I CAN STILL REMEMBER it very clearly. It was June 2nd, 1953, Coronation day. That day’s newspaper headlines told us that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had conquered Everest and in London, Queen Elizabeth II was to be crowned amid great pomp and ceremony.
As a small boy, Mount Everest and indeed London, despite being only 150 miles from where I lived, seemed to me to be so far away that I found it difficult to imagine either. I can though remember thinking that the conquest of Everest seemed to be much more exciting than a coronation.
As part of the celebrations to mark the Queen’s coronation we had a street party with lots of flags and bunting and, despite Britain still being in the grip of post-war rationing, there was more food on the tables spread along the centre of the street than I’d ever seen.
Also as part of the celebrations a travelling fair came to town and during the afternoon of Coronation day I was taken to it. The fair was set up in a field and right in the centre of the field was something the like of which I’d never seen before – a fairground carousel, or as we called them in those days, a merry-go-round. The brightly painted wooden horses suspended from twisted gold-painted poles bobbed up and down as they went round and round and gales of laughter from excited children and music from a mechanical organ in the centre of the carousel filled the air. The sights and sounds of this incredible spectacle thrilled me and I can remember asking myself, ‘Why can’t every day be Coronation day?’
Over the sixty or so years since that day I’ve learned much more about Hillary and Tenzing’s ascent of Everest and I’ve learned more about the Queen’s coronation but I’ve never lost my sense of childish wonder at that magical carousel. Perhaps because of that sense of wonder no other carousel has had quite the same impact on me as the one I saw on Coronation day.
Living in Paris though means that I’m not short of carousels to see.
The first carrousels (carrousel is French for carousel) appeared in France in the second half of the nineteenth century and soon became highly popular with Parisians. Today, the modern carrousels look very similar to the original ones.
In Paris there are carrousels in the collection at the Musée des Arts Forains at Cour Saint-Émilion in the 12th arrondissement as well as others scattered across the city. Perhaps the most visited of these, not least because of its location, is the Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel.
Sounds of the Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel:
Whilst small children may look at carrousels with a sense of wonder, for their owners carrousels are a business.
The original Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel was set up by Roger Alliot in 1986 directly across the street from the Tour Eiffel, the city’s most visited attraction. After occupying this lucrative location for twenty years, Monsieur Alliot received an eviction notice from the Paris city authorities claiming that the carrousel was there illegally and they had a court judgement to back their claim. Much wrangling ensued and the carrousel stayed until the cranes eventually arrived to demolish it piece by piece.
Shortly after Monsieur Alliot’s eviction another carrousel appeared to take its place. Behind this was the celebrated showman Marcel Campion. He, with the assistance of the engineer Pascal Pouzet, modified an existing carrousel and installed what is hailed as the first ‘green’ carrousel in Paris consuming it is claimed up to twelve times less energy than a conventional carrousel.
Although this carrousel still uses traditional power this is supplemented by the use of solar panels, photo-sensors and pedal power. The horses and some of the other vehicles on the carrousel are equipped with pedals that turn a wheel, which in turn generates energy. For those who do not ride the carousel, there are several positions with recumbent bikes off to the side that to help generate the power.
This carrousel comes at a price of course. It is reported to have cost some €700,000 to build and install, considerably more than a conventional carrousel. It’s likely to take some time to recoup this investment especially without increasing ticket prices relative to other Parisian carrousels, although the prestigious location at the foot of the Tour Eiffel helps.
Unlike Monsieur Alliot’s carrousel, it seems that this carrousel is deemed to be legal. The owners were granted a ten-year concession in return for a fee payable to the Paris city authorities of 20% of turnover, some 12% higher than previously. With an estimated revenue of more than €1 million per year that seems like a nice little earner for the city.
Sitting by the Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel and recording its sounds on a beautiful spring day in 2015, I couldn’t help being transported back to Coronation day in 1953. Back then ‘renewable energy’, the ‘Tour Eiffel’ or the machinations of Parisian city politics would have been as completely beyond my understanding as Mount Everest or even London.
But sharing the delight of small children seeing a carrousel for the first time was a powerful reminder of my memories of the same experience although, unlike me back in 1953, they were also able to savour the majesty of the Tour Eiffel.
YOU PROBABLY WON’T find any reference to it in the guidebooks, the glossy magazine articles or the internet sites that bombard us with the ‘10 best things to see in Paris’ or the ‘Guides to Secret Paris’ – and yet le Cylindre Sonore is quite exceptional.
It stands in the sunken landscape of Alexandre Chemetoff’s Jardin des Bambous, a Bamboo garden in the Parc de la Villette on the north-eastern edge of Paris and it is in the words of its creator, the Austrian architect and composer Bernhard Leitner:
“A cylindrical space that allows concentrated listening to the place, a contemplative rediscovery of oneself in transcendence of the place”.
Le Cylindre Sonore stands some six metres below the level of the park and it can be approached by a staircase lined with tiny water cascades leading down from the Parc de la Villette to the Jardin des Bambous or it can be approached from the garden itself. Either way, this sound space is designed so that one has to walk through it.
The staircase from the Parc de la Villette
Le Cylindre Sonore is sound architecture displayed as public art but unlike Bernard Tschumi’s bright red follies that adorn the rest of the Parc de la Villette, it’s the sound of it rather than the sight of it that attracts attention.
The sounds inside le Cylindre Sonore:
Five metres high and ten metres across, le Cylindre Sonore is in fact two cylinders with a space in between. Behind the eight perforated concrete panels and between the two cylinders are twenty-four loudspeakers arranged vertically, three to each panel, forming eight columns of sound. The circular space between the two cylinders provides access for the maintenance of the loudspeakers and entry to the underground control room. The inner cylinder acts as a resonance chamber with the curved surface shaping the sound.
Standing in le Cylindre Sonore the sounds from the loudspeakers, the sound of water flowing from the columns to a pool beneath the floor, the sounds from the water cascades alongside the staircase and the circular framed sky above create a meditative space sequestered from the city.
I spend much of my life recording the sounds of Paris. My practice mainly involves the relationship between sound and place and how sound can define, or help to define, a place. Very rarely though do I come upon a public space like le Cylindre Sonore where the sounds are the place.
Inside the Jardin des Bambous
A BRIGHT, SUNNY, SUNDAY morning saw 41,342 runners representing 90 countries set off along the 26 miles and 385 yards (42.195 kilometres) of yesterday’s 39th edition of the Paris Marathon.
Starting from the Champs-Elysées the course snaked through the city to the Bois de Vincennes in the east and then back through the city to the Bois de Boulogne in the west before finishing in the Avenue Foch close to the Arch de Triomphe. The course is mostly flat and so the finish times for the elite athletes are usually medium to fast.
The sounds of the Paris Marathon each year make a valuable addition to my Paris Soundscapes Archive and so at 8.15 yesterday morning I took up position a little beyond the Mile 1 post in rue de Rivoli ready to record all the 41,342 runners passing by me.
The start of the Paris Marathon is a complex affair. The runners take up position in the Champs Elysées in groups based upon their expected finish times.
At the front are the Handisport athletes led by the Handisport fauteuil, the wheelchair competitors followed by the Handisport debout, the Handisport runners. The Handisport competitors start some 10 minutes ahead of the elite runners who lead the main field.
The elite runners are followed by the préférentials, the best of the rest. After that, the runners depart in seven waves based upon their expected finish time.
Sounds of the Paris Marathon 2015:
Having left the Champs Elysées and crossed the Place de la Concorde, the wheelchair competitors entered rue de Rivoli where they and their distinctive sounds passed me in a flash. Next came the Handisport runners including the blind runners tethered to their guides.
The sound of the French Television helicopter overhead and the arrival of TV cameramen precariously balanced on motorcycles, a flurry of official vehicles and a truck full of press photographers heralded the arrival of the elite runners.
And behind them came the best of the rest.
And then it was the turn of the rest of the leading wave. Still only one mile into the race they were still reasonably well bunched up as they passed me.
It took around twenty minutes for this first wave of runners to pass and then, after a short pause, the second wave came into view and so it continued until all seven waves had passed and then this man appeared, the very last runner in the race, complete with his own police escort.
It took about two hours for everyone to pass, which meant that more or less as the last man was passing me the Kenyan, Mark Korir, was crossing the finish line in the Avenue Foch in a winning time of 2 hours 5 minutes and 49 seconds.
The leading woman was the Ethiopian, Mesert Mengistu, who finished in a time of 2 hours 23 minutes and 24 seconds.
Of the 41,342 runners who started the Paris Marathon on Sunday, 40,172 of them completed the course with the last runner crossing the finish line in a time of 7 hours 55 minutes and 56 seconds.
Even though my sound piece above only contains the sounds of the Handisport competitors, the elite athletes and the first wave of runners, I recorded the sounds of every runner that passed me in rue de Rivoli, all 41,342 of them.
For me, capturing the Paris Marathon in sound is fascinating because behind every footstep and every gasp for air lies not only a personal challenge to complete the course but also many untold stories and I find that intriguing.
Here are some useless facts you might like to know about the Paris Marathon.
There are 10 refreshment stands (one every 5 km) along the route and between them they hand out around 23 tons of bananas, 15 tons of oranges, 2 tons of dried fruit and nuts, 7 tons of apples, 412,500 sugar cubes, 35,600 litres of sports drinks and 436,500 bottles of Vittel water. And, there are also 45 defibrillators available around the course!
Here are some more sights of yesterday’s Paris Marathon.
The clean-up trucks follow the race washing and sweeping the streets
IT WAS ORIGINALLY a very ordinary square in Montmartre, a rural village dotted with vineyards and windmills but today, Place du Tertre is one of the most visited squares in Paris. Standing in the shadow of the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur the square is filled with cafés, tourists, artists, street performers and buskers.
Place du Tertre dates back to 1635 when it occupied land owned by the Abbaye de Montmartre, a Benedictine abbey founded in the 12th century. It stands on top of a hill, the Butte Montmartre, and it is from its location that the square derives its name; tertre is the French word for hillock.
As its population increased, Montmartre became an independent commune in 1790 and then in 1860, along with a clutch of other surrounding communes, it was absorbed into the City of Paris.
Although Montmartre is a popular tourist magnet today, it wasn’t always so.
The commune was partially destroyed at the end of March, 1814 in the Battle of Paris when the French surrendered to the coalition forces of Russia, Austria and Prussia forcing the Emperor Napoleon to abdicate and to go into exile. During this time Russian Cossack soldiers set up camp on the hill and, so the story goes, it was at N°6 Place du Tertre, in the café La Mère Catherine, that the Cossacks first introduced the term bistro (Russian for ‘quickly’) into the French lexicon.
Montmartre suffered again during the Revolution of 1848 when the insurgents hid in the underground galleries of the gypsum mines and in the Paris Commune of 1870-71 when it became the cradle of the insurrection. During the Paris Commune, the Communards seized all the canons used for the defence of Paris and gathered them on Place du Tertre.
By the end of the 19th century the character of Montmartre was changing. The extraction of gypsum in the many quarries came to an end, new buildings slowly replaced the vineyards and orchards and some of the windmills were transformed into cabarets.
Place du Tertre, around 1900 : Image courtesy of Paris en Images
“In this bizarre land swarmed a host of colourful artists, writers, painters, musicians, sculptors, architects, a few with their own places but most in furnished lodgings, surrounded by the workers of Montmartre, the starchy ladies of the rue Bréda, the retired folk of Batignolles, sprouting up all over the place, like weeds. Montmartre was home to every kind of artist.”
A thriving bohemian culture driven by its critique of decadent society attracted artists, intellectuals and writers to Montmartre where they frequented its vibrant halls of entertainment and celebrated them in their paintings, literature, and poems. Vincent van Gough, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec were just some of the artists who took up residence in the district.
Montmartre reached its artistic zenith around the time of the Exposition Universelle of 1900 by which time it boasted over forty venues comprising cabarets, café-concerts, dance halls, music halls, theatres, and circuses. But it wasn’t to last. The area’s underground bohemian culture had become a part of mainstream bourgeois entertainment and artists like Toulouse-Lautrec and his avant-garde contemporaries lost interest in Montmartre’s nightlife and sought their modern subjects elsewhere.
Artists though are still to be found in Place du Tertre, some with regular pitches in the square and others, more itinerant, walking around capturing the willing, and sometimes the unsuspecting tourists.
Over the years many artists have migrated to Montmartre but one of the few famous ones to have been born there was Maurice Utrillo (1883-1955). Utrillo specialised in painting cityscapes and it was with him in mind that I recorded my soundwalk; my sonic equivalent of an Utrillo cityscape.
Place du Tertre – A Soundwalk:
My soundwalk around Place du Tertre captures some of its contemporary atmosphere but, alas, it doesn’t capture the moment on Christmas Eve 1898, when Louis Renault’s first car was driven up the Butte Montmartre to the Place du Tertre, marking the advent of the French automobile industry.
The plaque to mark the arrival of Louis Renault’s first motorcar in Place du Tertre.
Whilst its artists and entertainers might not be quite as illustrious as in the past, Place du Tertre continues to be at the heart of the vibrant community that is Montmartre.
RUE FOYATIER IS not only one of the most visited streets in Paris it’s also one of the most unusual. It was opened in 1867 and named after the sculptor Denis Foyatier (1793–1863).
Rue Foyatier is one of the most visited streets in the city because it’s one of the main thoroughfares leading up la butte Montmartre, the large hill in the 18th arrondissement that gives its name to the surrounding district. It’s unusual because it’s not a conventional street; it is in fact an escalier, a giant staircase.
Images of rue Foyatier, and other staircases leading up la butte Montmartre, have become iconic images of Paris thanks to the work of Brassaï and other great photographers.
Brassaï: Escalier de la butte Montmartre, Paris 18e, c. 1937-1938
At 100 metres long and 12 metres wide, rue Foyatier begins at the foot of the butte Montmartre at rue André Barsacq and ends at the top of the hill at rue Saint-Éluthère in the shadow of the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.
Viewed from the bottom of the street the climb up rue Foyatier looks daunting. Those brave enough to tackle it will negotiate 222 stone steps and climb 36 metres in order to reach the top. From my own experience I can attest that the climb is in fact as daunting as it looks!
But for those who can’t face the climb on foot there is an alternative, a funicular railway.
The funicular was opened on 13th July 1900 and was entirely rebuilt in 1935 and again in 1991. Some two million people a year use the funicular to ascend the butte Montmartre. The journey takes a little under two minutes and it costs the price of a Métro ticket.
Much of the sound work I do in Paris is influenced to a large extent by the work of the great nineteenth and early twentieth century Parisian street photographers and so, with Brassaï’s iconic photograph in mind, I set off to capture the sound tapestry of the Escalier de la butte Montmartre.
Rue Foyatier in Sound:
I recorded these sounds from more or less the same position that Brassaï took his picture. In fact, I was positioned to the right of the first lamppost with my microphones close to and facing across the steps towards the funicular and the 2.5 hectare terraced public garden that lies beyond.
Brassaï would have captured his image in a fraction of second but, stretching to a little over twenty-minutes, my exposure time was much longer.
My sound image includes breathless people struggling up the steps and people walking down seemingly much more relaxed, the sounds of the funicular cars being raised and lowered by their taught metal cables and the sounds of the crowds drifting across from the terraced garden at the foot of Sacré-Cœur.
If you listen carefully you will also hear snatches of individual stories unfolding, like the lady who stops to announce that her sock had fallen down, the testosterone-fuelled young man telling his friend that he wants to race up the steps and the breathless young American lady asking her friends if they are, “suckin’ wind yet?”
I have deliberately not included any images of what I could see from my recording position because to do so would miss the point. Just as Brassaï lets his picture capture the atmosphere and tell the story of this place, my recording is intended to do the same by simply letting the sounds speak for themselves and leaving you to create your own images from your imagination.
For those who do negotiate rue Foyatier, either on foot or on the funicular, the reward at the top is certainly worthwhile – a magnificent view of the Parisian skyline.