The Changing Soundscape of the Gare du Nord
THE GARE DU NORD railway station in Paris is on the cusp of great change. Over the next few years the physical architecture of this station will be transformed and consequently, so will its sonic architecture.
For many years I have been recording and archiving the sounds of the Gare du Nord. My particular interest lies in investigating how sounds can define, or help to define, a place and how the soundscape of a particular place changes over time. The Gare du Nord is a valuable case study in both these areas.
The first Gare du Nord station was built in 1846 but an increase in traffic meant that a new, bigger station was soon required.
The original 1846 chemin de fer du nord station
Rebuilding took place under the direction of the German-born French architect Jacques Ignace Hittorff with the new station combining the advanced structural use of new materials, notably cast iron, with conservative Beaux-Arts classicism. Hittorff’s Gare du Nord was completed in 1864.
La “Gare de la Compagnie du chemin de fer du Nord” photographiée vers 1864 par Charles-Henri Plaut
Significant changes to the station were made in 1981 to accommodate RER Line B and then in 1993 to accommodate the TGV and the Eurostar. The last major change was 2001 with a major expansion of the departures hall.
Gare du Nord TGV Departure Hall in 2017
And now the Gare du Nord is about to undergo further change.
Subject to negotiations due to be concluded by the end of this year, SNCF Gares & Connections and the global real estate company Ceetrus will set up a joint venture to carry out a transformation of the Gare du Nord. Ceetrus, in association with architect Denis Valode (Valode and Pistre architects), will lead a transformation as big as that led by the Hittorff in 1864. The transformation is due to be completed in time for the Paris Olympic Games in 2024.
Artist’s impression of the transformed Gare du Nord
The transformation will see the station triple in size from 36,000m2 to 110,000 m2. With 700,000 passengers using the station each day, excluding those who use the associated Métro station, the Gare du Nord is already the busiest railway station in Europe. Following the transformation the daily passenger numbers are expected to increase to 800,000 in 2024 and 900,000 in 2030.
The transformation will include a new departure terminal in which the flow of arrivals and departures from the station will be distinct thus improving fluidity and comfort for travellers. A new station facade is proposed on rue du faubourg Saint-Denis with direct access to the departure terminal.
The Eurostar terminal will be expanded to meet the challenge of strengthened customs controls linked to Brexit.
Accessibility will be enhanced with more elevators and escalators. The new station will have 55 lifts and 105 escalators. Station security will be enhanced with more CCTV being installed.
Access to the three metro lines will be improved. The bus station with its 12 bus lines and 7 Noctilian services will be connected directly with the departure terminal, and 1,200 bicycle parking spaces will be available with direct access from the square in front of the station.
Traffic circulation around the station will be redesigned to take account of the redesigned access to the station and also the expected development of new electric mobility solutions.
The transformed station will also include a 2,000 m2 ‘European Academy of Culture’, a concept devised by the writer Olivier Guez, including a 1,600 m2 space to host events and concerts.
There will be 5,500 m2 of co-working space, a nursery, new restaurants and a one-kilometre running track on the station roof.
Artist’s impression of the transformed Gare du Nord
The transformation of the Gare du Nord will clearly change the visual landscape of the station but it will also change its sonic landscape. There are six main line railway stations in Paris, five of which sound very similar. The exception is the current Gare du Nord, which has a very distinctive soundscape. The size of the main departures terminal together with Hittorff’s 19th century iron and glass construction and the cacophony of waiting passengers squeezed between the parked trains and the street outside gives the Gare du Nord a very particular sonic ambience.
This is what the Gare du Nord sounded like in 2011.
Gare du Nord 2011:
Gare du Nord Departures Hall 2011
Although the major transformation project is not due to start until next year, some improvements to the Gare du Nord are already underway. When I went there last week I found men laying a new stone floor in the main departures hall, which gives us a clue as to how the soundscape of the station will change as the major construction work progresses. The sounds of the gasping trains will have to compete with the cacophony of building work for some considerable time to come.
Gare du Nord 2018:
Having recorded the soundscape of the current Gare du Nord many times I shall continue to record and archive the sounds as the station’s transformation takes place. I shall be fascinated to discover the sounds of the new, ultra-modern Gare du Nord when all the work is completed. I will though still go back to my archive from time to time and listen to the sounds of the ‘old’ Gare du Nord; sounds that have been so familiar to me for almost the last twenty years and sounds that are about to disappear.
Artist’s impression of the transformed Gare du Nord
La Fête Nationale 2018
YESTERDAY, 14th JULY, WAS a day of national celebration in France. Le Quatorze Juillet, also known as La Fête Nationale, but never Bastille Day as it’s often referred to in English-speaking countries, is the French national day commemorating the 1790 Fête de la Federation held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14th Jul 1789.
Although the day is marked across France, the centerpiece event takes place in Paris with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Élysée to be reviewed by the Président de la République.
Each year on 14th July a huge crowd lines the Champs Élysées to watch the parade, although how many of them actually see anything is questionable. I though always head to the west of Paris, conveniently close to home, to enjoy a close-up view of the defile aérien, the fly past of aircraft and helicopters of the military and civilian services heading for the Champs Élysées. Being a lifelong enthusiast of both sound recording and aviation, recording a flotilla of aircraft and helicopters flying overhead in close formation at 1,000 feet seems to me to be a perfect way to spend a morning.
A note to the loyal readers who come to this blog to learn more about the social and cultural history of Paris and to enjoy the everyday sounds of the city: Although the rest of this post may seem more suited to aviation geeks like me, please stick with it because, if nothing else, I’m sure you will enjoy the sounds!
This year, 64 fixed wing aircraft took part in the defile aérien: 53 from l’armée de l’air (the French Air Force), 6 from la marine nationale (the French Navy), 2 from la sécurité civile and 3 from other countries comprising an M346 advanced training aircraft from the Republic of Singapore, an Alpha Jet from the Belgian Air Force and an A400M military transport aircraft from the German Air Force.
As always, the défilé aérien opened with nine Alpha Jets of the Patrouille de France, the French aerobatic display team, flying their ‘Big Nine’ formation. But this year there was a twist, an unintentional twist, or as France Info put it: “La Patrouille de France s’est emmêlée les pinceaux dans les couleurs du drapeau.” In other words, the Patrouille de France got in a tangle with the colours of the French flag.
Take a look at the aircraft on the far left of the picture. When a pilot flying in close formation makes a mistake it usually ends badly, but when a pilot in a prestigious aerobatic display team presses the wrong button and emits red instead of blue smoke then that is undoubtedly a bad career move.
Here is a schematic of the aircraft fly past from which you can see the variety of aircraft involved this year.
The logistics involved in parading all these aircraft one after the other are complex, not least because the maximum speed of some of the aircraft is slower than the slowest speed of others.
Here are some facts:
From the first aircraft to the last, the fly past stretches for 50 kilometres with 6 kilometres between each block of aircraft. The space between the aircraft flying in close formation is between 5 and 10 metres.
All the aircraft fly past at 1,000 feet, or 305 metres.
The fighter aircraft fly past at 300 knots, around 550 km/h; the navy fighters at 280 knots, around 520 km/h; the navy patrol aircraft at 200 knots, around 370 km/h and the transport aircraft at 180 knots around 330 km/h.
And this is what they sounded like as they passed me today:
Aircraft Fly Past 2018:
I record the sounds of the défilé aérien every year but this year I was able to find a spot to record from that was devoid of people and almost out of earshot of traffic – a rare find indeed.
Some forty-five minutes after the parade of fixed wing aircraft it was time for the rotary wing flotilla; the helicopters.
Here is a schematic showing the helicopters on display today.
This year, there were 30 helicopters, including 18 light aviation helicopters from the army; five helicopters from the air force; two from the navy; three from the gendarmerie and two from the sécurité civile.
From the first helicopter to the last, the fly past stretched for 8 kilometres with 1 kilometre between the two main aircraft blocks. They flew at a height of 400 feet, 120 metres, at a speed of 90 knots or 170 km/h.
And this is what they sounded like as they passed overhead:
Helicopter Fly Past 2018:
While recording the sounds of the défilé aérien I was able to use my smart phone to take some pictures. Unfortunately, my competence at multitasking didn’t stretch to capturing pictures of every passing aircraft so, for those of you who would like to know more about at least some of the aircraft taking part in this year’s défilé aérien here are some of the pictures I captured.
A C135 air refueling tanker from Flight Supply Group 2/91 “Brittany”, followed by a Mirage 2000N from Fighter Squadron (EC) 2/4 “La Fayette”, and three Rafale from EC 1/4 “Gascogne”.
An Airbus A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport), a new multi-role aircraft providing personnel and freight transport, air refueling and intelligence gathering. It is followed by four Mirage 2000D from N° 3 Fighter Wing.
A C135 refueling aircraft from Flight Replenishment Group 2/91 “Brittany” followed by four Rafale (three Rafale C two-seater and one single-seater Rafale B) from the 30th Fighter Wing.
An Awacs E-3F from the Airborne Warning and Control Squadron 00/036 “Berry” followed by four Mirage 2000-5s from EC 1/2 “Cigognes”.
Four Mirage 2000 from the EC 2/5 “Ile-de-France” and two Alpha Jets from the 3/8 “Côte d’Or” training squadron, the only French squadron simulating enemy action to train pilots and confronting them with all types of threats.
Two Alpha Jets from l’École d’aviation de chasse (EAC) at̀ Tours and three Alpha Jets from l’École de transition opérationnelle (ETO) at Cazaux, including one Belgian Alpha Jet, and one Singaporean M346 from the 150th Squadron stationed at Cazaux Air Base. For 20 years, a detachment of the Singapore Air Force has been stationed there to train its fighter pilots.
An Airbus A340 from the 3/60 “Esterel” Transport Squadron.
An A400M Atlas from 61 Wing and two Casa CN 235 from 1/62 “Vercors” and 3/62 “Ventoux” Transport Squadrons.
A Canadair CL415 and a Dash Q400 MR from la sécurité civile used in fighting forest fires. These aircraft have been deployed in the firefighting role in France, Europe and in the rest of the world.
Two Airbus lightweight, multipurpose Fennec helicopters from the helicopter squadron 3/67 “Parisis” and one from 5/67 “Alpilles”.
One EC145 and two EC135 helicopters from the gendarmerie nationale.
An HAP Tiger, followed by a Cougar, and a Gazelle from the 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment.
2012 World Listening Day
WORLD LISTENING DAY 2012 takes place on Wednesday 18th July and its purpose is:
- to celebrate the practice of listening as it relates to the world around us, environmental awareness, and acoustic ecology;
- to raise awareness about issues related to the World Soundscape Project, World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, World Listening Project, and individual and group efforts to creatively explore phonography;
- and to design and implement educational initiatives which explore these concepts and practices.
World Listening Day is organized by the World Listening Project (WLP), in partnership with the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology (MSAE). July 18 was chosen as the date for World Listening Day because it is the birthday of the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, who is one of the founders of the Acoustic Ecology movement. The World Soundscape Project, which Schafer directed, is an important organization which has inspired a lot of activity in this field, and his book The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World helped to define many of the terms and background behind the acoustic ecology movement.
On July 18th, people from across the world will be participating in a variety of ways including listening parties, soundwalks, public forums about acoustic ecology and more. I shall be out on the streets capturing, as Ludwig Koch said, the atmosphere in sound that belongs only to Paris.
If you would like to participate in World Listening Day, please email email@example.com, and be sure to include World Listening Day in the subject line.
The Bornus Consort
A FEW WEEKS AGO, I was invited by some friends to a party at their home. Nothing unusual about that – except that I live in Paris and my friends live in Warsaw! The invitation intrigued me so I raided my cache of air miles and arrived in Warsaw on a very chilly Friday afternoon.
This turned out to be no ordinary party. It took place in a beautiful apartment in Warsaw with very friendly and interesting guests all of whom, except me, were Polish. But the real stars of the evening were the Polish early music ensemble, The Bornus Consort, who gave a wonderful singing performance which I was privileged to record. This really was a party with a difference!
Established in 1981 by Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski, The Bornus Consort specialise in singing early music from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. Their original aim was to try to reconstruct and record the music preserved in the manuscripts of the Rorantists of Wawel Cathedral in Crakow keeping as close as possible to the original way of performing these early works.
As well as singing early Polish music, the ensemble also sing Dutch polyphony, French chansons, Italian and English madrigals together with contemporary pieces. In recent years the ensemble has focused on various forms of Gregorian chant, including the Dominican liturgical tradition.
When I spoke to him after their performance, Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski’s passion for early music shone through. He told me that his special interest is in thirteenth-century music about which he speaks with great authority and enthusiasm.
The Bornus Consort recorded in a Warsaw apartment:
This was the final piece the Bornus Consort sang during the evening. It is the motet Nunc Scio Vere by Waclaw from Szamotuly (1524-1560). It is particularly interesting because the music comes from the Cracow organ score of 1590 which had the music and the title but no words. The words have been reconstructed by Professor Miroslaw Perz.
Sometimes in life we are privileged to enjoy “cameo” experiences. For me, this was certainly one of those experiences and the memories of this evening in Warsaw will live with me for ever.
I am most grateful to Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski and the Bornus Consort for their permission to publish this piece and to my friends for their very kind invitation and gracious hospitality.
Another Good Read
The Flâneur by Edmund White
A flâneur is a stroller, a loiterer, someone who ambles through a city without apparent purpose but is secretly attuned to the history of the place and in covert search of adventure, aesthetic or erotic. Edmund White, who lived in Paris for sixteen years, wanders through the streets and avenues and along the quays, into parts of Paris virtually unknown to visitors and indeed to many Parisians. Entering the Marais evokes the history of Jews in France, and a visit to the Haynes Grill recalls the presence—festive, troubled—of black Americans in Paris for a century and a half. Gays, Decadents, even Royalists past and present are all subjected to the flâneur’s scrutiny.
In his opinionated fashion, the flâneur visits bookshops and boutiques, monuments and palaces, providing gossip and background to each site, looking through the blank walls past the proud edifices to glimpse the inner human drama. Along the way he recounts everything from the latest debates among French lawmakers to the juicy details of Colette’s life. In this, the first book in The Writer and the City series, Edmund White lures the reader into the fascinating backstreets of his personal Paris. It is an exhilarating adventure with a most seductive companion.
This text was taken from Edmund White’s website which you can find here.
I really enjoyed reading this book. The flavour of Paris simply oozes from the pages. I highly recommend it.
Another Good Read
For more than a generation , Gertrude Stein’s Paris home at 27 rue de Fleures was the centre and of a glittering coterie of artists and writers, one of whom was Pablo Picasso. In this intimate and revealing memoir, Gertrude Stein tells us much about the great man (and herself) and offers many insights into the life and art of the twentieth-century’s greatest painter.
Gertrude Stein’s close relationship with Picasso furnished her with a unique vantage point in composing this perceptive and provocative reminiscence. It is indispensable to understanding modern art.
I bought my copy of this book from the best bookshop in the world, Shakespeare & Company, on the Left Bank here in Paris. I also happen to know someone who lives in the Boulevard Raspail in an atelier once occupied by Pablo Picasso so this book has a special resonance for me. I recommend it to you.
This book was published by B.T. Batsford, London, 1938
Another Good Read
This is another of my “good reads”. I have just finished reading for the third time, Ernest Hemigway’s “A Moveable Feast”. This is what Wikipedia has to say about it:
A Moveable Feast is a set of memoirs by American author Ernest Hemingway about his years in Paris as part of the American expatriate circle of writers in the 1920s. The book describes Hemingway’s apprenticeship as a young writer in Europe Paris during the 1920s with his first wife, Hadley. Some of the later prominent people who are featured in his memoirs include Aleister Crowley, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, Hilaire Belloc, Pascin, John Dos Passos, Wyndham Lewis, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. The book was edited from his manuscripts and notes by Ernest’s fourth wife, Mary Hemingway, a respected journalist. It was published in 1964, three years after Hemingway’s death. The memoir has Hemingway’s personal accounts, observations, and stories of his experience in 1920s Paris. He provides specific addresses of cafes, bars, hotels, and apartments, some of which can be found in modern-day Paris. The title was suggested by Hemingway’s friend A.E. Hotchner, author of the biography, Papa Hemingway. He remembered they had a conversation about the city during Hotchner’s first visits there: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
I commend it to you.
Lest We Forget …
THURSDAY 11th NOVEMBER – the eleventh day of the eleventh month – Armistice Day. A chilly, wind-swept day in Paris with heavy rain for most of the day.
In the centre of the Arc de Triomphe, the tomb of an unknown French soldier from the First World War, the eternal flame and, on this day of remembrance, a guard of honour.
At 11.00 this morning, the national act of remembrance took place – the tributes were paid and the wreaths laid.
After the crowds had left, I made my way across to the wind-swept Arc de Triomphe as I do every year on this day.
The Unknown Soldier was interred here and the eternal flame lit on Armistice Day 1920. Originally, the tomb was a memorial to the unknown French soldiers who died in the first world war. The inscription on the tomb reads – ICI REPOSE UN SOLDAT FRANÇAIS MORT POUR LA PATRIE 1914–1918 – Here lies a French soldier who died for the fatherland 1914–1918. Today, the tomb embraces all those who died in the first and second world wars as well as all the subsequent conflicts. The tomb was the inspiration for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey in London.
One of the things that always moves me is that, after the official ceremonies are over, anyone can approach the tomb and pay their respects either with a simple bow of the head or by offering a wreath to one of the attendants. On doing so the guard of honour, as if by magic, always come to the salute as a sign of respect – the same salute is given to a President as to an ordinary individual paying their respects.
In today’s busy world it is easy to forget the “Lions led by Donkeys” – which seems just as relevant today as it was in 1918.
I always try to remember the first verse of ‘Aftermath’ , a poem by Siegfried Sassoon:“Have you forgotten yet? For the world’s events have rumbled on since the gagged days, Like traffic checked while at the crossing of city-ways; And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow Like clouds in the lit heaven of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go, Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare. But the past is just the same – and War’s a bloody game … Have you forgotten yet? Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.”
A Good Read
I’ve just finished reading an excellent book – The Soundscape – Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World by R. Murray Schafer.
The Soundscape – a term coined by the author – is our sonic environment, the ever-present array of noises with which we all live. Beginning with the primordial sounds of nature, we have experienced an ever-increasing complexity of our sonic surroundings. As civilisaton develops, new noises rise up around us: from the creaking wheel, the clang of the blacksmith’s hammer, and the distant chugging of steam trains to the “sound imperialism” of airports, city streets and factories. The author contends that we now suffer from an over-abundance of acoustic information and a proportionate diminishing of our ability to hear the nuances and subtleties of sound. Our task, he maintains, is to listen, analyse, and make distinctions.
As a society we have become aware of the toxic wastes that can enter our bodies through the air we breath and the water we drink. In fact, the pollution of our sonic environment is no less real. Schafer emphasises the importance of discerning the sounds that enrich and feed us and using them to create healthier environments. To this end, he explains how to classify sounds, appreciating their beauty or ugliness, and provides exercises and “soundwalks” to help us become more discriminating and sensitive to the sounds around us.
The book is challenging but to anyone interested in our sonic environment it is well worth a read.