YESTERDAY, WEDNESDAY 18th JULY, was World Listening Day 2012. Organised by the World Listening Project in partnership with the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology, World Listening Day is a celebration of listening as it relates to the world around us. People from across the world participate in a variety of ways and I was keen to make my contribution. I gave a lot of thought to what my contribution might be.
I decided that I wanted to share sounds that people would find interesting and enjoyable to listen to, sounds that reflected everyday life here in Paris, sounds that anyone could have easy access to but sounds that are perhaps so familiar they are often ignored. The Paris Métro seemed to have the answer.
A staggering 1.5 billion journeys are made on the Paris Métro each year. About 93 million of these are made on Line 5, the line that crosses the east of Paris from Place d’Italie to Bobigny. When I began to think about it two things occurred to me. First, Line 5 is perhaps the most sonically interesting line on the Paris Métro network and second, I suspect that very few people actually travel the full length of the line from Place d’Italie to Bobigny – Pablo Picasso or back again.
Line 5 is of particular interest to me because its sounds are changing. The current MF 67 trains have been in service for over forty years and they’re now gradually being replaced by the new MF 2000 rolling stock. Before too long, the distinctive sounds of the MF 67’s, the sounds everyone associates with the Paris Métro, will disappear. For some time now I have been collecting and preserving the sounds of the Paris Métro and particularly the sounds of Line 5, but I have never recorded the complete journey from one end of the line to the other. World Listening Day 2012 seemed like an ideal opportunity to do it.
I began my journey at Place d’Italie.
Place d’Italie – On the left an MF 2000 : On the right an MF 67
The journey from Place d’Italie to the other terminus at Bobigny – Pablo Picasso is 14.6 kilometres. It includes 22 stops and it takes about 35 minutes.
Place d’Italie to Bobigny – Pablo Picasso:
The station names on Line 5, like the station names on all the Métro lines, provide a lexicon of French history. It’s easy to get carried away thinking about Napoleon and the Treaty of Campo Formio or the Battle of Austerlitz or Jacques Bonsergent, the first civilian Parisian to be executed by the Nazis during the Occupation all remembered in the station names on Line 5.
The MF 67 train I travelled on
But for me, it’s the sounds that are so fascinating. The ageing MF 67 rolling stock combined with the curves and gradients of Line 5 create a sonic experience unlike any other on the Paris Métro network. So, anyone familiar with Line 5 will be familiar with these sounds.
People don’t usually catch Métro trains just to listen to the sounds … but I do, which is why this recording takes on an extra dimension. I record sounds like this partly as an historical record of the sounds of our time but also for the purely sonic qualities that sounds like this have. Listened to in a train on Line 5 these sounds simply come with the territory, but listened to away from the Métro system, divorced from their context, they become something completely different.
On one level, these completely unprocessed sounds are a colourful sonic record of a journey from Place d’Italie to Bobigny – Pablo Picasso along the full length of Line 5. On another level, they become a sort of self-generated work of sound art, a Matériel Fer tone poem.
Listening as it relates to the world around us is what World Listening Day is all about. These sounds, the sounds of Line 5 of the Paris Métro, are my contribution to World Listening Day and I hope they will enrich others around the world as much as they enrich me.
WORLD LISTENING DAY 2012 takes place on Wednesday 18th July and its purpose is:
- to celebrate the practice of listening as it relates to the world around us, environmental awareness, and acoustic ecology;
- to raise awareness about issues related to the World Soundscape Project, World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, World Listening Project, and individual and group efforts to creatively explore phonography;
- and to design and implement educational initiatives which explore these concepts and practices.
World Listening Day is organized by the World Listening Project (WLP), in partnership with the Midwest Society for Acoustic Ecology (MSAE). July 18 was chosen as the date for World Listening Day because it is the birthday of the Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer, who is one of the founders of the Acoustic Ecology movement. The World Soundscape Project, which Schafer directed, is an important organization which has inspired a lot of activity in this field, and his book The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World helped to define many of the terms and background behind the acoustic ecology movement.
On July 18th, people from across the world will be participating in a variety of ways including listening parties, soundwalks, public forums about acoustic ecology and more. I shall be out on the streets capturing, as Ludwig Koch said, the atmosphere in sound that belongs only to Paris.
If you would like to participate in World Listening Day, please email email@example.com, and be sure to include World Listening Day in the subject line.