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My Sounds of the Year 2011

THE WEEK BETWEEN CHRISTMAS and the New Year always seems rather like a no-man’s land to me – winding down from the Christmas festivities and the anticipation of the New Year celebrations; the dying embers of the old year and the sparkle of the new year in prospect.

During this week I’ve been catching up with some blogs I visit regularly and some I haven’t seen for a while. I’ve found that a good number of them seem to be in reflective mood, looking back over 2011 and highlighting their top posts or posts that have had a special significance for them during the year. During this week in no-man’s land I’ve been reflecting too, reflecting on the sounds I’ve recorded during the past year.

2011 has been a good sound year for me. As always, my sound haul has been eclectic covering a wide range of sounds that capture the sonic atmosphere of Paris and sometimes, of other places too. I’m afraid that from my collection of sounds recorded in 2011 the temptation to select a ‘Sound of the Year’ was too great to resist.

I would like to present three sounds out of the many I’ve collected during the year and I’ve chosen these, not because they are necessarily the best sounds either technically or artistically but because they each have a special significance for me.

So, here we go …


A Celebration in the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris:

This is the sound of Jean-Pierre Leguay, Organist Titulaire de Notre-Dame, playing the magnificent Cavaille-Col Grand Orgue de Notre-Dame in the Cathédrale de Notre Dame at the end of the service to mark the beatification of Pope Jean-Paul II presided over by Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Cardinal Archbishop of Paris.

I’ve chosen this piece simply because of its majesty. It’s not often that one gets to hear one of the world’s finest cathedral organists playing one of the world’s finest cathedral organs in one of the world’s finest cathedrals to a congregation of well over a thousand.

This recording sends shivers up my spine every time I listen to it.


The Bornus Consort:

This recording is special to me because it came about as a result of an invitation I received from some friends in Warsaw to visit them at their home to hear the Bornus Consort give a private recital.

Established in 1981 by Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski, The Bornus Consort specialise in singing early music from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. As well as singing early Polish music, the ensemble also sings Dutch polyphony, French chansons, Italian and English madrigals together with contemporary pieces. In recent years the ensemble has focused on various forms of Gregorian chant, including the Dominican liturgical tradition.

I’ve chosen this recording because of its intimacy and also because it reminds me of the generosity and kindness of my Polish friends.


Through an Open Window:

I’ve chosen this piece, recorded in Cité Veron in the 18th arrondissement, as my ‘Sound of the Year’ because it best represents the sound work that I do and you can see the full story behind this sound by clicking on the link above. The story is worth reading to set the sound in context.

I am a sound hunter, a flaneur, endlessly pounding the streets of Paris hunting for sounds that evoke the atmosphere of this city. Sometimes those sounds are hard to find but there is no feeling quite like finding a sound that captures the atmosphere perfectly, and this one does.

And a sound that can bring a tear to the eye of at least one member of my audience, a former ballet dancer, simply has to be my Sound of the Year!

And Finally …

During 2011, some people have very kindly given up their time to contribute to this blog with spoken pieces. I would like to say a big ‘Thank You’ to:

Victoria Fenner for A Conversation With Victoria Fenner – Documentary Poet;

Susie Kahlich for A Personal View of Parc Monceau;

Adam Roberts for A Personal View of the Hôpital Salpêtrière.

I wish everyone a very Happy New Year!


Sounds For Christmas Eve

EARLIER TODAY, ON THIS CHRISTMAS EVE, I found myself in Montparnasse in the Rue de la Gaïtié. There was little of Christmas to be seen there today but there were many reminders of bohemian Paris in the nineteenth-century.

The Rue de la Gaïtié is a narrow street, almost 300 metres long, in the 14th Arrondissement.  In the nineteenth-century it was a veritable pleasure dome full of theatres, restaurants and the famous music-hall, Bobino. Most of the theatres survive today.

I shall be producing a blog piece about these theatres in 2012 so watch out for it, it’s a fascinating story.

So, after that little excursion, I arrived home in time to listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge broadcast on BBC Radio 4, which I listen to via the internet.  This is an annual ritual for me.

The BBC would really not appreciate me reproducing some of that broadcast on this blog and I would not be so disrespectful as to do so. However, I do have something else for you to listen to which should evoke the spirit of Christmas Eve.

In my previous post, Sound Hunting and L’Eglise Saint-Séverin, I said that I had one golden sound nugget that I had recorded in the church that I was saving for Christmas. Well, here it is.

A Choir in L’Eglise Saint-Séverin:

I hope you enjoy it … and all the other sounds on this blog.

Merry Christmas!


A Perfect Day In Saint-Germain

DON’T YOU JUST LOVE it when an otherwise ordinary day turns out to be extra special! That’s what happened to me earlier this week.

After a rather tedious morning I met a friend for lunch in Saint-Germain in the 6th Arrondissement. We arranged to meet at a restaurant I hadn’t been to for a long time and I had quite forgotten what a delightful place it is. The restaurant, the food and my friend were on sparkling form so our three-hour lunch simply couldn’t have been better.

After lunch my friend left for another engagement and I wandered along the Boulevard Saint-Germain to have a look at the Christmas market … my fifth Paris Christmas market this year.

My walk ended with me going into the Eglise Saint-Germain as I often do when I’m in this area. I hadn’t though expected the surprise that awaited me when I went inside.  The organ was being tuned.

Organ Tuning in L’Eglise Saint-Germain:

These sounds are a short extract of the thirty minutes of the organ tuning that I recorded all of which have now been consigned to my Paris sound archive.

Regular visitors to this blog will know of my love of the organs of Aristide Cavaille-Coll, many of which are to be found in Paris, but the organ in this church is not one of his creations.

This organ was built by Pierre Thierry in 1679 and it was modified by Louis-Alexandre and François-Henri Clicquot in 1766. Organ enthusiasts will know that the magnificent Cavaille-Coll organ in the Cathédrale Nôtre Dame de Paris was built around an original François-Henri Clicquot organ.

Earlier this year, I was in L’Eglise Saint-Germain for a wedding when the organ was in full flow and what a delight it was to listen to.

The Organ of L’Eglise Saint-Germain:

So, there we are – an ordinary day transformed into a perfect day by a delightful lunch in a perfect setting with the company of a dear friend followed by an unexpected sound feast. What could be better?

Well, hot, roasted chestnuts might come a close second!

For another organ tuning experience you might want to look at this – my visit to Warsaw in March of this year when I happened upon the tuning of the organ in Saint John’s Cathedral in the old city of Warsaw.


My Audio Christmas Card 2011

JUST ONE WEEK TO GO and Christmas will be upon us so this seems like the appropriate time to post my audio Christmas card.

My Audio Christmas Card 2011:

This audio card is made up of some of the sounds of Paris that I’ve recorded during the past year and it is dedicated to all the visitors who visit this blog regularly as well as to those who stop by as they’re passing. I extend my grateful thanks to you all.

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and all that you wish for yourselves in 2012.


Sound Hunting and L’Eglise Saint-Séverin

I CAME UPON THIS quotation recently in an article in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television Vol. 24, No. 4, 2004:

“Today’s hunters no longer turn to the woods or fields, but to the noisy big cities. Instead of banging rifles they take their silent tape recorders with them. These modern day hunters call themselves ‘sound hunters’. Instead of hunting for deer, foxes and rabbits, they are after sounds and noises. To be sure, sound hunting is no less exciting than hunting in the green fields.”

This was how the sound tape manufacturer BASF promoted the hobby of sound hunting in the Netherlands in 1964. As a modern day ‘Sound Hunter’ myself I found this a very apt quotation. For me, the excitement of sound hunting comes from hunting the often elusive quarry, the thrill of the chase and the golden moment of the capture.

Last Saturday was a typical sound hunting day for me. I left home thinking that I would try to search out some festive season sounds. After a fruitless search around the Hôtel de Ville and the Cathedral of Nôtre Dame I found myself in the medieval but rather un-Christmas like Rue de la Huchette. I don’t quite know why, but this street and the surrounding area draws me back like a magnet time and time again.

I have many sounds recorded in the Rue de la Huchette in my sound archive and, on Saturday, there seemed to be nothing new to add. It seemed as though the hunt for new sounds had gone cold.

As is so often the case, I couldn’t leave this area without paying a visit to one of my favourite places in Paris, the Eglise Saint-Séverin.

The construction of this church began in the 11th Century and it’s the oldest surviving church on the Left Bank. It’s bells, cast in 1412, are the oldest in Paris. For me, this church always seems to provide a haven of tranquillity in this otherwise hustling, bustling area.

I feel a great affinity with the Eglise Saint-Séverin not least because over the years it’s offered me some golden sound nuggets – although very sparingly.

On Saturday, I arrived at the church in the late afternoon. As always, there were several other visitors looking around. After a day of intense listening I sat down to enjoy an oasis of comparative silence. Presently, I thought I heard a sound. It was fleeting but it sounded like the voice of a singer. It passed; perhaps it was a figment of my imagination. I got up to leave and then I heard the sound again … and this time the hunt was on.

Walking round to the other side of the church I could hear that the sound was coming from behind a closed, heavy wooden door. It was the sound of a choir going through a warm-up routine.

A choir behind a thick wooden door:

I didn’t know if this was a routine choir practice or whether something else was in prospect so I sat down to await developments … and I wasn’t disappointed.

A choir in the Eglise Saint-Séverin:

The choir emerged from behind the heavy wooden door wearing coats and scarves (it was chilly in the church) and lined up in front of the alter and began to sing. It turned out that they were rehearsing for a Christmas concert.

A choir in the Eglise Saint-Séverin:

Sound hunting can be a frustrating business.  That elusive sound, the one that rises above all the others, can often be hard to find and even harder to hunt down. But when the hunt succeeds then all seems well with the world.

As a final note, I recorded another sound of these singers that is extra special but to hear that I’m afraid you will have to wait until Christmas when I shall feature it on this blog.


Four Christmas Markets In Paris

IT’S DECEMBER AND SO it must be the Christmas market season and Paris seems to be awash with Christmas markets this year.  During my travels this week I’ve seen four of the Christmas markets that Paris has to offer. I seldom travel without a microphone and sound recorder to hand and so I was able to catch snatches of sound at each of them.

This week I’ve seen the most glamorous Christmas market that Paris has to offer, along with the biggest, the most intimate (for me at any rate), and what I think might be the smallest.

Sounds from four Christmas markets in Paris:

With it’s white painted châlets stretching from the Rond-Point to the Place de la Concorde, Le Marché de Noël in the Champs Elysées has to be the most glamorous Christmas market in Paris.

With some fifteen million visitors each year this is the most visited Christmas market within the Paris city limits and, like most Christmas markets, it offers the usual fare of mulled wine, gingerbread, sausages and specialties from various regions of France together with countless gift items and more woolly hats than you could shake a stick at.

The largest Christmas market in the Ile de France is to be found on the Parvis of La Défense. With its three hundred and fifty châlets, I’ve watched this market being erected in late November every year for the last twelve years and I admit to a tinge of disappointment when it’s demolished every January.

For me, the Christmas market in La Défense sells the best food of any Christmas market in and around Paris.

Not surprisingly, the most intimate Christmas market for me is the one closest to home. Turn right at the bottom of my little street and voila, there it is. I always associate this market with two things; it’s very friendly, intimate atmosphere and the children. The market sits either side of an Ecole Maternelle, a primary school, and so as the school empties each day the children all drift towards the market on what always seems to me to be a wide-eyed, voyage of discovery. Their excited chatter says it all.

The smallest Christmas market I’ve seen so far I came across completely by chance. I emerged from the Metro at Nation at the Boulevard Voltaire exit to find the station entrance surrounded by a tiny market.

In some ways I found this market very different from the others I’d seen. The inflatable rubber Santa seemed to provide a compass point to the Christian festive season amid the stalls below, which served largely Arabic fare. A Christmas carol sung in Chinese added wonderfully to the multi-cultural dimension.

And, as a final note, I was reminded when I was in La Défense to post early for Christmas to avoid disappointment. Is it possible that Father Christmas, or Père Noël as he’s known here in France, really does exist? I like to think so!


Paris – A Personal View

I AM DELIGHTED TO present a new piece in my Paris – A Personal View series.

For each piece in the series I invite a guest who lives in Paris to visit one of their favourite places or a place in the city that has a special meaning for them. With access to a microphone and sound recorder the guest talks about the place and tells us why it’s special to them.

Today, my guest is Adam Roberts.

Photo courtesy of Adam Roberts

Adam is an Englishman who has lived in Paris for a little over fifteen years. As well as doing his demanding day job Adam finds time to write the very informative and popular Invisible Paris blog – a celebration of the parts of Paris that would be refused entry to the ville musée if they tried to get in today.

And Adam’s chosen place? The Hôpital Salpêtrière

Adam Roberts at the Hôpital Salpêtrière:

Hôpital Salpêtrière

Mur des Fermiers Généraux – The Farmers-General Wall

Former Women’s Prison Cells

Charcot’s Library  Photo courtesy of Adam Roberts

Bâtiment de la Force

Chapelle Saint-Louis

I am very grateful to Adam for giving up his time to visit and talk about the Hôpital Salpêtrière.

Thanks Adam.

Courtesy Note:

Unlike other sounds on this blog, the sound piece ‘Adam Roberts at the Hôpital Salpêtrière’ is not covered by a Creative Commons license. The copyright for this piece rests jointly and exclusively with Adam Roberts and Des Coulam.  It follows therefore that the downloading of this piece for any purpose is not permitted without the express permission of both Adam 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.