[sdiy] Cite de la musique, Paris

David G. Dixon dixon at interchange.ubc.ca
Sat Jan 30 19:46:09 CET 2010

I went to the Music Museum at Cite de la Musique in Paris today.  It's
brilliant.  If you enjoy looking at musical instruments, and find yourself
in Paris, you really should plan to spend half a day there.  They give you
an electronic doodad with headphones, and all the displays have one or more
audio presentations, and there are quite a few video presentations as well.
All in all, it has to be one of the nicest museums I've ever seen.

They have a reasonably interesting synthesizer collection, including a giant
modular synthesizer/mixing desk/tape recording station which looks like
something from the Apollo mission (Houston, we have a problem!  Your VCOs
aren't tracking!).  It was built in 1967 (according to the little sign) and
was apparently the first modular synthesizer built in France.  The modules
are very simple, but there are a lot of them -- about 12 VCOs, a few
envelope generators, a couple of filters, a few VCAs, and a couple of ring
mods, all patched from an enormous pin matrix.  Oh, and it has two big,
spherical metal speakers on either side.  Neato!

They also have something called a "gmelophone" (IIRC) which looks like a
cross between a mixing desk and a Swedish modern dinette set, two Moog units
(a 900 series from 1965 and a Moog Percussion synthesizer of about the same
vintage (who knew?), a giant E-Mu system which apparently belonged to Frank
Zappa (which the sign said was built "around 1960" even though the company
wasn't formed until 1971 (!) -- when I pointed this out to the guide, he
said that was why the sign said "around" 1960), a VCS-3, a couple of Ondes
Martenot (but no mention of Messiaen!), and a few other odds and sods.  I
was expecting a bit more, and I must say the whole display was a little
dead.  The E-Mu was so far in the back that you had to squint to see what
the modules were (man they used a lot of jacks!).  Also, nothing was
patched, and it didn't look like any of the stuff was ever used (unlike the
rest of the museum, where the instruments are used fairly often).  It was
almost as if they all wished the 20th century had never happened (musically,

I'm a huge fan of harpsichords and lutes and stuff, though, and that part of
the museum is absolutely fabulous!

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