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Paris Metro Line 5 – Vanishing Sounds

LINE 5 OF THE PARIS METRO must surely have the most distinctive sounds on the city’s entire Metro system. Earlier this year, I produced a blog piece about the Quai de la Rapée Metro station on Line 5 together with the sounds of the trains passing in to and out of the station.

Sounds of Line 5 at Quai de la Rapée:

Line 5 was opened in 1906 and it crosses the east of Paris from Bobigny to Place d’Italie. At  14.634 km, it’s the sixth longest and the eighth busiest line on the Paris Metro network.

Paris Metro Line 5

Yesterday, I had to travel along Line 5 from Gare d’Austerlitz to Place d’Italie and once again I was struck by the distinctive sounds on this line. I recorded the relatively short journey and I’ve included the end of it, the one stop from Campo Formio station to the terminus at Place d’Italie, for you to listen to.

Sounds of Line 5 – Campo Formio to Place d’Italie:

So what causes these distinctive sounds? I think it’s mainly to do with the fact that the trains on Line 5 are over forty years old – they were introduced in 1967/1968, so they are sounding their age.

Photo from Wikipedia

They are Type MF 67 rolling stock – and here, a quick lesson in Paris Metro train designation is called for. There are several types of trains on the Metro system but they fall into two main categories, those designated Type MF and those designated Type MP. The distinction is that the Type MF’s (Le materiel fer) have steel wheels whereas the Type MP’s (Le materiel sur pneus) have rubber tyres.  Needless to say, the Type MF 67’s on Line 5 have steel wheels, which contributes to some of the distinctive sounds.

It is with mixed feelings that I can report that rather swanky new trains are gradually being introduced on Line 5.

Photo from Wikipedia

The existing MF 67’s are being replaced with the new Type MF2000 trains. These are more efficient, quieter and the only trains on the network to have on-board air-conditioning. To date, sixteen MF 2000 trains have been introduced, leaving forty MF 67 trains remaining.

So, the distinctive sounds of the Type MF 67 trains on Line 5 are set to disappear some time soon.  Suddenly, recording and archiving these vanishing sounds for posterity seems to be really quite important.


Paris – A Personal View

I AM DELIGHTED TO present a new series of pieces for this blog entitled, Paris – A Personal View.

For each piece in the series I will invite a guest who lives in Paris to visit one of their favourite places or a place in this city that has a special meaning for them. With access to a microphone and sound recorder, the guest will talk about the place and tell us why it’s special to them. I’m certain that throughout the series the mixture of people, places and styles of delivery will make for interesting and fascinating listening.

To begin the series I am delighted to present a personal view of Paris from Susie Kahlich.

Photo courtesy of Susie Kahlich

Susie is an American screenwriter living in Paris.  In addition to her screenwriting work, she is editor of the cinema section at Vingt Paris Magazine, and a published author and poet.

And Susie’s chosen place? The Parc Monceau …

©Susie Kahlich in Parc Monceau:



I am very grateful to Susie Kahlich for making time in her busy schedule to record this piece and for giving us her very personal view of the delightful Parc Monceau.

Thanks Susie.

Courtesy Note:

Unlike other sounds on this blog, the sound piece ‘Susie Kahlich in Parc Monceau’ is not covered by a Creative Commons license. The copyright for this piece rests jointly and exclusively with Susie Kahlich and Des Coulam.  It follows therefore that the downloading of this piece for any purpose is not permitted without the express permission of both Susie and Des. We have no wish to spoil your enjoyment of this piece but simply ask you to respect that the work is ours. Thanks for understanding.


Canal Saint-Martin

THE WEATHER IN PARIS in early November has been quite exceptional, more like late summer than late autumn. It’s the ideal weather to stroll around Paris and search out places I haven’t been to for a while, places like the Canal Saint-Martin in the 10th arrondissement.

Stretching from the Place de Stalingrad to Porte d’Arsenal, the canal was born in the mind of Napoleon I as a means of supplying much needed fresh water to the city.  The building of the canal was funded by a tax on wine – a case of turning wine into water then!

As well as supplying fresh water, the canal was also a working thoroughfare supplying Paris with grain and other commodities.  The canal trade eventually dwindled and the canal came close to extinction but today, the canal and the surrounding area, is a vibrant, rather chic place to be.

The Hotel du Nord, on the Quai de Jemmapes, stands close to the canal. The hotel has been here since 1885 but it’s perhaps best known as the star of the film of the same name. The 1938 film, directed by Marcel Carné and starring Annabella, Jean-Pierre Aumont and Louis Jouvet, was shot on location here.

Standing in front of the Hotel du Nord today it’s very easy to slip back in time to 1930’s, black and white, Paris. Inside, with the zinc bar, the white tiles on the walls and the black and white mosaic tiles on the floor the feeling is enhanced.

Inside the Hotel du Nord:

Today, the Canal Saint-Martin is a waterway largely for tourist boats. The canal has several locks to be negotiated, which ensures that no journey along the canal will be made in a hurry.

Navigating the locks is usually watched by people who gather on top of the bridges and it was on top of one of these that I recorded the process.

Navigating a lock:

The process is simple. The lock fills to allow the boat in and then empties to allow the boat out at a lower level. The lock gates operate by hydraulics and the water operates by gravity. Today, no heavy-lifting is required, it’s all done at the push of a button.

And I can reveal that in this neck of the woods the earth moves! Well, not quite, but the roadway certainly does.

At the locks where the road is at the same level as the boats, one of them has to give way to the other and the road always loses this contest. The traffic is stopped and the road swings out of the way.

Once the boat has passed, the road swings back into place … at least until the next time.

A walk along the Canal Saint-Martin is always interesting at any time but especially so in an unusually sunny November.


Rhythms of Protest

ONE YEAR AGO, FRANCE was in the grip of a wave of public protests, or manifestations as the French call them, about pension reform. A year has passed and it all seems a long time ago.

The major protests occurred during October and early November last year and I attended them all. So, on the anniversary of those protests I was minded to listen again to the recordings I made at the time.

You have to say, the French really do know how to organise a manifestation. Hundreds of thousands of people seem to take to the streets at the drop of a hat. I’ve seen many of these demonstrations and although they seem to work to a tired formula – the same people, the same banners and the same slogans, I nevertheless find them interesting. It’s the crowd dynamics that really fascinate me.

For the most part, these demonstrations although passionate are usually pretty good-natured and although some sections of the crowd can be quite aggressive, wanton violence seldom breaks out. I’ve often wondered why this should be so.

There are probably many reasons why these demonstrations seldom get out of control but I think that one major element is the use of sound. After listening again to many of the recordings I’ve made of these events it’s become clear to me that amongst the whistling, shouting and apparently random noise, there is a powerful sound architecture in play which acts both as a means of expression and, at the same time, as a means of control. If you listen to the following sounds you’ll see what I mean.

Rhythms of Protest:

From a distance, these manifestations may look like a random group of people filling the streets but in fact they are very well organised. For the most part they comprise individual groups each representing an organisation, a profession, or a special interest group. The individual groups can be made up of thousands of people or a mere handful and yet the group dynamics are the same for each. Each group has its leader and its followers. The leaders lead by orchestrating the behaviour of their group and sound plays a very important part in this. The instrument they use most often is the chant in the form of a call and response, the leader calls and the crowd responds. This can be a very powerful instrument and its power derives from the use rhythm and repetition.

The group leader sets the tone by choosing the words or phrases to be repeated and then manipulating the rhythm of the chant. Sometimes the changes of rhythm are obvious but often they are very subtle. As well as changing the rhythm the leader often changes a word or a phrase in the chant and the crowd responds accordingly.

What can be disturbing to watch and to listen to is how the leader can whip a crowd into frenzy by using sound. You can hear an example of this in the last three minutes or so of my sound piece beginning with the chant, “Tous Ensemble … Tous Ensemble … “. I can remember at the time finding this quite chilling.

So, what has all this to do with the lack of real violence at most French demonstrations? My conclusion is that sound is an important key. The chanting is a vehicle for protest; it allows the people to speak and to be heard. The repetition and rhythms of the chanting seems to impose a discipline on the crowds as well as retaining their interest and enthusiasm. The chanting also seems to have a bonding effect creating the atmosphere of working as a team. If the demonstrators feel that they are acting together in an orchestrated way and that their voice is being heard then perhaps they are less likely to resort to indiscriminate violence to make their point.

I think there is another side to the coin though. My recordings demonstrate the power of a leader to manipulate a crowd through the use of sound and history has taught us that we should be very wary of that. Such is the power of sound.


Galeries Lafayette – A Temple to Shopping

IT WAS JUST ABOUT one year ago when I last produced a blog piece about the Galeries Lafayette, that great temple to shopping.

Then it was decorated for Christmas with its wonderful Christmas window displays on the outside and a huge Christmas tree suspended from its glass-domed roof on the inside. As we approach this year’s Christmas season, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the Galeries Lafayette without its Christmas decorations. I went there a few weeks ago, which happened to coincide with Paris Fashion Week.

The Galeries Lafayette adventure begins outside the store on the pavement with the row of stalls selling all sorts of fashion accessories at prices that most of us can afford, quite unlike the ‘telephone-number’ prices on offer inside the store.

Being Paris Fashion Week, it was not surprising that there was something in the store to reflect that. Three fashion models were strutting their stuff at the Jean-Paul Gaultier cosmetics counter. They were promoting a new Gaultier cosmetic, which was attracting considerable interest. One of them was perched above the crowd attempting to seduce the audience by dancing and banging a drum in time to the music. Even super models it seems can multi-task.

Sounds inside the Galeries Lafayette:

I must admit that the world of fashion, cosmetics and serious shopping is quite lost on me. Even the super models seemed slightly unreal. But some 100,000 people do pass through this store every day and many of them spend serious money with the Chinese, Americans and Japanese leading the way.

 What is today is a 70,000 M2 shopping extravaganza began life as a small haberdashery corner shop in 1895. It’s certainly come a long way since then.

As for me, I’m quite content to visit the Galeries Lafayette not for its extravagant shopping but rather to admire the glass dome and wrought iron balconies – a vivid reminder of 19th century Paris.