Tuesday Aug 21

Paris: The City of Music!

Paris deserves its "City of Light" sobriquet. The French capital shines on sunny days and sparkles on crisp, clear nights. And even when the sky is clouded over, Paris has an intrinsic glow. It's uncanny.

On the other hand, "City of Music" would be an equally apt description. Paris abounds in concerts, recitals, shows, and operas in halls and cathedrals. (That's L'Opéra Bastille glowing in the upper photo at the right.) Clubs feature music of every description. Musicians and performers show up in market areas, subways, and along any streets where crowds of strolling Parisians and tourists might gather.

In addition to live music, one finds small CD shops populating every Parisian shopping district. These typically display rack after rack of interesting compilations of vintage pop, jazz, ethnic, international, and classical performances at bargain prices. Figure the equivalent of $5 a disc and possibly less since in many of them, the prices go down as you buy more.

At the other end of the price scale are the recent recordings which you'll find in Virgin Megastores and equivalent outlets. There CDs sell for the equivalent of $20 to $30. I'm talking about single disc releases here, not sets. It's the musical equivalent of the European gas pump sticker shock that US drivers experience.

On a recent Paris sojourn, I noticed what appeared to be a small hi-fi shop a couple of blocks from my hotel. The marquee said Movie Store, but a peek through the windows disclosed plenty of music-oriented gear--new and used--in addition to video products. I stopped in and the proprietor, Philippe Ganancia, showed me around.

Movie Store turned out to be much more extensive than I thought. In addition to the main showroom at street level, four impressive theater installations filled a lower level one flight down. Those rooms exemplified what prospective clients might enjoy in their own homes.

Most of the shop's sales involve custom installation and full automation. And, according to M. Ganancia, "There's always a stereo room." It's that City of Music thing again. What could be more appropriate to a music-loving Parisian than dedicating a room to proper two-channel reproduction as a complement to a room with a fully developed home-theater installation?

But Paris can not take City of Music as even a secondary nickname. It already belongs to Cite de la Musique, a major part of La Villette. La Villette is a giant arts, sciences, and shopping complex at the northeast edge of the city.

The major attraction in Cite de la Musique is the Musee del la Musique. And that museum's outstanding feature is a permanent collection housing and displaying nearly a thousand musical instruments from ancient to modern times as well as works of art related to music. Every visitor receives a headset that plays commentary and samples of music appropriate to the various exhibits.

From these extensive exhibits, you gain insight not only into music across the centuries but also into daily and cultural mores in Europe throughout those times. Consider, for example, a display case featuring a collection antique miniature violins in tiny cases. These were not toys, but rather instruments that people would tuck in their pockets when they went visiting so they'd be prepared for impromptu 18th century jam sessions.

The museum also presents concerts and organizes temporary exhibitions. I missed the concerts but was able to see (and hear) Espace Odyssee: Les musiques spatiales depuis 1950. For this exhibition, the museum apportioned its temporary exhibit space into sections indicated as Intro, Concerto, Radio, Video, Electro, Stereo, and Capsulo.

Radio featured an installation of seventeen Tivoli Model One FM radios arranged on low circular pedestals and tuned to emit multiple avant garde musical works by the likes of John Cage, Luciano Berio, and Saturo Wono.

Capsulo was the culmination of the odyssey. It was a circular room outfitted with a computer controlled eight-channel sound system playing mainly electronically created compositions. Capsulo was totally enveloping and a bit rich for extended listening. But it was an appropriate climax to a day well spent in the City of Music.

Until you get to Paris, you can of course check out the Musee de la Musique online at http://www.cite-musique.fr. You may want to click the British flag in the upper right to get the English version of the first pages of the site. And, yes, there's music there, too, including high definition videos of recent concerts at the museum and Salle Pleyel.