Thursday, June 09, 2005

Tour Notes #3: Strasbourg

May 31

Xiao-Fen and Yumiko were along on this trip because of Carl's piece Lauburu, which they were going to perform twice, in Strasbourg and Bourges. The piece goes like this: Carl has a series of events which he's composed, and put onto a guide CD. He transferred the material on the CD onto a pair of iPods, which the two women would wear. They would hear the material, and react to it with voice and/or instruments, individually or in duos, according to the score. Meanwhile, Carl transformed the material -- which the audience would never hear in its original form -- on his laptop.

Strasbourg was a full six-hour drive from Montreuil, broken only by a lunch-stop at a rest stop with an excellent salad bar/buffet, which turned out to be the third-best meal on the trip. Because of the time, and because the three hadn't rehearsed the piece yet, there was some anxiety about getting it right and doing the sound-check, so we drove straight to the Contemporary Art Museum, where we parked the huge beast of a Hyundai 7-seater.

What followed would have been a comedy of errors if time hadn't been so crucial: the iPods refused to start where they were supposed to. Everyone was on the verge of tearing their hair out: every time Carl counted down to the point where they were to start by pressing the buttons, each performer got different tracks. At some point, the soundman walked out: it was dinner-time for him, and nothing would interrupt that sacred moment, so Carl had to keep jumping up and running hither and yon in the room to hear what was happening. As for me, I gave my feedback, and finally things worked well enough so that they were able to run through the piece a couple of times. With only an hour to show-time, it was decided not to check into the hotel until after the concert and the dinner afterwards.

Carl was wiped, and went into the dressing room to crash. The ladies got made up. I wandered around and changed into better clothes, because I knew I'd be selling CDs after the show. I also checked the art museum's shop, because I'd forgotten to pack any t-shirts. Not that I need more t-shirts, but I was pretty stinky after the heat, and a fresh one seemed like a good idea. I am now able to report that the Strasbourg Contemporary Art Museum is the only museum in the Western world that does not sell t-shirts of any kind. Go figure.

Opening the show was a duo from Strasbourg called La P'tite Maison, who had spread two tables on stage with a bewildering variety of electronic equipment and toys and gadgets, which usually is a neat warning of a group without much to say, but plenty of junk to say it with. Nope. They held me rapt for their nearly hour-long set, starting by turning on an oscillating fan, with a mike at one side, so that the drone came and went. What they had in common with Carl's music was a sense of musicality: there were no tricks here at all, and what looked like gimmicks were for the most part seamlessly integrated into their explorations of calm, lush soundscapes. I sat rapt for their entire hour-long set. Take a bow, Jérome Pergolesi and Philippe Petitgenet!

I don't know if it was because the afternoon's maddening technical problems had made everyone hyper-aware, but the performance of Lauburu was stunning, crackling with energy as everyone attacked their parts with vigor. The audience, which nearly filled the 160-seat auditorium, loved it, and the applause afterwards was sincere and strong. I was probably the only person there, though, who detected a "Whew" from the three performers.

The museum's musical curator, Patrick Javault, hopped into the van with us and I drove a very meandering route through the medieval streets of Strasbourg to the restaurant where we were going to have our dinner. Unfortunately, once we got there, it had already closed. No matter, there was another. It, too, was closed. Finally, we hit an Alsatian restaurant (Strasbourg is in Alsace, of course, and this means the food is very close to German -- something I'd been hoping to avoid, since I was getting out of Germany for a week), Au Coin des Pucelles on the rue des Pucelles. Wags had kept knocking off the "I" from the restaurant's sign, so now they leave it off permanently. The meal was fine: I had a terrine with three cold salads, while others had choucroute (that's sauerkraut to me) and the part of a pig's foot they call Eisbein here in Berlin.

Finally, we made it to the hotel, the only one on the trip, as it turned out, the mis-named Comfort Inn. When I got to my microscopic room, I discovered my passport was missing. This, along with the charcuterie trying to digest in my stomach, made for a restless night. Just as I was settling off to sleep at last, my toilet kit fell off of the tiny shelf in the bathroom and the contents hit the floor with an alarming sound. Ah, well, it could have been worse: the stuff could have fallen in the toilet. And the passport showed up the next day, right where it should have been.


I'm alarmed to note that when I tried to download the pictures I took of this trip -- specifically some of the soundcheck -- my computer no longer recognizes that there are pictures in the camera. If I can fix this glitch, I'll come back and insert pictures in this post. I blame iPhoto.

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