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February 7, 2017


From January to June

by soundlandscapes

ALTHOUGH PERHAPS NOT quite yet an obsession, searching for quiet in the busy, traffic strewn city of Paris has become a major preoccupation for me, even though it is a Sisyphean task since quiet is a rare commodity in the Parisian soundscape.

Just to be clear, for me quiet isn’t necessarily the absence of noise, but rather a state where individual sounds, which are always there but usually shrouded in a cloak of more aggressive, often unwelcome sounds, are allowed to speak and tell their own story.

Aggressive and unwelcome sounds can be found in abundance at any of the major road intersections in Paris, intersections like Place de la Bastille for example, which straddles the 4th, 11th and 12th arrondissements. Seven roads converge here, each spewing a toxic ribbon of traffic around the 1830 July Column.

One might be forgiven for thinking that amidst the cacophonous noise pollution around Place de la Bastille quiet might be elusive, but it can be found if one searches diligently.


One of the streets leading from Place de la Bastille is Rue de la Roquette, a seventeenth century street once home to the French poet Paul Verlaine, the dramatist Michel-Jean Sedaine, the historian Jules Michelet and, for a time in the 1980s, the celebrity chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay. At N°2 Rue de la Roquette is a seventeenth century archway leading into the Passage du Cheval Blanc.


Once home to timber warehouses supplying the cabinetmakers and furniture manufacturers close by, today the Passage du Cheval Blanc comprises a labyrinth of individual passageways and courtyards housing small businesses from the Maison Lucien Gau, specialising in the creation, conservation and restoration of lighting and bronze art objects, to architects’ offices and design studios as well as the studios of the radio station Oui FM.


Maison Lucien Gau

Walking from Place de la Bastille through the seventeenth century archway into the Passage du Cheval Blanc the atmosphere changes: the cacophony of Place de la Bastille gradually fades giving way to the indigenous sounds of the passage itself and a calming quietness.


Sounds inside the Passage du Cheval Blanc:


A distinguishing feature of the Passage du Cheval Blanc is that each of the interior passageways is named after a month of the year from January to June.








April – It’s not actually a passageway but a staircase





The sound piece above is my soundwalk from January to June and back to January again.

I have long held the view that constant, aggressive and unwelcome sounds are just as polluting and damaging to our health as the other sources that pollute our atmosphere with a plethora of toxic emissions. Walking through the Passage du Cheval Blanc, I couldn’t help thinking about how the mainly young, creative people who work here must profit from the absence of aggressive, unwelcome sounds.


5 Comments Post a comment
  1. hmunro
    Feb 7 2017

    I agree with your assertion that constant, unwelcome sounds can be detrimental to our health — and I love your characterization of these sounds as “aggressive.” You have me wondering whether many urban dwellers’ short tempers are related in part to this constant sonic assault on the senses. As you prove, it’s a good thing Paris’ architecture has embraced the concepts of passages and courtyards to give the residents some (relative) quiet.

    • Feb 7 2017

      Thanks, Heather.
      The Passage du Cheval Blanc is rather quirky, isn’t it? As you point out, the architecture here helps to reduce the noise pollution permeating this space but there are other examples where the architecture seems to do the exact opposite. Thankfully, consideration of the urban soundscape seems to have gained a higher profile with architects in recent times. As I’ve got older I have become much more aware of and much more sensitive to noise pollution. I think it’s a shame that it doesn’t have a higher profile in the general environmental debate but I guess that’s perhaps because it doesn’t actually kill people like some other forms of pollution.

      • hmunro
        Feb 8 2017

        I’ve become more aware of and sensitive to noise pollution over the years as well — just as I’ve gained new respect for its destructive powers after having lived next to an active rail line for seven months. Whether we’re aware of it or not I think it can take a toll on our health by releasing stress hormones, or causing sleep deprivation. As you say, though, it’s a good thing Paris’ city officials and many architects are now factoring noise pollution into their considerations.

  2. Richard Ewen
    Feb 8 2017

    I have always wondered why the motor bikes, especially the ones originally designed as “dirt bikes” haven’t been forced to muffle their excessively loud noises. If you could muffle those as well as the diesel trucks maybe next we could remove the cars’ horns.

    • Feb 8 2017

      Thanks, Richard. I quite agree. It seems to me that the noisy ‘deux roues’ run mostly on testosterone!


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