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August 8, 2015

5

La Fontaine Stravinsky and its Sounds

by soundlandscapes

SET IN A SHALLOW basin in Place Stravinsky in the shadow of the Centre Pompidou, sixteen works of sculpture move and spray water into the air.

Created by the sculptors Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle, these sculptures, collectively known as la Fontaine Stravinsky, form what is perhaps the quirkiest fountain in Paris.

Fontaine Stravinsky

La Fontaine Stravinsky was part of a larger sculptural programme, launched by the City of Paris in 1978, to build seven contemporary fountains with sculptures in different squares in the city. As well as la Fontaine Stravinsky, the project included new fountains at the Hotel de Ville and within the gardens of the Palais Royal. These were the first public fountains to be built in Paris since the fountains of the Palais de Chaillot were constructed for the Paris Exposition of 1937.

Rue Brise-Miche

The basin containing the sixteen sculptures sits above the offices of IRCAM, the Institut de recherche et coordination acoustique/musique, an organisation devoted to promoting modern music and musicology. The founder of the IRCAM, the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, suggested the works of the composer Igor Stravinsky as a theme for the fountain.

The sixteen sculptures therefore represent:

L’Oiseau de feu (The Firebird)

La Clef de Sol (the Musical Key of G)

La Spirale (The Spiral)

L’Elephant (The Elephant)

Le Renard (The Fox)

Le Serpent (The Serpent)

La Grenouille (The Frog)

La Diagonale (The Diagonal)

La Mort (Death)

La Sirène (The Mermaid)

Le Rossignol (The Nightingale)

L’Amour (Love)

La Vie (Life)

Le Cœur (The Heart)

Le Chapeau de Clown (The Clown’s Hat)

Ragtime (Ragtime)

Rue Brise-Miche

Because of the IRCAM rooms below, the Fontaine Stravinsky was designed to be as light as possible with the basin being very shallow and made from stainless steel and the sculptures made of plastic and other lightweight materials.

Rue Brise-Miche

Funding for the Fontaine Stravinsky was provided by the City of Paris who paid two million French francs for the project, which was matched by a further two million French francs from the French Ministry of Culture.

Originally, the commission for the fountain was given to Jean Tinguely, best known for his kinetic art, or sculptural machines. It was envisaged that the fountain would have been entirely composed of his black-painted mechanical sculptures but, in May 1982, Tinguely asked that brightly coloured works by his second wife, Niki de Saint Phalle, also be included. This proposal was resisted at first because it was thought that the brightly coloured works would visually overwhelm the dark works of Tinguely but, after much descussion, it was agreed that it would be a joint project by Tinguely and Saint Phalle.

Fontaine Stravinsky

I went to the Fontaine Stravinsky the other day to try to capture the different sound textures from each of the sixteen sculptures but when I arrived I found that the basin had been drained and routine maintenance work was going on. Far from being disappointing, it gave me a chance to see the inner workings of the kinetic art.

Fontaine Stravinsky

All sixteen statues move and spray water and the cables and hoses that feed them are laid along the bottom of the basin.

Fontaine Stravinsky

There are a host of cafés and restaurants in the thirteenth century rue Brisemiche running alongside Place Stravinsky so I decided to head off for something to eat while the maintenance work was being carried out.

Fontaine Stravinsky

When I returned the basin was being refilled and the sculptures were bursting into life.

Fontaine Stravinsky

Sounds of la Fontaine Stravinsky:

Fontaine Stravinsky

I walked around the perimeter of the fountain pausing to explore the sonic texture of each of the sixteen statues. Some of the textures are quite distinctive but others, the more delicate ones, tend to be overshadowed by their more raucous neighbours – but they are there if you listen very carefully.

I recorded in the evening so I was not surprised to capture the sounds of the gentlemen from the Mairie de Paris arriving in their smart, green, electric truck to replace the large translucent rubbish bags beside the fountain. I was though surprised to capture the sound of the water to the fountain being turned off for the night from a stopcock behind the neighbouring Eglise Saint-Merri. The sudden absence of running water seemed to leave a curious sonic vacuum in the air.

Rue Brise-Miche

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aug 8 2015

    I listened to this water moving through my thoughts on a hot (103 degreeF ) in Austin this afternoon. I loved the green reflections in the pictures in the beginning.

    Reply
    • Aug 10 2015

      Thanks Richard.

      I can tell you that your hot Austin afternoon is being replicated here too.

      Yes, the green reflections appear when the basin is full of water and when the light is just right. At that point the underwater cables and hoses disappear from view and all one sees are the sixteen sculptures spraying water. At first sight the sculptures seem a bit bizarre but when put into the context of Stravinsky’s ballet, ‘The Firebird’, they make perfect sense. It just shows that context is everything!

      Reply
  2. hmunro
    Aug 11 2015

    Your post is proof that one can walk past something 100 times and never actually see or hear it, Des: Would you believe that I never really noticed the black sculptures before? I thought they were simply infrastructure to support their more colorful siblings. Likewise, I’ve of course heard the splashing water — but have never actually listened to its different textures, or how those textures shift as you move around. Thank you for this wonderful reminder to PAY MORE ATTENTION.

    Reply
    • Aug 31 2015

      Thank you for your comment, Heather … and apologies for my late reply!

      I have to confess that, like you, I’ve walked past this fountain many times and never really stopped to look at it carefully and to consider what it might be about. It was a sudden fit of curiosity that made me go and investigate it properly.

      Reply

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