I walked the Avenue des Champs-Elysees a couple of times, up towards the Arc de Triomphe and back down to Place de Concorde and Tuileries, covering both sides of the perpetually busy road. The Avenue was what I expected it to be: lined end to end with designer shops, restaurants, tourists and image-obsessed locals. A couple of Starbucks rounds out the picture. In all my time there I stopped in two shops, the FNAC (French Best Buy, basically) and the Virgin Megastore. This says a lot about me.
The shelves in the DS and PSP “jeux video” sections were filled with most of the same crap that I’d be avoiding in Canada. I did find a copy of “Dr. Reiner Knizia’s Brainbenders” for the DS, a Europe only release I was eager to purchase, but the box was entirely in French which made me question whether the game was too. It would be safe to imagine that it would have multiple language options, but I didn’t want to take the chance; I’ll buy it in London. On other racks I noticed various “English Training” games for the DS which I thought quaint. I considered buying one for the novelty of it.
Is there anything new on the portable systems worth playing? Or is it a complete mess of licensed games and rehashes? Disappointing.
Thankfully, the music sections in these shops were quite good and I spent most of my time there. They’re not much different than the flagship Zavvi or HMV shops you can find in the UK or Canada, but it’s interesting to note the few minor regional differences. There was a section devoted to French bands and singers, of course, but it goes beyond that. In Canada, if you were looking for an Aphex Twin album you’d look in the “Electronic” section; in the UK it’s under “Dance”; here in Paris, it’s in “Techno.” To my untrained ears it seemed like an awfully specific label for a section that contained everything from Squarepusher and Justice to Air and Crystal Castles, bands that I’d hardly call “techno.”
Right next to “techno” was another rack labelled “trip-hop” and a wall of nothing but “House.” I wondered for a moment where I would find Portishead’s third album — their first two are universally classified as “trip-hop” but “Third” is its own thing altogether — and I think it saw it in yet another distinct section. “Electronic” might be vague but when I go looking for an album in the HMV on Yonge Street in Toronto, I know where to look. Here, I’d have to browse through three or four different sections.
There was also an entire wall dedicated to “lounge compilations.” This too seemed correct for France.
The final thing I noticed was that both of these retailers had considerably larger “contemporary composer” sections than can be found in similar stores in Canada. However, this could be a case of confirmation bias on my part. My interest in this music has grown recently so I might be noticing it more than I ever did. Ten years ago I was completely unaware of the “electronic” section in my local HMVs (or Sam The Record Man) and now it’s the first place I go. I’ll have to check the shops in Toronto when I get back to see if contemporary composers are as represented there as they are here, but man, I was tempted to get a few CDs for the fear that they might not be.
Unfortunately, the couple of items that I was specifically searching for I could not find. I hoped to find Kap Bambino‘s album “Zero Life, Night Vision” seeing as they’re French but when their label says that the album is “sold out” they aren’t kidding. It’s a shame. I understand why artists like that get such a limited print run, but they deserve more exposure in these post-Crystal Castles days, especially since they’re better and, as is typical, they predate them. Alas, it’s not how good you are, it’s who you know.
I didn’t want to leave empty handed so I bought Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” went home, hit YouTube and posted this incredible video to my Tumblr.
Thusly summarized it better than I ever could:
what is actually going on here will sound somewhat familiar to those who understand how to modulate sinusoidal waveforms binaurally or have at least learned “beat-matching”. this instance, however, involves the pianist attempting to play one piano at a very precise tempo, while simultaneously (and very minutely) increasing the tempo (based upon a sinusoidal timeline) played on the other piano. thusly bringing the two pianos into, and then out of, phase — thereby never achieving actual synchronicity until the 1st note on each piano being played is matched up again, then the performance drops to 8 notes and the cycle starts all over, then again to 4 notes.
it is also worthy to note that this composition is twenty minutes long in its entirity and is meant to be played by two pianists. the fact that one person can mentally and physically process this is truly astounding.
All in all, it was a worthwhile trek.