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May 20, 2013


A Celebration Through Sound

by soundlandscapes

I SPEND A LOT of my time walking the streets of Paris listening to and recording the everyday sounds around me, the sound tapestry of the city.


Recording urban soundscapes is not as easy as you might think. In our modern digital world where we’ve come to expect affordable technology to turn us all into instant experts, one might be forgiven for thinking that recording urban soundscapes is simply a matter of pointing and shooting and hoping for the best – but it doesn’t quite work like that. Capturing the most expressive and lasting images of the sounds around us requires a heady cocktail of active listening, enthusiasm, hard work, endless patience, attention to detail and an ear for a captivating subject, not to mention copious amounts of shoe leather.

Captivating sounds seldom appear to order, they are often elusive and need to be hunted out and to hunt them one needs time, often lots of time. Few things are more frustrating than spending an entire day pounding the streets searching for that special sound only to come home empty-handed. But on a good day, it only takes one chance moment to come home with an absolute gem.

The great 20th century Parisian street photographer, Robert Doisneau, summed up this element of chance by saying, “ChanceYou have to pay for it and you have to pay for it with your life, you pay for it with time – not the wasting of time but the spending of time.”

And sometimes the spending of time can bring a huge reward.


Les Halles – the former ‘belly of Paris’

Recently, I was wandering around Les Halles, once the huge covered food market known as the ‘Belly of Paris’, and a part of Paris now undergoing much needed renovation. I’ve recorded there many times but this time captivating sounds seemed particularly elusive.  I’d been there for most of the afternoon spending time but recording nothing and I was on the point of giving up and going home when the element of chance that Robert Doisneau spoke about intervened.


In the distance I could hear the sound of bells, the bells of the Église Saint Eustache, the gothic masterpiece in which the young Louis XIV received communion, the church chosen by Mozart for his mother’s funeral, the church where Richelieu was baptised and where both the future Madame de Pompadour and Molière were married. I followed the sound of the bells and began recording. The sounds led me into a little courtyard at the side of the church. I waited until the sounds of the bells faded and then, spying a very old, well-worn door, I opened it, entered the church and walked into a magnificent wall of sound coming from the Van den Heuvel organ being played by a young man sitting at the giant five manual console in the nave.

The Bells and Organ of Église Saint Eustache:


“… not the wasting of time but the spending of time.”  And in this place, on this day, the spending of time was an investment richly rewarded.


Yesterday marked the third birthday of this blog. When I began it the world of blogging was very new to me and I had little idea of what I was doing or what shape this blog would take. All I had was a vague idea that I wanted to share two of my passions – the city of Paris and recording the everyday sounds around me. Now, three years on, this blog has taken on a life of its own with over 200,000 visitors and over 1,000 loyal followers.

To all those who visit this blog regularly, to those who just stop by as they’re passing and to all the friends I’ve made all over the world as a result of this blog I just want to say a heartfelt “Thank You”.

This recording of the sounds of the bells and the organ of Église Saint Eustache is a celebration of the life that this blog has taken on and I dedicate these sounds to you all.


8 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 20 2013

    Thank you for this – that organ was quite dramatic. Is your first photo the site of Les Halles? I have a fond memory of being there in 1977 and being laughed at by a couple of lady stall holders who thought it was funny that I said Ou est les toilletes s’il vows plait? rather than ou sont . . .

    I realise it is personal but, perhaps for the reasons above, I would have enjoyed a transition from the sounds of Les Halles to the bells and the organ but if the market site is currently a building site, maybe not.

    • May 20 2013

      Thanks Alastair. I’m afraid the sounds of the market at Les Halles have long since vanished. The market was moved out to Rungis in the late ’70′s. Yes, the picture is of the site as it is today. The development is supposed to be completed in the next year or so. The only sounds there at the moment are the endless sounds of building work which I have recorded – but you can only record the same sounds so many times! I do go back from time to time though partly to see how they’re getting on and partly to search for new sounds. It’s always an adventure.

  2. Suzi Montgomery
    May 20 2013

    Happy 3rd B-day and thank you back…

  3. hmunro
    May 21 2013

    I suppose ceremony dictates that I wish your blog a very happy third birthday. But what I *really* want to say is, “Thank you for forever changing the way I experience the world, by teaching me to listen.” Who knows how many lives you’ve changed and enriched through your blog? And who knows how many more lives you’ll touch in years to come through your wonderful recordings? I’m very glad you gave in to “the vague idea of sharing [your] passions.” Happy blogbirthday — and here’s to many, many more.

    • May 23 2013

      Thanks so much Heather. Your very kind words have simply made my day!

  4. May 26 2013

    happy birthday to your blog and many thanks for always sharing interesting facts and sounds from your city


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