Skip to content

Archive for


2012 World Listening Day

WORLD LISTENING DAY 2012 takes place on Wednesday 18th July and its purpose is:

  • to celebrate the practice of listening as it relates to the world around us, environmental awareness, and acoustic ecology;
  • to raise awareness about issues related to the World Soundscape Project, World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, World Listening Project, and individual and group efforts to creatively explore phonography;
  • and to design and implement educational initiatives which explore these concepts and practices.

World Listening Day is organized by the World Listening Project (WLP), in partnership with the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology (MSAE). July 18 was chosen as the date for World Listening Day because it is the birthday of the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, who is one of the founders of the Acoustic Ecology movement. The World Soundscape Project, which Schafer directed, is an important organization which has inspired a lot of activity in this field, and his book The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World helped to define many of the terms and background behind the acoustic ecology movement.

On July 18th, people from across the world will be participating in a variety of ways including listening parties, soundwalks, public forums about acoustic ecology and more.  I shall be out on the streets capturing, as Ludwig Koch said, the atmosphere in sound that belongs only to Paris.

If you would like to participate in World Listening Day, please email, and be sure to include World Listening Day in the subject line.


Place Edith Piaf and Les Hommes Scotchés

EVEN THOUGH HER birth certificate cites the Hôpital Tenon, some say that Édith Giovanna Gassion, later known as Edith Piaf, ‘La Môme Piaf’, was born outside this house, N° 72 rue de Belleville, under a lamppost in the snow.

Not far away and still in the 20th arrondissement, in the triangle between rue Belgrand, rue du Capitaine Ferber and rue de la Py, is the Place Edith Piaf, home to a bronze statue of the ‘Little Sparrow’.

The statue was created by the French sculptor, Lisbeth Delisle and inaugurated by Bertrand Delanoë, Mayor of Paris, on 11th October 2003, forty years after Edith Piaf’s death.

For much of her early life, Edith Piaf was a street entertainer in Pigalle, Belleville, Ménilmontant and the Paris suburbs. On Saturday, I discovered that the tradition of street entertaining continues in these parts.

In the Place Edith Piaf the contemporary dance company, Mi-Octobre, were performing as part of the ‘Et 20 l’été’ festival – a 20th arrondissement summer arts festival.

The Mi-Octobre company was founded by the French choreographer Serge Ricci in 1994. It comprises dancers, visual artists, musicians, sound, lighting and costume designers, all of whom collaborate to create new, experimental productions.

On Saturday they were performing a piece called Les Hommes Scotchés, roughly translated as ‘Taped Men’, a dance and visual art performance that invites us to take an alternative view of the world that surrounds us.

Les hommes scotchés 01:

The performance began with two dancers each completely encased in newspaper held together with scotch tape.  Robot like they began to move, gradually divesting themselves of their newspaper casing as they interacted with the audience. The piece ended with the dancers stripped of their newspaper casing and their red skins disappearing up the rue du Capitaine Ferber like black shadows.

Les hommes scotchés 02:

I cannot say that I’m an expert in contemporary dance and I admit that some of the deeper meaning of the piece may have passed me by but I did enjoy it nevertheless. I especially enjoyed the sound, which was specially composed to accompany the piece.

Les hommes scotchés 03:

I spend a lot of time walking the streets of Paris hunting out new sights and sounds and it’s always a delight when I come across something like Les Hommes Scotchés – especially with Edith Piaf looking on.

Les Hommes Scotchés was created by Serge Ricci & Fabien Almakiewicz and the performers were Fabien Almakiewicz, Yann Cardin and Marc Planceon.


Saturday at the Marché aux Puces

I WENT TO THE Marché aux Puces at Porte de Clignancourt on Saturday, the largest flea market in the world so they say. I was on a mission, hunting for sounds and particularly for the sound of a rag and bone man.

In the late nineteenth-century, the area around Porte de Clignancourt was awash with rag and bone men, known as chiffoniers in French or sometimes, more poetically as, pêcheurs de lune, moonlight fishermen. Why I need the sound of a rag and bone man is a long story but let’s just say that it wasn’t my most successful sound hunting day. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a rag and bone man to be found.

Nevertheless, the day was far from wasted. On my travels I came upon what appeared to be an ordinary café in the Rue des Rosiers.

I should have known better. Few things in this city are ordinary.

This is the celebrated Chope des Puces de Saint Ouen, a restaurant, a concert hall, a music school, a recording studio, a shop selling musical instruments and above all, a temple to jazz manouche, gypsy swing or hot club jazz, inspired by the magic of Django Reinhardt.

Espace Django Reinhardt:

If you happen to be in Paris between the 22nd and 25th June this would be a good place to visit since the Festival Jazz Musette des Puces is taking place.

Also taking place at the moment is a wonderful exhibition in the Marché Daupine.

 “Hifi Génies” is an exhibition specifically designed to send sound nuts like me into a state of rapture. It includes a selection of equipment covering the history of sound reproduction. As always, it was the tape recorders that captivated me, ones like these studio models from Ampex and Studer.

And this one made by the French company Bordereau and used by the French national broadcaster RTF (Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française) in the 1950’s.

There were other tape recorders on show including Revox, Pioneer and some cassette recorders as well as some other Hi-Fi equipment but undoubtedly, for me at any rate, the stars of the show were these three beauties from Nagra.

Nagra II c (First introduced in 1955)

Nagra III (First introduced in 1961)

Nagra 4.2 (First introduced in 1972)

The Marché aux Puces comprises fourteen individual markets with around three thousand individual shops and stalls. It sells everything from complete junk to eye-wateringly expensive antiques. In every narrow alleyway and round every corner a surprise lies in wait. But few surprises could please me more than finding the Espace Django Reinhardt and three classic Nagra’s on the same day. I think the search for a rag and bone man can safely wait for another day.

For those of you who wonder what all the fuss is about when it comes to tape recorders, thank you for getting this far and I hope you at least enjoyed the music from the Espace Django Reinhardt.

For those slightly crazy people like me who find reel to reel tape recorders, and especially Nagra tape recorders, things of wonder and endless enjoyment you can find more Nagra recorders here … and here. Enjoy!


The Bus Stop of the Future

IF YOU WERE ASKED to design the ‘bus stop of the future’ what would you come up with? Well the boffins at RATP have been applying their minds to that question and this is what they have come up with.

It’s a concept bus stop on the Boulevard Diderot opposite the Gare de Lyon railway station and it’s used by three daytime bus routes as well as five night bus services.

Designed by urban design specialist Marc Aurel, this bus stop is really a multi-purpose public space designed to blend into the urban environment. The design is modular and can be tailored to suit any location.

Whilst here, you can buy a bus ticket, get information about the neighbourhood or have a coffee.

You can hire an electric bike …

… or even borrow a book from the small lending library. There is free wireless internet access and improved space and seating for bus users. The lighting in the bus stop varies automatically to suit day and night conditions and the central section is heated in the colder weather. The signage is excellent and the touch screens give easy access to a mass of information.

Of special interest to me is the innovative sound environment in the bus stop.

Some of the sounds inside the bus stop:

The sounds inside the bus stop vary. Music composed by Michel Redolfi is broadcast when the bus stop senses that a bus is approaching and a variety of sounds are generated when a hand is passed over a sonic panel.

Interestingly, there are no loudspeakers in the bus stop. Instead of using speakers, the sounds are broadcast directly through the glass roof and the vertical glass panels making up the walls of the bus stop.

What the boffins at RATP have done is to come up with a concept bus stop where spending time is about so much more than simply waiting for a bus. It may be a concept bus stop at the moment but let’s hope that it, or at least something like it, could become quite normal before too long.

Bravo RATP!


Héloïse and Abelard – A Tragic Love Story

THE TRAGIC STORY OF Héloïse and Abelard seems to come alive when you stand on the Quai aux Fleurs in the 4th arrondissement.

It was here, at N°9, that the two lovers lived in 1118 according to the plaque on the wall. It also says that the house was renovated in 1849.

I found myself in the Quai aux Fleurs today heading for somewhere completely different but I couldn’t pass this house without pausing and thinking about their story. I stood with the Ile Saint-Louis and the sounds of La Seine behind me as I pondered the fate of these two lovers.

La Seine from the Quai aux Fleurs:

Abelard arrived in Paris from his home in Nantes in 1100. He came to Paris to improve his education and eventually became a respected teacher. He was approached by Fulbert, a canon of Notre Dame to give lessons to Fulbert’s niece, Héloïse, something Abelard readily agreed to do. Despite the difference in their ages, Abelard was 39 and Héloïse was 18, they fell passionately in love much to the consternation of Fulbert.

To escape Fulbert’s anger, Héloïse and Abelard fled to Brittany where they had a son. They returned to Paris but Fulbert had been plotting his revenge. He hired men to capture and castrate Abelard. The couple were separated. Abelard became a monk and founded the Paraclete oratory and Héloïse became a nun at Argenteuil Convent.

Despite their forced separation, their love endured. Abelard died in 1142 at the Saint-Marcel monastery in Châlon-sur-Saône. Héloïse had his body secretly transferred to the Paraclete.

Twenty-two years later, Héloïse died and was buried beside Abelard in his coffin. This was not discovered until centuries later when, in 1630, an abbess decided to carefully sort and separate the lovers’ bones.

Today, they are reunited once again in Père Lachaise cemetery and I’m sure their love still endures.

Pictures at Père Lachaise courtesy of Wikipedia


The Voice of the N° 39 Bus

I HAVE SOME EXCTING NEWS! The bus stop announcements on the Paris buses are being updated and the current computer generated Text to Speech voices are being replaced with real voices recorded specifically for each bus route. Soundlandscapes has been given exclusive access to see how the new announcements are produced.

Song Phanekham is the man responsible for the sound identity of RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), the Paris mass transit authority, which includes the Metro, the RER, the buses and the trams. Amongst other things, he is responsible for the excellent, four-language, “Mind the Gap” announcement on the newly automated Metro Line 1.

I met Song last week at the studios of Sixième Son, Europe’s leading audio branding and sound identity agency, in the 5th arrondissement. Working with Sixième Son, RATP are gradually improving the customer experience by producing clear, distinctive and friendly announcements that have a very Parisian feel to them across the entire RATP transport network. I watched as the bus stop announcements for the N° 39 bus route were recorded.

The N° 39 bus route is one of around 350 routes that RATP operates. It crosses Paris between the Gare du Nord and Issy-Frères Voisin. If you travel on a 39 bus today, these are some of the sounds you will hear.

Sounds inside a N° 39 Bus today:

It is these dry, monotone announcements that are being replaced. The objective is to make travelling on public transport a more welcoming and friendly experience. I know that sounds like something straight out of a marketing brochure but having seen at first hand the effort RATP are making to produce more genuinely customer friendly announcements, I have to applaud what they are doing.

If the announcements are to be less robotic and more welcoming, and if there is to be a real voice specially recorded, then there has to be a face behind the voice.

Let me introduce Andréa, the voice of the N° 39 bus.

In this sonic modernisation programme, RATP decided not to use actors or voice-over artists to make the new announcements. Instead, they held auditions within RATP and selected some of their own employees to do the job. Andréa is one of several employees selected.

From the control room, I watched as the names of all the bus stops on the N° 39 route were recorded. The atmosphere was relaxed but very professional as Andréa went about her work.

Recording the announcements:

She spoke the name of each bus stop and then repeated it two or three times, sometimes with a slightly different inflection, so as to give the director and the editor more choice.  Song directed the recording session and he intervened gently from time to time to ensure that he got the result he was looking for. I was impressed by the care taken to ensure exactly the correct inflection on each name but I was even more impressed by the care taken to ensure the correct pronunciation.

One of the stops on the N° 39 route is Abbé Groult. Andréa had a view about how to pronounce ‘Groult’ and Song had a different view. In the end, it was decided to record both versions and then to seek advice from the Académie Française, custodian of the French language. The Académie ruled that, “Dans les noms qui se terminent en -ult, les consonnes finales ne se font pas entendre. On dit l’abbé grou.” So there we have it on the highest authority, the letters ‘l’ and ‘t’ are silent.

Different versions of Abbé Groult:

 After the recording session came the editing and the final selection of the sounds to be used.

Editing and selection:

Again, great care was taken to ensure that everything was perfect. A debate ensued about the pronunciation of Desnouettes-Vasco de Gama. That pesky little ‘de’ between Vasco and Gama has a lot to answer for. And ‘Grands Boulevards’ wasn’t plain sailing either. Eventually though, everyone had their say, the editor worked his magic and the finished sounds were to everyone’s satisfaction.

During the next two or three weeks, these sounds will be uploaded into the sound systems of all the buses that work the 39 route. Then, as if by magic, the GPS system on each bus will activate the audio announcements and the sound of Andréa’s voice will be heard as each bus stop comes into view.

This recording session was just one of many that are being held to update the announcements on the Paris buses, the Metro, the RER and the Trams and to make them more user friendly. From late June and early July, Andréa will also feature on bus routes 70, 82 and 92. Around mid-June, new announcements will appear on bus routes 43 and 95 with a male voice. Then the announcements on two major BRT (bus rapid transit) lines in the southeastern suburbs, Tvm and 393, will be updated.

Well done RATP!

I am very grateful to Song Phanekham, RATP and Sixième Son for allowing me to attend this recording session and for their hospitality. And of course, special thanks to Andréa for allowing me to record her being recorded.


Basilique Saint-Denis : The Royal Necropolis of France

IT WAS SOMEWHERE AROUND the year 270 AD when Denis, a Christian missionary and Bishop of Paris, was martyred on the hill we now call Montmartre. Denis was beheaded during the period of Christian persecution under the Roman Emperors Decimus and Valerian. It is said that after his head was chopped off, Denis picked it up and walked six miles or so preaching a sermon as he went. The place where he eventually fell and died was marked by a small shrine which eventually became the Basilique Saint-Denis and the burial place of the Kings of France.

The Basilique Saint-Denis is a medieval abbey church in Saint-Denis, a northern suburb of Paris. The abbey church was created a cathedral in 1966 and is the seat of the Bishop of Saint-Denis. The building is of unique importance historically and architecturally.

In Roman times the site was a Gallo-Roman cemetery but around 475 Saint-Genevieve purchased some of the land and built a church. This became a place of pilgrimage and in the 7th century, Dagobert I had this church replaced with something grander. By the 12th century it had grown to become one of the most powerful Benedictine abbeys in France. The abbot of Saint-Denis, Suger, rebuilt portions of the abbey church using innovative structural and decorative features turning it into a masterpiece of what came to be known as Gothic art. The basilica provided an architectural model for the cathedrals and abbeys of northern France, England and other countries.

From the 6th century onwards, the Basilique Saint-Denis became the necropolis of French monarchs. Most of the kings and queens of France were buried here. The list is impressive: 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes and princesses and 10 great men of the realm. With I think three exceptions, all the French monarchs were buried here from Hugues Capet onwards.

Over the years, the Abbey was plunged into decline by wars and the Revolution. During the Revolution the tombs were opened and the bodies were removed and dumped in two large pits nearby and dissolved with lime. In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte reopened the church and the royal remains were left in their mass graves. Thankfully, most of the tombs survived the Revolution and today they lie resplendently in the much-visited “Royal Necropolis of France”.

Sounds from the Necropolis:


Clovis I (465 – 511) and Childebert I (496 – 558)

Henry II and Catherine de Médicis

Charles V and Jeanne de Bourbon

The fate of King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette of Austria is well known. Both were guillotined in the Place de la Concorde during the Revolution. They were though not initially buried in the Basilique Saint-Denis, but rather in the churchyard of the Madeleine, where they were covered with quicklime. Louis XVIII, the last king of France to be buried in the Basilique Saint-Denis, ordered that the remains of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette be transferred from the Madeleine cemetery and today they lie side by side in the crypt of the Basilique Saint-Denis.


The two centre tombs: On the left is Marie-Antoinette and on the right is Louis XVI