified oscillator and magnets on either end, producing changing overtones and sounds. The wave of the tone created was changing quite subtley during the performance and as we moved around the cavernous space of Saint Merry the quality of the sounds changed further.
As the artist adjusted the modulation settings on his effect pedal, and also fully stabilised the slightly off-balance table to which one end of the wire was attached, this in turn impacted the tonal quality of the single note being generated. This note continued to feed off itself within the various cavernous areas of the large church.
It was another very interesting performance at the beautiful Saint Merry, but sadly we had a very early start the next morning as we had to catch the eurostar to London.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Friday was May Day in Paris, considered to be one of France's most important public holidays, it is a time to celebrate the worker and to stand up for their rights. This is especially pertinent during the current global "crisis" ... when many people are losing their jobs across France and the Sarkozy government is trying to force through many unpopular reforms.
Across France on May Day 2009 there were estimated to be more than one million people protesting, whereas last year May Day marches across France only drew an estimated 100 000 - 200 000 people.
The rallies in France followed months of protests and strikes, including the ongoing strike at Hotel de Ville, and even a couple of "boss-nappings" where workers angry over job cuts held some managers hostage in an attempt to win concessions.
The atmosphere for the May Day march in Paris was a mix of celebration and seriousness. There were children in prams, parents, professors and pensioners protesting. The closest comparison I could think of to this type of congregation in Australia is the Sydney Mardi Gras (although much, much bigger, both in terms of the number of people taking part as well as in what they are saying).
Many of the streets which are often full of international and domestic tourists were full of people shouting and carrying placards.
Also sometimes it was difficult to work out which people were the protestors taking part in the demonstration and which were those on the streets supporting them.
Not all of the protestors represented local politics, there were also representatives from other countries supporting the cause.
We joined the march for a section of the walk in solidarity for what the were marching for and in our conern for what is happening to the average worker across the world.
There were many people wearing stickers labelled "Rêve Gènèrale", a play on the french word "grève" which is to strike, and "rêve", which is to dream. May their dreams and the dreams of all of the workers become a sustainable reality.