Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Disappearing Sounds’

21
Aug

A New Parisian Bus And New Sounds

MY SOUND PRACTICE here in Paris is centred around recording the contemporary sound tapestry of the city – the sounds Parisians hear as they go about their daily lives but seldom stop to listen to.

I’m particularly interested in how the Parisian sound tapestry changes over time and, over the years, I’ve recorded Parisian sounds that no longer exist, sounds that are on the verge of extinction as well as some completely new sounds that have appeared across the city.

Developments in public transport are a prime source for capturing the changing urban soundscape. While the French economy may be lacklustre at the moment France continues to invest heavily in public transport and this investment not only changes the visual landscape, it also changes the sound landscape.

In Paris over recent years we’ve seen old rolling stock retired and new trains introduced on the Paris Métro system, new stations have opened as part of the programme to extend the Métro network into the suburbs and we’ve seen a significant expansion of the tramway network around the periphery of the city and out into the suburbs.

The considerable investment being poured into public transport is designed to improve and extend the transportation system not only for the convenience and comfort of existing passengers but also to make the system more attractive for new passengers. It is hoped that the continuing improvements to the public transport system will encourage more car users to convert to public transport and thus reduce the vehicular emissions that often smother the city.

Although the investment in the Métro and tram network is to be welcomed, 1.1 billion people still use Parisian buses each year and the 4,500 buses in circulation are a worrying source of polluting emissions.

01

A diesel engine Parisian bus

Have a listen to this sound:

It’s the sound of a diesel engine Paris bus waiting at traffic lights. It’s an iconic Parisian sound, but it’s a sound that is now on the verge of extinction.

02

Image via RATP

Bus 2025 is the plan by RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), the state-owned authority responsible for most of the public transport in Paris and the surrounding Île-de-France region, to eliminate diesel engine buses completely and roll out a new fleet of electric and biogas buses in Paris and the Ile-de-France region, thus meeting the target set out in the Île-de-France urban transport plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption per passenger/km by 20% by 2025.

RATP are not only investing in new electric and biogas buses (80% electric and 20% biogas by 2025) but also in new infrastructure at the bus depots to handle the new technology.

The change from diesel to the new electric and biogas buses cannot be made overnight so there is a transitional phase, which has already begun with the purchase and deployment of some hybrid buses. This will allow RATP to test the new technology in operating conditions and to plan the infrastructure changes required.

01

A new Iveco Hybrid bus

Since April this year, a fleet of hybrid Urbanway Citybuses purchased from Iveco, one of several suppliers selected by RATP for the transitional phase, have been plying the 82 bus route that passes by the end of my little street so I’ve had the opportunity to experience what these buses are like.

04

At first glance the hybrid buses look little different from the former diesel engine buses, save for the white bulge protruding from the top of the bus and the new upholstery in the interior.

05

But ‘under the hood’ the difference is dramatic.

The traction drive on the hybrid bus uses a downsized fuel-effective Euro VI engine with Hi-eSCR exhaust gas after-treatment technology, coupled with an electric-generator engine.

When the bus is decelerating and reaches a speed of 20 km/h, the bus engine cuts out, the batteries take over and the electric-generator kicks in.

The energy accumulated during deceleration is recovered and stored in new generation lithium-ion batteries; this energy is then restored during acceleration. When the bus accelerates and reaches a speed of 20 km/h, the engine takes over.

The elimination of a gearbox results in a smoother drive and jolt-free acceleration.

The Urbanway Citybus has an ‘Arrive & Go’ function, which ensures 100% electric silent arrivals and departures at bus stops, with no pollution or vibrations thus benefiting passengers, the driver and those outside the bus.

Iveco claim that this hybrid technology decreases CO2 emissions and fuel consumption by between 25 and 35%. Using 30% less fuel is equivalent to a reduction of over 25 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per vehicle per year, which represents more than twice the weight of the vehicle.

06

Iveco’s claim of reduced CO2 emissions and fuel consumption for the hybrid bus is impressive but as a professional listener to Paris I was even more impressed with the dramatic reduction in noise pollution. The reduction in CO2 emissions and fuel consumption is something we can read about but the reduction in the noise emissions is something we can experience at first hand simply by standing beside or by boarding one of these buses.

I hope RATP will carry out some objective measurements of the reduction in the noise level and then broadcast the results alongside the reduction in CO2 emissions and fuel consumption – it’s something worth making a lot of noise about!

Returning from a recording assignment the other day, I recorded a 40-minute journey on the hybrid bus along the 82 bus route from the Jardin du Luxembourg to the bus stop at the end of my little street; a journey from the heart of the Latin Quarter to the west of Paris taking in the Hôtel des Invalides, the École Militaire, the Champs de Mars, the Tour Eiffel and the Palais des Congrès.

07

Departure from the Jardin du Luxembourg

Sounds of the new hybrid 82 bus:

Sitting on the bus listening to the engine was impressive since the engine is quieter than the usual diesel engine on a Parisian bus. But listening to the complete absence of engine noise when the bus stopped at a junction, or at traffic lights, or at a bus stop was a strange experience. From time to time I found fellow passengers looking quizzically as though the bus had perhaps broken down.

As a passenger, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between the sound of the downsized engine and the electric-generator so I can’t say for certain, but my impression was that the engine on this bus was used for perhaps less than half the journey. I can though say for certain that for most of the journey the sounds of the traffic outside the bus were louder than the sounds on the inside.

An interesting additional sound added to this bus comes from a loudspeaker inside the bus positioned over the front door. On Paris buses passengers enter by the door at the front and leave by the doors in the centre, so when the front door on this bus opens, a voice announces the direction in which the bus is travelling – in this case, “Neuilly – Hôpital American”, that being the last stop on the route. It’s a small, but useful addition since it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve got on an unfamiliar bus and set off in the wrong direction!

Given the importance that RATP attach to the sound architecture of the public transport system, it goes without saying that all the announcements on this bus are made by a real human voice rather than a computerised voice.

Even if you don’t managed to navigate the whole of this recording, I’m sure you will still get a sense of quiet where quiet is not usually found. And it’s certainly worth comparing the sounds of this journey with the sounds of the full-blown diesel engine bus waiting at the traffic lights earlier in this post.

08

Arrival at home

As a professional listener to Paris and an archivist of the city’s contemporary soundscape I found the sounds of the Iveco hybrid bus plying the 82 bus route not only interesting but also valuable. The sounds are a vision of the future but they are also transitory sounds – they weren’t here yesterday and they won’t be here tomorrow. They represent a specific moment in the history of the city. Once the diesel engine buses are eliminated and the all-electric and biogas buses become common currency, the hybrid buses and their sounds will disappear from the Parisian soundscape forever – but they will live on in my Paris Soundscapes Archive.

Although the hybrid buses represent a transitional phase, an all-electric bus route has already begun operating in Paris. The 341 bus route from Place Charles-de-Gaulle to Porte de Clignancourt saw the first all-electric bus begin operating in May this year. In all, 20 all-electric buses will operate this route. The buses have a range of 180 km and the batteries are recharged at night to avoid overloading the electrical supply system.

And finally, in case you think the significant reduction, and sometimes the absence, of noise in an all-electric or a hybrid bus makes for a soulless journey, be reassured. Riding over the intermittent stretches of Parisian pavé remains the same bone-shattering experience that it’s always been!

Note:

The sharp-eyed reader will notice that I left the Jardin du Luxembourg on an 82 bus numbered ‘6005’ but the picture of my arrival at home shows an 82 bus numbered ‘6002’. Well spotted! The explanation is that I did complete the journey on ‘6005’ but it moved off before I could take a picture of it after I alighted. So to capture the shot I waited for the next bus to come along, which was ‘6002’.

09

The 82 Bus Route

12
Jul

Viaduc d’Austerlitz

FOR OVER ONE HUNDRED years, the Viaduc d’Austerlitz has swept majestically over la Seine. Its sole purpose is to carry the trains of Métro Line 5 over the river from the Quai de la Rapée to the Gare d’Austerlitz and back again.

The task facing Fulgence Bienvenüe, the architect of the Paris Métro network, was how to get Line 5 across the la Seine without interfering with the river traffic. The answer came from the engineer, Louis Biette, who proposed a single-span bridge with the deck suspended from two elegant metal arches so that no pillars or supports descended into the river.

The single-span stretches for 140 metres, which even today makes it the second longest bridge in Paris. The 8.5 metre wide deck is suspended 11 metres above the river. Two stone abutments support the ends of the metal arches, one on each bank of the river, with each measuring 22 metres x 18 metres.  Each abutment also extends some 10 metres below the river.

The viaduct itself was built between 1903 and 1904 by the Société de Construction de Levallois-Perret which, under a different name, was the same company that built the Eiffel Tower.

Building the viaduct itself was relatively straightforward. Large wooden scaffolding was erected with wooden pillars sunk deep into the river bed to enable the prefabricated metal sections to be put into place. Building the approaches to the viaduct, or at least one of them, was much more complex though.

While the approach from the Gare d’Austerlitz on the Left Bank posed no particular problems, it was a completely different story on the other side. It was decided that it was impracticable to demolish the necessary buildings on the Right Bank to facilitate a straight entry to the viaduct so instead the design called for a sharp 90° turn within a restricted space. But not only that, the line was required to make a sharp climb from under the Place Mazas to the level of the viaduct. The problem was given to the firm Daydé and Pillé who built the Grand Palais in 1900 but were really specialists in metal construction and particularly bridges.

Their solution involved the application of mathematics and the construction of a helicoidal extension to the viaduct. A helicoid I am told is a curve shaped like Archimedes’ screw, but extending infinitely in all directions. This particular helicoid has a radius of 75 metres and a slope of 4% which not only provides a neat solution to the problem but it also makes the ageing MF 67 Métro trains groan with exasperation.

MF 67 trains climbing the slope and negotiating the curve:

Jean Camille Formigé was responsible for the decorations on the pillars, the arches and the abutments of the viaduct which consist of dolphins, shells, seaweed and animal faces as well as the cast iron designs featuring the coat of arms of Paris attached to anchors.

Formigé though was not responsible for this more recent decoration on the abutment on the Left Bank side.

Adam from Invisible Paris usually knows about things like this so I asked him if he could tell me anything about this lady and why she was there. He told me that she, “ is a creation by artists Leo & Pipo (a selection of other creations can be found here http://www.facebook.com/LEOetPIPO), but it seems that both the photos and the places in which they are positioned are pretty random. I think only they know therefore who she is and why they put her there!

Thanks to the foresight of Fulgence Bienvenüe and Louis Biette together with the ingenuity of Daydé and Pillé, Métro Line 5 was successfully navigated across la Seine from Quai de la Rapée to the Gare d’Austerlitz via the Viaduc d’Austerlitz.

I find the Viaduc d’Austerlitz not only visually attractive but sonically priceless. Every time I go there I am acutely aware that the screeching of each MF 67 train is a sound that is fast disappearing. The old trains are gradually being replaced by the swanky new, more efficient, cleaner and quieter MF 2000 trains. That’s clearly the right thing to do … but I can’t help feeling sorry that we will lose one of the sounds that defines Paris in the process.

It seems appropriate therefore to leave you with the sounds of the short ride from Quai de la Rapée station, under Place Mazas, up the slope and round the helicoidal curve, across the Viaduc d’Austerlitz over la Seine to Gare d’Austerlitz station. It’s a journey of one minute and thirty seconds but it spans over one hundred years of history.

Quai de la Rapée to Gare d’Austerlitz:

1
Jul

Paris Metro Sounds – Quai de la Rapée

I OFTEN STAND on this spot and look down the Port d’Arsenal towards Bastille.  I’ve been here in the summer sunshine, in the autumnal mists and in the depths of winter.

But it’s not the view that I come for. Just to the left from where this picture was taken is the lock that forms the entrance to the Port d’Arsenal – the link between the Port and la Seine. Over the lock is an iron bridge that carries the Metro Line 5 into the Metro station Quai de la Rapée.  It’s the distinctive sounds of the Metro trains trundling over this bridge and into and out of this station that I enjoy.

Metro Sounds at the Quai de la Rapée:

Named after Jean-Baptiste La Rapée, General Superintendant of the Armies of Louis XIV who owned a country house hereabouts, the station stands on the Quai de la Rapée, until the beginning of the 20th century a port specialising in handling logging and wood products.

Of the 208.8 km of the Paris Metro system, 16.6 km are above ground, part of Fulgence Bienvenûe’s Metro ariéne. Consequently, most of the stations are either underground or well above ground. The station Quai de la Rapée is unusual in that it is at ground level.

The sounds of the trains entering and leaving this station seem to take on a surreal quality more like the musique concrète of Pierre Schaeffer or Pierre Henry than the sounds of a Metro train.

The texture of the sounds changes with the seasons of the year, becoming crisper and harsher in the winter and it’s the mystical quality of these constantly changing sounds that attract me back to this place.

Before long, as the rolling stock on the Paris Metro is upgraded with sleeker, more efficient but sonically much less interesting trains, today’s sounds at the Quai de la Rapée will disappear. Those who live close to this part of Line 5 may breath a sigh of relief at that prospect but I can’t help feeling that we will have lost yet another of the sounds that define this city.