Du monde au Balcon: Pierrot Lunaire at the Théâtre Athénée

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I was nervous about this one. An ensemble of twentysomethings staging Pierrot Lunaire sung in French by a man? Would the Sprechstimme sound like Serge Gainsbourg? And could a young troupe like Le Balcon, led by suspiciously hip 27-year-old Maxime Pascale and making their debut as resident ensemble of the Théâtre Athénée, really shed new light on this dark and twisted masterpiece?

The changes they made to language and voice type are apt: Pierrot is a sad creepy French clown after all, and the German texts Schoenberg chose for his 1912 atonal melodrama are translations from the original French poems by  Belgian symbolist Albert Giraud. The male transcription that replaced the usual shrill soprano recitations allows Pierrot himself to stand before us in all his grotesque glory. And so Damien Bigourdan donned the wig, daubed his face with a bit of Rorschach-inspired fluoro warpaint, squeezed the teats of his trannie vest and leered at his audience, all the while singing in a plangent, haunting high tenor.

As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, there were the spookhouse-gone-too-far projections of Colombian video artist Nieto for him to interact with, both on stage and on the large white orb hovering high over the musicians. As part of this nightmarish trompe l’oeil with its occasional black humour, Pierrot ripped open his torso to reveal beating heart, viscera and spleen (the symbolists did love their spleens); grumbled when his head was impaled on a cello spike; smoked a pipe made out of a live bird skeleton, and lurched into the orchestra pit to terrorise the quintet with a handycam, which he shoved into the conductor’s mouth, gleefully extracting a tooth.

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La lune malade really was sick as they come, reflecting by turns an all-seeing eyeball, a nipple, flowing blood mingled with a dash of red wine, the ‘pallid drop of blood [that] stains the lips of a consumptive’… All writ large on a full moon to make you froth at the mouth. And I for one couldn’t look away.

The rich yet intimate interior of the rococo-meets-art-nouveau Athénée Théâtre Louis-Jouvet was the perfect fit for such a richly decadent vision. At interval from the comfort of my private box, while smokers crowded onto the ornate balcon, I frottaged every surface I could: red velvet railings, thick velvet curtains, velvet-upholstered doors, velvet ropes and velvet seats. Wisely, Le Balcon followed the eerie sensation overload of Pierrot Lunaire with Morton Feldman’s radiophonic Paroles et Musique (Words and Music) to sparse text by Samuel Beckett, with the musicians and voice actors (Bigourdan and Éric Houzelot) hidden behind a screen until the very last moment. Apart from a few major themes like paresse, amour, âge and visage, I missed a good chunk of the stammered French translation, eventually closing my eyes and resting my head on something soft (I think it might have been velvet?) as each austere, repeated musical gesture washed over me in surround sound.

Pierrot Lunaire plays until Saturday 28 September, tickets from €7. Photos by Meng Phu.

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Heart of Glass, Heart of Gold: a festival the French can’t quite pronounce

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Now that I’m here in Paris, I never want to leave. But believe it or not, I occasionally I get wind of something going on somewhere in the world outside of Paris that’s tempting enough to travel for. I hate it when that happens. It’s usually with a heavy heart that I board the outbound TGV.

Not so for Heart of Glass, Heart of Gold, a new alternative music festival tucked away in the Rhône-Alpes’ medieval village of Ruoms with a line-up of more than twenty artists including Efterklang, Au Revoir Simone and even a Kiwi, Connan Mockasin. With access exclusively for those who book one of the in situ bungalows housing groups of four, six and eight, this three-day indie music idyll is for hipsters who love the vibe of an outdoor festival but don’t like getting their ripped jeans dirty pitching a tent (or, as in my case, don’t know how), and prefer to queue for waterslides than for portaloos.

1237971_653163621395369_362065384_nI didn’t exactly have to cross the ocean to get there. A two-hour TGV plus 100km in a big black tour van careening along verdant paths past scarecrows holding bottles of wine, and before too long we were sipping Ricard on the balcony of a wooden hut bigger than my Paris apartment, admiring the sunset daubed across the mountain ranges and joking about how this was ‘le camping sauvage’. In this shantytown of a summer music camp you really got to know your neighbours — my roommate, hitherto a complete stranger, told everyone she had ‘slept with the Australian’, leading to much giggling and confusion whenever I passed by. They tended to be the sort you’d love to meet in Paris, though many hailed from nearby Marseilles, Grenoble and Lyon. (It wasn’t smiles and hugs all round though: a few bungalows were inevitably cased for laptops and smartphones, the more naïve cabin dwellers horrified to discover that bad people could dig good music.)

You also got to know the bands. In the al fresco dining area overlooking the rocky little amphitheatre, there was no such thing as the cool kids’ table — everyone was approachable. The first people I offered to share my mustard and mayo-smothered barquette de frites with turned out to be one of the bands, who reciprocated with two water bottles of smuggled refreshment: one of strong screwdriver vodka orange; the other just plain vodka. The frontman, on 42 days of sobriety, amused himself instead with my hula hoop; as did the tomboyish young daughter of festival founder Melville Bouchard who was wandering the grounds. At a karaoké session that kicked off at 2am, after playing a dreamy set under the stars, Connan Mockasin again took up the mic to wail and whine to Purple Rain. I chose Trenet’s La Mer, sung in spasmodic duet with a German synth wizard who jovially fumbled through the French.

At this inaugural Heart of Glass, Heart of Gold (HOG HOG) festival, the atmosphere was lively but relaxed; the crowd of around 700 was intimate enough that I never had to struggle on tiptoe to view the stage or squeeze my way through a sea of elbows to the front. One reveller took her dog into the pit with her on a leash; they both seemed to enjoy the music. Two balloons bobbed gently along our heads.

With a name like Au Revoir Simone the all-girl synth trio could easily be mistaken for French ingénues, but are in fact all-American sweethearts. ‘Merci beaucoup!’ they cooed demurely after their first song, and then: ‘It’s so nice to be here with you under this beautiful moon’ — can’t argue there. Like Samson’s power, much of their effortless glamour seemed to come from their hair, a uniform of fringe and long tresses that seemed to be the only part of them that moved when they danced. I enjoyed their austere arrangements but occasionally longed for some Andrew Sisters harmonies.

London neo-disco foursome Gramme was just the ticket to shake everyone out of their twilight reverie. As if dancing on hot coals, frontwoman Sam Lynham Taylor didn’t stop twirling and kicking her heels for a moment, and really put her backbone into bashing that cowbell. Energy kept building from there with the duelling drums of French group Zombie Zombie, whose brute-force ritual beats were suffused with Etienne Jaumet’s eerie sci-fi and B-grade horror synth. Around 2am, primed for the festival nightclub, the crowd dispersed.

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During the day, my fellows were either too hungover to explore the village 2km away, or simply content to drape themselves over the deckchairs by the sparkling Hollywood pool-party pool and let eclectic DJ sets wash over them. A few of us banded together for a spot of yoga cosmique, offering up our lazy sun salutations to the golden rays of the Ardèche. On the Saturday morning I sauntered down to the old centre historique — ironically one of only two places I managed to get wifi — to peer into stone medieval cottages still occupied by French families today.

Before the bands started up again at 2pm, it took only a couple of hours of my morning to kayak, mostly leisurely, through the granite gorges of Pradons and Chauzon. Fortunately three singing Belgians (not affiliated with the festival) were on hand in canoes behind me when I plunged straight off the edge of a waterfall, having failed to take advantage of the nifty channel to the far right. This made an excellent adventure story to tell festival folk, who were impressed that I had strayed from the campsite at all.

A few French superlatives for the second sunset viewed from our balcony, and off we went for more music. Efterklang’s synth-pop was over-polished; I admired the pitch-perfect,Screen Shot 2013-09-25 at 7.06.02 PM swooping vocals of guest soprano Katinka Fogh Vindelev but longed for the experimentation of early albums, and even when the dapper Danes tried to be raucous it came out too refined. Though Casper Clausen’s bowtie and smile were too tight for my taste, he managed to charm the appreciative crowd.

Connan Mockasin, by warm and welcome contrast, grinned Connan Mockasin 204sweetly from under his shock of albino hair — a magician on guitar as he toyed with the structure and mood of his psychedelic love-ins. That fey, shaky little voice of his gave the fluid sensuality of the music a vulnerable core, and endeared him to me almost as much as his Kiwi-speak (sitting down at the edge of the stage to ‘goss’ intimately with the audience, then launching into another song after ‘stuffing around’– gems I hadn’t heard since moving to France).

IROK 230Wisely, they saved the most energising and uncivilised for last. I.R.O.K (Intergalactic Republic of Kongo) is the kind of musical collision that could only have come out of London: a swarthy part-Moroccan pirate of a frontman, a Eurotrash keyboardist who would have thrived in Klaus Nomi’s band, a bassist channelling the cowboy from The Village People, a cockney-as-they-come drummer, plus an African drummer for good measure — Rage Against the Machine meets Fela Kuti might just about cover it. Thrashing about under the strobe, the manic Mike Title invited the audience to climb up on stage with him for the customary crowd surfing, shouting breathlessly that we should be equal to the band. Two minutes later he was ordering us all to sit the fuck down. You could say they were one big mixed message. And that is no bad thing.

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The next day we cleared out our bungalows, lolled by the pool declaring we didn’t want to leave, delayed leaving as long as possible, and eventually left, though not without a song or two in our hearts. The covoiturage I rode back in took twice as long as the train — a full six hours on the road — but in the company of new friends it seemed like half the time. They delivered me to my door at exactly midnight, just in time to watch the bulbs of the Eiffel Tower sparkle in a paroxysm of delight at my return. Paris was just as I had left it; maybe even a little brighter.

Band photos by Vincent Arbelet. Other photos by Yasmine Ben Hamouda.

Fatoumata Diawara: Jazz (et environs) à la Villette

Fatoumata Diawara par Samuel Nja KwaFrom Montreux to Melbourne, festival curators these days are treating jazz as more of a gateway drug than a main event. (And who knows what John Zorn was imbibing when I saw him here in Paris last weekend.) If we revisit the mummy mascot of Jazz à la Villette, we see that the names streaming from his grisly gauze to prove that ‘le jazz n’est pas mort’ colour our cadaver shades of afro-funk, soul, electro, blues and pop. The only concession to sepia-toned jazz à l’ancien comes from an unlikely source: Bryan Ferry, British rocker of Roxy Music fame.

I guess that’s how I came to be dancing atop my seat at the Cité de la Musique salle de concert watching Paris-based Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara whip her beaded braids hypnotically around her head in a frenzied musical trance. Like her album Fatou, the gig began intimately enough, with solo acoustic guitar and gentle, plaintive vocals in the statuesque Diawara’s native Wassoulou language. Only the bold colours and traditional patterns of her off-the-shoulder dress — coupled with soon-discarded pink sneakers — hinted at the seismic force she would unleash along with her band of guitars, keys, kit and conga.

Before I knew it I’d succumbed to a hypnotic beat; the human kaleidoscope on stage had traded her acoustic for an electric; somehow, like one of those snake nut cans bursting open, the red and yellow turban popped off high into the air to reveal those dancing medusa braids. Every other part of Diawara danced too, as she twirled, stomped, gyrated and kicked up a voodoo can-can around her bandmates, blowing into a whistle at full volume to martial her audience.

With rhythms as infectious as her constant smile, it was easy to comply. Helpfully, Diawara offered a lesson in traditional African dance: ‘à droite, à gauche…shake it!’ Simple enough that the septuagenarian couple in front of me could follow the steps while wildly groping each other, the monsieur’s suspenders scandalously slackened.

In between dedicating songs to young African women subjected to genital mutilation and cries of ‘Je suis fière d’être touarègue!’ she checked in with the audience: ‘Est-ce que ça va? Vous n’êtes pas trop fatigués?‘ Stoically we summoned the last of our stamina, no match for her untameable energy and charisma.

What’s jazz again? Who cares. Shut up and dance.

Jazz à la Villette finishes tonight, Saturday 14 September, with slightly more jazzy fare. Photo of Fatoumata Diawara by Samuel Nja Kwa.

Dream team of screams: John Zorn in Paris, Jazz à la Villette

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While most Australians were downing chilled beers with an eye on the vote-count, awaiting the anointment of our next Prime Minister, I found myself thrashing about in a former abattoir-turned-arena in Paris, listening to Mike Patton screaming for two hours straight. A timely alternative to following the federal election back home.

The late-night screaming match came towards the end of a marathon trio of concerts celebrating the 60th birthday of John Zorn, a major event at this year’s Jazz à la Villette. The festival’s logo is a mort-vivant, a mummy in motion — rushing to a concert, judging by the names of musicians printed on the bandages streaming behind him. The slogan is borrowed from Frank Zappa: ‘Le jazz n’est pas mort, il a juste une drôle d’odeur.’

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Zappa’s words ring true for his successor Zorn, the New York saxophonist/composer who wears his free jazz as loose as his army cargo pants. Over six hours, braving queues several hundred metres long at the Grande Halle de la Villette, audiences were subjected to the full force of his schizophrenic acid-bop, with its fits of death metal, psychedelia and chaotic klezmer.

The first of the three sessions, kicking off in the Cité de la Musique at 4pm, exposed fans of this hardcore Zorn to his softer side (though no less potent or complex) as avant-garde composer. Nice to open these Parisian concerts  with a French connection: Illuminations for piano, bass and drums is an atonal jazz tribute to Rimbaud, from Zorn’s 2012 album named for the symbolist poet. The Holy Visions featured Australian soprano Jane Sheldon in an a cappella female quintet, each singer armed with a discreet silver tuning fork to navigate harmonies that slip from Hildegard von Bingen into Berio and back again via the occasional doo-wop detour. The group ended not on a chord or cadence, but on the gesture that usually opens a vocal work: a collective drawn breath – here a self-contained, silent rhapsody; a feather on the breath of God. The Arditti Quartet maintained this meditative mood in The Alchemist, with that special blend of impassioned abandon and pinpoint-focused sound that places them among the greatest interpreters of contemporary music for strings. For their efforts, founding violinist Irvine Arditti earned an appreciative kiss from the composer atop his Einsteinian shock of white hair.

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpgIn the 7pm session, The Dreamers explored Zorn’s distinctive take on Jewish jazz with excursions into surfer rock and Sephardic melody. Like a volleyball coach seated on the sidelines, he directed his eccentric septet with wild gestures, excessive spirit fingers and eyebrows dancing well above spectacle line. You could almost see the resulting live wire pass fiercely but playfully from him to vibraphonist Kenny Wollesen (mallets flailing in a blur), to guitarist Marc Ribot as he whiplashed his head about in rhythm, to drummer Joey Baron, whose explosive energy came tumbling out on the toms. Zorn at last picked up his saxophone in the Acoustic Masada quartet, duelling in close combat with trumpeter Dave Douglas. ‘They told us to stop at 8.15 but we’ve got too much music to play! We’re gonna go til 10!’ he yelled out extravagantly. In other words: it’s my party and I’ll jam for as long as I want to.

In the final concert’s Electric Masada, Ikue Mori’s computer and synth textures (she’s listed mysteriously in the French program as playing machines) and the spectacularly bearded Jamie Saft’s swirling keyboards created an eerie intensity that was still buzzing in my ears as I descended into the métro at 1am. If extreme crooner Mike Patton sounded at times like a squealing pig led to the slaughter, Zorn on sax often looked and sounded as if he was trying to strangle a flamingo that had no intention of becoming foie gras at the birthday dinner.

Throughout the three concerts, the quality and diversity of collaborators demonstrated that this is a true musicians’ composer. He may be 60, but Zorn is as hyper and innovative as ever. Jazz isn’t dead; it just smells like teen spirit.

Jazz à la Villette continues until September 15. Australians can catch John Zorn’s 60th birthday program (isn’t it always the case that touring composers celebrate major milestones over two years instead of one?!) at the Adelaide Festival in March 2014, tickets on sale October 29.

La Tour Est Folle: l’amour, 100% made in France (and hypoallergenic)

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It’s the iconic symbol of l’amour in the most romantic city in the world. And lovers come from far and wide to pop the question atop this monumental phallus.

Now you can take a satisfying piece of Paris home with you, to do with what you will. Half-Peruvian Paris-based artist Sébastien Lecca has released La Tour Est Folle (a pun on ‘La Tour Eiffel’): a functional rubber objet d’art in the shape of the world-famous love totem, standing proud at 26cm from base to tip (the real thing is 324m high) and available in five colours, of which ‘le fushia explosif et brillant’ is proving most popular.

Unlike most souvenirs you might pick up in Paris, it’s 100% made in France — right down to the packaging — so it’s stimulating the French economy in a big way.

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You can see Lecca’s whimsical chalk drawings of foetuses all over the streets of Paris. I followed the trail to his cramped, creaky corner of the famous artists’ squat at 59 Rue Rivoli, a carnival fun-house acid trip of 30 diverse artists working together in a share-house heaving with colour and creativity. It’s open for public drop-ins so you can see the results splattered all over the floors, walls and façade of this grand old six-storey edifice. Here, Lecca insisted I take one of his creations (‘de la couleur de votre choix!’) and cheerfully chatted with me about life, the universe and everything — but mainly about dildos — for a good 30 minutes while bemused visitors wandered in and out.

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ML: When I look at La Tour Est Folle, it seems like the most obvious thing in the world to have a sex toy in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. How come no one’s done it before?

SL: It does seem self-evident, but I reflected on it for a year and worked on it for five months, sculpting the ceramic prototype here in the studio. I wanted to create a sex toy and go beyond the taboo of these objects before I had the idea of using the Eiffel Tower. There are little ducks, crocodiles — everything you can imagine — and I knew there was a space for artists in the midst of all that, but didn’t immediately have a concrete idea of what I could do.

ML: So were you walking the streets of Paris one day then suddenly looked up and had your answer?

SL: Well, my middle name is Gustave, like Mr Eiffel, so it’s only natural that I followed in his footsteps! Everyone thinks of the Eiffel Tower as the phallic symbol of Paris. Even Gustave Eiffel thought of it that way; I’ve seen archival sources where he talks about the phallic dimensions of his project and how it would shock people. Tourists in the sex shops of Pigalle ask if such an item exists; it was inevitable that someone would do it, and just happened to be me.

ML: And what have public reactions been like in the first few months?

SL: The gay community loves it, it’s sold well in gay shops; it’s in the Musée de l’Érotisme and other galleries in France, Tokyo and Ibiza; it’s popular with tourists, as a gift for bachelorette parties. A lot of people who buy it are buying a dildo for the first time. Because it stands upright so sturdily on its pillars, there’s talk of using it in safe-sex programs demonstrating how to put on a condom. But above all, it makes people laugh.

ML: It’s an iconic symbol of France, 100% made in France. Do you consider it patriotic?

SL: There’s this paradox that France is ‘the land of love’, the French have an international reputation for being incredibly romantic and sensual, but in terms of export we’re only known for our artisanal products — lavender-scented cream, hand-made chocolates, candles — and not for our objets d’amour. At the moment it’s the German, Swedish, Chinese and American sex toys that are most widely recognised.

To put an end to that paradox, we launched Plaisir de France, an association for manufacturers of sex objects made in France with the objective of cultural diffusion, to increase the visibility and awareness of these products, to democratise our sector of the industry, liaise with export partners, create local jobs…

ML: But as an artist working in a grungy, DIY space like 59 Rue Rivoli, isn’t it strange to be so heavily involved in the commercial and marketing side of flogging your product?

SL: There is no contradiction between business and art. There is only a contradiction between representation and ideology. In reality, an artist is also an entrepreneur. If as an artist you have something to say, you have to find the means to say it. You have to get involved in the marketing, communication and PR side of things.

ML: And is the result still art?

SL: Artists in general have a strong, instinctive curiosity for questions of sexuality. Making love is a creative act; it’s like making art! La Tour Est Folle is effectively art because it’s the realisation of a concept. It’s the conception of a joyous, playful humanising image of sexuality; a vertical vision, from the earth to the sky. Between the extremes of pornography there’s a respectful space where there’s a freedom of expression, where anything is possible.

Le foetus, le phallus, these symbols are all part of the universal themes I explore: life, love, our animal nature. In French imagery, there is the French kiss, the French touch, the romantic capital. I play with that cliché. As an artist, I quickly work out what the cliché is and ask myself how to subvert that, transform that. People don’t just like La Tour Est Folle because it’s a dildo; they like it as a decorative object.

ML: So do you think people use it, give it a wash and polish and then display it on their mantle again?

SL: That’s what’s happening!

ML: What’s next for La Tour Est Folle?

SL: There are plans for a model that lights up, just like the real tower. We’re developing a mini-motor with new technology made in France. And I’ll be touring to Las Vegas, São Paulo and eventually Sydney to represent Le Plaisir de France internationally.

ML: Have you had imitators?

SL: No copies yet, but I’m sure in China without doubt there’ll be a copy on the way. If ours is a little more expensive than something that’s eventually produced in China, it will still be the original, of the best quality available, and 100% made in France.

So if you can’t surprise your sweetheart with a trip to Paris, La Tour Est Folle could be the next best thing, available for €39.99 at www.latourestfolle.com. Amusez-vous bien!

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A different kind of Concert Hall: Nouvelles Vagues at Palais de Tokyo

pdt-nv-144This summer, my first spent entirely in Europe, I’ve played at being a professional festivalgoer. That meant bidding farewell to the Sydney Opera House and seeing the insides of a lot of concert halls. In Aix-en-Provence, I was blasted to the back of the stalls by the brass section in the Grand Théâtre de Provence, then huddled under a blanket under the stars in the open-air Théâtre de l’Archevêché. In the Grosses Festspielhaus Salzburg, I screamed ‘Bravo!’ at the timpanist in the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra’s Mahler, and spent the following night marvelling at arches hewn out of rock in the cavernous Felsenreitschule.

All prestigious venues, all powerful experiences. But none of them made me smile quite like the Jean Barberis-curated Concert Hall installation, currently on display at the Palais de Tokyo’s summer exhibition, Nouvelles Vagues.

The placard describes a ‘monster installation’, but it’s worth pointing out that we’re dealing with a small-scale, friendly monster. Exploring the gallery’s vast, concrete interiors, I come across a ramshackle hut, probably no bigger than my 20 metre-squared Parisian studio, constructed by the Rabid Hands collective and Brooklyn-based Sunita Prasad using found objects and materials rescued from landfill. You couldn’t fit an orchestra in. Still, cacophony beckons.

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Entrez; it’s like stepping inside a magical, malfunctioning music box. Though of course, everything in this cave-like interior is functioning intricately: automated glockenspiels tinkle away, an accordion hangs suspended from the ceiling, a set of heavy old hardbacks are transformed into a bass as part of a robotic rhythm section complete with mechanised drumsticks. Tangled wires, knobs and dials take over the space like the inside of a greenhouse left to grow wild. If Kubrick’s HAL 9000 had just chilled out and started a one-man band, it might have turned out a little something like this. The ghost in the machine twitches to life through a computer linked to a MIDI system, triggered by and interacting with visitors’ movements.

But the best surprise is that the surround-sound musical results are really rather lovely –far from stiff and robotic, it’s as if the robots gathered together for a tea party. Fans of Múm and The Books will appreciate the tuneful, glitchy folktronica by Julien Gasc, Nick Yulman and Ranjit Bhatnagar.

pdt-nv-146As part of the multidisciplinary collaboration that cobbled all this together, there are kaleidoscopic video installations and flashing lights by maya.rouvelle and Frédéric Durieu; unnecessary in my opinion, but nonetheless making a trip to the concert hall a delightful sensory overload. Patrons, please be advised that this production uses large amounts of charm and whimsy.

See Concert Hall as part of the Palais de Tokyo’s Nouvelles Vagues exhibition, running until 9 September, 2013. Photos by Aurélien Mole.

Les Siestes Électroniques à Paris, Musée du Quai Branly

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un DJ

 Sunday 28 July, Musée du Quai Branly

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At Silencio I complained that the VIP crowd was too fashionable to do anything so uncouth as dance to some catchy Asian pop, lest someone’s gangnam a-go-go be deemed outdated. But on Sunday I attended a completely different musical gathering – as relaxed as Silencio is pretentious; free and open to the public where David Lynch’s nightclub is pricey and exclusive; sur l’herbe and sous le soleil, hours before the underground bar opens its doors to the well-heeled, well-coiffed clientele.

And still, despite two stellar DJ sets, nobody in the crowd of 300 revellers danced. Not because they were too cool; simply because they were too lazy.

This was, after all, a siesta, held annually on every Sunday in July, during which the Musée du Quai Branly invites music lovers into its sprawling zen garden to listen “à l’horizontale”. That is, to stretch out and veg out while the DJs keep the tunes fresh as the surrounding greenery of the Théâtre de Verdure.

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There are plenty of idyllic parks and public spaces where you can claim your own patch of Paris to doze on in the dappled sunlight – the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Canal St-Martin among my favourites – but there’s something special about the Quai Branly museum’s vast bamboo gardens that make them the ideal venue for Les Siestes Électroniques. Designed by the renowned botanist Gilles Clément as a space “conducive to meditation and dreaming”. Their mascot is a tortoise, the very emblem of laid-back tranquillity. As soon as you penetrate those long glass partitions that seem to stretch on forever, you’re shielded from the urban noise and pollution in an oasis of plantlife as exotic as the contents of the museum.

Fittingly for a museum that goes by the motto “là où dialoguent les cultures”, the DJs and musos chosen for these Sunday sessions were of the sort that dabble in exotic sounds, and were invited to dig around in the Quai Branly médiathèque recording archives for music from five continents to integrate into their own styles sortis des sentiers battus.

This year’s line-up for Bastille Day included one of my favourite French adventurers, Pierre Bastien, working his sonic wizardry on African recordings sampled from the museum, accompanied by his robotic ensemble Mecanium on his own collection of instruments from Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Morocco and still farther afield. Weird, I know. And the effect is hypnotic; sublimely soporific but never boring.

But on the final Sunday a trip through Asia was just the ticket with Gangpol, who served up a mai tai of Cambodian funk, Filipino anti-colonial anthems, coquettish Thai duets, tacky Taiwanese pop, Cantonese mambo, and whatever other delights fell from the shaken coconut tree — along with the occasional French spoken-word radiophonic interjections.

Through half-closed eyes I could see the mild-mannered, silver-haired gentleman behind the decks smile, jive and air-drum his way through the hour-long Asiatic reverie. He faltered only once, explaining to the crowd that a “coccinelle” (ladybug) had landed on the disc he was spinning; gently he coaxed it onto the loudspeaker. I was enjoying the music too much to nod off, but not enough to offer myself up as the sole dancer in a sea of bodies in sweet repose on mats and cushions provided by the museum.

The whole shebang ended with Air on the G String arranged for marimba – Bach’s is a universal language, after all.

Les Siestes Électroniques return to Paris July 2014. Stay tuned for next year’s offerings. In the meantime, head to the Musée du Quai Branly and check out the L’Invention des Arts ‘Primitifs’ exhibition, running until 22 September, 2013.