Our route to a concert by early music ensemble La Simphonie du Marais on l'ile de Noirmoutier in western France took us via Saint Nazaire. I knew that the town was infamous as the base for the notorious Nazi U-boats that sunk so many ships in the Atlantic during World War II. But I had no idea what Saint Nazaire was like today. We parked in the unremarkable town centre and walked towards the docks area through a modern shopping mall.
Suddenly the chilling remnants of Hitler's thousand year Reich seen in my photos came into view. Allied bombs destroyed 85% of the surrounding town and killed almost five hundred French civilians. But the U-boat pens, with their seventeen foot thick roofs, survived all the bombing and a commando raid. They stand today across the road from the new shopping mall, exactly as they were built in 1941. They were constructed to withstand a direct hit from a 3.5 ton bomb and are literally indestructible. They will still stand thousands of years from now. At which time future archaeologists will doubtless conclude these strange structures were sanctuaries for a heathen god. Which they were, the god of war.
There is a musical connection to these sanctuaries of war. Above the U-boat pens an arts complex has been built which is the venue for the annual Festival Les Escales. It was at this festival in 2006 that the collabaration between French guitarist and composer Titi Robin and Pakistani qawwali singer Faiz ali Faiz started. From this grew their peerless album of settings of Sufi poetry Jaadu Magic. Once again music rises from the wreckage.
* Soundtrack - Adventures in Sound, an album of electronic music from musique concrète pioneers Pierre Schaeffer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Iannis Xenakis, Edgard Varèse and Pierre Henry. An extraordinary bargain at £7.99 from Amazon UK. As Pierre Schaeffer is quoted as saying in the excellent notes:
We learned to associate the lute with the Middle Ages, plainsong with the monastery, the tom-tom with wild primitive man, the viola da gamba with courtly dress. How can we really not expect to also find that music in the 20th century relates to machines and the masses, the electron and calculator?
* Jordi Savall wrote in his powerful introductory note for The Forgotten Kingdom that "Absolute evil is always the evil inflicted by man on man". The Madonna of Stalingrad provides a seasonal meditation on the folly of war.
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