HAVING BEEN IN hospital recently for surgery to replace my portable life support system with a newer model I thought I would take this opportunity to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Soundlandscapes’ Blog by posting something close to my imperfect heart.
For the last seven years or so I’ve been recording and archiving the sounds of Paris, the agglomeration of individual sounds which, when woven together, form the sound tapestry that surrounds our everyday lives in this city. When people ask me what I do I usually say that I’m a professional listener, or that I’m a flâneur, endlessly walking the streets of Paris observing through active listening.
My sound work in Paris is influenced to a large degree by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century street photographers including, but not confined to, the work of Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau and Brassaï. Eugène Atget for example created a tremendous photographic record of the look and feel of nineteenth-century Paris just as it was being dramatically transformed by modernisation while the others featured the human condition in public places. I’ve learned a lot about recording the sound tapestry of Paris from studying the work and techniques of these photographers.
While these great photographers certainly influence my work the inspiration to begin my detailed exploration and documentation of the contemporary sound tapestry of Paris came from a different source, the French novelist, essayist, and filmmaker, Georges Perec.
Georges Perec 1936 – 1982
Georges Perec was born on 7th March 1936 in Belleville in the east of Paris, the only son of Polish Jewish parents who had emigrated to France in the 1920s. Both his parents died during WWII, his father from untreated wounds whilst serving in the French army and his mother in Auschwitz.
Adopted by his parental aunt and uncle in 1945, Georges went on to study history and sociology at the Sorbonne, he spent a year in the army as a parachutist, got married and then took up a job as an archivist in the research library at the Neurophysiological Research Laboratory at the Hôpital Saint-Antoine, a job he retained until four years before his untimely death at the age of 45.
Georges Perec’s talents ranged from writing fiction to compiling crossword puzzles for Le Point to creating the longest palindrome ever written to working in radio and making films. In 1965 his first novel Les Choses (Things: A Story of the Sixties) won the prix Renaudot and in 1978 his most acclaimed novel, La Vie mode d’emploi (Life a User’s Manual) won the prix Médicis and finally brought him financial and critical success.
Perec was a member of Oulipo, a group of writers and mathematicians devoted to the discovery and use of constraints to encourage literary inspiration. One of their most famous products was Perec’s own novel, La disparition (A Void), written entirely without the letter “e.”
Journaux Place St Sulpice : [photographie] / [Atget]
Just over eight years ago I emerged from a Parisian hospital after an uncomfortably close brush with death. Having been given a second chance in life’s lottery I was in need of a new challenge … but what?
The answer came unexpectedly. Browsing around a musty second-hand bookshop one day I came upon a small French book, just sixty pages or so, written by Georges Perec, someone I’d never heard of. Scanning through it my first impression was that it was a journal of some sort, lists of what seemed like random observations. I was curious so I bought it for next to nothing. As I left the bookshop I could never have imagined what an impression this little book would have on me and how it would fundamentally shape my work in Paris.
The book is called, Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien, published in English as An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, and it’s a collection of observations that Georges Perec wrote down as he sat in Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris. The point of these observations was to record “ce qui se passe quand il ne rien se passe”, what is happening when nothing is happening.
For three consecutive days in October 1974, Georges Perec flitted from one café to another in Place Saint-Sulpice recording everything that passed through his field of vision. Rather than describing impressive or notable things such as the architecture, he describes all the things that usually pass unnoticed.
In Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien Perec begins by setting the scene:
Il y a beaucoup de choses place Saint-Sulpice, par exemple : une mairie, un hôtel des finances, un commissariat de police, trois cafés dont un fait tabac, un cinéma, une église à laquelle ont travaillé Le Vau, Gittard, Oppenord, Servandoni et Chalgrin et qui est dédiée à un aumônier de Clotaire II qui fut évêque de Bourges de 624 à 644 et que l’on fête le 17 janvier, un éditeur, une entreprise de pompes funèbres, une agence de voyages, un arrêt d’autobus, un tailleur, un hôtel, une fontaine que décorent les statues des quatre grands orateurs chrétiens (Bossuet, Fénelon, Fléchier et Massillon), un kiosque à journaux, un marchand d’objets de piété, un parking, un institut de beauté, et bien d’autres choses encore.
But it’s the last paragraph that outlines his intention:
Un grand nombre, sinon la plupart, de ces choses ont été décrites, inventoriées, photographiées, racontées ou recensées. Mon propos dans les pages qui suivent a plutôt été de décrire le reste : ce que l’on ne note généralement pas, ce qui ne se remarque pas, ce qui n’a pas d’importance : ce qui se passe quand il ne se passe rien, sinon du temps, des gens, des voitures et des nuages.
My rough translation :
Many, if not most, of these things have been described, inventoried, photographed, recounted or recorded. My purpose in these pages was instead to describe the rest: what one generally does not notice, that which does not matter: what happens when nothing passes but time, people, cars and clouds.
Georges Perec made his observations while sitting in three cafés facing the Place Saint-Sulpice, the Tabac Saint-Sulpice, the Café Fontaine Saint-Sulpice and the Café de la Mairie. When he got tired of one he would move to another. Today, only the Café de la Mairie remains.
Café de la Mairie, 8, Place Saint-Sulpice
The other day I went to the Café de la Mairie with my second-hand copy of Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien. I took a seat outside by the door and turned to one of Georges Perec’s entries for 18th October 1974:
La date : 18 octobre 1974
L’heure 12 h. 40
Le lieu Café de la Mairie
Plusieurs dizaines, plusieurs centaines d’actions simultanées, de micro-événements dont chacun implique des postures , des actes moteurs , des dépenses d’énergie spécifiques : discussions à deux , discussions à trois, discussions à plusieurs : le mouvement des lèvres, les gestes , les mimiques expressives
modes de locomotion : marche, véhicule à deux roues (sans moteur, à moteur), automobiles (voitures privées, voitures de firmes, voitures de louage, auto-école), véhicules utilitaires, services publics, transports en communs , cars de touristes
modes de portage (à.la main, sous le bras , sur le dos)
modes de traction (cabas à roulettes)
degrés de détermination ou de motivation attendre , flâner , traîner , errer , aller, courir vers, se précipiter (vers un taxi libre, par exemple), chercher , musarder, hésiter, marcher d’un pas décidé
positions du corps : être assis (dans les autobus , dans les voitures , dans les cafés, sur les bancs)
être debout (près des arrêts d’ autobus , devant une vitrine (Laffont, pompes funèbres), à côté d’un taxi (le payant)
Trois personnes attendent près de l’arrêt des taxis. Il y a deux taxis, leurs chauffeurs sont absents (taxis capuchonnés)
Tous les pigeons se sont réfugiés sur la gouttière de la mairie.
Un 96 passe. Un 87 passe. Un 86 passe. Un 70 passe. Un camion « Grenelle Interlinge » passe.
Accalmie. Il n’y a personne à l’arrêt des autobus .
Un 63 passe. Un 96 passe
Une jeune femme est assise sur un banc, en face de la galerie de tapisseries « La demeure » elle fume une cigarette.
Il y a trois vélomoteurs garés sur le trottoir devant le café.
Un 86 passe. Un 70 passe.
Des voitures s’engouffrent dans le parking
Un 63 passe. Un 87 passe.
Il est une heure cinq. Une femme traverse en courant le parvis de l’église .
Un livreur en blouse blanche sort de sa camionnette garée devant le café des glaces (alimentaires) qu’il va livrer rue des Canettes.
Une femme tient une baguette à la main
Un 70 passe (c’est seulement par hasard, de la place que j’occupe, que je peux voir passer, à l’autre bout, des 84)
Les automobiles suivent des axes de circulation évidemment privilégiés (sens unique , pour moi, de gauche à droite) ; c’est beaucoup moins sensible pour les piétons : il semblerait que la plupart vont rue des Canettes ou en viennent.
Un 96 passe.
Un 86 passe. Un 87 passe. Un 63 passe
Des gens trébuchent. Micro-accidents.
Un 96 passe. Un 70 passe.
Il est une heure vingt.
Retour (aléatoire) d’individus déjà vus : un jeune garçon en caban bleu marine tenant à la main une pochette plastique repasse devant le café
Un 86 passe. Un 86 passe. Un 63 passe.
Le café est plein
Sur le terre-plein un enfant fait courir son chien (genre Milou)
Juste en bordure du café, au pied de la vitrine et en trois emplacements différents, un homme, plutôt jeune, dessine à la craie sur le trottoir une sorte de « V » à l’intérieur duquel s’ébauche une manière de point d’interrogation (land-art ?)
Un 63 passe
6 égouttiers (casques et cuissardes) prennent la rue des Canettes .
Deux taxis libres à l’arrêt des taxis, un 87 passe
Un aveugle venant de la rue des Canettes passe devant le café ; c’est un homme jeune, à la démarche assez assurée.
Un 86 passe
Deux hommes à pipes et sacoches noires
Un homme à sacoche noire sans pipe
Une femme en veste de laine, hilare
Un autre 96
(talons hauts : chevilles tordues)
Une deux-chevaux vertpomme.
I haven’t included the full entry for this particular observation session but you can see from this extract, whether you understand French or not, that Georges Perec is what one might call a contra-flâneur; he sits still and observes as the world moves by. Incidentally, the numbers that he lists are the numbers of the buses that pass and, as I could see for myself the other day, buses with the same numbers still pass.
From the time I first discovered it, Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien made a huge impression on me. I could immediately see how Georges Perec’s detailed observations of everyday life, his quest for the infraordinary: the humdrum, the non-event, the everyday “what happens when nothing happens” could be replicated equally compellingly in sound. That revelation inspired me to begin my own observations of Paris, detailed observations of the city through its intricate and multi-textured sound tapestry.
Because Georges Perec inspired me to undertake my exploration of Paris in sound I couldn’t possibly have left the Café de la Mairie without making my own infraordinary observations of the Place Saint-Sulpice.
‘Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien’ in sound:
From my contra-flâneur’s seat outside the Café de la Mairie, probably a seat once occupied by Perec himself, I recorded my own Tentative d’ épuisement d’un lieu parisien, ‘what is happening when nothing is happening’, which is both my homage to Georges Perec and my ‘Thank You’ to all the loyal visitors to Soundlandscapes’ Blog who have supported me over the last five years and who inspire me to continue with this work.
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.
A set of double doors at N°26 rue de Charonne lead into one of these surviving passageways, the Passage 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
SUZANNE CURCHOD (1737 – 1794) was a French-Swiss woman of letters and hostess of one of the most celebrated salons of the Ancien Régime. She was also the wife of Jacques Necker, Controller-General of Finances under Louis XVI.
After her husband’s fall from power in 1790, the Neckers left Paris and returned to Switzerland. Suzanne died in 1794 but not before she had founded a hospital in Paris that still bears her name, the Hôpital Necker.
Suzanne Curchod – Madame Necker
The Hôpital des Enfants Malades (hospital for sick children) was created by the Conseil général des Hospices in January 1801 on the site of a former hospice for abandoned children, the Maison Royale de l’Enfant Jesus. The newly formed hospital, believed to be the oldest children’s hospital in the world, opened in June 1802 catering for 149 boys and 92 girls aged from 2 to 14 years old housed in separate wings, each containing 30 to 40 beds.
On 1st January 1927 the Necker hospital for adults and the Hôpital des Enfants Malades were merged to become the Hôpital Necker – Enfants Malades, the name by which its still known today.
Hôpital Necker – Enfants Malade in Rue de Sèvres in 2015
Hôpital Necker in Rue de Sèvres in 1900 – Image courtesy of Paris en Images
Today, the Hôpital Necker – Enfants Malades is a university teaching hospital affiliated to the prestigious Université Paris Descartes and it’s part of the public hospital system, the Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris.
The Carré Necker
The hospital has 400 beds for children and 200 beds for adults. It is one of the world’s leading institutions for paediatric medicine and surgery and it’s a referral centre for some rare diseases and particularly complex conditions.
The Carré Necker
Over the years, many eminent physicians and surgeons have worked at the hospital but perhaps none more eminent than the French physician, René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec (1781 – 1826). In 1816, while working at the hospital, Laennec invented the stethoscope and pioneered its use in diagnosing various chest conditions.
As well as having a plaque to mark his invention, Laennec has more recently been distinguished by having the new Pôle Mère-Enfant Laennec named after him. This 54,000 M2 facility was opened on 10th July 2013 by François Hollande, Président de la République.
Pôle Mère-Enfant Laennec
At a total cost of 215.4 million Euros, the Pôle Mère-Enfant Laennec caters for paediatric surgery, infant resuscitation, accident and emergency, paediatric imaging, cardiology, nephrology, gastroenterology, maternity and neonatology. It has been designed to centralise these paediatric specialities so as increase the efficiency of clinical care and to reduce the time required to get that care to patients. Special emphasis has also been put on the comfort of the patients and the parents with individual rooms designed on a parent-child-carer model.
On my visit to the Hôpital Necker – Enfants Malades I went into the reception area of the Pôle Mère-Enfant Laennec to record some of the atmosphere.
Inside the Pôle Mère-Enfant Laennec:
The reception area is spacious and well-lit with a cafeteria and bookstall, a gift shop, a reading room full of children’s books, a large children’s play area and a quiet room for mothers and children. Entry into the unit is via huge automatic glass doors that open and close with a gentle swish as people pass through. You can hear these swishing sounds in my recording. These sounds must surely be one of the defining sounds of this place although I suspect that those who come here with much more pressing things on their mind will scarcely be aware of them.
A clown entertaining children in the Hôpital Necker – Enfants Malades in 1945
Image courtesy of Paris en Images
I SPEND A LARGE part of my time recording and archiving the sounds of Paris. I’m particularly interested in the relationship between sound and place and the extent to which sounds can define, or at least help to define, a place.
It seems to me that as our city soundscapes become increasingly amorphous and homogenous the distinctive sounds that help to define a place have become less obvious, which I suppose poses the question: do the constituent parts that make up a city sound the same, similar or different – does the centre of the city really sound that much different to its periphery for example, or indeed, does Paris really sound that much different to London, New York or Tokyo?
Of course, I’m not the first to ponder questions like this. Some time ago, Ian Rawes, founder and curator of the acclaimed London Sound Survey, embarked upon a fascinating study based on the question, “What does London really sound like?” In his introduction to the study Ian says:
“One of the goals of the London Sound Survey is to treat sound as a means to an end, that of knowing more about the past and present nature of the city and what it’s like to live here. London is now more ethnically varied than at any time in its history with high population churn and rates of income inequality not seen since the early 20th century.
So, despite the homogenising effects of modernity on how public spaces sound, more insights should arise from examining likely patterns of difference around the city than seeking commonalities.”
Although not yet completed, it will be interesting to see what Ian’s study reveals and to see if his findings might provide some empirically based answer.
In the introduction to his study Ian also quotes the pioneering field recordist Ludwig Koch who said, ‘There is an atmosphere in sound that belongs only to Paris’. Even though this may be a little fanciful, it’s a quotation I use at every opportunity because I understand what Koch meant by it.
The quotation comes from the introduction to a short programme Ludwig Koch made for the BBC in 1952 featuring some of the sounds of Paris that he had recorded. In 2012, I was invited by Cheryl Tipp, curator of natural sounds at the British Library Sound Archive and custodian of the Ludwig Koch archive at the British Library, to follow in the footsteps of Ludwig Koch and record the contemporary sounds of Paris from the same places that he had recorded from sixty years before. It was a fascinating experience. It revealed that over the last sixty years some sounds have disappeared altogether and new sounds have emerged, some sounds have changed and others have stayed remarkably the same.
Although I’ve amassed a huge collection of the sounds of the city, my head tells me that I haven’t yet been able to define precisely what Paris really sounds like in the way that Ian hopes to do for London, but my heart agrees with Ludwig Koch, I am sure that there is an atmosphere in sound that belongs only to Paris.
This was brought home to me the other day when I found myself walking along a street in the east of Paris in the rain.
What does Paris really sound like?
For me, the sound of traffic rolling over rain-soaked pavé is a quintessentially Parisian sound that not only defines this part of this particular street but also goes some way towards defining the city itself.
These sounds seem to have a timeless quality to them and for me at least they provide an elegant continuity with Parisian sounds that would have been familiar to Ludwig Koch.
But are these sounds part of Ludwig Koch’s atmosphere in sound that belongs only to Paris?
Well for me they are even though I don’t have any empirical evidence to substantiate it. What I know for sure is that I find these sounds enormously powerful and evocative and always inextricably linked to Paris.
RUE CHARLEMAGNE IS a street in the Marais quarter of the 4th arrondissement of Paris. It stretches for 236 metres from rue Saint-Paul to the junction of rue de Fourcy and rue des Nonnains-d’Hyères.
The green arrow shows my soundwalk along rue Charlemagne
Rue Charlemagne – A Soundwalk:
There’s been a street of some sort hereabouts since the middle of the 14th Century and during its lifetime it has had a variety of names. Originally known as rue de Jouy, the street became rue de l’Abbé-de-Jouy, rue de la Fausse-Poterne, rue de la Fausse-Poterne-Saint-Paul, rue de l’Archet-Saint-Paul and rue des Prêtres-Saint-Paul.
The name, rue Charlemagne, dates from 1844 and it comes from the name of the school in the street, the Lycée Charlemagne, which in turn is named after Charlemagne, or Charles I, King of the Franks, who united most of Western Europe during the Middle Ages and laid the foundations for modern France and Germany.
Rue Charlemagne looking from East to West
The Lycée Charlemagne is a significant feature of the street. It was founded by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1804 although it occupies buildings that are very much older and were once home to the Order of Jesuits.
Main entrance to the Lycée Charlemagne
Today, the Lycée offers two-year courses in mathematics, physics, chemistry and engineering science preparing students for entry to the Grandes écoles.
Another significant feature of rue Charlemagne are the longest surviving remains of the Philippe Auguste Wall.
Remains of the Philippe Auguste wall
Before leaving for the Third Crusade, Philip II of France (Philippe Auguste) ordered a stone wall to be built to protect Paris in his absence. The wall was built between 1190 and 1215 and it was 5,100 metres long, between six and eight metres high and enclosed an area of 253 hectares.
These remains of the Philippe Auguste wall stretch from rue Charlemagne along the Jardins Saint-Paul but on the corner with rue Charlemagne are the remains of the Tour Montgomery named after Gabriel, comte de Montgomery, a French nobleman and a captain in King Henry II’s Scots Guards.
Remains of le Tour Montgomery
Montgomery is remembered for mortally wounding King Henry in a jousting accident. For a short time after the accident, Montgomery was imprisoned in what became the Tour Montgomery. From his deathbed Henry absolved Montgomery of any blame, but, finding himself disgraced, Montgomery retreated to his estates in Normandy. There he studied theology and converted to Protestantism, making him an enemy of the state.
Next to the Lycée Charlemagne is the Fontaine Charlemagne, a decorative fountain built against the presbytery wall of the church of Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis. On the pediment above the fountain are the Coat of Arms of the City of Paris and the Roman numerals indicating the year 1840, the year the fountain was created.
The fountain itself comprises a niche decorated with aquatic plants and animals and a cast iron basin supported by dolphins with a statue of a child holding a seashell over his head.
At the eastern end of rue Charlemagne is a courtyard with a cluster of art and antique shops.
As I walked along rue Charlemagne recording the sounds around me, I came upon some children playing football in the Jardins Saint-Paul in the shadow of the Philippe-Auguste wall.
As I approached, some of these children spilled over into rue Charlemagne itself just below the Tour Montgomery and from there they seemed to form an unexpected centrepiece to my soundwalk.
Rue Charlemagne looking from East to West
AFTER THE SPECTACULAR sound and light show attended by some 600,000 people in the Champs Élysées the night before, New Year’s Day 2015 saw la plus belle avenue du monde filled with marching bands, colourful floats and circus performers for le défilé du jour de l’An, the New Year’s Day parade.
Organised by the association, Le Monde Festif, under the chairmanship of the celebrated showman, Marcel Campion, the parade consisted of musicians, clowns, jugglers and acrobats from five famous circuses (Pinder, Bouglione, Muller, Phoenix and Romanès), as well as fifteen marching bands from a dozen countries and a fleet of classic cars and decorated floats.
I spent the afternoon of New Year’s Day in the Champs Élysées capturing the sounds and savouring the atmosphere.
Showtime in the Champs Élysées:
WHAT A DIFFERENCE a day makes!
Shortly before 11.00 this morning I arrived in Place Jean-Paul II, the open space in front of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, to find that it was home to a selection of the world’s media. Radio and TV broadcasters were busy establishing satellite links with their studios and preparing to broadcast ‘live’ to their audiences around the world.
Yet twenty-four hours earlier the media would have been hard pressed to find a story here – any story – let alone a story worth reporting. But then, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, everything changed.
Shortly before 11.30 yesterday morning, 7th January, two masked gunmen armed with Kalashnikov rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher stormed the headquarters of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in rue Nicolas Appert in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. They shot and killed twelve people, including eight Charlie Hebdo employees and two police officers, and wounded eleven others.
After the news broke, there was an outpouring of sympathy for the victims, support for freedom of speech, and defiance against the perpetrators. The symbol for all this became encapsulated by the declaration, “Je Suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”).
At midday today people in Paris and across France paused for a minute of silence to mourn the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack.
In declaring today a day of national mourning it was decreed that flags on all public buildings should be flown at half mast and that the bells of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris should be rung in honour of the victims.
The Bells of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris speaking for the nation:
From the Place Jean-Paul II I listened as the cathedral bells began to peal a minute or two before midday. The rain fell, a crowd gathered and then the sound of the bells faded and the crowd fell silent. The sound of a police siren in the distance reminded us why we were here and brought into stark relief the names of those who were not, those who were murdered at around this time yesterday …
- Frédéric Boisseau, 42, building maintenance worker for Sodexo, killed in the lobby
- Franck Brinsolaro, 49, police officer, was assigned as a bodyguard for Charb
- Cabu (Jean Cabut) 76, cartoonist
- Elsa Cayat, 54, psychoanalyst and columnist
- Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier), 47, cartoonist, columnist and editor-in-chief of Charlie Hebdo
- Philippe Honoré, 74, cartoonist
- Bernard Maris, 68, economist, editor, and columnist
- Ahmed Merabet, 42, police officer, shot in the head as he lay wounded on the ground outside.
- Moustapha Ourad, proofreader
- Michel Renaud, 69, festival organiser, a guest at the meeting
- Tignous (Bernard Verlhac), 57, cartoonist
- Georges Wolinski, 80, cartoonist
After the silence the bells began to peal again and they did so for a further twenty minutes. Despite the heavy rain, practically everyone stayed until the bells had finished after which there was spontaneous applause.
It seemed to me that the silence, surrounded by the sound of the bells and the sound of the rain falling like tears from the sky said everything that needed to be said.
The remaining staff of Charlie Hebdo have announced that publication will continue, with next week’s edition of the newspaper to be released as usual except that, with eight pages, it will be half its usual length – but it will have a print run of one million copies compared to its usual 60,000.
ONE WEEK AGO, on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I emerged from the overcrowded retail emporium, La Fnac, into the Avenue des Ternes in the 17th arrondissement. Outside the store I found a brass trio from the Armée du Salut (the Salvation Army) braving the cold to give their rendition of some popular Christmas carols.
I stopped to listen to them and then, after leaving a contribution in their collecting tin, I walked round the corner into one of my favourite Parisian street markets, the Marché Poncelet.
Within a stone’s throw of the Arc de Triomphe, the Marché Poncelet occupies part of the Rue Poncelet and the Rue de Bayen. Around its edges you can find stalls selling flowers, chocolates, clothes, household goods, jewellery, trinkets and souvenirs but at its heart is the fresh food, the fruit, vegetables, seafood, artisan cheese and freshly baked bread that really makes this market so popular and gives it the reputation of being one of the best food markets in Paris.
The sounds of the Marché Poncelet:
As well as the colourful cornucopia of fresh food and other goods on display, the Marché Poncelet also boasts a fascinating soundscape. Like in most markets, the stallholders here are not shy about advertising their wares by shouting to attract the attention of customers but this market is in the centre of Paris and so, unlike many of the markets at the periphery of the city, the language here is exclusively French. Compare for example, the sounds of this market with the sounds of the Marché Barbès I recorded a few weeks ago where French is barely spoken at all.
Exploring how the soundscape of the city changes from the centre to the periphery is one of the things I find endlessly fascinating about exploring the sounds of Paris.
Perhaps it’s just my natural curiosity, but I always find myself looking for ‘connections’ when I visit places in Paris. Of course, connections between sound and place are at the heart of the work I do here but sometimes I stumble across other, often more abstruse, connections. Take for example the connection between the Marché Poncelet and projective geometry …
The Marché Poncelet takes its name from rue Poncelet, which was named after the French engineer and mathematician, Jean-Victor Poncelet (1788-1867).
Poncelet’s most notable mathematical work was in projective geometry, in particular, his work on Feuerbach’s theorem. He also made discoveries about projective harmonic conjugates among which were the poles and polar lines associated with conic sections. These discoveries led to the principle of duality and also aided in the development of complex numbers and projective geometry.
Of course, Poncelet’s mathematics is all gobbledegook to me but maybe the vendor in the picture above is on to something with his clémentines arranged geometrically.
The Marché Poncelet should certainly be on your ‘to-do’ list if you’re in Paris and once there, I recommend that you stop off at Daguerre Marée, which just has to be one of the very best seafood shops in town!
Here are some more sights of the Marché Poncelet: