5 min read šŸ¤“

accidental musics (S.i.W. 3)

feb 06, 2004.

Around noon this wednesday I was walking down the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, in the direction of the place des Ternes, in order to join the avenue de Wagram, which action in turn should lead me to the rue Alphonse de Neuville where I was to meet with someone.


Sirens started wailling.

But this was not because of sudden war, or some other natural disaster.

It was because they always do in Paris, as in many (most?) other European cities, the first wednesday of each month. At noon. A monthly test introduced at the end of the second world war. So sirenes have been wailing in Europe every first wednesday of the month for about sixty years now. Close to seven hundred and twenty times.

But in the heart of this city there's hardly anything alarming about their resounding. You can hear them, clearly, mind you, but in a way their wailing always gets pretty much muffled by the ongoing low drone of the traffic, nervously parading, the honking and tooting, and the people hurrying on, minding their business. I mean: for a minute or so there is this song in the air, but hardly a soul that'll stop and listen. (Many many more important things to take care of... ) So then, that's why I did. And turned on my dictaphone.

Continuing along the rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, and with the sirens still chanting, my eye fell on a crumpled up piece of paper and a torn enveloppe, with a very colourful stamp. I stopped to pick it up. It was a letter, written by, apparently, a prison inmate, and adressed at the court's lawyer. Here's what it said:

Objet: Me tenir informer du delai d'attente de la mise en liberté provisoire que j'ai introduite. Ne sachant pas exactement le delai d'attente de la mise en liberté provisoire que j'ai introduite auprès du parquet. J'e vous saurais gré de bien vouloir m'écrire très vite pour me dire le delai d'attente sur ce je vous prie de recevoir l'expression de mes salutations distinguées.

It felt like reading the lyrics to the song the sirens were singing.


Not much later - but I already had reached the avenue de Wagram - the sirens began wailing again. (Apparently the tests comprise activation at 12:00 and at 12:05.) A postman was approaching, dragging along a small metal cart. The cart's slightly off-beat clanking and cranking over the pavement's stones gradually faded in with the sirens long-tones-texture, set some surprising accents and marks, then faded out again.

The sirens stopped.

I crossed the rue de Prony. On the pavement at the other side of the street I thought I heard a women's voice speaking. I stopped and listened. Heard it again. It sounded as if generated electronically, and for a moment I thought it came from one of the cars parked near the zebra. But then I heard it was coming out of the crossing light.
The voice was electronically generated. It looped: "rouge piƩtons - rue de Prony - rouge piƩtons - rue de Prony - ...", obviously warning the visually handicaped, helping them to cross the rue de Prony safely. Good. But how curious at this, and only this, particular spot. As the light turned to green the pole glitched into an electro-generated beepy loop. Pretty joyous. For all to walk by on.

After the meeting, about three quarters of an hour later, I took metro line 2, eastward bound. On the platform of the Ternes station, I saw a bit of cassette tape dangling out of one of the dustbins. I got hold of it, before the train departed.

A couple of stations later, a woman got on the train. She started singing.

Most metro musicians are, and most metro music is, extremely boring. Always the same stuff, all are playing the same bunch of popular tunes - the things that are sure to please, and most of all: sure to please the incidental traveller, the visitors and tourists. They're not targeting the 'regulars'. [ Well, I'm pretty sure they got their business plan wrong. Pleasing the 'regulars' might just prove to be a far better long term investment ;-) ... note 1, feb. 07 - Don't get me wrong. I do not want to ridicule buskers and street musicians. I have a big collection of music recorded in the metro and in the streets, and lots of it is great, fantastic. But recently I just find myself thinking "Oh, not again ...!" way too often, when the next duo or trio of harmonica and guitar players enters a train and starts the umpteenth careless and sloppy rendition of another popular 'classic' ... then to quickly make a tour with their tin, only to jump into the next train to start the same tune over again; it is a trend that surely is related to the flood of immigrants from eastern european countries of the last couple of years; all of them have families, and all have to eat, obviously. But it is sort of sad - many of them are excellent musicians, mind you - to see how even this busking is becoming an 'only in it for the money' 9 to 5 routine job ... :-) ]

The woman on line 2 also seemed of eastern european origin. Gypsy, maybe. She was different though. She sang. Unaccompanied. A strange song. ('Strange to me ears', of course I mean). But I heard the tones she was singing, and I heard her voice. It was a beautiful voice. I didn't understand the words she was singing. But I understood what the music was saying.

[All this on wednesday, in somewhat over an hour, onwards from noon, gift upon gift. ]

[ note 2, feb. 07 - For some unclear associative reason, re-reading this post suddenly reminded me of an interesting entry I came across some time ago (december 2003) in Greg Allen's weblog. The post's title: 'Taxi Music v.1'. "I'd been in the habit of asking taxi drivers wherever I went if they had a tape we could listen to," Greg writes. "The response was almost always the same: "you don't want to listen to it; it's ______ (Punjabi, Urdu, Island, Ethiopian) music," followed by my standard reply, "But where else can I hear ______ music, except in a taxi?" Then the floodgates would open [...]" . ]

[ Earlier related entry: accidental musics (S.i.W. 2) ]

« | »