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December 26, 2014


Piano al Fresco on Christmas Day

by soundlandscapes

FOR A CITY DWELLER like me who is fascinated by sound and particularly fascinated by urban soundscapes, Christmas Day can be an absolute feast.

On Christmas Day this year I went out for an afternoon stroll and discovered that Paris was not only awash with tourists but it was also bathed in that wonderful golden light that often appears at this time of the year.


The Hôtel de Ville

I had in mind to record the ice skaters at the patinoire outside the Hôtel de Ville but so big were the crowds that it was a hopeless task. I walked across to the Île de la Cité where I discovered a sea of people outside the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, many of whom were posing for photographs in front of the huge Christmas tree in front of the cathedral. Although recording the sounds of crowds (and I’ve recorded many of them) – the chatter, the footsteps and the constant shuffling, can be fascinating, I was hoping to search out some different, more unusual sounds on this Christmas Day.

And that search led me to the Pont Saint-Louis.

Pont Saint-Louis

Pont Saint-Louis

It was here, on this bridge, that I found something completely unexpected – a Christmas feast.

Pont Saint-Louis

A young man, Louis Artson, was sitting at a piano in the centre of the Pont Saint-Louis. He can often be found wheeling his piano around Paris and stopping to entertain the crowds.

Pont Saint-Louis

Earlier this year, I had the enormous privilege of being invited to record a professional concert pianist in Paris playing her magnificent Steinway grand piano. Those recording sessions were of course set piece events allowing adequate time to set up very expensive microphones and adjust their placement to ensure the best effect. Those recording sessions also allowed for re-takes if either I, or the pianist, felt that something wasn’t quite right.

Not so with Louis Artson though. Here I was on Christmas Day standing in a chattering crowd on the Pont Saint-Louis with traffic passing from time to time attempting to record this wonderful musician ‘on the hoof’ so to speak.

If recording a professional concert pianist playing a Steinway grand piano was a challenge, then so was this – but a very enjoyable one!

Pont Saint-Louis

Louis Artson playing piano al fresco:

As you can hear, Louis Artson can turn his hand to classical music, jazz or improvisation in the blink of an eye. In this extract from the sounds I recorded listen out especially for the third piece, his improvisation on Chopin’s Piano Sonata N°2, often referred to as the Funeral March. I think it’s just brilliant!

Pont Saint-Louis

Regular readers will know that I’ve recorded many street musicians in Paris some of whom have featured on this blog. By and large, the standard of Parisian street music is very high but seldom higher than that played by Louis Artson.

You can connect with Louis Artson via:


 Twitter: @LouisArtson

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. hmunro
    Dec 27 2014

    What a marvelous recording! I heard Louis playing in front of the Fontaine St Michel last winter but must admit I was underwhelmed (from where I stood, it sounded like he was just pounding away on the keyboard, with little expression), but you’ve truly captured his artistry. So … I can now say that listening to your recordings is truly better than being in Paris. Bravo, Des! And bravo also to Louis Artson.

    • Dec 28 2014

      Thank you Heather. He’s good, isn’t he? Recording pianos is always a challenge even in perfect conditions but recording them outside in a situation like this is even more so. I was just lucky to get myself into just the right place to capture a fair representation of the dynamic range of the instrument. I recorded him for over an hour and, had it not been so cold, I would most likely have stayed longer.


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