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28
Jul

Rue Saint Séverin – A Soundwalk

THROUGHOUT JULY I’ve been busy recording typical sounds of the Parisian summer, the Carnaval Tropical de Paris, La Fête National and the climax of the Tour de France, sounds that occur here every year in July.  I also made time to record my contribution to World Listening Day on 18th July.

As we come towards the end of July some Parisians have already left and others are about to leave for their annual summer holidays leaving the heat and suffocating humidity of the city to the tourists along with the bizarre annual shut down of some café’s, restaurants and shops. The big, set piece, events are over for another year and I’m left with a different sound tapestry to record.

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Yesterday, I found myself in the rue Saint Séverin, a short street just some 170 metres long in the Latin Quarter.

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The rue Saint Séverin dates from the 13th Century and it takes its name from one of Paris’ oldest churches, the Église Saint-Séverin, which lies midway along the street. For most of the year, and particularly in the summer, rue Saint Séverin is a fairly boisterous street. It’s lined with restaurants and souvenir shops and it’s a magnet for tourists.

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Rue Saint Séverin – A Soundwalk:

My soundwalk along this street yesterday in the hot and muggy weather revealed a hotchpotch of tourist languages with very few French accents amongst them and a couple of surprises.

I came across the tail end of a performance by a group of African dancers who were familiar to me.  I had come across them a couple of years ago in Montmartre when they were involved in an altercation in the Place du Tertre. You can listen to what happened on that day here. Fortunately, there was no repetition of that yesterday.

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My next surprise came as I was approaching the end of the street. The rue Saint Séverin runs parallel to La Seine and, from across the river carried by the leaden air, came the sound of the bells of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, bells I’m very familiar with and each of which I’ve seen, touched and know by name.

Of course, I could have rushed closer to the river to try to get a ‘better’ recording but I didn’t. Somehow, listening to the distant sound of the bells of a medieval cathedral in a medieval street, albeit awash with modern day tourists, seemed entirely appropriate and it seemed to add an extra dimension to my summer soundwalk.

Here are some more sights of rue Saint Séverin:

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23
Jul

Le Tour de France 2013

IT’S LATE JULY and the Champs Elysées, la plus belle avenue du monde, has only just recovered from staging La Fête Nationale and now La Grande Boucle is in town – the climax of the Tour de France 2013.

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2013 marks the 100th edition of the Tour de France and the last stage in the Champs Elysées on Sunday was very special.

This 100th edition of Le Tour began in Corsica on 29th June. This was the Tour’s first ever visit to Corsica and 198 riders representing 22 teams set off from Porto-Vecchio to complete the first three stages on the island. For the next three weeks, from 29th June to 21st July, le Tour criss-crossed France covering some 3,404 kilometres (2,115 miles). It visited 37 French departments and crossed 537 French municipalities.

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The 21 stages of this year’s Tour included eight flat stages, three hilly stages, seven mountain stages (with four summit finishes), two individual time trial stages and one team time trial stage.

Le Tour was followed by some 2,000 journalists and was broadcast to 190 countries on 50 radio stations and 100 TV channels, 60 of them broadcasting live to 3.5 billion viewers worldwide. The estimate is that some 12 million people watched the Tour from the roadside along the route.

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Each year the final stage of the Tour de France ends in the Champs Elysées in Paris and I’ve watched every one of these finishes since 1999 – but this year’s final stage was a little different.

Instead of racing the final stage during the afternoon of the final day as is usual, this year, to mark the 100th edition of le Tour, the final stage began in the early evening at the magnificent Palace of Versailles. It then wound its way through the Parisian suburbs to arrive at the Champs Elysées as dusk was falling and, of course, I was there to watch and to record the events.

I arrived in the Champs Elysées at the same time as the publicity caravan, the 12 kilometre procession comprising 180 sponsor’s vehicles manned by 600 people advertising 37 brands. This caravan processes along the route of every stage of the Tour and by the end of it they will have handed out some 14.5 million gifts to the watching public. It took the caravan about 35 minutes to negotiate the Champs Elysées and it was all very colourful and very loud.

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After 35 minutes of lively show time the wait for the main show of the day began. Some people had bagged their ideal viewing spot by the side of the road early, very early in some cases.

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Others had positioned themselves with a good view of one of the many big screen televisions that line the street so as to get the best view of the action.

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For me, it was all about getting into the right position to record the best sound even if I had to sacrifice the best view to do it.

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In another change to the final stage this year, the riders rode 10 times around the Champs Elysées instead of the usual 8 times and that included riding around the Arc de Triomphe, something they don’t usually do.

I decided to position myself at the top of the Champs Elysées close to the Arc de Triomphe behind a conclave of Brits, all enthusiastic Chris Froome supporters. This proved to be fortuitous.

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We had been promised something spectacular for this final stage of the 100th edition of the Tour de France but I hadn’t expected the dramatic sight and sound of La Patrouille de France flying overhead trailing red, white and blue smoke as the riders began their first lap of the Champs Elysées. Neither had I expected the spectacular light show that bathed the Arc de Triomphe during the Ceremonie Protocolaire at the end of the race. It was simply breathtaking and I was well positioned to see both.

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Le Tour de France 2013 in Les Champs Elysées:

Whether you are interested in cycling or not, or whether you speak French or not, I hope that these sounds will enable you to share in the atmosphere, the excitement and the emotion of the end of the 100th edition of Le Tour de France.

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Chris Froome has had a spectacular season this year. Having finished in second place in the 2012 tour he won the Tour of Oman, the Critérium International, the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné this year and now the 100th edition of the Tour de France. A brilliant performance from him and from Team Sky. One to remember.

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19
Jul

World Listening Day 2013 – My Contribution

YESTERDAY, THURSDAY 18th JULY, was World Listening Day 2013. Organised by the World Listening Project in partnership with the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology, World Listening Day is a celebration of listening as it relates to the world around us. People from across the world participate in a variety of ways and I was keen to make my contribution.

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World Listening Day 2013 – My Contribution:

What makes this piece different from others that I’ve produced for this blog and elsewhere is that it wasn’t recorded using fancy recording equipment, instead, it was all recorded using only my mobile phone. I think it shows that mobile phones really do have the capacity to turn us all into citizen journalists.

16
Jul

La Fête Nationale 2013

LA FÊTE NATIONALE on 14th July is the centrepiece of the Parisian summer. It’s the French National Day and it commemorates the 1790 Fete de la Federation, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. It also marks the start of the French holiday season. In Paris the day starts with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Elysées to be reviewed by the Président de la République and his army of guests.

Before the défilé gets under way there is an opening ceremony at the end of which comes the opening fly-past by the French Air Force, the Armée de l’Air led by nine Alpha jets of the Patrouille de France, the French aerobatic display team who celebrate their 60th anniversary this year.

Patrouille de France

Here I have to confess that I’m an aircraft enthusiast and so each year my viewing of the fly-past takes the same form. Half of me is inside watching on the TV and half of me is outside on my balcony watching and recording the aircraft as they fly overhead so close that I can almost reach up and touch them. At least that’s what I’ve done each year for the last fifteen years but this year I was forced into a last-minute change of plan.

With about half an hour to go before the aircraft were due directly overhead with a wonderful sense of timing my next-door neighbours emerged onto their balcony to, rather over-enthusiastically I thought, tuck into a late breakfast. It was quite clear that my plans to record the fly-past free of the clatter of cutlery and minus a running commentary of the event about to unfold was a hopeless cause. What to do?

Not being in the mood for one of those endless arguments that the French seem to enjoy so much I decided to implement Plan B.

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My recording position close to home: Photo by julietinparis

I hastily grabbed my sound recorder and a microphone (Nagra LB and Rode NT4), left my apartment and set off up the street to a place close by where I knew I would get an excellent view of the fly-past and from where I could expect to get a good sound recording. From here I could see La Grande Arche de la Défense in one direction and the Arc de Triomphe in the other, the exact flight path of the aircraft.  This is a place I pass every day so I know it well. The fact that it’s a bus station and the buses run during La Fête Nationale, and it was full of people, could have been seen as somewhat of a flaw in Plan B but I pressed on undeterred.

I must say, it was well worth it. The view of the aircraft was simply spectacular even though in my hurry to implement Plan B I had left home without my camera.

Défilé aérien d’ouverture – the aircraft fly-past:

Apart from La Patrouille de France who are always good value, the star of the show for me was the appearance of the Airbus A400M, the multi-national four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed as a tactical airlifter with strategic capabilities.

For those of you interested in these things the running order is listed below.

defile-aerien-ouverture JPEG

As I said, I recorded these sounds from a bus station with lots of people around but I think that has added to the recording rather than detracting from it. For me, the sound of small, innocent children playing happily whilst war machines each costing millions pass overhead has a certain poignancy to it and the sound of a Paris bus starting its engine just ahead of five interceptor fighters passing overhead seems to be a sort of ‘poke in the eye’ to this extravagant display of military muscle.

This year some aircraft from the Luftwaffe were invited to take part in the défilé aérien. The last time German aircraft flew over Paris it was in very different circumstances, which thank goodness are long behind us.

While the aircraft appear at the beginning of the défilé in the Champs Elysées, the helicopter fly-past comes towards the end, some ninety minutes later. I decided not to stay at my bus stop location to record the helicopters, instead, it being a glorious sunny day, I decided to go home and record them from my garden. Well, it’s not actually my garden but it is the garden of my apartment building and I’ve been here so long that it feels as though it’s mine.

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It takes much less time for the helicopters to pass but their sounds are none the less dramatic.

Défilé aérien de clôture – the helicopter fly-past:

 And here is the helicopter running order:

defile-aerien-cloture JPEG

So that was my aircraft fix for yet another year. I always look forward to it and, despite my balcony drama, it didn’t disappoint.

After a quick lunch I set off again to savour more of La Fête Nationale, this time ”Les Parisiens et les franciliens accueillent leurs soldats”.

After the morning’s pageantry in the Champs Elysées some of the forces that took part in the défilé set up static displays in seven different places in and around Paris. It’s a chance for the public to meet the military face to face. I went to the event at Les Invalides. I went there last year and amongst the displays of military vehicles and hardware I was able to capture the sounds of le Bagad Lann-Bihoué, the very popular French Navy musical ensemble who specialise in playing distinctive Bretonne and Celtic music and a French Army Male Voice Choir. You can hear these sounds here.

This year I came upon another male voice choir, this time from the choir school of the French Navy.

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French Navy Male Voice Choir:

These sounds were recorded without the aid of the public address system. The French Navy knob-twiddler-in-chief was clearly out of his depth trying to manage the public address system so, despite the appearance of a couple of blasts of feedback early on, he gave up and retreated to his hutch. Let’s hope he never becomes knob-twiddler-in-chief  in a nuclear submarine!

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This year’s Fête Nationale came to a wonderful climax with a brilliant late-night concert in the Champs des Mars at the foot of Le Tour Eiffel which I watched on TV followed by an equally brilliant firework display which I also watched on TV but listened to from the balcony of my apartment. Le Tour Eiffel is in a direct line from my apartment balcony and I could get a perfect view of it – if it wasn’t for the houses in between!

7
Jul

Carnaval Tropical de Paris 2013

PARIS IN JULY means that it must be summer – and summer means that it must be Carnival time.

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Yesterday, the annual Carnaval Tropical de Paris took place around place de la Nation.  Some 4,000 dancers in colourful costumes, dozens of floats and a cornucopia of drummers paraded through place de la Nation and then meandered for some 4.5 km through the 11th arrondissement.  This is one of the highlights of the Parisian summer and there is little to compete with it for colour, sound and cultural diversity.

I was there yesterday to savour it all.

Carnaval Tropical de Paris 2013:

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1
Jul

La Seine – An Alternative View

I WOULD LIKE TO offer you an alternative view of the River Seine, the river that cuts through the heart of Paris and the river that for centuries has shaped the city. I would like to share with you my alternative view of the river from here, on the Quai aux Fleurs, in the centre of the city.

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And here, I need to tell you that my alternative view of the river will not be a visual one – it will be a sonic one.

Viewing the Seine is easy, just walk along its banks and you will see the river as it weaves its way through the city. Many great artists and photographers have captured these views. Get on the right flight path leaving from or arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport and you will get a spectacular view of the river from the air. But listening to the river is quite a different matter. Our cities have become so polluted with extraneous noise that listening to distinctive sounds is difficult enough but recording them is sometimes almost impossible. In my work, I record the soundscapes of Paris and that often involves overcoming the impossible.

I know from hard-earned experience that recording the sounds of the Seine is not easy. First, you have to find a place where there are distinctive sounds of the river, waves lapping and boats passing for example, and then you have to find these sounds without the ever-present, often overpowering, chorus of noise pollution. It’s a daunting task.

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The steps leading down from the Quai aux Fleurs take us close to the waterline and it’s from here that we will get our alternative view.

Sitting on a step as close to the waterline as I dare and with the river lapping around my feet I recorded the sounds of the water with the high wall shielding some of the traffic noise. So far so good, but recording waves lapping, even if they are in the centre of a city, is a fairly conventional thing to do. I was looking for something less conventional, an alternative view of the scene, so I reached for an alternative weapon in my sound recording armoury – an underwater microphone, a hydrophone. I was fascinated to know what la Seine would sound like from below the waterline, the sounds the fish hear – if fish can actually hear!

And so, here is my alternative view of la Seine recorded from the steps of the Quai aux Fleurs.

La Seine – An Alternative View:

We begin with the sounds of the river from above and then descend below the surface where the sounds take on a completely different texture quite unlike anything we hear above ground. Initially, the sounds seem quite soothing – that is until I discover that the noise pollution we experience above ground also permeates under the water. First comes a Batobus passing on the far side of the river.

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A Batobus is exactly what the name implies – a river bus service serving eight stops along the river. With an all day ticket you can hop on and off as you please. It’s very good for the tourists above ground but much less so for the underwater inhabitants.

After a moment’s respite from the sound of the Batobus, another sound appears. It sounds rather like an electric drill so I take off my headphones and listen but there is no drill to be heard on the surface. I have no idea what this sound is but underwater it’s quite clear.

This sound is soon consumed by the sound of a passing Bateaux Mouches, one of the most prestigious of the cruise boats that ply la Seine. In the past, I’ve been on a couple of champagne dinner cruises on the floodlit Bateaux Mouches, but never once did I give any thought to the sounds it generates underwater. Well now I know!

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After the sonic footprint of the Bateaux Mouches has passed we return to the surface and the more familiar sounds of the water lapping against the steps and a bell sounding from the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris in the distance.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this alternative view of la Seine. Recording these sounds has whet my appetite to search out more alternative sounds of this wonderful city.