THE SUMMER HOLIDAYS are over so now it must be the marching season, the time when the streets of Paris resound to the sights and sounds of protest.
I was in the Place de la Bastille on that memorable Sunday evening back in early May when the crowds celebrated as François Holland was swept into power as Président de la République. Since then his honeymoon as President has been a short one, his approval rating slumped to a low of 43 percent in one poll last week. On Sunday, he faced his first major display of public anger as thousands of people gathered in the Place de la Nation to protest against the austerity plans contained in the EU fiscal pact or le traité sur la stabilité, la coordination et la gouvernance (TSCG) as it’s known here. A draft law concerning this budget discipline pact is being debated in the lower house of parliament this week and it’s expected to be approved by both houses of parliament.
I’ve never been known to miss a good street protest, so I went to along to record the sights and sounds.
According to the Front de Gauche who organised this manifestation, some sixty organisations took part mainly representing the far-left – the Parti Communiste, the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, the Parti Ouvrier Indépendant, Attac, the CGT trades union and many others. Conspicuous by their absence were representatives of the Parti Socialiste, François Holland’s party, who now of course form the government. Estimates of the numbers attending vary wildly. The lowest estimate I’ve seen put the number at 40,000 but it could have been more. I arrived early as the crowd gathered in Place de la Nation and I spent the afternoon capturing the sights and sounds around me.
A high spot for me was when the very nice people at Radio France allowed me to take a picture inside their outside broadcast van. This may have been a diversion from the matter in hand but once a sound enthusiast, always a sound enthusiast and I never miss the opportunity to look at a Nagra sound recorder!
So here then is my record of the afternoon.
NON au traité d’austérité – Part One:
In my experience, the French are very mature when it comes to demonstrations like this. Although this crowd were clearly very passionate about the issue and, despite the very large numbers, everything was very good-natured and I saw no signs of trouble anywhere. The only moment of anxiety I had was when an ambulance arrived and tried to go down a road that was entirely blocked by demonstrators. Like Moses parting the Red Sea, the crowd separated and let the ambulance pass but several of them spilled over onto the pavement, including me, but I survived unscathed.
NON au traité d’austérité – Part Two:
On May 1st this year I attended and recorded a rally by the far-right Front National for this blog. On Sunday it was the turn of the far-left. Both events may have been poles apart politically but both took place free of trouble. I rather like living in a country where people of any hue can take to the streets and make their voices heard without wanton violence breaking out and where the privilege to protest unhindered sits comfortably alongside the will to do it responsibly.
And as for the traité d’austérité …. we shall see!
I WENT TO THE Marché aux Puces at Porte de Clignancourt on Saturday, the largest flea market in the world so they say. I was on a mission, hunting for sounds and particularly for the sound of a rag and bone man.
In the late nineteenth-century, the area around Porte de Clignancourt was awash with rag and bone men, known as chiffoniers in French or sometimes, more poetically as, pêcheurs de lune, moonlight fishermen. Why I need the sound of a rag and bone man is a long story but let’s just say that it wasn’t my most successful sound hunting day. Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a rag and bone man to be found.
Nevertheless, the day was far from wasted. On my travels I came upon what appeared to be an ordinary café in the Rue des Rosiers.
I should have known better. Few things in this city are ordinary.
This is the celebrated Chope des Puces de Saint Ouen, a restaurant, a concert hall, a music school, a recording studio, a shop selling musical instruments and above all, a temple to jazz manouche, gypsy swing or hot club jazz, inspired by the magic of Django Reinhardt.
Espace Django Reinhardt:
If you happen to be in Paris between the 22nd and 25th June this would be a good place to visit since the Festival Jazz Musette des Puces is taking place.
Also taking place at the moment is a wonderful exhibition in the Marché Daupine.
“Hifi Génies” is an exhibition specifically designed to send sound nuts like me into a state of rapture. It includes a selection of equipment covering the history of sound reproduction. As always, it was the tape recorders that captivated me, ones like these studio models from Ampex and Studer.
And this one made by the French company Bordereau and used by the French national broadcaster RTF (Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française) in the 1950’s.
There were other tape recorders on show including Revox, Pioneer and some cassette recorders as well as some other Hi-Fi equipment but undoubtedly, for me at any rate, the stars of the show were these three beauties from Nagra.
Nagra II c (First introduced in 1955)
Nagra III (First introduced in 1961)
Nagra 4.2 (First introduced in 1972)
The Marché aux Puces comprises fourteen individual markets with around three thousand individual shops and stalls. It sells everything from complete junk to eye-wateringly expensive antiques. In every narrow alleyway and round every corner a surprise lies in wait. But few surprises could please me more than finding the Espace Django Reinhardt and three classic Nagra’s on the same day. I think the search for a rag and bone man can safely wait for another day.
For those of you who wonder what all the fuss is about when it comes to tape recorders, thank you for getting this far and I hope you at least enjoyed the music from the Espace Django Reinhardt.
For those slightly crazy people like me who find reel to reel tape recorders, and especially Nagra tape recorders, things of wonder and endless enjoyment you can find more Nagra recorders here … and here. Enjoy!
I AM OLD ENOUGH TO remember the ‘Golden Age’ of radio, the days when radio was more popular than television and many years before the internet and social media took control of our lives. I was then, and still am, a huge fan of radio.
In conjunction with Radio France and l’Institut national de l’audiovisuel, the Musée des arts et metiers celebrates the history of radio broadcasting in a new exhibition opening tomorrow.
Radio: Ouvrez Grand Vos Oreilles! or, roughly translated, Radio: Listen Up! is a fascinating exhibition which, as the name suggests, is as much about listening as seeing. As well as the collection of documents, domestic radio receivers and sound recorders, including a wonderful collection of Nagra field recorders, the history of radio is also told with archive sounds.
Some of the archive sounds at the exhibition:
French radio grew from very humble beginnings. At Christmas in 1921, an early radio enthusiast huddled round a homemade crystal set may have been lucky enough to detect a signal transmitted from the Tour Eiffel. In the ninety years since then, radio has evolved to embrace changes in technology, changes in society, political upheavals and even war.
In today’s multimedia world, radio still holds its place in broadcasting information, culture and public debate. Long may it continue!
Radio: Ouvrez Grand Vos Oreilles! runs from 28th February to 2nd September 2012.
Here are some of the exhibits on show:
And here is the collection of Nagras:
A Nagra II (1953)
From L to R: Nagra III (1963) Nagra SN (1970) Nagra E (1985)
Nagra E (1985)
Nagra ARES C
The exhibition is at :
Musée Arts et Métiers, 60, rue Réaumur; 75003 Paris: Tel: 01 53 01 82 00
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday inclusive from 10 h to 18 h. Thursday 10 h to 21 h 30
Closed: Mondays and 1st May.
Tickets: 5,50 euros; Reduced Tarif : 3,50 euros
Nearest Métro: Arts-et-Metiers (Lines 3 & 11) or Réaumur-Sébastopol (Line 4)
THIS POST IS DEDICATED especially to those interested in the technical aspects of sound recording and sound recording paraphernalia. Not everyone’s cup of tea I know so, for those of you who regularly follow this blog for the Parisian street sounds, I have included something for you too.
Yesterday, I went to the Marché aux Pouces at Porte de Clignancourt – the flea market to beat all flea markets. The Marché aux Puces is actually a collection of individual markets centred around the rue des Rosiers area. I like all the markets there but my favourite is the Marché Dauphine, a large, two-storey, covered market, less ostentatious and less expensive than the Marché Biron but a cut above the outdoor Marché Vernaison both of which are close by. The Marché Dauphine just seems to have more things that interest me – and more things that I can afford!
All markets are I suppose a voyage of discovery – you start by looking at one thing and then get sidetracked into looking at something completely different. And so it was yesterday. I spent a long time in the wonderful section on the first floor dedicated to old prints and photographs which was indeed a voyage of discovery. I could have happily stayed in there all afternoon – but I’m pleased I didn’t because my next discovery simply made my day.
At this point, the technophiles will be taking a special interest but for the technophobes here is the sound of the Marché Dauphine:
Quite unexpectedly and much to my delight I came across this Nagra III portable tape recorder complete with power supply and microphone. I had never actually seen one in the flesh before so, for me, this was an exciting moment. It had a price tag of 1500 Euros and if I were wealthier than I am I would have bought it in an instant simply for the pleasure of owning it. But alas …
It’s hard now to remember just what a groundbreaking tape recorder this was in its day. It was the first Nagra tape recorder suitable for use with film and consequently it took Hollywood by storm.
Stefan Kudelski, who founded the Nagra company, had examined several systems for synchronizing the film camera with the tape recorder. One such system worked from a signal generated by the tape recorder which then slaved a rotary converter feeding a synchronous motor on the camera. This method had disadvantages and it was very wasteful of power. At that time, power transistors were not sufficiently developed to allow the elimination of the rotary converter so the method he finally adopted was the reverse of this recorder to camera method. In the new method, the camera generated a signal which was recorded on the same tape as the sound, thereby reducing the power consumption enormously. From 1956, Kudelski researched into the possibility of a self-contained tape recorder without a centrifugal speed governor, this latter causing endless trouble with the clockwork drive. This resulted in the Nagra III, which was launched in 1958.
The feature that gave Nagra the edge in quality and film use was Kudelski’s development of the Neo-Pilottone system, where the synchronisation data could be recorded on the tape in the middle of the audio track, but without crosstalk onto the program recording.
The frequency of the pilot signal was 50/60 Hz and was often derived from the mains. The signal was recorded as a twin track signal 180° out of phase so as to be invisible to the full track playback head. The start point was indicated by the clap of the film clapperboard and the synchronization to the magnetic film was maintained using the pilot signal throughout the take.
Neopilot, as it became known, was the standard synchronization system used in filmmaking until the late 1980s, when timecode became the preferred standard.
So there we are, the Nagra III, an icon of its day – living history in the Marché aux Puces at Porte de Clignancourt. And alas, there it remains – at least for the moment! I hope it gives others as much pleasure as it gave me yesterday afternoon.
It’s now some eight weeks since I wandered down to Le Microphone in the rue Victor Massé and bought my Nagra LB sound recorder and I thought that, having now given it a good workout, I might share my impressions of it.
I have always rather been in awe of the name “Nagra” and the reputation of their products and this is the first time that I have actually owned a grown-up Nagra. I have my hand-held Nagra ARES – M which has proved to be a real workhorse, but comparing the ARES-M to the Nagra LB would be like comparing chalk and cheese. Read more
Today is the 14th July, La Fête Nationale, the French national holiday which is celebrated on this day each year. In France, it is more commonly called le quatorze juillet. The British usually refer to it, although the French never do, as Bastille Day which is not surprising since it commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. A défilé, a parade, is held on the morning of 14th July, on the Champs-Élysées in Paris with the President de la Republic taking the salute.
Today, the parade included the usual representatives from all branches of the French armed forces from the cadets of the military academy of Saint-Cyr together with their navy and air force cousins to the seasoned representatives of the French Foreign Legion who as usual stole the show with their beards, axes, brown aprons and funereal paced marching. The civilian services were also represented by the Police Nationale, the Gendarmerie and the Fire service. If the Foreign Legion stole the show on the ground the Patrouille de France stole the show in the air. Led this year for the first time by a woman, Virginie Guyot, the Patrouille de France today put on an immaculate display of formation flying directly over my apartment and along the Champs-Élysées. A fly past of other military aircraft and helicopters followed. In recent times, it has become customary to invite units from France’s allies to the parade; in 2004 during the centenary of the Entente Cordiale, British troops (the band of the Royal Marines, the Household Cavalry, the Grenadier Guards and the King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery) led the défilé for the first time, with the Red Arrows flying overhead. I was there and I saw it with, I admit, a tear in my eye. In 2007 the German 26th Airborne Brigade led the march followed by British Royal Marines. This year it was the turn of representatives from France’s former African colonies to share the parade and they brought a unique splash of colour to the proceedings.
Usually the weather is very kind for le quatorze juillet and the sun is guaranteed to shine on the parade, but not today. As the défilé began the heavens opened and the rain came down with a vengeance and most of those marching down the Champs-Élysées looked very much as though they wished they were somewhere else.
Still, the weather didn’t prevent the fly-past much to my delight. The fly-past of the aircraft happened at just after 10.30 this morning and the helicopters came along almost an hour later. I had my sound recorder and microphone set up on my balcony in good time. Today I was using my new Nagra LB recorder and an Audio-Technica 8022 X-Y stereo microphone. As a back-up I used my Zoom H4N Handy recorder with a Rode NT-4 X-Y stereo microphone. At 10.20 I switched both recorders on ready to record. I then came inside to watch the progress of the défilé on the TV and as soon as they showed the Patrouille emerging over La Défense I went back out to the balcony and switched to record. Thirty seconds later they were directly overhead with red, white and blue smoke streaming behind them. They were followed by further waves of jet aircraft with the propeller aircraft bringing up the rear. At five minutes into the fly-past the rain came down even harder as you can hear as the last few aircraft come over.
You can listen to the aircraft fly-past here:
An hour later it was the turn of the helicopters and by this time the weather was so appalling that I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had given up and gone home. The sky was so grey and dark that the TV cameras didn’t pick up the helicopters at La Défense at first but I was prepared anyway. I turned the recorders on and presently heard the distinctive sound of very large helicopters approaching. The helicopter fly-past was shorter than usual, presumably some of the smaller aircraft were pulled at the last-minute for safety’s sake.
You can listen to the helicopter fly-past here:
And finally …
During the afternoon of le quatorze juillet, the President de la Republic used to give an interview to the press, discussing the situation of the country, recent events and projects for the future. The current President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has chosen not to do that. It was also customary for the President to hold a garden party at the Palais de l’Elysée, but not this year. President Sarkozy’s government is mired in financial scandal, including l’affaire Bettancourt, as well as a minister claiming €12,000 in expenses for cigars and another minister spending €116,500 on a private jet flight to an aid conference on Haiti. Last year’s garden party cost €730,000 so, against this background and given that his popularity is at its lowest ever, President Sarkozy has forsaken the garden party this year.
Article 17 of the French Constitution gives the President the authority to pardon criminals, and since 1991 the President has pardoned many petty offenders (mainly for traffic offences) on 14th July. The former President, Jaques Chirac had an absolute field day with this particular piece of executive privilege. In 2007, President Sarkozy declined to continue the practice.
And very finally …
The rain has stopped, the sun is shining and it’s a beautiful evening which bodes well for the firework displays later.
Note: These recordings were made in BWF and compressed to MP3 for this post.
For anyone interested in older sound recorders try this site:
It’s in French but it’s worth having a look at just for the photographs.
This is my latest acquisition, the Nagra LB sound recorder with which I am delighted.
To see the full technical specification just hover over the photograph or go to:
Maybe it’s a sign of age but, much as I adore my twenty-first century digital sound recorders, the Nagra ARES-M, the H4N Handy recorder and the Sound Devices 722, there is nothing quite like the old reel-to-reel tape recorders to stir the emotions. There was always something rather comforting about watching those reels of tape going round and round.
I still have my Uher 4200 Report Monitor although sadly, it doesn’t get much use now except for replaying some of my old tapes.
This Uher has long since been superceeded first by DAT and now by digital recording devices but, even so, I simply can’t bear to part with it. It was amazingly heavy to carry around as anyone who had to carry one for any length of time will attest to. The BBC used the mono version of this recorder as their standard radio reporter’s recorder for many years. It was said that it was always easy to spot a BBC radio reporter because they all walked with a permanent list to one side, the infamous “Uher Stoop”, generated by carrying the Uher around all day.
My Uher reel-to-reel recorder has many happy memories associated with it but not as many as the reel-to-reel recorder picured below. I found the picture at: http://www.schimmel.talktalk.net/tape/index.htm
This is a Ferrograph Series 4, the first tape recorder I used professionally. In my experience it justifiably earned its reputation of being “Built Like A Battleship”. I was first inroduced to the Series 4 in 1969 and immediately fell in love with it. It was a half track mono, 2 head, 2 speed, valve driven recorder whose most distinguishing feature was its utter reliability. Whilst the sound quality was probably not as good as the subsequent Series 6 and the flagship Series 7, it never failed to perform even in the most arduous conditions.
When I came across this photograph earlier today it was the first time I had seen a Ferrograph Series 4 since 1972 and it brought back many, many, happy memories not to mention a flood of nostalgia.
For the technophiles, you can find more detailed information about the Ferrograph Series 4 at:
In yesterday’s post I gave some tips about making street recordings in which I emphasised the importance of building a ‘sound map’ in your head of the location you intend to record in before you start to record. This is especially important when you are making discreet recordings in binaural stereo using in-ear microphones and when you can’t monitor the recording levels visually or monitor the recording through headphones. Today, I want to give an example of how this is done in practice.
A couple of weeks ago I was making street recordings in Montmartre, a particularly fruitful part of Paris for the sound hunter. I had made several recordings when I spied a man playing a harp at the side of Sacre Coeur. I was determined to get a recording of this.
As I approached the man I began to build my sound map of the location. I could see three problems. First, the harp was not amplified so my target sound source would be relatively quiet. Second, the harpist was surrounded by tourists none of whom seemed to be listening to him in silence so there would be the tourist chatter to contend with. Third, if I was to record the harp what might happen? Scanning the location I caught sight of a tourist train off to the right. I knew that these tourist trains have a bell which rings every couple of minutes or so to attract customers. If the bell rang while I was recording the harp, how loud would it be?
I factored the three problems into my sound map. As well as making a judgement about what record levels to set on my recorder I had one other tool at my disposal – my feet! By selecting to stand in the right position, preferably as close to the harp as it was possible to get, I could better balance the quiet sound of the harp with the tourist chatter and the might be of the bell sounding. This all sounds quite complicated but in fact I built my sound map, decided on the recording levels to set and picked the spot where I intended to stand all in the time it took me to walk up to the harpist.
In the final recording the bell did appear – twice, the tourist chatter wasn’t too intrusive and I think I got a decent recording of the harp.
What do you think?
A Harp in Montmartre:
This recording was made using Soundman OKMII binaural in-ear microphones and a Nagra ARES-M recorder. It was recorded in Linear PCM 44.1kHz/16 bit and compressed to mp3 for this post. Apart the addition of a “fade-in” and a “fade-out” there is no editing or processing post-recording.