I spend a lot of time walking the streets of Paris hunting for interesting sounds to record. Sometimes I walk in vain – interesting sounds can be an elusive commodity. More often than not finding good sounds to record is a matter of luck rather than expertise – it’s about being in the right place at the right time.
My sound hunting wanderings take me all over the city of Paris but there are some streets that I return to again and again, partly because of their history, partly because of their character but mostly because of their atmosphere – rue de la Huchette, rue St Jaques, rue de Lappe and the street I went to yesterday, rue Mouffetard, about which Balzac said, “No neighbourhood of Paris is more horrible and more unknown”.
The street market at the bottom of rue Mouffetard
It is true that in Balzac’s day rue Mouffetard had, to put it kindly, a reputation! But it’s reputation today is quite different. It is now a lively, bustling street full of history, character and atmosphere and it just keeps drawing me back time and again.
Sitting in the bistro Le Mouffetard last Saturday afternoon with a glass of Leffe and a copy of Le Monde, I was half watching the world go by and half reading the news of terror plots from cargo aircraft, when a sound drifted in through an open window.
A three man jazz ensemble had installed themselves across the street and they were just beginning their afternoon’s work. I went to investigate.
Rue Mouffetard never fails to provide something interesting for this chasseur de son to record. This was one of those elusive moments that comes from being in the right place at the right time.
There is a fascinating series of short daily programmes on the TV cable channel Euronews called ‘No Comment’. It comprises two minutes or so of TV pictures without a commentary. Here is my ‘sound with no pictures’ version of ‘No Comment’.
Paris October 2010 – A protest against pension reform.
Moscow – Lenin addressing the people.
Another Saturday and another manifestation – another in the series of protests and strikes against the Government’s plan to increase the pension age here in France from 60 to 62.
As usual, the starting point yesterday was the Place de la République where an enthusiastic crowd had gathered when I arrived.
The number of people protesting was huge and they completely filled the streets comprising the route from Place de la République to Nation via Place de la Bastille.
This manifestation was made up of all sorts of people representing all sorts of organisations – including these anarchists.
It also included a rich cocktail of unions and students … historically a potentially potent combination in France.
And, of course there was the usual rich tapestry of sound to be heard.
There were several ways the protestors used to get their message across. This was one way …
I find the subtle changes in the rythymn and repetition of the words in this sound clip fascinating.
And this is how the students did it …
Of course there is a another way … simply to explain what the message is but if that doesn’t work then add some more chanting..
Although the demonstrators took their protest very seriously there was also time for fun too …
The next manifestation about pension reform takes place on Tuesday 19th October.
My wildlife sound recording friends talk about it all the time – the wildlife species in danger of extinction or already lost either by the forces of nature or the incompetence or the greed of mankind.
That set me thinking about the sounds that we have lost or are in danger of losing.
Sounds like the hypnotic and at the same time comforting tick-tock of this grandfather clock.
And on the subject of clocks, here is a sound that is probably not found in every modern home. However sophisticated the digital clocks of today none of them have the simple beauty of this nineteenth-century musical clock.
If I were writing this post in the late twentieth-century rather than at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, this sound would have been common currency.
Alas, that sound really is extinct in our modern cut and paste digital age.
The sounds we have lost have disappeared largely in the pursuit of progress. And progress, of itself, is a good thing. It gives us all a better quality of life but it comes at a price. And part of that price is the loss of our sonic inheritance.
Paris has many evocative sounds but, for those of us who live here, few sounds are as evocative as this, the sound of an old Parisian lift. In this modern age of high-rise buildings with high-speed, silent lifts the old Parisian lift with its shiny wooden panels and metal caged doors seems very antiquated. Ergonomically it is completely useless but sonically it is simply wonderful. It is surely a sound worth preserving.
Last weekend the weather in Paris was absolutely gorgeous. Rather than a Saturday in October it could have been an Saturday in mid-summer. I took advantage of it and went out and about sound hunting.
My first port of call was to my favourite bookshop in the shadow of the cathedral of Notre Dame.
To be found at 37 rue de la Bûcherie, the eclectic Shakespeare & Company is a small bookshop with a big reputation. As well as selling English language books, it is also a reading library as well as housing young writers who earn their keep by working in the shop. A dozen or so beds nestle in amongst the books and it is reckoned that as many as 40,000 people have slept in the shop over the years.
A Parisian curiosity indeed and well worth a visit.
Leaving Shakespeare and Company I walked along by La Seine to the flower market and then on to the Prefecture de Police where I found an “Open Day” in progress. Not only were the police on show but also other emergency services including the Sapeurs-Pompiers (Fire Brigade) and the Croix-Rouge (Red Cross).
I particularly enjoyed looking at the collection of old police motorcycles on display and also this wonderful old fire engine.
The biggest attraction though were the police horses who were far more concerned with eating their lunch than with the cameras of inquisitive tourists.
A delightful and inexpensive dinner in the rue de la Huchette rounded off my Saturday afternoon.
And …. oh yes …. the sound ….
I found this man singing and playing his electric guitar on the Pont D’Arcole … Ray Charles if I’m not mistaken.
Like the rue Mouffetard and the rue de la Huchette, the rue de Lappe is one of those interesting Parisian streets I never tire of visiting.
Situated in the 11th arrondissement a stone’s throw from Place de la Bastille, rue de Lappe is named after Gérard de Lappe who owned gardens thereabouts in the 17th century.
In its time it has also been called rue Gaiiard after Abbé Gaillard, who founded a school for poor children in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine close by, and also rue Louis-Philippe.
By day the street is near deserted but it really comes to life at night.
It was a popular nightspot too in the 1930’s when there were seventeen dancehalls in the street.
And, on the entertainment theme, Francis Lemarque, the French singer and composer, was born in the rue de Lappe, at N° 51
Today, the rue de Lappe bristles with bars and restaurants including this one which I visited recently.
And this is what it sounded like inside.
I am not by nature a protestor. But I am delighted to live in a country that not only allows free protests in the streets but also a country that has turned protesting into an art form. In France the street protest or the “manifestation” is a way of life. The French do it all the time, they protest about anything and everything.
Saturday 2nd October – the axis between Place de Bastille and Place de la République … a solid wall of people marching, singing, chanting, shouting – protesting.
Paris has many beautiful sounds but it also has cold, raw sounds too, all of which make up the wonderful Paris Soundscape.
And what are all these people protesting about?
Pension reform of course. While some countries in Europe are contemplating raising the retirement age to 70, the French government is taking the modest step of raising the retirement age in France from 60 to 62 – and the people don’t like it.
This was a huge demonstration, so big that the route was split into two parts. One part left the Place de la République and marched down the Boulevard du Temple, the Boulevard des Filles du Calvaire and the Boulevard Beaumarchais to Bastille while the other part left République and marched along the Boulevard Voltaire and on to Nation.
I followed the part of the demonstration heading for Bastille. As always, the manifestation was loud with people determined to make their views known but it was also, for the most part, good natured.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the politics, I was only concerned with capturing the atmosphere of the manifestation but I was also fascinated by the tribal quality of the sounds, the chanting, the repetition of phrases, the leaders and the followers.
Listen to how one man by using rhythm and repetition whips the crowd to a near frenzy.
Street protests in France are often much misunderstood. What may seem to those who don’t live here as extreme political protests are in reality usually no more than ordinary people expressing their voice – a voice that is more often than not listened to by the Government.
Long may the freedom of speech and the freedom to protest continue.