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May 15, 2015


The Passage l’Homme and its Sounds

by soundlandscapes

THE AREA TO THE EAST of Bastille, the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, was traditionally a working class neighbourhood with a focus on craft industries. Its proximity to the Seine with its plentiful supply of wood saw the area develop into an important centre for the furniture industry, which it still is today.

Many of the skilled craftsmen didn’t work in the main streets preferring instead to set up their workshops in the plethora of small, cobblestone, passageways leading off the main thoroughfares. Many of these passageways survive today and some still accommodate skilled craftsmen.

Passage de l’Homme

A set of double doors at N°26 rue de Charonne lead into one of these surviving passageways, the Passage l’Homme.

Passage de l’Homme

Stretching for 122 metres the Passage l’Homme is lined with ateliers on the ground floor with apartments above. In prime position close to the entrance is an amazing toyshop.

Passage de l’Homme

Further along the passage is the atelier of Alain Hollard whose family firm was established here over a hundred years ago. He specialises in a traditional craft long associated with this part of Paris, Vernissage au Tampon, known in English as French polishing.

Passage de l’Homme

For me, the most striking thing about the Passage l’Homme is not the sights, delightful though they are, but the sounds.

Sounds in the Passage l’Homme:

Sandwiched between rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine, rue de Charonne and l’avenue Ledru-Rollin the Passage l’Homme is surrounded on all sides by busy streets awash with heavy traffic and yet deep inside the passage a curious calm prevails. Such sounds as there are represent life being lived in the street uncluttered for the most part by noise pollution and so each sound seems to take on an extra significance.

Just as Eugène Atget would have set up his large-format wooden bellows camera to photograph this place a hundred years ago, I set up my microphones half way along the passage and with a much longer exposure time than Atget would have used I pressed ‘record’ and walked away leaving the microphones to capture the scene.

Occasional birdsong, the clatter of lunchtime crockery, anonymous footsteps and distant conversation paint the canvas upon which the more prominent sounds can shine. A young lady collects a large sheet of artwork from the graphic designer’s office and rolls it up as she leaves, doors open and close, two French middle-aged men busily clicking their cameras walk by, the apartment gardien emerges and sits on a step taking a phone call, someone whistles, a young child in a buggy passes by proclaiming something obviously very important to the world and Monsieur Hollard returns from his lunch, unlocks the door to his atelier and goes inside to continue with his vernis au tampon.

Passage de l’Homme

In the bustling streets of Paris noise pollution is a constant companion and quiet places are hard to find. That’s why I find it so refreshing to visit the Passage l’Homme. For sure, it’s an interesting place to see but it’s so much more interesting to listen to. In this verdant corner of the city the noise pollution subsides and the ordinary sounds of everyday life take centre-stage. Like a fine wine these sounds deserve to be savoured and enjoyed.

Passage de l’Homme

Passage de l’Homme

Passage de l’Homme

Passage de l’Homme

Passage de l’Homme

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. hmunro
    May 15 2015

    What a fascinating idea, to set up your microphones and walk away. And what a rich microcosm of Paris you’ve captured! My own ears gravitated toward the most familiar sounds, of course — what sounded to me like the “click-whir” of an SLR shutter, in the first few minutes of your recording, and the faint wail of a passing ambulance. I also loved the voice and the quintessentially Parisian inflection of the woman placing a phone call at about 8:39. But can you please explain to me what was happening at 7:20? It sounds like that poor infant is being bounced quite “enthusiastically”! Your narrative and photos were as lovely as ever, too. Thank you for whisking me off to Paris, if only in my imagination.

    • May 15 2015

      Thank you, Heather.

      You’re quite right about the SLR shutter, it was the two enthusiastic French men snapping away at anything and everything. As for the infant, well she was really cute. She was in a buggy being pushed by her father and she seemed to be tickled by being bumped up and down as she was pushed over the pavé.

      As you know, I record some of the spectacular sounds of Paris, the parades, the carnivals, the street demonstrations etc. but I get just as much, perhaps even more, satisfaction from recording everyday sounds like those in the Passgae l’Homme. Sounds like these simply fascinate me.

      • hmunro
        May 17 2015

        These “mundane” sounds fascinate me too, Des. Thank you for recording them, and especially for sharing them so generously.

  2. Michelle Mendenhall
    Oct 9 2018

    I lived in this passage in 2003 for 9 months. We had a view of the top of the July column in Place de la Bastille from our apartment. It was an amazingly quiet space in an otherwise lively area of the city. When you walked through the usually closed front doors, it was like another world in there.
    The first time I walked down the courtyard it was brimming with activity. There was a person painting on the side with an easel set-up. There were furniture makers working. There was the 80 year old woman with her dog that lived behind the door on the right side of the last photo you posted. The toy store wasn’t yet there. But, the scene and sounds were like out of a movie. I couldn’t believe I got to live there.
    I’m a film editor and sometimes record sounds when I travel. I wish I had when I stayed here. It was so nice to hear the sounds that you recorded!
    I still visit this street when I go to Paris. When the front door is closed, the back entryway is usually open.
    When we were living there, the apartment across the hall from us was for sale. I really regret that we didn’t buy it – not that we had the money to back then.


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