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Posts tagged ‘Paris Metro’


Métro Station ‘Assemblée Nationale’ and its Sounds

RETURNING FROM A recording assignment in the 7th arrondissement the other day, I called into the nearest Métro station, Assemblée Nationale, to catch a train home. Faced with a choice of two entrances to the station I couldn’t resist using the elegant Hector Guimard entourage entrance with its classic red METROPOLITAIN sign, distinctive of the former Nord-Sud line, instead of the rather plain entrance across the street.


The station was opened on 5th November 1910 as part of the original section of the Nord-Sud Company’s line between Porte de Versailles and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. The Nord-Sud Company (Société du Chemin de Fer Électrique Nord-Sud de Paris) was established in 1904 and built two underground lines, now line 12 and part of line 13. The company was taken over by the Compagnie du chemin de fer métropolitain de Paris (CMP) in 1930 and incorporated into the Paris Métro.

The station was originally called Chambre des Députés, the former name of the French National Assembly, a name the station held until 1989 when it became Assemblée Nationale.

Both the original and the current name of the station of course derive from the Palais Bourbon, the seat of the French National Assembly, the lower legislative chamber of the French parliament, which stands close by.


The Palais Bourbon – The Assemblée Nationale

The identifying feature of Métro station Assemblée Nationale is that there are no advertisements anywhere in the station. Instead, the walls sport ninety-metre long murals featuring various aspects of the work of the National Assembly. The murals are changed with each renewal of the legislature.

Both the Palais Bourbon and the Hector Guimard métro station entrance are located in Faubourg Saint-Germain, an aristocratic neighbourhood bristling with government ministries and foreign diplomatic embassies and it was from here that I descended into the station. Once on the platform, I paused to examine the murals and listen to the sounds in the station before boarding a train to take me home.

This is what I saw and heard:


The Métro Station Assembléé Nationale and its Sounds:












The Métro Station ‘Cité’ and its Sounds

WITH ITS UBIQUITOUS Hector Guimardentourage’ entrance, the Métro station Cité is the only Métro station on the Île de la Cité, one of the two islands on the Seine within the historical boundaries of the city of Paris.

Cité Métro Station

The entourage entrance was the most common of Guimard’s Métro entrances. Built in the Art Nouveau style the entrance has waist high cast iron railings around three sides with symmetrical raised orange lamps designed in the form of plant stems, with each lamp enclosed by a leaf resembling a brin de muguet, a sprig of lily of the valley. Between the lamps is the classic Metropolitain sign.

Of the 154 entourage Métro entrances built, some 84 still survive on the Paris streets.

Cité Métro Station

With the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris on one side and the medieval gothic chapel, Sainte-Chapelle, the Conciergerie (a former prison) and the Palais de Justice (all formerly part of the Palais de la Cité, a Royal Palace from the 10th to the 14th century) on the other, Cité Métro station lies at the historical centre of Paris.

Cité Métro Station

The station is on Line 4 of the Paris Métro system, the line that travels 12.1 km across the heart of the city connecting Porte de Clignancourt in the north and, since 2013, Mairie de Montrouge in the south. Until the extension to Mairie de Montrouge was opened, the southern terminus of Line 4 was the original terminus, Porte d’Orléans.

Métro Line 4 was the first line to connect the Right and Left Banks of the Seine via an underwater tunnel built between 1905 and 1907. At the time, this was some of the most spectacular work carried out on the Paris Métro system.

Crossing the Seine was achieved using caissons, assembled on the shore and then sunk gradually into the river bed. The metal structures of the two stations, Cité on the Right Bank and Saint-Michel on the Left Bank, were also assembled on the surface and then sunk into the ground to their final location.


Station La Cité. Fonçage du caisson elliptique à la fin de la station. Vue intérieure. Vers le boulevard du Palais. Paris (IVème arr.). Photographie de Charles Maindron (1861-1940), 18 janvier 1907. Paris, bibliothèque de l’Hôtel de Ville. © BHdV / Roger-Viollet

Image courtesy of Paris en Images

The Seine crossing was commissioned on 9th January 1910 … only to be closed a few days later, a victim of the great Paris flood of 1910.

Cité Métro station was opened on 10th December 1910.

Unusually for the Paris Métro system, the station only has one entrance, at 2 Place Louis Lépine and, unlike other stations on Line 4, the platforms are 110 m in length, longer than the 90-105m platforms at other stations.

Because of the station’s depth, passengers must walk down to a mezzanine level, which contains the ticket machines, and then down another three flights of stairs before reaching platform level. This is fine on the way down but, as I know all too well, it can be a challenge on the way up!

Cité Métro Station

The walls of the station at the entrance at the top and along the platforms at the bottom are lined with conventional white Métro tiles but the decoration of the space in between is curious.

Cité Métro Station

Here, the walls are lined with large metal plates with oversized rivets. I have no idea when these were installed or why, but they give the impression of walking through a huge metal tank.

Cité Métro Station

The station platforms are lined with overhead lamps reflecting the style of the original station lamps.

Until recently, Métro Line 4 had the distinction of using the oldest trains on the Paris Métro network, the MP 59.


Paris Métro train Type MP 59 : Image via Wikipedia

After serving for almost fifty years, these trains were withdrawn from service during 2011 and 2012 and replaced with the MP 89 CC trains from Line 1 when that line was automated.

Cité Métro Station

An MP 89 CC train at Cité station, formerly used on Métro Line 1

Sounds inside Cité Metro Station:

I began recording these sounds at the Cité Métro entrance in Place Louis Lépine, beside the flower market. I went down the steps to the mezzanine level, passed through the ticket barrier, and then descended two more flights of steps. From here, it’s possible to see and hear the trains passing below. I walked along the narrow passageway beside the riveted metal plates and down some more steps to the platform.

Watching and listening to the MP 89 trains entering and leaving the station was quite nostalgic for me since I know these trains so well. When they operated on Line 1, the nearest line to my home, I rode on these trains almost every day for the best part of thirteen years.

I was pleased to see my old friends again at Cité station busy carrying passengers on the second busiest Métro Line in Paris.

Having savoured the atmosphere of the station, all that remained was for me to bid my friends adieu and gird my loins for the climb out of the station back onto the street.

Cité Métro Station


Music in the Métro

IT’S BEEN A WHILE since I last featured any street music on this blog but I now have the opportunity to put that right.


Changing trains at the Métro station Charles de Gaulle Étoile the other day I came upon a street musician who is often to be found playing his xylophone on the platform of Métro Line 6, the line that follows a semi-circular route around the southern half of the city from Étoile to Nation.

Getting a seat on a train on Line 6 at Étoile can sometimes be a challenge. A large crowd often assembles on the platform and I usually find myself forsaking the pleasure of listening to the music in favour of elbowing my way through the crowd in the hope of securing a seat on the arriving train. Which is a shame really because most of the musicians playing in the Métro stations are very good.

It’s not generally known, but musicians who play in the Métro – at least those who play there legally – have actually been selected to play there following a formal audition process.

The auditions were introduced because the Métro was becoming infested with itinerant so-called musicians who could barely scrape out a note from their battered violins or accordions.

Now, some 2,000 musicians attend the auditions and the artistic director of the Musiciens du Métro programme and representatives of RATP, the Paris mass-transit authority, judge their performances. Only 300 of them will be awarded the coveted badge that lets them play legally in the Métro and so, with a potential audience of some four million passengers a day, that’s a gig worth having.

When I was changing trains at Étoile the other day I had time on my side so I stopped to listen to the xylophone player, one of the successful badge holders, playing his music. And what a delight it was!

Music on the Métro:

Métro Station Charles de Gaulle Etoile - Line 6


Paris Métro Station Jaurès – A Sound Portrait

IT’S PERHAPS BEST SEEN from outside the McDonald’s restaurant at the corner of the Boulevard de la Villette and the Avenue Secrétan in the 19th arrondissement. From here you can see the elegant, sweeping curve of the Paris Métro as it approaches the Métro station Jaurès, one of the four stations aériennes on Métro Line 2.


The elevated viaduct approaching Jaurès station

Although Métro Line 2 arrives at Jaurès station well above ground, the station also hosts two other lines, Line 5 and Line 7bis both of which are below ground.

The original station, called Rue d’Allemagne after a street close by, opened on 23rd February 1903 as part of the newly completed Métro Line 2 running between Porte Dauphine and Nation.


On 31 July 1914 the socialist and pacifist politician Jean Jaurès was assassinated in a Parisian café, Le Croissant, in rue Montmartre, by Raoul Villain, a 29-year-old French nationalist. Just three days later, war with Germany was declared and suddenly German names became unpopular. The street name rue d’Allemagne was expunged and replaced by the avenue Jean-Jaurès. With the change of the street name came the change of the name of the station, rue d’Allemagne became simply Jaurès.


Paris Métro Station Jaurès – A Sound Portrait:


Métro Station Jaurès – Line 2 – Direction Nation

Métro station Jaurès is one of the four stations aériennes on the 2 km elevated section of Métro Line 2 and so the Line 2 platform is well above ground.


Métro Station Jaurès – Line 2 – Direction Porte Dauphine

As well as the magnificent glass roof the platform also boasts a rather unusual stained glass window.


Designed by the artist Jacques-Antoine Ducatez, this window was installed in 1989 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. It depicts the people carrying flags marching towards the Bastille prison, the taking of which launched the Revolution.


Line 2 was the first Métro line to open at Jaures station but a further line, or at least part of a line, was added soon after. In January 1911, a branch line of Métro Line 7 to Pré Saint-Gervais was incorporated. This branch line remained until 1967 when it was formerly separated from Line 7 to become Line 7bis, or Line 7a.


Métro Station Jaurès – Line 7bis – Direction Louis Blanc

Line 7bis is the deepest of the lines that pass through Jaurès station and, at the moment, it looks by far the most desolate. All the tiles together with most of the fixtures and fittings have been removed in preparation for renovation work which is due to be completed by the end of June this year.


Métro Station Jaurès – Line 7bis – Direction Pré Saint-Gervais

Sandwiched between Line 7bis and the aerial Line 2 is Line 5, which crosses the east of Paris from Bobigny to Place d’Italie.


Métro Station Jaurès – Line 5 – Direction Place d’Italie

Line 5 arrived at Jaurès station in 1942 as part of the extension of that line from the Gare du Nord to Eglise de Pantin.


Métro Station Jaurès – Line 5 – Direction Bobigny

In my sound portrait you can hear the sounds from all three of the Métro lines that pass through Jaurès station, Line 2, Line 5 and Line 7bis.





Métro Line 12 Extended to Front Populaire

IT’S NOT OFTEN that one gets the chance to visit a brand new Métro station and travel on a brand new section of Métro track but that’s what I did last month.


A new station, Front Populaire, was opened on 18th December 2012 at the northern end of Paris Métro Line 12 making it the 302nd station on the Paris Métro network.


For the time being, Front Populaire becomes the new northern terminus of Line 12 but a further extension will add two more stations, Aimé Césaire, close to the canal Saint-Denis, and Mairie d’Aubervilliers, both expected to open in 2017. After that, in a further example of RATP’s joined-up thinking, the plan is for a further extension to connect to RER B at La Courneuve and Tram Line 1.


I went to visit the Front Populaire station shortly after it opened and I was impressed. Work began in mid-2008 and it took four years to complete the tunneling and the construction work on the station.. The station is spacious and the upper reaches are well lit by natural light coming through the large glass roof. It has seven escalators and three elevators for those who want to avoid the stairs.


I was a little surprised to discover that the tunnels are air-conditioned to ensure a constant temperature of between 10°C and 14°C, cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. All the technical facilities are also temperature controlled.


This being a brand new station, the tracks are in pristine condition as yet untouched by oil and grease from the trains or detritus from the public. It can’t last! And the new track has an effect on the sounds of the trains.

Sounds of the one-stop journey from Front Populaire to Porte de la Chapelle:

The trains run very smoothly and much faster on this new section of track than they do on the rest of Line 12. It’s fascinating to listen to the sounds change as the train approaches Porte de la Chapelle where it slows down and joins the old track. The whoosh of the new line reverts to the clunkety-clunk so familiar to commuters on Line 12.


As well as this extension to the northern end of Line 12, thought is also being given to an extension to the southern end, which currently terminates at Marie d’Issy. An extension to Issy-les-Moulineaux is envisaged connecting with Tram Line T2.  Work on this extension could start somewhere before 2020.

This proposed new extension will bring new track, new sounds and a more comfortable ride than today’s bone-shaking arrival at Marie d’Issy. Here are the sounds from the southernmost end of Line 12 as it is today from Convention station to Porte de Versailles, Corenton Celton and Marie d’Issy.

Convention to Marie d’Issy:




Couronnes Métro Disaster 1903

THE PARIS MÉTRO comprises 14 lines, some 300 stations and 201.8 kilometres of track. At any one time there are around 540 trains travelling on the system, and at busy times even more, carrying around 5 million passengers every day. Despite the density of the traffic, the Paris Métro is considered to be one of the safest public transport systems in the world.

Nevertheless, there have been two major disasters on the Paris Métro, one in 1943 when an allied bombing raid blew the roof off the station at Porte Saint-Cloud killing 403 people who where sheltering there and another in 1903 when a fire killed 84 people, most of them at Couronnes station – and it is the story of the Couronnes disaster that I want to tell.

Couronnes Métro station is much like any other station on Line 2 of the Paris Métro system. It’s a fairly busy station with a classic Hector Guimard entourage entrance leading down to the ticket hall and the entrance to the trains. At Couronnes, the trains run underground.

The construction of Line 2 began in 1900. It was built in stages and, by April 1903, the Line 2 that we know today, stretching from Porte Dauphine to Nation, was completed. At 12.4 km in length, just over 2 km of the line was built on an elevated section with four stations. One of these aerial stations, Barbès-Rochechouart, or Boulevard Barbès as it was known in 1903, was where the seeds of the disaster were sown.

The aerial Barbès-Rochechouart (formerly Boulevard Barbès) Métro station today

Sounds of Barbès-Rochechouart station today:

In 1903, Métro trains were largely made of wood and operated as four-car units. At busy times, two four-car units could be coupled together to make an eight-car unit. All the power for both the four-car and eight-car units was routed through the front car via shoes that connected the motor to the ‘live’ rail.

At just before 7.00 pm on the evening of Monday, 10th August, 1903, just a little over four months after the completion of Line 2, a train entered Boulevard Barbès station with heavy smoke billowing from one of the motors of the front car. The passengers were evacuated from the train onto the platform, the power to the motor was disconnected by raising the shoes, and the burning subsided.

With the urgent need to clear the line at Boulevard Barbès and probably against a chorus of frustrated passengers anxious to be on their way, the staff decided to move the train. They reconnected the power and allowed the train to descend into the tunnel ahead. What they hadn’t realised was that the fire was not simply a case of the train motor overheating it was in fact a short circuit which was bound to cause further trouble. And so it proved.

The burning returned although the train made it as far as the station Combat (now called Colonel Fabian) before the driver stopped for help. The power was once again disconnected and the burning subsided but when the power was reconnected it began again. It became clear that the only way to move the train any further was to use another train to push it.

Meanwhile, the passengers from the stricken train were still at the Boulevard Barbès station.

Passengers waiting at Barbès-Rochechouart (formerly Boulevard Barbès) today

Presently, a four-car train arrived and the passengers piled on. This train took them as far as the Rue d’Allemagne (now called Jaures) station where they again disembarked. As their now empty train moved on to Combat to join up with the stricken train another four-car train arrived at the Rue d’Allemagne and the frustrated passengers boarded that already overcrowded train.

Up ahead, the stricken train was being pushed by the empty four-car train. This combination was being driven by the motor in the four-car train at the rear but the short-circuited motor on the stricken train was still live and by now burning again.

The combination of trains arrived at Couronnes and the following train complete with passengers was close on its heels.

Couronnes station today – Most of the deaths occurred on the platform on the right

The motor on the leading train combination was by this time well on fire but instead of continuing into the tunnel ahead, the driver stopped the train halfway along the platform. The train with the passengers pulled up behind. The passengers were once again told to get off their train. Understandably perhaps, their frustration boiled over and some passengers refused to get off whilst others began an altercation with the staff  – but by then it was too late. The stricken train moved off into the tunnel ahead and travelled to the next station, Ménilmontant, by which time the fire had got out of control. The fire destroyed the electrical circuit supplying the Couronnes station lighting and the station was plunged into darkness just as a cloud of dense black smoke appeared out of the tunnel ahead. Chaos ensued as people scrambled for the exits which many couldn’t find. Some survived but many did not. In total, eighty-four people died, seven at Ménilmontant and the rest at Couronnes.

Carte Postale Ancienne. Source CPArama.

The news of the disaster was greeted with shock and crowds gathered as the bodies of the victims were evacuated from the stricken station.

Evacuating the bodies – Carte Postale Ancienne. Source CPArama.

Sounds of Couronnes station today:

Within days of the disaster, measures were put in place to ensure that events like this could never happen again.

As I said at the beginning, the Paris Métro today is considered to be one of the safest public transport systems in the world.  Long may it continue.


Métro Station Châtelet – A Sound Portrait

THE PARIS MÉTRO SYSTEM is reputedly the second busiest Métro system in Europe after Moscow and the Métro station Châtelet – Les Halles is said to be the largest Métro station in the world.

Métro Châtelet Entrance – Place Sainte-Opportune

Châtelet Métro station is named after the medieval Place du Châtelet, which in turn is named after the Grand Châtelet, a castle over the northern approach to the old Pont au Change over the Seine to the Île de la Cité, which was demolished by Napoléon in 1802. The Grand Châtelet lost its defensive purpose in 1190 when Philip Augustus built a rampart around the perimeter of the city; from then on it served as the headquarters of the prévôt de Paris, the official “charged with protection of royal rights, oversight of royal administration, and execution of royal justice” in late medieval Paris. Amongst other things, the Grand Châtelet was known for its subterranean dungeons and, for the ordinary citizen, it was a place to avoid at all costs.

Grande Châtelet

Nothing much has changed! The Métro station has the feel of a subterranean dungeon, a cavernous place with little to commend it except for its utilitarian use as a means to get from one place to another. Few people come to this place except to pass through it to get somewhere else.

Métro Châtelet Entrance – Place du Châtelet

The station is home to five Métro lines. Lines 7 and 11 run under the Place du Châtelet and the Quai de Gesvre, site of the original medieval river port of Paris, and lines 1, 4 and 14 are towards the Rue Saint-Denis and the Rue de Rivoli.

I found this potted history of the development of the Métro lines at Châtelet via Google and from my knowledge of the Paris Métro, it seems to be a good and accurate summary:

‘The station was opened on 6 August 1900, three weeks after trains began running on the original section of line 1 between Porte de Vincennes and Porte Maillot on 19 July 1900. The line 4 platforms were opened on 21 April 1908 as part of the original section of the line from Porte de Clignancourt to Châtelet. It was the southern terminus of line 4 until the opening of the connecting section of the line under the Seine to Raspail on 9 January 1910.

The line 7 platforms were opened on 16 April 1926 as part of the line’s extension from Palais Royal to Pont Marie with the name Pont Notre-Dame-Pont au Change. It had no direct connection with Châtelet. On 15 April 1934 a connecting corridor was opened to the platforms of lines 1 and 4 and the line 7 station was renamed. The line 11 platforms were opened near the line 7 platforms on 28 April 1935 as part of the original section of the line from Châtelet to Porte des Lilas.

On 9 December 1977 the Châtelet – Les Halles RER station was opened with a connecting corridor with a moving walkway to Châtelet. The line 14 platforms were opened near the line 1 and 4 platforms on 15 October 1998 as part of the original section of the line from Madeleine to Bibliothèque François Mitterrand. On 7 and 8 March 2009 the line 1 platforms were restored during the automation of line 1, including the installation of platform screen doors.’

I’ve passed through the Châtelet Métro station many times but I’ve never visited it as a place itself. The other day, I put that right. I went and explored all five of the Métro lines that connect there although I left the three RER lines for another day.

I recorded the sounds of all five Métro lines, together with sounds of the passengers and the musicians who are a delightful feature of this station. This is what I came up with:

Châtelet Métro Station – A Sound Portrait:

Line 1

Line 4

Line 7

The Moving Walkway

Line 11

Line 14

After spending an entire afternoon in the station I came away with some delicious sounds for my Paris sound archive, a snapshot of which you’ve heard here, but I still couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was in a subterranean dungeon.


For the Métro buffs who take an interest in these things, the trains in my sound piece appear in the following order:

Line 4, Line 11, Line 14, Line 7 and Line 1 … but then you knew that already!


Porte Dauphine – A National Treasure

THE ENTRANCE TO THE Métro at Porte Dauphine is over one hundred years old, it’s a national monument as well as a national treasure and it’s an iconic reminder of the contribution that Hector Guimard made to the Paris Métro.

Construction of the Paris Métro began in 1898 with the stretch between Porte Maillot and Porte de Vincennes linking the west to the east of the city. This, with its subsequent extensions, is what today we know as Line 1. At the same time, two other short lines were built both from Etoile station, which we know today as Charles de Gaulle – Etoile. One of these lines went south to Trocadéro where passengers could alight for the Tour Eiffel and the other went southwest to Porte Dauphine and the then fashionable Bois de Boulogne. These lines were later extended with the former becoming Line 6 and the latter Line 2.

Charles de Gaulle – Etoile to Porte Dauphine:

The French architect, Hector Guimard, was just 30 when he was engaged by Adrien Bénard, Chairman of Compagnie du Chemin de Fer Métropolitain de Paris, to design the entrances to the Paris Métro. Bénard wanted the entrances to be subtle and not to detract from the sophisticated Paris boulevards. Guimard’s devotion to the art nouveau style was a gamble but one which paid off handsomely.

Guimard’s Métro entrances were of two basic types, those with and those without glass roofs. All his entrances were built in cast iron and made heavy reference to nature and the symbolism of plants.

By far the most numerous of his entrances were the ‘entourage’ type, shown above, comprising moulded ironwork roughly waist high around three sides of the stairs with no roof.  The specification for this type of entrance called for electric lighting to be included and Guimard solved this by placing two lamps on tall support poles resembling plant stems, in which the orange lamp is enclosed by a leaf resembling a brin de muguet, or sprig of lily of the valley. Guimard also included the characteristic ‘Métropolitain’ sign in his distinctive hand-drawn lettering. Interestingly, the placeholders containing the station name and map were not included in Guimard’s original design; they arrived in the 1920’s. Over 150 of these ‘entourage’ entrances were built of which over 80 survive today.

Guimard’s roofed Métro entrances were known as édicules, and they included a fan-shaped frosted glass awning and an enclosure of opaque panelling decorated in floral motifs.

The Métro entrance at Porte Dauphine is an original Édicule ‘B’ design which Guimard installed at three of the first four terminus stations, Porte Maillot, Porte de Vincennes and Porte Dauphine. The one at Porte Dauphine is the only original édicule to survive. It sits perfectly there displaying its organic forms surrounded by trees and with the enormous Bois de Boulogne close by. The panels have had some restoration and they look as good as they day they were installed.

Hector Guimard of course did not design every Métro station entrance in Paris. His art nouveau style was considered too avant-garde for some areas so, in 1904, the architect Cassien-Bernard was engaged to design a number of new station entrances in a rather austere neo-classical style. These can be found in architecturally sensitive areas including the Opéra, the Madeleine and on the Champs-Elysées.

It has always seemed a little strange to me that Porte Dauphine should be one of the terminus stations on Line 2. Surely the busy hub of Charles de Gaulle – Etoile would have been the obvious choice. However, Porte Dauphine Métro station may not be the busiest station on the Paris Métro network today but in its heyday it was one of the most fashionable and most popular. Had it not been, it would not have been graced with one of Hector Guimard’s finest creations, which today stands proud as a national monument and a national treasure.

Porte Dauphine to Charles de Gaulle – Etoile:


World Listening Day 2012 – My Contribution

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.


Music in the Metro

THE METRO STATION AT Bastille is a station I use quite a lot. Three Paris Metro lines run through the station, Line 1, Line 5 and Line 8 and the station is busy most of the time. Usually, passing through the station is rather tedious but occasionally it can be a complete joy.

Music in the Metro:

More Music in the Metro: