ABOUT ONCE EVERY month or so, I wander up to Pigalle, one of the – how shall I say – one of the more ‘colourful’ areas of Paris.
Tourists of course flock here to see the world-famous Moulin Rouge with its sixty strong troupe of Doriss Girls and the plus célèbre can-can du monde. But they might also come to this neck of the woods to see some less glamorous things too!
When I emerge from Pigalle Métro station it’s not the Moulin Rouge or the rows of seedy sex-shops that I see, they are behind me in the opposite direction, it’s this gas station straddling the footpath that always catches my eye.
This is the point of departure for my monthly perambulation around Pigalle. Starting from here, I walk along the boulevard de Clichy, turn right into the rue des Martyrs, right again into rue Victor Massé and then right again up to the boulevard de Clichy and Blanche Métro station which is right in front of the Moulin Rouge.
And the purpose of my monthly visits …
I come to look at the sound shops, to see what’s new and to reminisce.
When I first came to Paris some fifteen years ago, Pigalle was awash with shops specialising in sound recording. For a sound enthusiast like me it was heaven. You could buy anything and everything to do with sound recording here – reel-to-reel tape recorders, small and large, giant mixing desks, microphones, loudspeakers, and more cables than you could shake a stick at. And the choice was huge, not just the choice of products but the places you could buy them from. Today, it’s very different. Save for a few small enclaves, sound recording shops are few and far between.
Star’s Music on the boulevard de Clichy used to be one of the biggest and best sound recording shops in town. Today, it sells mostly electronic keyboards, electronic drum-kits and a few musical instruments. There is a small sound recording department but it’s confined to a couple of shelves in a tiny part of the store. All is not lost though, they do have a separate shop next door dedicated to selling microphones and they have a very good selection.
Another shop specialising in microphones, but also selling sound recorders, is Le Microphone. It’s a small shop in the rue Victor Massé and they have a good range of products ranging from affordable, hand-held recorders to top-quality broadcast recorders together with a top-of-the-range selection of microphones.
Home Studio used to be a favourite haunt of mine. I used to spend hours in this shop just browsing at things I was sure I ought to have but didn’t actually need. Today, this shop too is full of electronic keyboards and a range of digital gizmos not only above my price range but most of them way beyond my comprehension.
Not all that long ago, Home Studio set up a separate microphone shop further along rue Victor Massé, a shop not only with a very impressive range of microphones but also, as I know from personal experience, exemplary customer service, a rare commodity in these parts. Alas, this shop is also no more. When I went to have a look last Saturday, the shop was empty and shuttered.
I still go to Pigalle every month or so to look at the sound shops and I still get that extraordinary buzz when something new catches my eye and just for a moment I’m absolutely convinced that I can’t possibly live without it … but the moment almost always passes and I come away empty-handed.
A journey around the sound shops of Pigalle used to occupy my entire Saturday afternoon or sometimes even longer. Today it takes me less than an hour to visit them all.
But there is an upside …
On my regular visits I now get much more time to explore the rest of Pigalle, the parts beyond the sound shops, the Moulin Rouge and the seedy side of life – places like rue Lepic.
Rue Lepic – A Soundwalk:
Rue Lepic is an ancient road climbing the Butte de Montmartre from the boulevard de Clichy to the place Jean-Baptiste-Clément. In 1852 it was renamed rue de l’Empereur, and renamed again in 1864, after the General, Louis Lepic (1765-1827). It’s one of those engaging Parisian streets where I love to do soundwalks.
I suppose it’s all too easy to look upon the past through rose-tinted spectacles. I still though treasure my memories of Saturday afternoon’s touring the seemingly endless sound shops in Pigalle, looking, touching and occasionally buying what was then state-of the-art technology. But times move on and technology seems to change at an ever-quickening pace. The sound shops that remain in Pigalle today sell some things that I recognise and completely understand and, every once in a while, still might buy. But they also sell things that are way beyond my understanding. I’m sure that even these state-of-the-art products will also become tomorrow’s museum pieces.
Yes, I do mourn the passing of all the sound shops that gave me so much pleasure all those years ago but I take comfort from having more time to explore the rest of Pigalle and being able to capture its sound tapestry – with a recording device that would have been unimaginable fifteen years ago!