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Jul

Paris Metro Sounds – Quai de la Rapée

I OFTEN STAND on this spot and look down the Port d’Arsenal towards Bastille.  I’ve been here in the summer sunshine, in the autumnal mists and in the depths of winter.

But it’s not the view that I come for. Just to the left from where this picture was taken is the lock that forms the entrance to the Port d’Arsenal – the link between the Port and la Seine. Over the lock is an iron bridge that carries the Metro Line 5 into the Metro station Quai de la Rapée.  It’s the distinctive sounds of the Metro trains trundling over this bridge and into and out of this station that I enjoy.

Metro Sounds at the Quai de la Rapée:

Named after Jean-Baptiste La Rapée, General Superintendant of the Armies of Louis XIV who owned a country house hereabouts, the station stands on the Quai de la Rapée, until the beginning of the 20th century a port specialising in handling logging and wood products.

Of the 208.8 km of the Paris Metro system, 16.6 km are above ground, part of Fulgence Bienvenûe’s Metro ariéne. Consequently, most of the stations are either underground or well above ground. The station Quai de la Rapée is unusual in that it is at ground level.

The sounds of the trains entering and leaving this station seem to take on a surreal quality more like the musique concrète of Pierre Schaeffer or Pierre Henry than the sounds of a Metro train.

The texture of the sounds changes with the seasons of the year, becoming crisper and harsher in the winter and it’s the mystical quality of these constantly changing sounds that attract me back to this place.

Before long, as the rolling stock on the Paris Metro is upgraded with sleeker, more efficient but sonically much less interesting trains, today’s sounds at the Quai de la Rapée will disappear. Those who live close to this part of Line 5 may breath a sigh of relief at that prospect but I can’t help feeling that we will have lost yet another of the sounds that define this city.