Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Mind the Gap’

5
Jun

The Voice of the N° 39 Bus

I HAVE SOME EXCTING NEWS! The bus stop announcements on the Paris buses are being updated and the current computer generated Text to Speech voices are being replaced with real voices recorded specifically for each bus route. Soundlandscapes has been given exclusive access to see how the new announcements are produced.

Song Phanekham is the man responsible for the sound identity of RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens), the Paris mass transit authority, which includes the Metro, the RER, the buses and the trams. Amongst other things, he is responsible for the excellent, four-language, “Mind the Gap” announcement on the newly automated Metro Line 1.

I met Song last week at the studios of Sixième Son, Europe’s leading audio branding and sound identity agency, in the 5th arrondissement. Working with Sixième Son, RATP are gradually improving the customer experience by producing clear, distinctive and friendly announcements that have a very Parisian feel to them across the entire RATP transport network. I watched as the bus stop announcements for the N° 39 bus route were recorded.

The N° 39 bus route is one of around 350 routes that RATP operates. It crosses Paris between the Gare du Nord and Issy-Frères Voisin. If you travel on a 39 bus today, these are some of the sounds you will hear.

Sounds inside a N° 39 Bus today:

It is these dry, monotone announcements that are being replaced. The objective is to make travelling on public transport a more welcoming and friendly experience. I know that sounds like something straight out of a marketing brochure but having seen at first hand the effort RATP are making to produce more genuinely customer friendly announcements, I have to applaud what they are doing.

If the announcements are to be less robotic and more welcoming, and if there is to be a real voice specially recorded, then there has to be a face behind the voice.

Let me introduce Andréa, the voice of the N° 39 bus.

In this sonic modernisation programme, RATP decided not to use actors or voice-over artists to make the new announcements. Instead, they held auditions within RATP and selected some of their own employees to do the job. Andréa is one of several employees selected.

From the control room, I watched as the names of all the bus stops on the N° 39 route were recorded. The atmosphere was relaxed but very professional as Andréa went about her work.

Recording the announcements:

She spoke the name of each bus stop and then repeated it two or three times, sometimes with a slightly different inflection, so as to give the director and the editor more choice.  Song directed the recording session and he intervened gently from time to time to ensure that he got the result he was looking for. I was impressed by the care taken to ensure exactly the correct inflection on each name but I was even more impressed by the care taken to ensure the correct pronunciation.

One of the stops on the N° 39 route is Abbé Groult. Andréa had a view about how to pronounce ‘Groult’ and Song had a different view. In the end, it was decided to record both versions and then to seek advice from the Académie Française, custodian of the French language. The Académie ruled that, “Dans les noms qui se terminent en -ult, les consonnes finales ne se font pas entendre. On dit l’abbé grou.” So there we have it on the highest authority, the letters ‘l’ and ‘t’ are silent.

Different versions of Abbé Groult:

 After the recording session came the editing and the final selection of the sounds to be used.

Editing and selection:

Again, great care was taken to ensure that everything was perfect. A debate ensued about the pronunciation of Desnouettes-Vasco de Gama. That pesky little ‘de’ between Vasco and Gama has a lot to answer for. And ‘Grands Boulevards’ wasn’t plain sailing either. Eventually though, everyone had their say, the editor worked his magic and the finished sounds were to everyone’s satisfaction.

During the next two or three weeks, these sounds will be uploaded into the sound systems of all the buses that work the 39 route. Then, as if by magic, the GPS system on each bus will activate the audio announcements and the sound of Andréa’s voice will be heard as each bus stop comes into view.

This recording session was just one of many that are being held to update the announcements on the Paris buses, the Metro, the RER and the Trams and to make them more user friendly. From late June and early July, Andréa will also feature on bus routes 70, 82 and 92. Around mid-June, new announcements will appear on bus routes 43 and 95 with a male voice. Then the announcements on two major BRT (bus rapid transit) lines in the southeastern suburbs, Tvm and 393, will be updated.

Well done RATP!

I am very grateful to Song Phanekham, RATP and Sixième Son for allowing me to attend this recording session and for their hospitality. And of course, special thanks to Andréa for allowing me to record her being recorded.

20
Jan

‘Mind the Gap’ Goes International

I HAVE EXCITING NEWS from Line 1 of the Paris Metro!   The 725,000 passengers who travel on this line every day, including me, are now enjoying new, driverless, automatic trains. And what’s more, we have new, up-market  ‘Mind the Gap’ announcements as well.

In November last year, the first automatic trains went into service on Line 1.  RATP, (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) the Paris mass transit authority, sent me a letter to tell me about this and to say that two new automatic trains a month will be introduced so that by the end of 2012 Line 1 will be completely automatic.

Paris already has of course the world’s first fully automated Metro line, Line 14, which runs from Saint Lazare to Olympiades on a north-west south-east diagonal across the centre of Paris. The conversion of Line 1 is another first. It’s the first time that an old, working Metro line (Line 1 was built in 1900) has been converted to be fully automatic without any disruption to the service. That’s quite an achievement. The work to reconfigure the platforms and to install the sophisticated electronics began in 2008 and it’s been a long process. I know because I’ve watched it all unfold. Sometimes, it seemed that the work would never end.

The Automatic MP 05 Train

The new automatic, air-conditioned trains are built by Alstom and they have been designated with the appellation, MP 05. MP (matériel pneus) means that they have rubber tyres. 05 refers to the date of the original tender for these trains that was issued in 2005. These new trains are replacing the existing MP 89’s, which I’ve become very fond of since I’ve been here. The good news is that the MP 89’s will have an afterlife. As they’re removed from Line 1 they will see many more years of service on Line 4.

The MP 89 Train

As if all this wasn’t exciting enough I have even more exciting news! The new, automatic trains on Line 1 have new announcers and a special new announcement for ‘Mind the Gap’.

A source inside RATP, the man responsible for the sound identity of the Paris Metro, has given me some really interesting information, which I’m delighted to share with you. RATP take their sound identity very seriously. They have introduced foreign languages for some announcements and they pay particular attention to their authenticity by using native speakers. French and English are always present but they add other rotating languages, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese.

‘Mind the Gap’ goes international:

There we go, ‘Mind the Gap’ in French, English, German and Japanese.

The male voice used in this announcement is a British RATP staff member working in the marketing department. The French female voice is a former metro train driver on Line 1.

Well done RATP not only for excelling at converting Line 1 to automatic without any disruption but also for having the foresight to give such a high profile to the sound identity of the Paris Metro.

I can’t help wondering what Fulgence Bienvenüe, the one-armed railway engineer and ‘Father of the Metropolitan’ would make of it all. I like to think he would approve.

To hear more of ‘Mind the Gap’ click on the links below:

Mind the Gap:

Mind the Gap – An Update:

2
Oct

“Mind the Gap” – An Update

IN JANUARY THIS YEAR I produced a blog piece entitled, “Mind the Gap”, a piece in which I gave an account of how the French Metro announcers communicate the warning, “Mind the Gap”, to an unsuspecting travelling public.

Here’s how the French do it:

Since then, I’ve made several trips on the London Underground and they too of course have their “Mind the Gap” announcements. Having recorded these announcements in both English and French I thought you might like to hear a direct comparison.

“Mind the Gap” in English and in French:

It occurred to me that to have a collection of “Mind the Gap” announcements from different countries in different accents and different languages might make for an interesting sound art piece.

Do you have a “Mind the Gap” recording from your country and in your language that you would like to share? If so, just send me a comment and I’ll get in touch.

11
Jan

“MIND THE GAP”

I USED TO BE AN aficionado of the London Underground – or the Tube as they call it over there. I prided myself on being able to travel around London on the Underground with ease and without having to use a map.

Not any more I’m afraid. After twelve years of living in Paris, most of what I used to know about the London Underground appears to have been consigned to some dark corner of my brain, seemingly lost forever.

I was though, reacquainted with my old friend some time ago on a visit to London. Everything seemed to be much as I remembered it. That is to say, everything except the incessant security and health and safety announcements that were quite new to me and which seemed to pollute every corner of every station.Out of this maelstrom of new sounds, one stood out from all the others – “MIND THE GAP!”

It seems that, presumably in the interests of the great God, Health and Safety, or more likely, to protect the Underground authorities from litigious passengers, someone has decided that passengers or, as I believe we are called these days, customers, must be warned of the danger of falling down the gap between the train and the platform. Hence the public address announcement – “MIND THE GAP!”

Health a Safety and litigious customers travel with the wind so, not surprisingly, “MIND THE GAP!, has travelled across La Manche to the Paris Metro – although, as so often, the French do it far more elegantly.

“MIND THE GAP! – The French Way:

As always, The French use three words for every one word in English so “MIND THE GAP!” becomes, “Attention a la marche en descendant du train” – more of a request than a command.

The question is: “What constitutes a gap?”  And how big does the gap have to be to warrant an official warning to the great travelling public? Who decides?

This gap at the Metro Station Concorde on Line 1 warrants a warning, as does a similar gap at Charles de Gaulle – Etoille. Several other platforms have a similar warning but the same gap on other Metro station platforms do not. Why?

Is there “gap” prejudice?

As so often in France, a fonctionnaire in an office somewhere, appointed but not elected, clearly has the supreme authority to determine the course of our lives – to authorise whether or not the travelling public should be warned to “MIND THE GAP!”

Line 1 from Tuilleries to Concorde – including advice about “pickpockets” and, of course, “MIND THE GAP!

Wherever you travel, stay safe and, above all, “MIND THE GAP!” – with or without a warning!