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Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot – A Soundwalk

HOME FOR SOME, a workplace for others and a thoroughfare for all, the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot in the 11th arrondissement is a narrow street linking the relatively quiet Rue Amelot and the very busy Boulevard Voltaire.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot from Rue Amelot

At 275 metres long and 3.5 metres wide the street hosts a large Renault garage, offices for the telecommunications company, Orange, student accommodation and apartment buildings. There are no cafés, restaurants or shops. Cars may pass along the street but a speed limit of 15 km/h is in force.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot from Boulevard Voltaire

The Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot has been on my soundwalk ‘to do’ list for some time simply because it’s an ordinary Parisian street, and listening to and capturing the sound tapestry of ordinary Parisian streets, known and used by locals and largely ignored by tourists, appeals to me.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot – the offices of ‘Orange’ on the right

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot – A Soundwalk:

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

At first hearing you might think these sounds are the ordinary, everyday sounds of an ordinary Parisian street and in one sense they are. But sounds don’t exist in a vacuum, either in reality or metaphorically, all sounds have a context and when you know the context ordinary sounds can sometimes become quite extraordinary.

When you hear the toothless man saying ‘Bon Courage’ and know that he is directing it at a police officer armed with a high-powered rifle, and when you hear the sounds of a police radio you might begin to suspect that all is not what it seems in the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

When you know that the wall on the left in the picture above belongs to the Bataclan café and concert venue where 89 people were shot dead on the night of 13th November and when you know that the large door along the wall is where many young people, some injured and others about to die, spilled out onto the street trying to escape, then these ordinary sounds become quite extraordinary.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

The Bataclan emergency exit through which some people escaped and where some died

I recorded these sounds ten days on from the attack on the Bataclan. The police presence, although still there, is diminished and the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot is regaining its composure even though stark reminders of the tragic events are still to be seen.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot

For over a week after the attack, the Bataclan was completely cordoned off and it’s only in the last few days that the cordon has been partially removed. Now, leaving the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot and crossing over the Boulevard Voltaire, it’s possible to get a perspective on the scene.

Boulevard Voltaire - Bataclan

The Bataclan with the entrance to Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot on the left

I began my work capturing and archiving the sounds of Paris several years ago and at that time I resolved to capture the city’s complex sound tapestry as comprehensively as I could. My aim was to capture sounds from all parts of the city and the surrounding suburbs, to capture sounds ranging from the spectacular to the ordinary and to be part of the soundscape without changing it.

Occasionally, I’ve become part of the media circus jostling with TV and radio crews to get prime position to capture major events but most of my work is carried out as an aural flâneur, working alone, simply observing through active listening. And working alone gives me the advantage of being able to choose where I record and what sounds I record.

Twice this year Paris has been attacked and twice I’ve had to choose what sounds to record to reflect these events.

Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January I published sounds on this blog from the national day of mourning and sounds from the huge wave of public sympathy that followed. I also recorded sounds that I chose not to publish.

Last week, I published sounds on this blog in the aftermath of the latest attacks but I’ve also recorded sounds that I’ve chosen not to publish.

During the last week I’ve visited all the attack sites again and I was surprised to find that I was affected by the experience more than I expected. At each site, although the media circus has long gone, the tributes are still there but the candle flames are dimmed, the flowers are wilting and the written tributes are fading. The pictures of some of the victims though stand out starkly and, looking at the pictures, it’s impossible not to make a personal connection with these victims.

Boulevard Voltaire - Bataclan

The sounds I recorded in the Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot beside the Bataclan may be ordinary, everyday sounds to some but they are extraordinary and very personal sounds to me.

For me, these sounds will always reflect not only a moment in time and a sense of place, a place recovering its composure, but also echoes of the tragedy that took place here and across the city and the emotion that I felt as the events unfolded and in the aftermath.

Passage Saint-Pierre Amelot


Le Grand Bourdon Speaks for the Nation … Again

FOR THE SECOND TIME this year, Emmanuel, the three-hundred year old, thirteen ton, Grand Bourdon de la Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, the largest of Notre-Dame’s bells, tolled for the victims of a violent attack.

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris

In January this year the Paris offices of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, were attacked and twelve people were killed and eleven injured.

Last Friday evening a series of attacks took place in Paris that made the Charlie Hebdo attack look like a skirmish: 129 people were killed and 352 were wounded of which 99 are reportedly in a critical condition.

At 6.15 last Saturday evening le Grand Bourdon, Emmanuel, tolled mournfully ahead of a special Mass led by the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, for the victims of the latest attacks and their relatives in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.

At midday yesterday a minute’s silence was held across France.

Rue de Charonne - La Belle Equipe

It’s very tempting in the face of the latest attacks to produce a blog piece about how much I love this city (which I do), about how Parisians have faced up to the situation with fortitude and solidarity (which they have) and how we must carry on as normal otherwise the bad guys win (which we must) – and I might have done that had it not been for an encounter I had yesterday afternoon.

At midday yesterday I, along with thousands of others, observed the minute’s silence after which I went to pay my respects at the sites where lives had been lost.

I’d already been to the Bataclan concert venue, where the biggest loss of life occurred, and to La Belle Équipe, a bistro I know well in rue de Charonne, although I only found out later that the attack on La Belle Équipe had left the owner, Grégory Reibenberg, cradling his dying wife in his arms.

I walked up to rue Fontaine de la Roi and the Casa Nostra restaurant to find bullet holes in the windows and blood stains on the street and then to rue Alibert and the café Le Carillon and the restaurant Le Petit Camboge.

I sat on a Parisian green bench looking across the street at the café and the restaurant, both the heart of the community in this neighbourhood. Yesterday, both were closed.

As usual, these places were busy last Friday evening but around 10.30 pm all that changed. A car pulled up, two young men got out, opened fire and within seconds fourteen people were dead. An eyewitness said the gunmen didn’t spray bullets randomly, instead they systematically picked their targets, shot them, and they fell like dominoes one at a time.

From my green bench I was trying to imagine the scene when I saw a predatory television producer trying first to seduce and then to pressure people to be interviewed, almost to the point of harassment.

Presently, a young woman, in her early twenties I suppose, walked across from Le Carillon, sat down beside me and began sobbing uncontrollably. She was distressed and inconsolable.

The TV producer began to walk towards us but then, seeing my icy stare, she thought better of it and moved on in search of other victims. It seems the insatiable appetite of the 24-hour news channels must be fed by whatever means.

Although I’d never met this young woman before and will probably never meet her again, both she and the predatory TV producer left an indelible mark on me and made me see these attacks for what they really were.

Rue Fontaine de la Roi

The apologists of course will ascribe blame for the attacks to whatever best suits their prejudices and politicians will attribute motives and promote remedies to suit their political preferences. The solidarity shown in the immediate aftermath of the attacks will inevitably break down and the recriminations will begin.

The world’s media camped out in tented villages across Paris will no doubt continue to feed off the tragic misfortune of others by regurgitating the same pictures over and over again and will continue to forage for morsels of information, speculation and so-called ‘human interest’ angles to keep the ‘story’ alive – at least until a bigger story comes along.

Whatever their motive, whatever banner they were following, whatever cause they claimed to believe in, the brutal fact is that eight young men rampaged through Paris last Friday evening and in the space of three hours systematically slaughtered 129 completely innocent, mainly young people, wounded 352 others and left 99 of them fighting for their lives – not to mention the resulting anguish of countless relatives and friends.

I doubt the young woman sobbing beside me yesterday had much thought for the motives behind the events of last Friday or the media’s coverage of them. The tragedy had clearly struck her hard, most likely personally.

Like all those who died or were injured, or those bereaved like Grégory Reibenberg at La Belle Équipe, or the relatives of those still unaccounted for, this young woman was a victim and, in the face of such indiscriminate violence, we are all victims.

Boulevard Voltaire - Bataclan

In Memoriam:


The Bataclan – 89 dead

Rue de Charonne - La Belle Equipe

La Belle Equipe – 18 dead

Rue Fontaine de la Roi

Casa Nostra – 5 dead

Rue Alibert - La Carillon

Le Carillon

Rue Alibert - Le Petit Camboge

Le Petite Camboge (and La Carillon) – 14 dead

Place de la République


Parc Martin Luther King and its Sounds

HAD PARIS WON its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games today’s Parc Martin Luther King would have been the site of the athlete’s Olympic village.

Parc Martin Luther King

Built on the site of old warehouses and a former railway yard in the 17th arrondissement, the park was designed by the landscape architect Jacqueline Osty. Four hectares of the park were opened in 2007 and by 2018 it will have been extended to cover ten hectares. The park is part of a wider urban development programme for the area, which includes 3,400 homes, 148,000 m2 of office space, 38,000 m2 of public facilities and 31,000 m2 of commerce, culture and leisure.

Originally named Parc Clichy – Batignolles, the two communes the park bisects, in 2008 it became Parc Clichy – Batignolles – Martin Luther King to mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of the American pastor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King (1929-1968).


Parc Martin Luther King before … Image courtesy Atelier Jacqueline Osty


Parc Martin Luther King on completion … Image courtesy Atelier Jacqueline Osty

The park has a connection with railways because not only is it built on a former railway yard but its western edge runs adjacent to the Paris – Le Havre railway line and a section of the former railway line le Petite Ceinture runs across it.

And the rail connection doesn’t stop there. At the southern corner of the park work is under way to build a new Métro station, Pont Cardinet. As part of the Greater Paris Project, the plan to extend the city by absorbing some of the suburbs and redeveloping the city centre, this station is part of the extension to Métro Line 14 and it’s due to open in 2019.

Rue Cardinet

Unlike the Square des Batignolles, a classical 19th century English garden across the street, Parc Martin Luther King has a contemporary design based on the themes of the seasons of the year, water and sport.

With the selection of vegetation providing an ever-changing landscape reflecting the seasons of the year, Jacqueline Osty has created a space suitable for contemplative relaxation, walking or, for the more active, sport and games.

Parc Martin Luther King

The theme of water is represented by a variety of streams and a biotope basin, a lake with a rich and varied ecosystem supplied by non-potable water and rainwater. Water from the lake can be used to water the park during particularly dry spells. The lake is home to a variety of aquatic plants and of course to ducks.

As well as the long, straight aisles dedicated to walking and jogging, the theme of sport is represented by two playgrounds for children, a basketball court, space to play football and pétanque and an impressive skate park.

Parc Martin Luther King

Sounds in Parc Martin Luther King:

Parc Martin Luther King

This sound piece captures two of the themes of the park: water and sport.

I sat at the side of the lake listening to the water, the ducks and children running across the metal grill at the edge of the water simply because it made an entertaining noise. I then moved to the skate park where I found the sounds captivating – even though some of the language was a little ‘off-piste‘ from time to time!

This young man particularly impressed me though because his actions spoke much more than his words. He was doing back somersaults as he sped over the ramp!

Parc Martin Luther King

One fascinating area of the park is the espace biologique protégé, a protected space left to flourish completely untouched.

Parc Martin Luther King

With low-maintenance plants and shrubs and rainwater recycling and with the park buildings powered by solar panels and wind turbines, the park has been created with environmental protection very much in mind.

Parc Martin Luther King

The urban development scheme, including the Parc Martin Luther King, is currently the largest construction project in Paris.

Alongside the western edge of the park the work continues with the skyline littered with cranes and the sounds of building work filling the air. On the eastern side though much of the development work has been completed with apartment blocks of contemporary design.

When all the work is completed and the new Métro station opened, Parc Martin Luther King will undoubtedly become the centrepiece of the neighbourhood.

Parc Martin Luther King



Ménilmontant – Au Coin de la Rue

AS YOU WALK ALONG rue Étienne-Dolet in Ménilmontant in the 20th arrondissement it’s hard to miss the imposing church, l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix at the end of the street. The street was named after the French writer, poet, printer and humanist, Étienne Dolet, who was executed in 1546 for heresy and atheism after publishing a tract denying the existence of the soul. Ironically, the street was named after him in 1879 precisely because it leads to a church.

L’Eglise Notre Dame de la Croix - Ménilmontant

L’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix from rue Étienne-Dolet

The architect, Louis-Antoine Heret, designed l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix to replace a former chapel that stood on the site. Combining neo-Romanesque and neo-Gothic architecture the church is huge – 97 meters long, 38 meters wide, 20 meters high under the vault of the nave – not to mention the massive 78 metre bell tower.

Like many churches in Paris, l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix was used to hold political meetings during the Paris Commune of 1871. In fact, it was here on 6th May 1871 that a resolution was passed by the Communards calling for the death of the Archbishop of Paris, Monseigneur Georges Darboy. The resolution was carried out and the Archbishop was executed as the Paris Commune was about to be overthrown.

L’Eglise Notre Dame de la Croix - Ménilmontant

L’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix – the nave

One feature of l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix that may go unnoticed by the casual visitor, but certainly not by me, is the organ. I’ve long been fascinated by church and cathedral organs and particularly the organs of the master French organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, and this church boasts a very special Cavaillé-Coll organ, one classed as a monument historique.

The organ was built between 1872 and 1874 and it’s one of the rare examples of a Cavaillé-Coll organ that has not been altered to any significant extent.

Building the organ posed two major problems – a rose window that was not to be concealed and a bell passageway in the gallery used for the operation of the bells and as a route to bring them down for repair that was not to be obstructed.

Cavaillé-Coll came up with a technically complex but very neat solution; he built the organ case in two sections leaving the centre of the gallery and the rose window unmasked.

L’Eglise Notre Dame de la Croix - Ménilmontant

The Cavaillé-Coll split organ case, the rose window and the bell passageway above

Splitting the organ case though was not the complete solution. There remained a complex problem: the three-manual organ console could not be built in the usual position in the centre of the gallery with a direct action to the two organ cases.

How Aristide Cavaillé-Coll resolved this problem is worth a blog piece of its own!

L’Eglise Notre Dame de la Croix - Ménilmontant

L’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix is built on a hill so to enter by the main entrance it’s necessary to climb fifty-four steps of the grand staircase that leads up from the street.

It was from these steps that I was able to look out over one of my favourite Parisian hideaways – Place Maurice Chevalier.

Place Maurice Chevalier - Ménilmontant

Located at the corner of Rue Étienne-Dolet the square was originally called Place Gerard Manvusa but that was changed in 1978 in honour of the French singer and entertainer, Maurice Chevalier, a Ménilmontant celebrity who was born close by at 29, rue du Retrait.

Place Maurice Chevalier - Ménilmontant

The commune of Ménilmontant is far removed from the glamour of central Paris but, for me, that’s its attraction. I’ve spent many hours here, au coin de la rue, watching and listening to everyday life passing by.

Place Maurice Chevalier - Ménilmontant

Ménilmontant: Sounds in Place Maurice Chevalier – Au Coin de la Rue:

Place Maurice Chevalier - Ménilmontant

With l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix as a backdrop I sit on a green bench in the leaf-strewn square and begin to listen. It’s a little before 5.00 pm and with a Wallace fountain, a café and a boulangerie and another café across the street all echoing to the sound of passing footsteps crunching the autumn leaves I absorb the mixture of ecclesiastical and secular sounds that fill the air.

A refuse truck pulls up and loads some rubbish. A street sweeper gathers leaves from the gutter. A group of schoolchildren surround me on their way back from an outing. A bell sounds out from l’Église Notre-Dame de la Croix calling the faithful to worship. A group of small schoolchildren walk past hand in hand on my right gaily chanting, ‘à gauche … à droite’. A dog barks. A school bus comes to a squeaking halt at the foot of the steps to the church blocking the traffic. As the schoolchildren disembark from the bus music pulsates from a car radio and car horns sound impatiently. The schoolchildren pass me and their sounds fade into the distance. A metal bottle top falls to the ground. A youngster on a bicycle taunts the pigeons. The church clock chimes five o’clock. The pigeons speak. A shopping trolley passes.

Place Maurice Chevalier - Ménilmontant

Paris has many charms but, to my phonographer’s ear, ordinary people creating a deftly woven sound tapestry as they go about their daily lives in this part of cosmopolitan Paris is one of the most fascinating.

Place Maurice Chevalier - Ménilmontant