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About

My name is Des Coulam and I have been recording sound on and off for the last fifty years. The digital age has made sound recording easier than ever before with smaller, affordable, high-quality sound recorders and a plethora of good quality microphones to suit every application some of which are more affordable than others. The old adage remains good – spend as much as you can afford on a good quality microphone! But hardware is not everything, it’s simply a means to an end. Unforgettable sound recordings are limited only by one’s imagination.

I live in Paris and this blog is dedicated to my recordings of the street sounds of Paris … and some other things too.  I specialise in street recordings mostly in binaural stereo. I take my inspiration from the great twentieth-century street photographers who walked the streets seeking that elusive ‘decisive moment’.

For most of our history we have used artefacts, architecture, pictures and words to create a vision of our past. It’s only in the last thirty seconds or so on our historical clock that we have been able to capture and record sound. Almost all our sonic heritage has passed by unrecorded. That is why I, and many others, are dedicated to recording and archiving the sounds around us so that future generations will have the sounds of our time to explore, to study and to enjoy.

Courtesy Note:

I have published the sound clips in this blog for the enjoyment of those who choose to listen to them.

Excerpts from this blog may be used for non-commercial purposes, provided that full and clear credit is given to Soundlandscapes and soundlandscapes.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

50 Comments Post a comment
  1. Oct 11 2010

    I just found your blog and I am very moved by the concept of your project – I will definitely keep track of your posts. I find this work very affecting – and it is encouraging me to include sound in my own posts. Soundscapes transmit something so potent and have the capacity to transport the listener in a way that I almost think can be more powerful than video because it is more focused. It allows a person to discover what they might have otherwise overlooked. My blogging project is just starting to take form – but I want it ultimately to be a multimedia experience so people can be transported a little bit by words, images and yes…sounds! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
  2. Nov 25 2010

    I’m enjoying your blog and your documentation of aspects of Parisian life. Great work.

    James

    Reply
  3. Oliver
    Dec 24 2010

    Hi I really appreciate your approcach to audio and would like to contact you about your recordings. Do you have an email address that I could reach you on?

    Reply
  4. Jan 9 2011

    Hi Des – listening to your Paris at Christmas sounds was a nice walk down memory lane for me. Your commentary/observations are a pleasure to read too. I especially loved the New Year sounds.

    Reply
  5. fran
    Mar 28 2011

    Hello Des! I wonder if you have some binaural recordings made using the H4N and the Soundman OKM. I’d like to know about the results, if they are good in music, etc.

    Reply
  6. Jeanette
    Mar 28 2011

    Hi Des- first time I have had the opportunity to listen to you lovely recordings. Your work is Inspiring and you can if you close your eyes feel as if you are in Paris. I have been to Paris along time a go to stay with my penfriend who lived outside Paris. You are that busy looking at the sights you forget sometimes to listen to all the wonderful sounds you can experience. I will visit your blog more to listen to your exciting collection at a later date. Have a good day Jeanette

    Reply
    • Mar 28 2011

      Thank you Jeanette. I am so pleased you are enjoying the blog.

      Reply
    • Mar 28 2011

      Thank you for your comment on my blog.

      Yes, I do a lot of recording using the H4N and Soundman OKM II microphones.

      Here are some examples:

      http://soundlandscapes.wordpress.com/2011/03/21/whats-in-a-name/

      http://soundlandscapes.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/place-des-vosges/

      http://soundlandscapes.wordpress.com/2010/12/24/christmas-eve-in-paris/

      http://soundlandscapes.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/another-christmas-market/

      I enthusiastically recommend both the recorder and the microphones. For the sort of recording I do they are perfect. I use the Soundman OKM II Classic version but if you want to record loud music they do mics specifically for that.

      The H4N gives a really warm response. It’s compact, although just a little larger than some hand held recorders, it’s reliable and it’s easy to use. The battery life is good – but always carry spares because when the batteries die they do it quickly. The onboard mics are better than most onboard mics and they can be turned to give either a 90° or 120° response. The XLR connectors are hidden in the base and they give very secure contact for external mics.

      The Soundman mics are a delight. The only downside is that they are not good in windy conditions. They come with two batteries, one to use and one as a spare. The battery life is reported to be 100 hours but I’ve had mine for a year and recorded for well over 100 hours and the first battery is still going strong.

      Just a tip if you’re not used to recording in binaural. Remember that every time you move your head it will show up in the recording. This can be a plus or a minus but it will happen. If you decide to go ahead then I suggest you experiment at first until you master the technique. Try sitting on a park bench, look straight ahead and record people walking past you. I am sure you will be amazed by the effect.

      In my experience, this recorder and these mics are a perfect combination and I have no hesitation in recommending them to you.

      Good Luck!

      Reply
  7. Jun 1 2011

    hi,

    i found your blog and like it.
    i am also quite a long time in the world of sounds and have a few sound projects on the web too
    http://planktone.dyndns.org/WASHING is one of them
    i hope to get in touch some way.

    grtz,

    w.

    Reply
  8. Sep 12 2011

    Hi Des,
    Just found your blog as a result of the Victoria Fenner piece. Love it, both the concept and the execution – and the photos. And, of course, Paris. And the fact that you give technical information – I am always interested in knowing what equipment other sound fanatics use. Thank you. Will keep listeneing!
    Mary Phelan

    Reply
    • Sep 12 2011

      Thank you Mary. Welcome aboard! I hope you continue to enjoy my work and, of course, Paris.

      Reply
  9. Luca
    Oct 24 2011

    Hi Des,
    im an italian photographer living in paris.
    I follow your blog since months and i love it. I would like to propose you a little collaboration for a project about the Boulevard Peripherique of Paris.
    I wanted to contact you by email but i couldnt find a way, so im trying here…
    Let me know if you are interested.
    Thank you,
    Luca Sallusti

    Reply
    • Oct 25 2011

      Thanks Luca, sounds intriguing. Don’t worry, I will contact you.

      Reply
  10. Jan 3 2012

    Hello Des, I’m wondering if you ever had any funny accident with security staffs when recording in public spaces? I have the impression that if you bring with you some unknown recording devices you may be considered in some way a “suspect”? :-) I seem to recal that when shoting some short film in public areas you need an authorization from authorities. Is there such a concept for sonic field recording? Congratulations for your terrific project, it’s amazing! Wonderful pictures too!

    Reply
    • Jan 4 2012

      Thanks for your comment and it’s an interesting one. And thanks also for your kind comments about my blog.
      No, I’ve never had a problem with security while I’m recording. I take a ‘common sense’ view. If I’m recording in a public space then I just record. I never invade people’s privacy by recording private conversations other than snatches of conversation as people pass by. Inside public buildings I always ask if it’s ok to record. I always try to present the street sounds I record sympathetically and I think that’s important.

      Reply
  11. Jan 9 2012

    A wonderful work! thanks for sharing it!
    I’ll just discover it through “la Escucha Antenta”.

    Kind regards!

    Reply
    • Jan 10 2012

      Thanks so much for your comment. I’m pleased you liked what you found.

      Reply
  12. Jan 10 2012

    Hello!
    I discovered your blog just recently and I was surprised and pleased by its existence. I’ve been recording various sounds for five or six years, however, I have never met anyone with a similar interests and I always felt alone with this hobby. I am specially pleased by the fact that I found your recordings during my postdoc stay in Paris, so I can compare your view with my own. I wonder if we could meet by accident one day in the Metro, aiming our microphones at each other… Congratulations for your nice recordings and thank you that you help to show that the real world, for sure, sounds interesting and there is no reason to cork ourselves by cheap headphones inside an industrially produced MP3 “musac”. Happy New Year to you and your listeners! Jiri Lindovsky

    Reply
    • Jan 10 2012

      Thanks for your comment Jiri. It’s always good to hear from fellow sound enthusiasts. I hope that you’ve managed to collect some interesting sounds during your stay in Paris. I wish you success with your sound hunting in the future.

      Reply
  13. Jan 26 2012

    Hello,

    I’m Dorothée, in charge of the promotion for http://www.new-paris-idf.com/, the official website for Paris Ile-de-France tourism.

    As part of our operation “Favorite Blogs of Paris and its region”, we are pre-selected a list of 50 blogs on the topic of Tourism, Art and Cultur in Paris. Your website is catched our attention.

    That’s why, we are pleased to inform you that Soundlandscapes’ Blog is part of this pre-selection.

    At the end of this first part, a jury will confirm our 15 favorites’ blogs. If Soundlandscapes’ Blog is one of the lucky winners, we will contact you by email and post your site at http://www.new-paris-ile-de-france.co.uk/favorite-blogs-290204.htm.

    The interest of this operation is to highlight blogs that can provide useful information to our visitors. In return you will benefit to the popularity of new-paris-idf.com and better visibility on the web.

    If you want to learn more about our new Paris Ile de France’s operation, please contact us.

    Best regards

    The team of new Paris Ile-de-France

    Reply
    • Jan 26 2012

      Thank you Dorothée. I am always delighted to support the city of Paris and the Ile-de-France in whatever way I can.

      Reply
  14. Leslie Wright
    Mar 7 2012

    Hi Des,

    My name is Leslie Wright and I work as a student intern with FindTheBest. I wanted to first compliment you on SoundLandscapes’ incredible compilation of recordings–They are truly lovely. Anyway, I wanted to share with you a new sound editing software comparison platform that I’m working on. It allows users to filter by price, features, operating system, and more, and all of the information is completely unbiased. I’d love to hear your feedback on it, so please let me know! I couldn’t find an email for you, so I thought this would be the best way to reach out.

    I look forward to hearing from you, and have a great day!

    Best wishes,
    Leslie

    Reply
  15. Mar 9 2012

    The exhibitions in spring 2012 not to be missed in Paris Ile-de-France

    Paris Ile-de-France is a destination on the move! It keeps on offering attractive new exhibitions.
    In order to guide visitors, the new Paris Ile-de-France regularly proposes its selection of events not to be missed. This spring there are four exceptional exhibitions that we want to highlight. Emblematic artistic figures and key Parisian cultural venues make it difficult to choose between music, film and modern art!

    Discover the top exhibitions of spring 2012, selected by the new Paris Ile-de-France!

    Bob Dylan, rock explosion rock (61-66)
    From 6 March to 15 July, Cité de la Musique
    From 6 March au 15 July, the Cité de la Musique dedicates to the leader of the protest song a major exhibition on his glorious sixties.

    Tim Burton, the exhibition
    From 7 March to 5 August, La Cinémathèque française
    After MoMA in New York, Tim Burton flies to Paris for an eye-opening exhibition that will delight children and the young at heart of all ages.

    Matisse, pairs and series
    From 7 March to 18 June, Centre Pompidou
    (Re)discover the essential work of this great painter from the special angle of the way he depicts pairs and series of figures…

    Degas and the Nude
    From 13 March to 1 July, Musée d’Orsay
    After Manet and then Monet, the painter Degas is the choice of the Musée d’Orsay for a major monographic exhibition on his nudes.

    Check out these exhibitions and the other exhibitions of the destination on new-paris-idf.com

    Dorothée LE VOT
    Promotion for new-paris-idf.com – Comité Régional du Tourisme Paris Ile-de-France
    Email : dlevot@nouveau-paris-idf.com – Tel : + 33(0)1 73 00 77 55

    Reply
  16. Jun 22 2012

    Greetings,

    I stumbled upon your site a few days ago and am very amazed at the different sounds of Paris that you have documented, including the Metro. I visited Paris in 2009 and have been very passionate about the Metro ever since. When news hit that the trains of Lines 1, 4, and 5 would all be cascaded during the course of two years, I became extremely excited. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the MP 89CC on Line 4, but now we must wonder what will become of the automated counterparts on Line 14, as the STIF intends to eventually replace them in 2020.

    Thanks!| Merci!
    Keep up the great work!

    Walt S.
    Admin – Tampa Bay Transit Fansite
    http://hartride2012tampa.wordpress.com/
    http://sites.google.com/site/tampabaytransit

    Reply
    • Jun 22 2012

      Thanks Walt. I’m pleased you like my blog and particularly the sounds of the Métro. Like you, I’m excited about all the changes that RATP are introducing. Line 1 is the line closest to my home so I watched the automation of the line with great interest. And it was all done without any disruption to the service which I think was a great achievement. Whilst all the changes are exciting, I spend a lot of time recording and preserving the sounds of the older trains so that we have a record of them after they have disappeared. Keep in touch and if there is anything I can do to help with your blog about the Paris Metro please let me know.

      Reply
  17. Jun 22 2012

    Thank you so much! I think it is great that you record the sounds of the older trains. I like the sound that the MP 59 makes when it departs and it is saddening that it will be gone from Line 4 very soon.

    Reply
  18. Thermed Yves
    Aug 6 2012

    I am happy to ear that the hunters of sounds have not disapeared My english is bad I am french !!! I am intresting by what you do and I say THANKS. I am a fan of souds I have a Nagra… Continue it is a peasure I have also a lot of sounds and I know how it is difficult to get one good. Great job.
    Yves from Toulouse.

    Reply
    • Aug 6 2012

      Thank you for your comment Yves. I’m pleased that you like what you’ve heard here. I see that you have a Nagra so I’m sure you have have lots of great sounds. Do you have a website?

      Reply
  19. earl
    Aug 26 2012

    I am searching for an LP RECORD I had in the 80′s. I believe it was called sounds of Paris or streets of Paris. There was a song which was only instrumental and the band was playing sound effects like horses trotting or carriages moving. i think was portraying old Paris. Would you know the name of the album?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Aug 26 2012

      Hi Earl, I’m afraid I don’t know the name of that particular album but I will try to find out for you.

      Reply
  20. Sep 9 2012

    Dear Des Coulam

    I have found your informative and very interesting site though Google search. I seek your advice for making audio recordings out on the city streets. If you have time I would really appreciate if you could answer my questions below!

    I am a street photographer, who like Doisneau, seeks to create honest images out in the public. I am interested in creating an audio photo slideshow, where ambient recordings created while out on the street provide the audio recordings. The quality of the recordings you have produced have inspired me to further develop this concept. My portfolio .can be found here (www.pgrant.co.uk/portfolio). 

    As I have seen on your website, you also take pictures while making audio recordings, which I am sure requires some level of automation. Ultimately, I am interested in having a dictaphone which I can set to record when heading out on to the street, and then forget about. What I am unsure about is how to record the best audio, with minimal interference. I would like to attach the recorder to my bag. The questions I have are;

    With the bag attached to my bag, I think I am likely to pick up wind noise, both natural and created from my movement. I have made a recording with a simple Olympus DM-20 in my jean pocket which produced great results, but it did pick up my walking, most likely from my cloths moving around. Is there anything specific I can do to avoid this? 

    Being too directional, leading to the volume of recording changing while I move around, are there specific recorders that will be more ambient then others?

    I plan on using the time stamp of specific images to search for interesting audio around the time of capture, do you know of any software that can make this easy? At the moment I am thinking of looking at the audio file creation time, and then the photographs time stamp. 

    Many thanks, and I very much look forward to your reply

    Peter Grant

    Reply
    • Sep 10 2012

      Thanks for your comment Peter. The first thing to say is that, just like your street photography (love your site by the way), ambient sound recording depends first and foremost upon good technique. Good equipment can help but without the appropriate technique even the best equipment will not guarantee good results.

      In an ideal world, I think you should record your sound separately from taking your pictures so that you can concentrate equally on both. That’s what I do. However, if you want to ‘automate’ your sound recording then there are things you can do. First, you need a good, handy and simple-to-use recorder. Since you’ve obviously spent mega-bucks on your Leica, you might want to spend a lot less on your sound recorder. Something like the fairly new Zoom H2n could be a good choice. It’s small, light, easy to use and it gives you plenty of options in terms of internal microphone selection and file types and sizes. I don’t know the exact UK price but somewhere around £130.00 should be about right.

      Any hand-held portable recorder is going to give you the age-old problem of handling noise especially if you’re recording on the move and, in your case, taking photographs at the same time. One solution could be to use head-worn external microphones like the Soundman OKMII. These let you record hands-free and they by-pass the internal mics in your recorder so you eliminate the handling noise. They also allow you to record in binaural stereo which, when listened to through headphones, is magical.

      I hope this helps. Maybe I can leave you with this thought though. Street photography and street sound recording are very similar in terms of the techniques used to capture the perfect visual visual or sonic image … get in close and in a decisive moment capture the subject, a sense of place and of atmosphere. It’s worth spending time and effort to deploy that technique to record good sounds as well as taking good pictures.

      Good luck and keep up the good work.

      Reply
  21. Sep 16 2012

    Hi!
    I’m a film student from India and want to try my hand at binaural recording. I managed to get my hands on a pair of soundman OKMs. I know this because of the casing, though I don’t know which model because the thing is so old there is no text on it. The mics work when I plug them (with a3 adapter) into my macbook pro. The waveform is really low, but somehow the sounds are clear and audible. But when I plug them into the back of the h4N, it just doesn’t read. Could you please let me know the settings the h4n should be on to record? i hit mic1&2 for input, kept phantom on just in case and mono mix off.. the mics are plugged in through the a3 adapter as well and it’s on 0dB. Can’t understand what’s going wrong! Thanks for keeping such a great blog it’s great to listen to your work and learn from it.
    -Sindhu.

    Reply
    • Sep 16 2012

      Hi Sindhu, good to hear from you.

      Your problem is really easy to solve. If you plug your Soundman connector into the back of the H4n you need to use the ‘mic’ input button NOT the 1&2 buttons. When you connect an external microphone through the socket on the back of the H4n the in-built mics are automatically disconnected. I’ve just tried it on mine and it works perfectly. Personally, I always use XLR connectors plugged into the bottom of the H4n because they’re much more reliable but the rear socket is ok providing you take care.

      Good sound hunting!

      Reply
  22. Dec 11 2012

    Hi Des,

    Love the site, how do I get in contact. Do you have an e-mail?

    All the best,

    Thomas

    Reply
  23. Hi Des

    Heard you talk at the In The Field symposium at the British Library and didn’t have the chance to shale you hand and tell you how much I enjoy your sounds, images and words.

    A question I wanted to ask was about engagement. You touched on it slightly in the Q+A section when you said about not influencing the location by waving about a microphone and being as discrete as possible. But do you engage with people AFTER you have recorded? People who perhaps can be heard talking and musicians?

    Thanks again for the wonderful talk. I too love Paris and don’t get to visit as much I’d I’d like to. Your site gives me a regular ‘fix’ and keeps me going until the next time.

    All the best

    Richard

    Reply
    • Feb 17 2013

      Thanks Richard, I’m sorry I missed you. I’m pleased you enjoyed my talk but 20 minutes is a very short time in which to explain a passion. I did my best!

      Your question is an interesting one and the simple answer is, ‘it depends’. No surprise there then! Let me explain. In the work I do I’m trying to capture the sounds that are there as they are and as they would be if I were not there. Because I record in binaural stereo I have to get close to the sounds but I try very hard to do that in such a way that I don’t change the sounds in any way. That’s why I mentioned in the Q&A the furry microphone on a stick which certainly does change the sounds.

      If I’m doing a soundwalk to record the everyday sounds in a street for example I don’t usually engage with the people before or after recording unless someone actually speaks to me. Recording street musicians on the other hand can sometimes be different. Street musicians, especially the very good ones, usually don’t like to be recorded. If you ask their permission to record they will usually say, ‘No’. Not always, but mostly that is the case. So, if I record really good street music I always leave a generous tip or ‘pour boire’ as we call it here. It’s my way of saying, ‘thank you’. Sometimes that will prompt a conversation and sometimes not but, in any event, I never ask street musicians to perform to order as it were. That would somehow seem to defeat the object of capturing the sound tapestry as it is rather than the way I would like it to be.

      For my ‘Personal View’ pieces however, where a guest takes me to their favourite place or a place that has a special meaning for them, the engagement is total both before and after recording and the engagement is explicit.

      I hope that answers your question but I would be happy to clarify anything if it helps.

      Reply
  24. Rune Sandbakken
    Mar 4 2013

    Dear Des,
    I travel to Paris 5-10 times a year and have found your metro soundblog very entertaining. There is one sound I really miss from Paris: the Metro loudspeaker announcement tones that are followed by different announcements. The tune Is probably just 6-7 tones long and ends in a high pitch tone. It is a melody in itself. Have you by any chance recorded it? BR Rune, Norway

    Reply
  25. Mar 19 2013

    Hi Des, I enjoy reading your posts about Paris and learning new things about the city. Your soundwalks add another dimension to your articles. Thank you for capturing these moments!

    Reply
    • Mar 19 2013

      Thank you Angelina. I’m pleased that you enjoy the sights and sounds you’ve found here.

      Reply
  26. Mar 25 2013

    I have been enjoying your blog for some time now. I visit Paris at least once a year and to listen to your sounds brings me back when I can be there physically. I am subscribed to your blog through my Google reader and today’s blog with the bell sounds is one I want to hear…..but for some reason through Google reader or directly from your blog the sound blurbs are not operating on my Mac OSX. Is there another way to hear them? I didn’t have this problem before.

    Anyway, keep up the good work. Your photos are excellent by the way.

    Reply
    • Mar 25 2013

      Hi Richard. I’ve checked the Notre Dame sounds on my blog and they all seem to be working fine. I’m not a computer geek I’m afraid so I don’t know why you’re having a problem. I hope your problem resolves itself before long and that you get to hear all the sounds. In the meantime, you can listen to one of the sounds here: https://soundcloud.com/soundlandscapes/new-bells-of-notre-dame

      Reply
  27. Mar 25 2013

    Thank you so much for sending me that sound byte of the bells . It was fantastic. I played it in my studio surrounded by 4 large speakers. I hope that my technical problems are temporary. I know they are with Google Reader and Google is going to discontinue the Reader so this may be the beginning of that. I will have to re-subscribe through the email perhaps if the problem continues.

    Reply
  28. Mélissa
    Apr 11 2013

    Hello Des,
    I would like to use your picture of La cité Véron for a leaflet to promote the movie “L’écume des jours” (the movie inspired by the book written by Boris Vian). Do you think it’s possible ?

    Thank you,
    Mélissa

    Reply
  29. Oct 27 2013

    A great project, thank you for sharing your work with us!

    Reply
    • Oct 27 2013

      Thank you. My work combines two of my passions – sound recording and the city of Paris so it doesn’t seem like work at all.

      Reply
  30. kmhabisch@gmail.com
    Jan 29 2014

    Dear Des,

    thank you for the sounds and zeh information you provide.
    Here I send you something nice from Charleval, Normandie

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLhDf035cHs

    Best regards

    Karin.

    Reply
    • Jan 29 2014

      Thank you Karin,

      Ah yes, Christmas markets are the same everywhere! Thanks for sending me this video from Normandie, I enjoyed it. I’m pleased you enjoy this blog and it’s good to hear from you.

      Reply

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