I WAS WALKING THROUGH the Jardin du Luxembourg heading for my 82 bus when I came upon something quite unusual, something I couldn’t possibly walk past without stopping to record.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me on this particular day so here’s a picture of the Jardin du Luxembourg I prepared earlier!
A group of young musicians were assembled on the bandstand and I just caught the very end of their performance. They were high school and college students from the United States called the Virginia Ambassadors of Music and they were on a summer European tour.
Virginia Ambassadors of Music:
Unfortunately, this was one of those rare days when I didn’t have my camera with me but no matter, their spirited performance of John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever more than makes up for that.
As you can hear, the audience gathered around the bandstand were very enthusiastic. And special congratulations to the two young lady flute players who earned their own well-deserved round of applause.
The Virginia Ambassadors of Music don’t seem to have a web site, or at least I can’t find one, so if anyone knows more about them perhaps you’d like to get in touch.
LAST MONTH I HAD the privilege of spending a delightful afternoon in Paris with the Italian architect and researcher in urban design, Dr Antonella Radicchi.
Antonella studied at the MIT School of Architecture and Planning (USA) and at the Faculty of Architecture in Florence. She has taught and lectured both in Italy and abroad and since 2011 she has collaborated on research projects with Tempo Reale, the Florence based Centre for Music Research and Education. She has eight years teaching experience at university level and a distinctive record of publications in the field of soundscape studies and urban design.
Her primary research interests centre upon the interaction between people and the environments they inhabit focusing on the involvement of the population into the planning process of urban soundscapes through the development of open source platforms and open data sets.
Antonella is also the editor of the firenzesoundmap, an interactive, open source tool, which has become a collective sound map of the city of Florence through the involvement and the participation of the Florentine population, city users and tourists.
Antonella has kindly agreed to share her reflections about our meeting and also to share the Parisian sounds she recorded.
Soundwalking in Paris by Antonella Radicchi
I have been following the work on Parisian soundscapes by Des Coulam for quite a while and when I was about to leave for Paris in the middle of August I thought I’d drop him a line to ask whether he would be up for soundwalking in Paris. To my great delight, he replied offering to meet up the following Friday. We were to meet in front of the Porte Saint-Michel entrance to the Jardin de Luxembourg at 2pm.
I couldn’t wait!
Since 2007, Des – who describes himself as “a flaneur, endlessly walking the streets of Paris, observing through active listening” and, […], capturing “that gratuitous, never-ending show for which no ticket is needed.” – has been recording and archiving the “contemporary sound tapestry” of Paris so carefully and comprehensively that the British Library has been acquiring Parisian field recordings from his archive. Yet, his interest in recording sounds dates back to Christmas Day 1958 when he woke up to find that Father Christmas had brought him a tape recorder!
His idea of a “contemporary sound tapestry” is extremely fascinating: he prefers “sound tapestry” to “soundscape”, which is the widely accepted term, since it always reminds him that our lives are immersed in a complex system of interwoven sounds. Des is used to exploring and binaurally recording the Parisian soundscape through “active” soundwalking, which is quite different from the traditional method – usually practiced along a predetermined path at slow pace with the main purpose of listening to the environment. Whilst Des soundwalks along a predetermined path, which constitutes kind of a reference, he records sounds as if painting a picture: if he hears something special, he immediately goes off the route looking for that, “giving the sounds time to breath and to speak as they all have a story to tell” – as he insightfully commented while we were soundwalking.
So, on August, 15th at 2pm we met in front of the Porte Saint-Michel entrance to the Jardin de Luxembourg and I was immediately surprised by this generous man who offered to let me conduct the soundwalk taking advantage of his binaural recording equipment, which I was very excited to experiment with as I have never used this method before.
Des’ binaural recording equipment – Marantz PMD 661 Mk11 sound recorder and Soundman OKM II Classic in-ear microphones
He also gave me lots of inspiring suggestions about how to soundwalk and about binaural recording techniques.
Me wearing Des’ binaural microphones and listening to Des’ suggestions about how conduct the soundwalk
Then, he was patient enough to answer to all the questions I asked him about soundscape studies, field recording and audio archiving techniques and we ended up debating and formulating hypotheses on the difference between listening to soundscapes in real time and listening to the recorded versions – which so far has remained an open ended question I am still thinking about!
Me and Des chatting about soundscape studies, field recording, and audio archiving techniques.
Finally, it was time to do some soundwalking and recording. We started with a first soundwalk at the Jardin du Luxembourg, which you can listen to here.
Antonella in the Jardin du Luxembourg:
My soundwalk route around the Jardin du Luxembourg
Then we moved to the Latin Quarter, close by the Pantheon and we did two more soundwalks, one along rue Descartes and one along rue Mouffetard, which you can listen to here.
Antonella in rue Descartes:
My soundwalk route along rue Descartes and Place Contrascarpe. Note the domed Panthéon on the left and the oval-shaped Roman Arènes de Lutèce on the right
Antonella in rue Mouffetard:
My soundwalk route along the rue Mouffetard from Place Contrascarpe to the Eglise Saint-Médard. Rue Mouffetard was originally a Roman road running from Roman Lutèce (now Paris) to Italy
I am very grateful to Des for the time he dedicated to me and for having so generously shared his passion and knowledge of field recording the Parisian “sound tapestry”. I came back to Italy full of energy and enthusiasm from the afternoon we spent together and I am still benefiting from that.
I hope I will have the chance to meet Des again to do more soundwalking together before too long.
And please, if you stop over in Paris, do not miss the chance to meet him. It will be a deeply rewarding experience!
WE’VE HAD SOME beautiful sunshine in Paris over the last week or so – and when the sun shines people head to the parks.
Returning from a recording assignment the other day, I walked through the Jardin du Luxembourg to catch my bus home. The sun was shining and this most popular of Parisian parks was simply awash with people – perhaps more people I think than I’ve seen there before.
All these people were doing what people do in parks – walking, jogging, reading, having picnics, meeting friends or simply sitting and doing nothing in particular.
Since I had time on my hands I decided to stop and record some of the sounds in the park, something I’ve done many times before, but this time I wanted to capture the very particular sounds that I always associate with Parisian parks, the sounds of footsteps over the gravel paths.
I’ve recorded the sounds of footsteps in Parisian parks before but this time I wanted to do it slightly differently, to capture these distinctive sounds from a different perspective. I placed two small microphones (like the ones TV newsreaders wear) about six inches above the ground in the middle of a path and waited for people to walk or run past them.
The Sounds of Spring in the Jardin du Luxembourg:
People usually associate the arrival of Spring with the natural world bursting into life, the leaves on the tress, flowers coming into bloom and the sound of birdsong. But, as a city dweller and someone who is passionately interested in our sonic environment, it is these natural sounds of the human species that signal to me that the Parisian Spring has arrived.
The sounds of pétanque being played and the occasional birdsong in the background add a sense of ‘place’ and perspective but these sounds are secondary to the sounds of the footsteps over the gravel, which for me at any rate are the dominating sounds of Parisian parks in the springtime.
Of course, footsteps are not the only sounds to be heard in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Other sounds often become the centre of attention …
Music in the Jardin du Luxembourg:
LA FONTAINE MÉDICIS, or the Medici Fountain, is a monumental fountain in the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. I’ve been to it many times but early on a bitterly cold morning last week I went with a special purpose in mind, to record the sounds of the fountain.
The fountain was part of the sumptuous palace and gardens that Marie de Médicis, widow of Henry IV and regent for King Louis XIII, commissioned in the 1630’s. The palace, the Palais du Luxembourg, was based on the Palazzo Pitti and the gardens on the Boboli gardens in Florence both of which she had known from her childhood. The fountain was modelled on the grotto built by Bernado Buontalenti in the Boboli gardens. The palace was the work of architect Salomon de Brosse, but the fountain, or grotto, was most probably the work of Tommaso Francini, the Intendant General of Waters and Fountains of the King.
Fontaine Médicis in 1820
After the death of Marie de Médicis the palace and the gardens went through several changes of ownership and the fountain fell into disrepair. Napoleon Bonaparte ordered some restoration work to be done at the beginning of the 19th century but by the second half of the century Baron Haussmann’s massive urban redevelopment of Paris was in full cry and the future of the fountain was in jeopardy. Haussmann had plans to create the rue de Médicis which was to cut through the site where the fountain stood.
The French architect Alphonse de Gisors, who had already extended the Palais du Luxembourg in the 1830’s, was called upon to move the Fontaine Médicis some thirty meters closer to the palace to make way for Haussmann’s new street and in doing so he radically changed its setting by creating a 50 metre long rectangle of water bounded by an alley of trees and he also changed its appearance.
Alphonse de Gisors’ relocation of la Fontaine Médicis today
It was this rectangle of water that was of particular interest to me when I visited the Fontaine Médicis last week.
Polyphemus Surprising Acis and Galatea, by Auguste Ottin (1861)
Looking at the fountain with the giant, Polyphemus, looking down on Acis and Galatea and with Faunus, the god of the forest and Diana, goddess of the hunt (both by Ottin) looking at each other, I was absorbed by the sounds of the fountain.
At this early hour in the morning there were no people around but even so I was not alone. This duck befriended me and stayed close to me the whole time I was there. I had gone to this place to record the sounds around me and although I could hear the sounds of the water I couldn’t help wondering what this duck might hear – assuming ducks can hear.
Anxious to find out, I lowered a microphone to the same level as the duck and began to record. These are the sounds heard by the thousands, or maybe hundreds of thousands, of people who visit this place each year.
Presently, the duck leapt off the ledge onto the water below and began foraging with its head under the water. I followed by lowering a microphone under the water and I began to hear sounds that only the ducks and none of the visitors hear. Both the duck and I were close to where the water was falling over the ledge so the sounds under the water were an underwater version of the sounds above – the gurgling of the falling water as it hits and then descends below the waterline.
The duck decided to move off to a more interesting feeding ground, a clump of fallen leaves nestling on the water. I let my microphone float down to join the duck and it came to rest under the leaves where I discovered a completely different collection of captivating sounds.
I’ve put together a selection of the sounds I recorded, the sounds from above the base of the fountain, the sounds from below and the sounds from under the bed of leaves so that you can share the sonic tapestry the ducks hear.
The hidden sounds of the Fontaine Médicis:
In Homer’s Odyssey we are told that the man-eating one-eyed giant, Polyphemus, was blinded when Odysseus hardened a wooden stake in a fire and drove it into his eye. If that is so, then from his position on la Fontaine Médicis today Polyphemus will surely be more than compensated by the wonderful sounds around him both above and below the water.
I AM DELIGHTED TO present a new piece in my Paris – A Personal View series.
For each piece in the series I invite a guest who lives in Paris to visit one of their favourite places or a place in the city that has a special meaning for them. With access to a microphone and sound recorder the guest talks about the place and tells us why it’s special to them.
Today my guest is Monique Wells.
Photo by Kim Powell
A native Houstonian and 21-year resident of Paris, Dr. Monique Y. Wells wears several professional hats. She is a consultant in preclinical safety assessment, a time management/productivity expert, and an expert on African Diaspora Paris. She owns two small businesses – one as a solopreneur and the other with her husband. A writer and editor in multiple disciplines, she enjoys investigating her topics thoroughly with an eye for the unusual, untold story. She is also passionate about travel and about food and wine.
As an African-American woman living in France, her interest in African Diaspora history and culture in Paris led her to create Discover Paris!’ Entrée to Black Paris™ Afro-centric walks and activities. It also inspired her to found the French non-profit association called Les Amis de Beauford Delaney. Having successfully placed a tombstone at the previously unmarked grave of painter Beauford Delaney, the principal goal of the organization is now to increase awareness of Delaney’s work.
And Monique’s chosen place? The Jardin du Luxembourg …
©Monique Wells at the Jardin du Luxembourg:
Preparing to record in the Jardin du Luxembourg
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
The photographic exposition of the Tour de France on the gates of the Jardin
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
Palais du Luxembourg – The Luxembourg Palace
Le poète ou Hommage à Paul Eluard (1954)
Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967)
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
Horloge, Palais du Luxembourg
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
La fontaine Médicis – The Medici Fountain
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
The first crocuses
Photo: © www.discoverparis.net.
I am very grateful to Monique for giving up her time on a blustery, early Spring day to visit and talk about the Jardin du Luxembourg.
Unlike other sounds on this blog, the sound piece ‘Monique Wells at the Jardin du Luxembourg‘ is not covered by a Creative Commons license. The copyright for this piece rests jointly and exclusively with Monique Wells and Des Coulam. It follows therefore that the downloading of this piece for any purpose is not permitted without the express permission of both Monique and Des. We have no wish to spoil your enjoyment of this piece but simply ask you to respect that the work is ours. Thanks for understanding.
SPRING SEEMS TO HAVE arrived in Paris right on cue this year.
On the day when the clocks went forward by one hour, the sun shone and people took to the parks to relax, to picnic, to sunbathe and to celebrate the arrival of spring.
There are close to a hundred statues in the Jardin du Luxembourg and they also seemed to be enjoying the arrival of spring.
Even the French poet, Charles Baudelaire, seemed to be looking especially dapper in the midday sunshine.
The sound of Spring in the Jardin du Luxembourg:
Those of us who live in this city are very lucky to have wonderful public spaces like the Jardin du Luxembourg to share and to enjoy at any time of the year but especially in the spring and the summer when they look at their absolute best.
Home to the Palais du Luxembourg and the French Senate, the Jardin du Luxembourg is the second largest public park in Paris. The garden and the palace were created at the behest of Marie de Medici, the widow of Henry IV, in the early seventeenth-century. It’s always been renowned for its statues.
Music can be found in most public spaces in Paris especially in the summer. But musicians are not allowed to play in the Jardin du Luxembourg save for the concerts in the gazebo. However, they are allowed to play outside the Jardin and this man, with his delightful street organ, does so regularly.
The Street Organ:
Recording sound in the Jardin du Luxembourg is fraught with difficulties. The Jardin is popular all year round but in the summer there is a constant cacophony of crowd sounds, which makes recording quite specific sounds a challenge to say the least.
But, as always, with determination and a huge amount of patience it is possible to isolate some of the distinctive sounds – the joggers, the tennis players, the Pétanque players and the children’s playground.
Sounds in the Jardin du Luxembourg:
Incidentally, a game of Pétanque with its mystifying rules is, along with fireworks, one of the most difficult things to record. Those metal balls clinking into each other play havoc with a sound recorder and one is never quite sure what the outcome is going to be.
Apart from the Bois de Boulogne, which is a ten-minute walk from my home, the Jardin du Luxembourg is the Paris park that I visit most often. I’ve been there in the summer when the temperature has been 40° and I’ve been there in the winter when it’s been covered in snow and the temperature has been below freezing. But whenever I go, the Jardin du Luxemburg always seems to have a special charm. I recommend it.
Two new things:
First, to let you know that I have added a new sound file to the “street music” page of this blog. This is a recording I made a few weeks ago of six jazz musicians having a lot of fun playing outside the gates of the Jardin du Luxembourg here in Paris. It’s well worth a listen. I have also included this as my “Sound of the Week”.
Second, I have added a link to the site of Vladimir Kryutchev under the “Links to other sound sites” segment. Vladimir is a journalist who lives in Russia and he specialises in binaural ambient recordings of his home town. I recommend that you click on the link to his site and have a listen.
Yesterday afternoon I went to my favourite part of Paris, the 5th arrondissement. After the searing heat of the past couple of weeks and the deluge last Wednesday the weather was much kinder and more to my liking. Late in the afternoon I washed up at the Jardin du Luxembourg which was full of people as always but I did manage to find a green bench under the trees where I had a much needed sit down. The Jardin du Luxembourg can be a very tranquil place if you find the right spot and the people watching can be a fascinating.
I watched the young lady on the right of the photograph wrestle with a baguette for the best part of half an hour before giving up and feeding it to the pigeons. The man sitting on the bench opposite spent the whole time I was there crouched over his notebook and and writing furiously. I couldn’t help wondering what he was writing.
I made some “atmosphere” recordings from this spot which included birds singing in the trees all around me, people talking and walking past on the gravel and the sound of street musicians away in the distance.
Presently, I decided to move off and I made my way towards the sound of the street musicians to see what I could find …
… and this is what I found. A group of six young men making music in the street outside the gates of the Jardin du Luxembourg – a trumpet, two saxophones, a trombone, drums and a sousaphone together with a tin to collect the money in and a large crowd of people watching and listening. It was all good fun. I couldn’t resist recording them for my Paris Soundscape project and, yes, I did leave some money in the tin.
The recording does, like most street recordings, have the usual noises off, traffic and people talking, but that’s all part of the colour.
So here is my Saturday “Sound of the Day”: Jazz – Jardin du Luxembourg 02