Welcome to my blog; inspired by Hemmingway's A Moveable Feast, a desire to record the more succulent and misshapen nuggets of my Parisian adventure in nibble-size lobes for your light-entertainment and my anticipated future memory failure, and to get some things off my chest and onto yours.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

'Low Tech' Sound Exhibition, Creteil

Being just outside of Paris, though just 15 minutes by métro, the glorious experimental funhouse of
Maison des arts de Creteil does not register on the radar of available museums, when I, and most Paris-dwellers turn theirs on.  That said, if the rule of having to be born within the city limits to be able to say you're Parisian is transferable to all things, I should of course be sued for featuring this art centre in this Paris blog.  But I think it could be worth it.

Having arrived there what we believed to be 1 hour 20 from closing time, on the exhibition's final day, we were met with the announcement that the venue was closing in 15 minutes.  So though slightly rushed, we managed to see the majority of exhibits, and for a sonophile like myself, the Low Tech Exposition Exit was a joy to behold...

On entering we were greeted with this:
That's right, balls on rods rotating by motors and knocking against a wall of cardboard boxes.


...Which is exactly how I like to be greeted.

Now, please press play on the widgeroo below to absorb the ambient sounds as we took a walk around the rest of the museum, and read on...

Our first port of call was the wall on which hung these delightful objects; essentially eartrumpets for the 21st century:

This was followed by a rare opportunity to experience the artist's impression of dancing cheek-to-cheek with yourself, by shuffling on the seat which pumped air into rubber cheeks strapped around you face from a bespoke helmet which dangled from the ceiling by a spring:

We then moved downstairs past some boxes which made electronic noises when wires were moved towards electronic elements to this large room, filled with rotating amplified wheels and other centrally-controlled mechanics, and complemented with a projection of a bird on the back wall.  It was assembled by the glorious Norwegian Verdensteatret collective, mixing audio and visual elements, striving to build "exquisite links between seemingly incompatible technologies and materials." *

Next door we came across this tower of wood, where on one side someone on an exercise bike races someone on a treadmill on the other side of the contraption to move a large wheel.  Who says art is pointless?  Not sure they read the bit in the rules about this being an expo about sound; either that or I didn't (infinitely more likely.)

To finish off the day, we walked past this tranquil scene...


* from 'Selected Mistakes, Recent works' brochure produced by Verdensteatret.

Monday, 19 March 2012

God's Almighty Organ

If you hear of a church organ concert for four hands, you would not be blamed for conjuring up visions of a haggard, dusty old man with a severe birth defect; perhaps from one of those mid-west American travelling carnivals, or an incestuously rural belt of darkest Shropshire.  You would be right to.  But in Paris? There must be some mistake?!

Yes, you idiot, you're the mistake.  It just means two people at one keyboard (or 'manual' if you're going to be like that.)

Now, here are facts...  As well as being the only keyboard on which it is considered common practise to use one's feet (like Fred Astaire in grey slacks), Church organs are the biggest instruments in the world.  The latter is irrefutably so, if you include the surrounding building as part of it - as I do - acting as the sound box or bell that gives the organ its signature sound; in this case the collosal, crushing sound of eternal damnation.

Eglise St Gabriel in the 20eme and it's medium sized organ
The only reason I enter churches is for music, and church organ concerts are fantastic things to experience.  I've been to others in Paris- there are weekly organ recitals in the bizarre innards of the église du Saint Espirit on Avenue Daumesnil, 12eme, Sundays at 18h.  One of the best church organ concerts I've been to was in Oslo's Cathedral back in '03.  It featured the music of Scandinavian composers from the first part of the twentieth century and the cavernosity (yes, that's right) of the cathedral made a delicously discordant echo chamber for this music, giving it such an immensity it was as if the sky was falling in around it, making you feel both excited and invigorated, much like being the victim of a violent massage from a Turk.

The 5 manual organ at Eglise St. Sulpice in Paris' left bank.  When this was built in 1781 with 102 stops, the phrase 'pulling out all the stops' had much more gravitas.
-photo taken from this great pipe organ blog: http://mypipeorganhobby.blogspot.fr/ 
Sunday's concert in the 20eme, while superbly executed, lacked a little of what I need from an organ recital due to the mass of the specific organ in question (see top photo.)  While its sound box (ie church) was large, the instrument itself was modest and failed to incite the cataclysmic fear that we seek on these occasions.

Here is an excerpt of an arrangement of Rachmaninov's Danse Symphonique Opus 45 No.2 for 4 hands from the concert, showing a range of sounds, from flute and oboe -esque to bontempi chord organ in a well.

Despite some lacking horse-power, I was as impressed as ever by the vast array of sounds that this ancient instrument is capable of impersonating.  From something like a trumpet, to something like a choir...to moments which reminded me of those lorries at countryside fairgrounds that open out to raucous phantasmagoria of brazen brass band music and jerky, mechanical men in candyfloss induced psychoses.
The following nine-minute medley from 2007's unforgettable Great Dorset Steam Fair, will be a more-than-sufficient introduction to those of you thusfar untouched by this phenomenon.  I should warn you, I hold these monsters accountable for 70-80% of my magical yet scarring carnival-based nightmares from ages 5-11.

I'll send you a quid if you continue to part 2.

The natural segue from here is to the almost entirely eccentric Wurlitzer organ -an acid casualty cousin of the venerable church organ.

Here is a video/photo combo (v/p-c) of the bestial 'Mighty Wurlitzer' (type 250, born 1929) which I was fortunate enough to see demonstrated in the muso's paradise that is the Berlin Musical Instrument Museum back in 20-10.  The footage video shows the seedier, funkier side of the pipe organ family, but not the outrageous sound effects which it is also capable of; attached as it is out back to a smorgasbord of clap-trap such as drums, cymbals, small chirpy birds (or things that sound like them), and of course the kind of mechanical paraphanalia that recreates thunder.

    He gets going around the 14 seconds mark...

Alack, I have digressed.  But before this blog post ends as horribly as a cliff's edge ends a fun run, I feel I couldn't leave it without noting the incorporation of a pair of rear view mirrors to the organ from last Sunday's concert in the Eglise St. Gabriel, and leave it to you to suggest below the most likely reasons for their fixture...

The unadulterated but truly awesome pipe organs, which have, in churches and cathedrals existed almost unchanged for the last 400 years, with their huge tone banks of voices are, I will have it, the true original Synthesizers.  Scores of lovely examples exist in Paris and are often performed upon, and it is quite probable you have one of these not far from where you live too.  So next time you're at a loose end of a Sunday evening, I urge you to seek out your local pipe organ and drown in the apocalyptic dirge of the heaviest metal you will ever have the pleasure of imbibing.

In Summary:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pipe_organ - that's right, I travel far and wide to research my blog posts.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The Paving Slabs

On a return visit south, in the garden:

'Would you do me a favour?'
'Sure, what do you need?'
'It's the paving slabs- they need a clean'...

A hunch was beginning to show
beneath the faded old brown garden coat
the first admittance of weakening
clung to the greatness of a tree

the first gymnastic, savage dance of the dying sage
a balletic parody of burgeoning fragility
pockets cloaking tender hands,
collared up.

'I've done the damp moss that runs the gaps
but these slabs are going to need a good scrub,
I'm afraid my back's playing up...'

He presented me with the appropriate tool
as a Samurai's inheritance, as a wooden plea

Ended with a good, strong wire brush
attached at the handle, with perfectly coiled twine
to a macgyvered retractable pole from elsewhere;
a bespoke implement for a bespoke task

'What are you going to call your invention...?'
'Long-armed wire brush'

I couldn't have described it better.

On a friendly host the algae spreads relentlessly
and left untreated, will take over completely.
I put my back and my whole into it
This was one pesky bunch of cells that would not win.

I grabbed the weapon with both arms
and scrubbed like his life depended on it.

This stone for the freedom you empowered me with
This stone for kicking the football with me when it was never your thing
This stone for your head of invention, passed on down the line
This stone for putting me through college, and life.

'You're doing a great job'

Because if a job is worth doing...
I gave that paving hell

And the crazed white noise of wire scraping stone only added to my zeal

'It makes such a difference you see'

Internalised sobs, gated from earshot;
the flat, angry slabs, shaking and blurred;
the wailing breeze flushes my head;
a cistern of liquid sad

'Looking good, Tim'

I'm sure it was you who taught me
that water evaporates

What do tears do?

You know more than most
that even water leaves a stain.

I'm sorry we couldn't keep up the schedule without you.
But that moss and grime has grown back

How do we protect ourselves now?