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Wednesday was yet another lovely day (ho, hum), but we were torn between spending time outside and listening to a couple of end of year jazz concerts at the Conservatoire de Paris (properly speaking, the Conservatoire national supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris) at La Villette in the 20ème arrondissement.

We compromised by walking up, about five miles. We started out through the Latin Quarter, where I noticed this segment of the 12th century city wall of Philippe-Auguste near the Panthéon.

12th century Paris city wall of Philippe-Auguste

We continued our stroll northwards, across the Seine, then along the Canal Saint-Martin, stopping for lunch at an old favorite, Chez Prune.

Bob and Jared at Chez Prune
Bob’s lunch at Chez Prune.

When we finally arrived at the Conservatoire, around 3:30 pm, we were bemused to learn that the jazz concerts had already finished for the day! A helpful lady said, however, that if we went in right away we could see a masters recital on the ondes Martenot (waves of Martenot). Neither of us had any idea what this might be but we made a snap decision — for a flâneur there are no wrong choices — and said “yes, please!” We were ushered into the magnificent organ room. Photos are prohibited at these performances but I snapped one of the room before it began.

Salle d’orgue at the Conservatoire de Paris

Only after the performance began did we even realize what the ondes Martinot was: It’s the stringed thing on the left that looks like a spaceship, the speakers in the middle, and the keyboard at the right.

ondes Martinot

There are also mysterious fabric squares called “patchworks” that are placed on the white rectangle below the stringed device. They are apparently quite important since before each piece the ondiste and each of the accompanists spent several minutes arranging and rearranging them!

The ondes Martinot is played with a ring on one of the ondiste‘s fingers that moves along a wire strung above the keyboard as well as with the keys themselves. This allows it to generate smoothly changing tones as well as discrete notes. The effect is always odd, often eerie, and sometimes gorgeous. We subsequently learned from Wikipedia that it was invented in 1928 by the French inventor Maurice Martenot, and that:

“The instrument is used in more than 100 classical compositions. The French composer Olivier Messiaen used it in pieces such as his 1949 symphony Turangalîla-Symphonie, and his sister-in-law Jeanne Loriod was a celebrated player of the instrument. It appears in numerous film and television soundtracks, particularly science fiction and horror films. Jonny Greenwood of the English rock band Radiohead is credited with bringing the ondes to a larger modern audience. It has also been used by pop artists such as Daft Punk…”

So we had probably heard the instrument before, but just hadn’t known what was making the hair stand up on the back of our necks. I might not be in a hurry to hear another such recital, but it was a quintessential flâneur moment!

Jared had to leave for dinner with a friend, so after the concert I was on my own. I took the métro down to Bercy Village on a whim, to have an apéro and get a selfie with an aisle of balloons that I had seen somewhere on line. Yes it’s quite the tourist trap — sue me!

Bob in full tourist mode at Bercy Village