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March 21, 2011


What’s In A Name?

by soundlandscapes

EACH PARIS METRO station has a name. These names are often taken from current or former street names in the area close to the station, which in turn are associated with people, places or events significant to the French. To travel on the Paris Metro is to travel the gamut of French history.

The station Barbès-Rochechouart is a good example. Situated at the point where the 9th, 10th and 18th arrondissements meet, the station is home to two metro lines, Line 2 and Line 4. At this station, Line 4 is underground and Line 2 becomes another one of Fulgence Bienvenûe’s aerial metro lines.

The sound Barbès-Rochechouart station Line 2:

The station was named after two streets close by – Boulevard Barbès and Boulevard de Rochechouart. These streets were named after two people – Armand Barbès and Marguerite de Rochechouart.

Armand Barbès (1809 – 1870) was a radical politician who twice attempted to overthrow the French Government and twice escaped the worst of the consequences. The first time was an attempted coup in 1832 against the constitutional monarchy of Louis-Philippe, the last King of France, for which Barbès was arrested, tried and sentenced to death. Thanks to a petition to the court for leniency by Victor Hugo his sentence was commuted to life in prison. In fact, he was released from prison at the beginning of the 1848 revolution. His second attempt was in May 1848 when he failed to overthrow the Provisional Government. For this he was convicted and imprisoned again until 1854 whereupon he was exiled to The Hague in the Netherlands.

Marguerite de Rochechouart de Montpipeau (? – 1727) was the Abbess of a convent called Les Dames de Montmartre from 1717 to 1727. The Boulevard Rochechouart was laid out on property owned by the Abbey. Being an Abbess of itself probably didn’t qualify Marguerite de Rochechouart to have a street named after her but being the sister of Mme de Montespan, long-time mistress to Louis XIV, probably helped.

The Boulevard de Rochechouart enjoyed a period of notoriety later in the eighteenth-century when it became home to a selection of cabarets one of which was called Aux Armes de Madame l’Abbess and another Le Caprice des Dames – perhaps a more evocative memorial than a mere street name.

But it was not to last. By the mid-nineteenth century the area around the Boulevard de Rochechouart had become a very poor working-class neighbourhood. In his book, L’Assommoir, Emile Zola tells a classic tale of poverty and alcoholism set almost entirely around what is now the metro station Barbès-Rochechouart.

The sound of the Boulevard de Rochechouart:

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mar 26 2011

    The recording at Barbès-Rochechouart is the best railway station soundscape I think I’ve yet heard. There’s a lot going on yet every sound source is distinct and has its place. It reminds me of those tightly choreographed crowd or street scenes in old Hollywood films where one man carries a ladder, some urchins grab an apple from a stall and run off, a wonan drops an umbrella and so on, all at the same time.

  2. Mar 26 2011

    Thanks Ian.

    This is a sound that some of us hear every day but which most people never actually “listen” to. I think it’s such a shame that this sound has to be lifted out of context for it to become “interesting”. In all my street recordings I try to give a sense of atmosphere and of place and I hope that I have succeed with this recording. I’m very pleased that you liked it.

  3. Jul 22 2011

    Just listened to ‘What’s In A Name’ and I enjoyed your recording so much. It is such a rich and warm sound, the people’s voices, also the moment of silence on 1:19 before the train whistles. And then 1:48 the train starting, I love it! I’ve been using my pair of OKM Classic since I intensively started recording twelve years ago. Binaural recording for me is the reason why I got so deeply involved with recording sounds. Thanks for the trains, Des. Best wishes, rb.

    • Jul 22 2011

      Thanks for your comment Regina. It’s always good to hear from another sound enthusiast. I’m pleased you enjoyed the sounds. The Paris Metro has many sonic delights but, as the trains are being modernised, the classic sounds are gradually disappearing. That is why I am working to find these sounds, to capture them and to archive them for posterity.
      I agree with your comment about binaural recordings. In my view, binaural is the ONLY way to capture the everyday sounds around us.


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