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Le Jardin des Plantes and its Sounds

FOUNDED IN 1635 as a medicinal herb garden, the Jardin des Plantes is now the main botanical garden in France.

Jardin des Plantes

Under the patronage of King Louis XIII, the royal garden of medicinal plants was created between the River Bievre and the current rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. It was opened to the public in 1640 offering free education in botany, chemistry and anatomy.

In 1739, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, was appointed superintendent of the garden, a position he held until his death in 1788. During his tenure, Buffon expanded the garden significantly..

Jardin des Plantes

Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon

In 1793, a scientific research institution, the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum) was founded adjacent to the garden and the two have been intimately linked to the present day.

In 1794, a small zoo was added, the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes, founded by Jacques-Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre from animals of the royal menagerie at Versailles. Today, the Ménagerie covers 6 hectares and comprises some 200 mammals, 300 birds, 200 turtles, crocodiles, lizards, snakes and amphibians and over 300,000 insects, crustaceans and spiders.

Jardin des Plantes

Kangaroos in the Ménagerie

In 1832, Charles Rohault de Fleury, was appointed as the architect of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle and between 1832 and 1838 he designed the Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie, the monkey house and two serres carrées (tropical greenhouses).

Jardin des Plantes

The botanist, Sébastien Vaillant built the first greenhouses in the garden in 1714. They were built of stone and glass and were designed to protect fragile trees from frost. Rohault de Fleury’s early nineteenth century designs though were much bigger and were made of iron and glass, a combination of materials that symbolised the new era of modernity and progress.

Connecting the two large greenhouses, the Serre de Nouvelle-Calédonie (formerly the Serre Mexicaine) and the Serre de l’Histoire des Plantes (formerly the Serre Australienne) is a long gallery of the same design.

The greenhouse complex traces the 430 million year evolution of plants and has micro-ecosystems with plant species from tropical rain forests to arid deserts, from Africa, the Americas and South-east Asia to the Sahara and Australia.

Jardin des Plantes

The statistics for the Jardin des Plantes are impressive. The gardens cover 28 hectares (280,000 M2) and the complement of 45 gardeners care for around 8,500 species or varieties of plants, 2,000 trees, 2,500 shrubs, 8,500 herbaceous perennials, 2,000 greenhouse plants and 80,000 seasonal plants.

An alpine garden, a wildlife garden, a garden for irises and perennials, a rose garden, an ecological garden, a garden for bees and birds and a labyrinth are among the specialist gardens.

Jardin des Plantes

The Alpine Garden

Of all the species to be found in the Jardin des Plantes, one above all others leaves by far the biggest sonic footprint – the human species. Some eight million people visit the gardens each year and the sounds they make dominate the sonic environment.

Jardin des Plantes

Sounds in the Jardin des Plantes:

Jardin des Plantes

The Jardin des Plantes is just one of the sites belonging to the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle. As well as the gardens, the greenhouses and the menagerie, the 28-hectare site also includes various galleries and research institutions open to the public:

La Grande Galerie de l’Évolution

La Galerie des Enfants

La Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie

Les Galeries d’Anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie

Le Cabinet d’Histoire du Jardin des Plantes

La Galerie de Botanique

Jardin des Plantes

The Rose Garden

There are multiple entrances to the Jardin des Plantes and they can be found in rue Cuvier, rue Buffon, rue Geoffroy-Saint-Hilaire and place Valhubert – all in the 5th arrondissement.

The closest Métro stations are:

‘Gare d’Austerlitz’ – Métro Line 5 or Line 10 or …

‘Jussieu’ – Métro Line 7 or Line 10

Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes

A Hotel for Bees

Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes



L’Écluse de l’Arsenal and its Sounds

IN THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY it was part of the fossé, the ditch that surrounded the wall built by Charles V to encircle Paris. Today, the Bassin de l’Arsenal (also known as Port de l’Arsenal) is a marina connecting the Canal Saint-Martin to the Seine.


Bassin de l’Arsenal looking towards Place de la Bastille

After the destruction of the Bastille fortress in November 1789 during the French Revolution, the Bassin de l’Arsenal was excavated to replace the ditch that had been in place at the fortress.


The Bastille fortress with the fossé (ditch) in the foreground. The fossé was later converted into the Bassin de l’Arsenal.

From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries an arsenal existed here, which accounts for the name of the port and the name of the neighbourhood bordering the westerly side of the Bassin.

In the early nineteenth century, the construction of the Canal Saint-Martin was undertaken connecting the Bassin de la Villette to the Bassin de l’Arsenal and the Seine. With the increased barge traffic on the Canal Saint-Martin during the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, the Bassin de l’Arsenal became an important commercial port handling mainly wine, wheat and wood.

Separated from the Seine by the ninth and final lock on the Canal Saint-Martin, l’Écluse de l’Arsenal, the port was converted into a port de plaisance (a marina) in 1983. At the same time, a 1.4-hectare public park, the Jardin du Bassin de l’Arsenal, was created along the eastern side of the marina, which includes maple and willow trees and a rose covered pergola.

Port d’Arsenal

Jardin du Bassin de l’Arsenal

The Bassin de l’Arsenal stretches for six hundred metres between Quai de la Rapée and Place de la Bastille and it forms the boundary of the 4th and the 12th arrondissements.

Running over the lock leading to the Seine at the southern end of the Bassin are two bridges, the road bridge Pont Morland and an iron bridge carrying Métro Line 5. The sounds of the Métro trains running over the iron bridge into and out of Quai de la Rapée station dominate the soundscape around the lock.

Port d’Arsenal

Sounds of Métro Line 5 running over l’Écluse de l’Arsenal:

Port d’Arsenal

The gates of l’Écluse de l’Arsenal at the southern end of the Bassin de l’Arsenal

I’m fascinated by industrial soundscapes and so I’ve made many recordings of l’Écluse de l’Arsenal in operation but all of them have been punctuated by the sounds of passing Métro trains. The sounds of the lock operating are really interesting and so for several years I’ve been trying to capture the sounds of the lock without the Métro sounds in the background. The other day I finally succeeded thanks to a temporary interruption to the service on Métro Line 5.

Port d’Arsenal

The lock is operated from la Capitainerie, the Harbourmaster’s office on the eastern side of the Bassin. Against a background of hammering from building work on a neighbouring apartment block, two boats are waiting to leave the Bassin de l’Arsenal to enter la Seine.

Sounds of l’Écluse de l’Arsenal in operation:

Port d’Arsenal

In this soundscape we hear the lock filling and then a warning signal before the lock gates creak open. The first boat to enter the lock is a bateau école, a training boat. It passes into the lock almost imperceptibly.

The next boat is larger but its sounds are equally tranquil.

Port d’Arsenal

Once the two boats are in the lock the lock gates are closed with more creaking. A grandmother comes alongside and explains the process to her petite-fille. Note the fascinating sounds of the hydraulics after the lock gates are shut.

Port d’Arsenal

Water drains out of the lock, the boats drop three metres, the lock gates at the far end of the lock are opened and the boats are free to enter la Seine.

Port d’Arsenal

But as the water level is lowered, the soundscape closest to the Bassin de l’Arsenal changes as water seeps into the lock from gaps in the closed but exposed lock gates.

Port d’Arsenal

Some of the best sounds in my Paris Soundscapes Archive are sounds of the Paris Métro but even though the sound rich Métro Line 5 was so close this was one occasion when I was pleased that the Métro sounds were absent.

Port d’Arsenal


Les Agriculteurs à Paris

FRENCH FARMERS ARE ANGRY and on Thursday their anger spilled over from the French countryside to the streets of Paris.

Hundreds of farmers and more than 1,300 tractors converged on the city in the latest protest against collapsing incomes.

Framer’s Manifestation - Place de la Nation

From all parts of the country, farmers and their tractors trundled along the major roads into the capital on Thursday morning. Many Parisian commuters took police advice and travelled to work by public transport to avoid the disruption.

While the farmers were converging on Place de la Nation in the east of the city, their spokesman Xavier Beulin, Président de la Fédération nationale des syndicats d’exploitants agricoles and his delegation were meeting the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is not unsympathetic to their cause.

Following the meeting with the Prime Minister, Xavier Beulin addressed the farmers in Place de la Nation on Thursday afternoon. You can listen to their response in the sound piece below.

Framer’s Manifestation - Place de la Nation

French farmers are facing stiff competition. Production costs in neighbouring countries are much lower, they have been hit by tough competition between supermarkets as well as a Russian embargo on EU food imports, and dairy farmers in particular have seen incomes collapse because of over-production on the world market.

Just six weeks ago, the government came up with a package of debt relief worth €600 million. But the farmers say they need much more, arguing that French agriculture is on the verge of collapse. They are seeking tax breaks from the government as well as action from the EU in Brussels.

Framer’s Manifestation - Place de la Nation

Sounds of French farmers in Place de la Nation on Thursday:

Framer’s Manifestation - Place de la Nation

French farmers have been particularly vocal throughout this summer, blocking roads on the German border and targeting major tourist destinations such as the Mont Saint-Michel peninsula.

Some of the farmers who were in Place de la Nation on Thursday will be joining a pan-European protest on Monday in Brussels during a meeting of EU agriculture ministers.

Framer’s Manifestation - Place de la Nation

Framer’s Manifestation - Place de la Nation

Framer’s Manifestation - Place de la Nation

Framer’s Manifestation - Place de la Nation


La Fête de Ganesh 2015

IT’S THAT TIME of the year again! An annual colourful procession through the streets of the 18th arrondissement, an elephant representing Genesha, the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune, people adorned with strings of jasmine and shattered coconuts laying at the roadside means that it must be La Fête de Ganesh.

Fête de Ganesh 2015

The Parisian Fête de Ganesh begins at the Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple in rue Pajol, the largest Hindu temple in France, where religious ceremonies precede the procession through the streets of the neighbourhood.

As the procession gets underway, a water truck precedes it and the streets are washed. It seems that cleanliness really is next to godliness.

Fête de Ganesh 2015

Leading the procession are the drum dancers.

Fête de Ganesh 2015

Dancers carrying an arch of peacock feathers on their shoulders come next …

Fête de Ganesh 2015

… and then ladies carrying clay pots with burning camphor on their heads.

Fête de Ganesh 2015

Next, pulled by two large ropes made of vegetable fibre each twenty metres long, comes the five metre high chariot carrying the statue of Ganesh, the God with an elephant’s head. The chariot is entirely covered with red and white cloth and decorated with garlands of fresh flowers, bananas and areca wrapped in betel leaves.

Fête de Ganesh 2015

Coconuts play a significant part in the procession. Piles of them are placed at the roadside and during the procession they are broken by smashing them onto the ground. The coconut shell symbolises the world, the flesh represents individual Karma and the coconut milk the human ego. By breaking the coconut, one offers one’s heart to Ganesh.

The milk from hundreds of coconuts is spread across the streets for Ganesh’s chariot to pass over.

Fête de Ganesh 2014

Singers and musicians follow Ganesh’s chariot and throughout the course of the procession offerings are made and food and drink distributed.

Fête de Ganesh 2015

Sounds of la Fête de Ganesh 2015:

With its vibrant colours, intoxicating exotic smells and multi-textured, rhythmical sounds, la Fête de Ganesh is truly a multisensory experience.

Fête de Ganesh 2015

Fête de Ganesh 2015

Fête de Ganesh 2015

Fête de Ganesh 2015

Fête de Ganesh 2015

Fête de Ganesh 2015

Fête de Ganesh 2015


Place Saint André des Arts – Then and Now

CHARLES FRANÇOIS BOSSU (1813 – 1879) was a French photographer who photographed architecture, landscapes and the urban environment. He is much better known though as Charles Marville, the pseudonym he adopted around 1832.


Charles Marville, photographic self-portrait, c. 1861

Marville worked as an illustrator of books such as Histoire Pittoresque de l’Angleterre and La Seine et ses Bords (the Seine and its Banks) before taking up photography around 1850.

In 1858 he received his first commission from the Paris authorities, to photograph the renovated Bois de Boulogne − the first of Baron Haussmann’s modernising projects for Emperor Napoleon III.

By the early 1860s, Haussmann’s urban development scheme to transform Paris was gathering pace. Although Haussmann was keen to eradicate parts of old Paris, he wanted to preserve their memory: ‘The City of Paris must disregard nothing, forget nothing, neglect nothing of its past.’

In 1862, Marville became the official photographer of Paris and he was commissioned to photograph the pre-modern city before its demolition. He made 425 photographs of the narrow streets and crumbling buildings, which collectively became known as the ‘Album du Vieux Paris.’ The complete series of photographs are held by the Musée Carnavalet and the Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris.

One of Charles Marville’s photographs that fascinates me is one he made of Place Saint-André des Arts in the 6th arrondissement.


Place Saint-André des Arts: Charles Marville

The remarkable thing is that, despite the destruction and reconstruction that occurred in the surrounding area in the 1860s, this little corner of Paris, which takes its name from the ancient church of Saint-André-des-Arts which was demolished during the French Revolution, remained completely untouched by Haussmann’s wrecking ball.

Place Saint André des Arts

Place Saint-André des Arts: August 2015

Like Charles Marville and his successor, Eugène Atget, I too document the city of Paris, but in my case in sound rather than in pictures. Whenever I come across a photograph of a part of Vieux Paris that has survived almost untouched I can’t resist recording the contemporary soundscape around it.

Place Saint-André des Arts in Sound; August 2015:

Charles Marville died in Paris in 1879. His ‘Album du Vieux Paris’ allows us to see Paris as he saw it before its late nineteenth century transformation and we can compare what he saw with what we can see today.

But when it comes to the sounds of Charles Marville’s Paris we lack a reference point. There are no recordings of the urban soundscape of the time and descriptions of the sounds of Paris in literature during Haussmann’s transformation of the city are few and far between.

So, while we can capture and archive the contemporary sounds of Paris we can, alas, only imagine the sounds that Charles Marville would have heard while he photographed Place Saint-André des Arts.


Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne

FOUNDED BY NAPOLEON III in 1863 as an asylum, the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne in rue Cabanis in the 14th arrondissement is now not only an official monument historique, it’s also a hospital specialising in psychiatry and neuroscience.

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

The origins of the hospital date back much further though.

On 7th July 1651, the governors of the Hôtel-Dieu and representatives of the Queen regent, Anne of Austria, signed a contract in which the Hôtel Dieu gave up buildings and land of the Maison de la Santé in Faubourg St Marcel in exchange for which the Queen regent gave twenty-one acres of land to establish a hospital. A condition was that the new hospital should take the name of the patron saint of the Queen regent, mother of Louis XIV: Saint Anne.

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

The hospital began as a farm, la ferme Sainte-Anne, which employed inmates from the nearby Asylum de Bicêtre, a notorious prison and lunatic asylum, but where in 1793, Superintendent Philippe Pinel is credited as being the first to introduce humane methods into the treatment of the mentally ill.

In 1863, Napoleon III decided to create a psychiatric hospital in Paris on the site of la ferme Sainte-Anne. The Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne was to be a clinical asylum marking a shift of emphasis from just the containment of the mentally ill towards research into and the treatment of mental illness.

The French architect Charles-Auguste Questel took charge of the project and work proceeded over a period of four years. The hospital was inaugurated on 1st January 1867 and the first patient was admitted on 1st May of the same year. Most of the original buildings still exist and are still in use.


The asylum in 1877: Revue générale de l’Architecture et des Travaux Publics, 1877, n°4 (volume 34ème)

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

Le pavillon Magnan de l’hôpital Sainte-Anne

In the years that followed, the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne expanded its role beyond just the psychiatric treatment of its patients. Departments for general surgery and dental surgery were created to provide treatment for patients from all the asylums in the Département de la Seine along with an obstetric department and laboratories for radiology, microphotography and biology.

A major breakthrough occurred in 1920 when the French psychiatrist, Edouard Toulouse, set up the Comité d’hygiène mentale, a mental health committee designed to seek the most effective medical and social means for treating mental illness. In 1922 this resulted in the Centre for mental disease prevention, which aimed to improve the treatment of patients by developing outpatient as well as inpatient centres.

Another breakthrough came in 1952 when the French psychiatrist, neurologist, writer and member of the Académie française, Jean Delay, along with J. M. Harl and Pierre Deniker discovered that a high dose of chlorpromazine produced a considerable reduction in the agitation and aggression of those patients with symptoms of schizophrenia. Chlorpromazine was released onto the market in 1953 by Rhône-Poulenc and given the trade name Largactil and it’s still in use today.

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

Today, the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne has seven adult psychiatric units, two child and adolescent psychiatric units as well as an addiction unit. It also has centres for neurology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, neurophysiology, neuropathology, anaesthetics, dentistry, physical medicine and rehabilitation.

The hospital is also a teaching hospital for students of the faculty of medicine at the Université Paris Descartes.

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

I went to explore the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne and discovered that the site covers thirteen hectares (32 acres), including seven hectares (17 acres) of protected green space. Some of this green space is reserved for patients but most of it is accessible to the public.

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

On one side of a staff car park close to the central pharmacy I discovered some sounds of summer.

Sounds of the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne:

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

One of the modern additions to the hospital is the new home of the Clinique des Maladies Mentales et de l’Encéphale (CMME), a sixty bed psychiatric unit supervised by four university professors.

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

The unit specialises in four main areas; eating disorders, mood disorders (including recurrent depression resistant to treatment, seasonal affective disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety disorders), suicidal patients and addiction.

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

Clinique des Maladies Mentales et de l’Encéphale (CMME)

The CMME is one of several new developments at the hospital so as I walked past it I was not surprised to discover the sound of construction work pervading the air. I stopped to capture the sounds of nature and construction work competing with each other.

Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne – Outside CMME:

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

Walking around the grounds of the hospital looking at some of the original buildings I couldn’t help but imagine what this place must have been like when the treatment of mental illness was in its infancy, even though France was quite enlightened in its approach by the standards of the time.

In 1838 France enacted a law to regulate both the admissions into asylums and asylum services across the country allowing mentally ill patients to gain access to treatment for their disorders in specific and appropriate institutions. This law remained in force until as late as June 1990 when it was revised.

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

Outside the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne in rue Cabanis stands the controversial Le plancher de Jeannot / Jeannot´s floor, a chilling reminder of the effect that mental illness can sometimes have.

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

Inside the three panels are sections of a fifteen square metre wooden floor engraved with a message of eighty lines by a young man named Jeannot.

Jeannot was born in 1939 in a small community in the Béarn department in the south of France where his parents owned a farmhouse and some forty hectares of land.

In 1959, Jeannot’s father committed suicide. Jeannot, one of his sisters and his mother continued to live in the house but the family gradually became more and more isolated. Jeannot began to exhibit paranoid behaviour and he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital but he reacted so violently that he was unable to be treated. When his mother died in 1971, Jeannot buried her in the house, under the staircase.

Over the next few months, using a hand drill to make small holes, which he then connected with lines cut out with a knife and a gouge, Jeannot composed a text on the wooden floor of the living room. In brief, the text says that religion is the cause of evil in society,

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

Soon after completing the text Jeannot died, probably starving himself to death. Together with his mother he was buried in the local cemetery. His sister continued living in the house, alone. She was found dead in 1993.

The house was sold but the brocanteur who dealt with the house clearance noticed the inscriptions on the floor. Finding this unusual, he made contact with a psychiatrist, Dr Guy Roux. Dr Roux bought the floor from the new owner of the house. He later sold it to the pharmaceutical company Bristol Meyer Squib.

Le plancher de Jeannot was exhibited for the first time in the year 2000 at an international psychiatric congress in Paris as part of an exposition entitled 50 ans d´expression en milieu psychiatrique. It was later exhibited in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris where it gave rise to a heated public debate around the question: is it acceptable to present as a work of art the expression of someone in such psychological distress?

In 2007, Jean Pierre Olié, professor of psychiatry and chief psychiatrist of the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne became involved and it was arranged that the floor, cut into three parts, should be put on display outside the hospital in the rue Cabanis.

Hôpital Sainte-Anne

The complete text of Le plancher de Jeannot: Click to enlarge

“A sick thought can devour the body’s flesh more than fever or consumption.”

Guy de Maupassant : Le Horla et autres contes fantastiques

The days of ‘lunatics’ and ‘asylums’ may be gone but the shame and stigma surrounding mental illness still persists. It may be less now than in the past but it’s still there.

Institutions like the Centre Hospitalier Sainte-Anne have contributed significantly to the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness but it’s up to of the rest of us to come to terms with the fact that mental illness is exactly what it says, an illness – an illness that one in five of us will suffer from at some point in our lives.

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shames us all”.

Bill Clinton

Hôpital Sainte-Anne


La Fontaine Stravinsky and its Sounds

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


Tour de France 2015

THE GLORIOUS SUNSHINE that we’ve been enjoying in Paris over the last few weeks completely deserted us last Sunday. Successive days of temperatures in the high 30s gave way to a leaden grey sky and heavy rain. But the change in the weather did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds gathered in the Champs Élysées to watch the final stage of this year’s 102nd edition of the Tour de France.

Tour de France 2015

Starting in Utrecht in the Netherlands on Saturday 4th July, this year’s Grande Boucle was made up of 21 stages covering a total distance of 3,360 kilometres. After two stages in the Netherlands, the Tour crossed Belgium and northern France before moving south for the gruelling mountain stages in the Pyrenees and the Alps.


The stage profiles this year included nine flat stages, three hill stages, seven mountain stages with five altitude finishes, one individual time-trial stage, one team time-trial stage and two much needed rest days.


Stage 20 Profile – Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire – Les Sybelles

After the penultimate gruelling stage from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire – Les Sybelles in the Alps, including an ascent up the tortuous Col de la Croix de Fer and the Alpe d’Huez, this year’s final stage of the Tour was much more leisurely. It is customary that the result of the Tour de France is settled at the end of the penultimate stage so, barring something completely unexpected happening, the final stage is largely a procession for the victor. Of course, there are still points to be scored and prize money to be won so the final sprint finish in the Champs Élysées is always exciting.


Stage 21 Profile – Sèvres – Grand Paris Seine Ouest to the Champs-Élysées

This year’s final stage, a mere 109.5 km from Sèvres – Grand Paris Seine Ouest to the Champs-Élysées in Paris, saw the Tour pass very close to my home. Entering the outskirts of Paris, the 160 riders crossed the Bois de Boulogne, rounded Porte Maillot and headed up the Avenue de la Grande Armée before turning right into rue de Presbourg. From here their route took them to the Trocadéro, the Tour Eiffel, Les Invalides, the Assemblé Nationale, the Louvre and then into rue de Rivoli and ten laps of the Champs Élysées.

An hour and a half before the riders were due to appear I took up position in rue de Presbourg, a narrow street leading to the Trocédero. Armed with my microphones and camera I was preparing to capture the riders passing so close to me that I could reach out and touch them.

As I waited a procession of team buses passed me, each a temporary refuge for the riders before and after each race stage.

Tour de France 2015

Then, right on cue, three motorcycles from the gendarmerie hove into view heralding the approach of the convoy of official cars, press photographers and TV cameramen on motorcycles, the medical cars, the ambulances and the team cars surrounding the peloton, all 160 riders tightly bunched together.

Tour de France 2015

The Brits are coming!  Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome in the yellow jersey

Rue de Presbourg – The Peloton:


Tour de France 2015

As you can hear, it took seven minutes for the convoy of attendant vehicles to pass but, as is the way with the Tour, you wait for hours and then the riders pass in the blink of an eye.

Tour de France 2015

So, with the riders and their entourage safely on their way I made off for the Champs Élysées to record them negotiating ten laps of la plus belle avenue du monde before a dramatic sprint finish.

Tour de France 2015 in the Champs Élysées:

André Greipel won the final stage, his fourth stage of this year’s Tour de France despite Bryan Coquard’s final rush.


Chris Froome

Chris Froome was declared the overall winner of the 102nd Tour de France and also King of the Mountains, making him the only British rider to have won the Tour twice and the first rider since Eddy Merckx in 1970 to claim the yellow and polka-dot jerseys in the same Tour.

The other podium finishers were Nairo Quintana who came second and his Movistar team mate, Alejandro Valverde, was in third place.

Last year’s winner, Vincenzo Nibali, was in fourth place and the two-time Tour winner, Alberto Contador, was in fifth place.

Peter Sagan won the points competition for the fourth straight time, Nairo Quintana was the best young rider, Romain Bardet was declared the the most aggressive rider of the whole race and the Movistar team won the team classification.

And spare a thought for Sébastian Chavanel, the Lanterne Rouge, the last man in the general classification, who finished with a time 4 hours 56 minutes and 59 seconds behind the winner.

This year’s Tour de France has been as exciting as ever and not without controversy but Chris Froome claimed the maillot jaune, the yellow jersey, after Stage 7 and with brilliant support from his team mates in Team Sky, and despite several serious challenges from Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali in the mountains, he successfully defended it to the end.

Bravo to Chris Froome and Team Sky for not only winning this year’s Tour but also for showing such resilience in the face of some remarkably inept journalism. And thanks too to all the other riders, including those who didn’t make to the end, all of whom showed enormous courage, determination and panache in the face of what seems to most of us to be an impossible challenge.

Tour de France 2015



World Listening Day 2015

THE WORLD LISTENING PROJECT is a not-for-profit organisation devoted to understanding the world and its natural environment, societies and cultures through the practices of listening and field recording.

In July each year the World Listening Project promotes World Listening Day celebrating the listening practices of the world and the ecology of its acoustic environments.

The theme for World Listening Day this year was “H2O”, reflecting on water, metaphorically in how we listen, or through creative events inspired by water and sound across the globe. The 2015 theme resonates at a time where we need to shift our collective thinking and actions towards water globally.

Since the theme of World Listening Day this year was water, I decided to explore the sounds of la Seine, the river that arcs its way through the centre of Paris, for my contribution.

Rather than seeking out the typical sounds of the river, waves lapping or boats creaking for example, I decided to set up my microphones at a very popular Parisian beauty spot to see what sounds I might capture.

The place I chose, the western tip of the Île Saint-Louis, is in fact in the centre of the river with river traffic passing on both sides.


The Île Saint-Louis, named after King Louis IX, whose piety and generosity led him to be canonised in 1297, is one of two natural islands in la Seine, the other being the Île de la Cité. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, King Louis XIII, along with the queen mother Marie de Médicis, decided to implement an urban plan first devised by Louis’ father, King Henri IV, which transformed the Île Saint-Louis from little more than a cow pasture to a much sought after conclave of elegant residences where wealthy businessmen and politicians came to live away from the noise of the inner city. Today, the Ile Saint-Louis is one of the most authentic seventeenth century neighbourhoods in Paris.

Ile Saint-Louis

The western tip of the Île Saint-Louis is much frequented by tourists and locals alike.


Pêcheurs à la ligne à la pointe ouest de l’île Saint-Louis. 1935. © Albert Harlingue / Roger-Viollet : Image courtesy of Paris en Images

I set up my microphones on the tip of the Quai de l’Île Saint-Louis pointing downstream towards the Île de la Cité and the Hôtel de Ville and began to record.

I didn’t move the microphones to follow any particular sound but rather just left them in one place to capture the ambient sound just as one would do with a long exposure photograph.

Brasserie de l’Île Saint-Louis

Sounds from the Quai de l’Île Saint-Louis:

Brasserie de l’Île Saint-Louis

I was immediately reminded that while the banks of la Seine might be romantic for some, la Seine is and always has been a working river. The industrial barges passing by remind us that this part of the river was once the commercial heart of the city.

The Port Saint-Landry was the first port to serve Paris but it was soon surpassed in importance by the Port de la Grève, which was situated alongside the wall on the right in the picture above. The port was controlled by the Prévôt des Marchands and it was the entry point for a wide variety of merchandise including wine – mainly Burgundy and Champagne, wheat, hay, fish, wood, charcoal and soil.


Les bateaux sur le port de grève. Plan de Gomboust, 1652

All the goods shipped in by river were unloaded on a grève, a kind of beach made of sand and gravel which gave its name to both the port and to the Place de Grève, the open space in front of the Hôtel de Ville, depicted so graphically by the poet, novelist and dramatist, Victor Hugo, in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Anyone living in France today will be all too familiar with the expression faire grève, which means to go on strike. Originally though it had quite the opposite meaning. It referred to the unemployed men who would stand around the port actively seeking casual work.

Brasserie de l’Île Saint-Louis

The sounds I recorded from the Quai de l’Île Saint-Louis may perhaps not be the most elegant sounds I’ve recorded along the banks of la Seine but I think they are nevertheless important.

Both locals and tourists, young and old, come to the Quai de l’Île Saint-Louis in great numbers to relax, to meet friends, to picnic, or just to admire the view. With other things on their mind it’s easy to imagine that they are perhaps scarcely aware of the busy, work-a-day sounds around them.

But the sounds are there and if we care to listen to them carefully we can hear the engines of commerce plying la Seine as they have for centuries and much else too.

These sounds are really what World Listening Day is about – understanding the world through the practice of listening.


Quai de l’Île Saint-Louis: Image via Wikipedia

And while on the World Listening Day theme of water, la Seine is not a place you would want to plunge into for a quick dip. But Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, has pledged to have us bathing in the river after the 2024 Olympic Games she hopes will be held in the city. We shall see!


La Fête Nationale 2015

LE QUATORZE JUILLET, or la Fête Nationale Française, is the French National Day, commemorating the 1790 Fete de la Federation held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.

Each year, La Fête Nationale is celebrated throughout France but the centrepiece event takes place in Paris with the défilé, the parade of military and civilian services, marching down the Champs Elysées to be reviewed by the Président de la République.

And each year, when all eyes are on the Champs Elysées, my eyes turn skywards to the défilé aérien, the fly-past by aircraft from the French L’Armée de l’Air and helicopters from the air force, the navy, the army, civil security and the police.

This year, this wonderful piece of aerial choreography was masterminded by Général de division Jean-Christophe Zimmermann, commandant en second de la défense aérienne et des opérations aériennes, Paris.

La Fête Nationale 2015 - La Défense

Watching and waiting for the défilé aérien

2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of France and the l’Ordre national de la Libération, France’s second national Order after the Légion d’honneur, instituted by General De Gaulle, Leader of the “Français Libres” – the Free French movement – with Edict No. 7, signed in Brazzaville on November 16th, 1940. Admission to the Order is meant to “reward individuals, military and civil organizations for outstanding service in the effort to procure the liberation of France and the French Empire“.

To mark this anniversary the French aerobatic display team, the Patrouille de France, opened proceedings by paying a tribute to the French Resistance by flying twelve Alphajets in a formation representing the Cross of Lorraine, the symbol of the Free French movement.

La Fête Nationale 2015 - La Défense

The Free French Air Forces (FAFL) were honoured with a C135 tanker aircraft from flight refuelling group 2/91 “Bretagne”, followed by four Rafale C jet fighters of 2/30 squadron “Normandie-Niemen” and four Mirage 2000 multirole jet fighters of the 2/5 fighter squadron “Ile de France”.

La Fête Nationale 2015 – The Aircraft:

While listening to my recording of the aircraft passing you can see the composition of the entire aircraft procession in the chart below.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 18.44.54

Click on the image to enlarge

Apart from the Patrouille de France formation the highlights for me were the magnificent Airbus A400M multi-national, four-engine turboprop, military transport aircraft with its delicious throaty growl and, bringing up the rear, the Airbus A340 strategic transport aircraft.

Appearing in the defilé aérien for the first time, this A340 from the transport squadron 3/60 “Esterel” took part in a recent operation to transport of 17 tons of emergency humanitarian cargo to Nepal following the earthquake that struck the capital, Kathmandu, in April this year.


Airbus A400M: Image via Wikipedia

About an hour after the aircraft passed it was the turn of the helicopters.

La Fête Nationale 2015 – The Helicopters:

While listening to my recording of the helicopters passing you can see the composition of the entire helicopter fleet in the chart below together with some interesting facts about the height, speed and distances flown by all the participants in the défilé aérien.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 18.29.01

Click on the image to enlarge

I’ve been fascinated by flying and anything that can fly for as long as I can remember and to see all these aircraft and helicopters passing overhead is always a highlight of my year.

And every time I see flying displays like this I am reminded of the poem, Locksley Hall, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in which he foretells the future with prophetic accuracy:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,           

Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;                  

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,           

Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales;           

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew           

From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;           

Locksley Hall

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)



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