I’VE SAID MANY TIMES in this blog that soundwalking is a superb way to explore a place, especially a place as rich and diverse as Paris. Whilst ‘pure’ soundwalking involves concentrated listening to the exclusion of almost everything else, a soundwalk can also be the key to a wider exploration of a place especially if you use your curiosity to follow the sounds and see where they lead. Over the last few days I’ve been soundwalking along the Boulevard Barbès and the surrounding area in the 18th arrondissement. This is a part of Paris well off the tourist track and a part of the city that I find endlessly fascinating. In this post I will show how even a fairly short soundwalk, in this case a walk along part of the Boulevard Barbès, can lead to discovering things that may be hidden, but if you follow the sounds and engage your curiosity the hidden can often emerge into plain sight.
Boulevard Barbès. Paris (XVIIIth arrondissement), circa 1900. © Léon et Lévy/Roger-Viollet: Image courtesy of Paris en Images
A soundwalk along part of the Boulevard Barbès:
Named after the French Republican revolutionary Armand Barbès, the Boulevard Barbès is a product of Baron Haussmann’s transformation of Paris in the mid-nineteenth century. Once home to the sumptuous Grands Magasins Dufayel, which, on the eve of the First World War advertised itself as being the largest department store in the world, the grands magasins elegance of the Boulevard Barbès has now faded. Today, the Grands Magasins Dufayel, originally known as Le Palais de la Nouveauté until the ambitious Georges Dufayel took it over in 1888 and named it after himself, is occupied by the BNP bank and a good part of the street is filled with small shops selling mobile phones, jewelry, luggage, clothes and shoes all at bargain prices.
The former Grands Magasins Dufayel from Boulevard Barbès
The entrance to the former Grands Magasins Dufayel in Rue Clignancourt
Even if the Boulevard Barbès has gone somewhat down market since the grandeur of La Belle Époque it is still not without interest.
Crossing the bottom of the street between what is now the TATI store on one side and the Brasserie Barbès on the other once ran the Barricade rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, one of the most imposing and one of the last barricades to fall during the 1848 Revolution, which ended the Orléans monarchy (1830–1848) and led to the creation of the French Second Republic.
Site of the 1848 Barricade rue du Faubourg Poissonnière
Also of interest is N° 10 Boulevard Barbès.
This was once the Bal du Grand Turc, founded in 1806 by Joseph Teiche and frequented by Alexander Dumas père and Emile Zola amongst others. Emile Zola refers to the Bal du Grand Turc in his novel L’Assomoir. It then became the Concert de la Fourmi, one of several café-concerts in the area. Maurice Chevalier performed here in 1902, early in his professional career.
N° 10 Boulevard Barbès, Café-concert La Fourmi, around 1905: Image via Lagouttedor.net
N° 10 Boulevard Barbès today.
A little further up the Boulevard Barbès we come to N° 28. This was the residence of Irénée Cazals, a liaison officer in the Confraternity Notre-Dame network of the French Resistance during the Second World War.
Nazi soldiers march in Paris on Avenue Foch, 14 June, 1940 Image: Folkerts, Bundesarchiv
Founded towards the end of 1940, the Confraternity Notre-Dame was an information-gathering network that rallied to the Free French. It was one of the first and probably the most important intelligence network of the Resistance. Its agents were charged with gathering military or economic and political information that provided content for Free French radio broadcasts and providing liaison and radio operators who facilitated outgoing information and incoming orders.
The Confraternity Notre-Dame operated for three and a half years and during that time 1,544 agents signed on; 524 were arrested, of which 234 were deported, 37 shot, and 151 died while deported. Irénée Cazals was arrested on the 17th November 1943 and deported on the 29th November. He survived the war.
N° 28 Boulevard Barbès: Former residence of Irénée Cazals
And now we come to a shoe shop at N° 34 Boulevard Barbès, one of several shoe shops along the street.
KATA is an outlet store with shoes piled into bins and sold at bargain prices complete with signs saying, ‘No Refunds’. But behind the undistinguished shop front KATA is much more than a shoe shop: it’s an aberration, an urban anachronism.
The shoe shop occupies what was once the Barbès Palace Cinema and when they moved in to the premises in 1988, KATA was persuaded to retain the Belle Époque architecture and fit the shop around it.
This cinema built in 1914 by the French architect Louis Garnier seated 1,200 people making it one of the top cinemas in the city. It was built in the Belle Époque style and the stage, complete with red velvet curtains, the ionic columns, the neo-classical balconies and the double staircase leading up to them are all still in place.
In the early twentieth century cinemas proliferated so the residents around the Boulevard Barbès were spoiled for choice. As well as the Barbès Palace they had the Luxor, (now completely restored and reopened), the Palais-Rochechouart (now Darty), the Delta (now Guerrisol), the Myrha (now an Evangelical Church) and the Gaîté-Rochechouart (now Célio), all within walking distance.
In its early days the Barbès Palace was still influenced by the music hall so it had its own orchestra to provide musical interludes during the programme.
It also had an eye on commercial opportunities so it promoted advertising for a wide range of products and services.
The cinema fared well and up to the mid-1960s offering a programme of mainly French films and a few foreign productions although by this time it had lost both its orchestra and the ‘Palace’ from its name. By the 1970s tastes had changed and the fare on offer tilted towards action movies such as spaghetti westerns and war films. As the decline in cinema going began to bite in the 1980s, the Barbès Cinema began to show double-bills comprising an action movie and an ‘erotic’ film, although it was never reduced to becoming a genuine ‘porn’ cinema.
The final curtain fell on the Barbès cinema on 30th July 1985 with the programme for that week including Ninja Fury and Excès érotiques.
The cinema was built with two means of access: 34 Boulevard Barbès and 9 Rue des Poissonnièrs.
One of my soundwalks comprised a walk along the Rue des Poissonnièrs, into the shoe shop and then out into the Boulevard Barbes. Unfortunately, the ambience inside the shop is tarnished by strips of harsh neon lighting stretching over the displays of shoes and the music playing over loudspeakers scattered around the store.
The Rue des Poissonnièrs entrance
A soundwalk from Rue des Poissonnièrs to Boulevard Barbès via the KATA store:
Soundwalking and listening to urban soundscapes has many facets. Studying urban soundscapes can be a valuable academic pursuit as evidenced by the work of Dr. Antonella Raddichi at the Technische Universität, Berlin. Sound artists like La Cosa Preziosa often magically weave urban soundscapes into their compositions. But one doesn’t have to be an academic or an artist to appreciate urban soundscapes. Simply listening to and following the sounds with an abundance of curiosity can open up an often hidden yet fascinating world.
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.
LA FÊTE DE GANESH, along with the celebrations for the Chinese New Year and the Carnaval Tropical, bring an annual wave of colour and spectacle to the streets of Paris highlighting the city’s cultural diversity.
Indian communities across the world celebrate la Fête de Ganesh at this time of the year and yesterday I went to join the celebrations in Paris.
The Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple, in rue Pajol
Genesha, the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune, has a temple dedicated to him in Paris, the Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple, in rue Pajol in the 18th arrondissement. It was from here that a colourful procession set off yesterday on its tour of the surrounding area.
Strands of jasmine were on sale everywhere
To experience la Fête de Ganesh is to experience a multi-sensory feast with the colourful costumes and the equally colourful sounds overlayed with wonderfully exotic smells.
Unfortunately, I can’t recreate the exotic smells for you to enjoy but I can share with you this year’s Fête de Ganesh in sounds and pictures and let them tell their own story.
La Fête de Ganesh 2014 in sound:
The Deity Ganesha has been represented with the head of an elephant since the early stages of his appearance in Indian art
This is the pile of coconuts that you can hear being smashed in my recording
Lunch after the parade … if you can find a seat! Then the clean up begins …
THE WEEK BETWEEN CHRISTMAS and the New Year always seems rather like a no-man’s land to me – winding down from the Christmas festivities and the anticipation of the New Year celebrations; the dying embers of the old year and the sparkle of the new year in prospect.
During this week I’ve been catching up with some blogs I visit regularly and some I haven’t seen for a while. I’ve found that a good number of them seem to be in reflective mood, looking back over 2011 and highlighting their top posts or posts that have had a special significance for them during the year. During this week in no-man’s land I’ve been reflecting too, reflecting on the sounds I’ve recorded during the past year.
2011 has been a good sound year for me. As always, my sound haul has been eclectic covering a wide range of sounds that capture the sonic atmosphere of Paris and sometimes, of other places too. I’m afraid that from my collection of sounds recorded in 2011 the temptation to select a ‘Sound of the Year’ was too great to resist.
I would like to present three sounds out of the many I’ve collected during the year and I’ve chosen these, not because they are necessarily the best sounds either technically or artistically but because they each have a special significance for me.
So, here we go …
IN THIRD PLACE:
This is the sound of Jean-Pierre Leguay, Organist Titulaire de Notre-Dame, playing the magnificent Cavaille-Col Grand Orgue de Notre-Dame in the Cathédrale de Notre Dame at the end of the service to mark the beatification of Pope Jean-Paul II presided over by Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Cardinal Archbishop of Paris.
I’ve chosen this piece simply because of its majesty. It’s not often that one gets to hear one of the world’s finest cathedral organists playing one of the world’s finest cathedral organs in one of the world’s finest cathedrals to a congregation of well over a thousand.
This recording sends shivers up my spine every time I listen to it.
IN SECOND PLACE:
This recording is special to me because it came about as a result of an invitation I received from some friends in Warsaw to visit them at their home to hear the Bornus Consort give a private recital.
Established in 1981 by Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski, The Bornus Consort specialise in singing early music from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. As well as singing early Polish music, the ensemble also sings 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.
I’ve chosen this recording because of its intimacy and also because it reminds me of the generosity and kindness of my Polish friends.
AND IN FIRST PLACE – MY SOUND OF THE YEAR 2011:
I’ve chosen this piece, recorded in Cité Veron in the 18th arrondissement, as my ‘Sound of the Year’ because it best represents the sound work that I do and you can see the full story behind this sound by clicking on the link above. The story is worth reading to set the sound in context.
I am a sound hunter, a flaneur, endlessly pounding the streets of Paris hunting for sounds that evoke the atmosphere of this city. Sometimes those sounds are hard to find but there is no feeling quite like finding a sound that captures the atmosphere perfectly, and this one does.
And a sound that can bring a tear to the eye of at least one member of my audience, a former ballet dancer, simply has to be my Sound of the Year!
And Finally …
During 2011, some people have very kindly given up their time to contribute to this blog with spoken pieces. I would like to say a big ‘Thank You’ to:
I wish everyone a very Happy New Year!
PARIS IS NOT JUST for the French, other communities live here too. And while the French celebrate their Fête Nationale in style and the Chinese in Paris celebrate their new year with fabulous displays of colourful dancing lions and dragons accompanied by endless firecrackers, today it was the turn of the Indian community to have their celebration with La Fête de Ganesh.
Genesha, with his elephant’s head to make him easily recognisable, is the Hindu deity of wisdom, propriety and good fortune and a temple is dedicated to him in Paris, the Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam temple, in the rue Pajol. And it was from here that today’s colourful procession set off around this part of the 18th arrondissement. The women dressed up, the men dressed down and a good time was had by all.
So let’s celebrate the sights and sounds of today’s Fête de Ganesh.
The sounds of La Fête de Ganesh:
And after a long, hard day …