YOU PROBABLY WON’T find any reference to it in the guidebooks, the glossy magazine articles or the internet sites that bombard us with the ‘10 best things to see in Paris’ or the ‘Guides to Secret Paris’ – and yet le Cylindre Sonore is quite exceptional.
It stands in the sunken landscape of Alexandre Chemetoff’s Jardin des Bambous, a Bamboo garden in the Parc de la Villette on the north-eastern edge of Paris and it is in the words of its creator, the Austrian architect and composer Bernhard Leitner:
“A cylindrical space that allows concentrated listening to the place, a contemplative rediscovery of oneself in transcendence of the place”.
Le Cylindre Sonore stands some six metres below the level of the park and it can be approached by a staircase lined with tiny water cascades leading down from the Parc de la Villette to the Jardin des Bambous or it can be approached from the garden itself. Either way, this sound space is designed so that one has to walk through it.
The staircase from the Parc de la Villette
Le Cylindre Sonore is sound architecture displayed as public art but unlike Bernard Tschumi’s bright red follies that adorn the rest of the Parc de la Villette, it’s the sound of it rather than the sight of it that attracts attention.
The sounds inside le Cylindre Sonore:
Five metres high and ten metres across, le Cylindre Sonore is in fact two cylinders with a space in between. Behind the eight perforated concrete panels and between the two cylinders are twenty-four loudspeakers arranged vertically, three to each panel, forming eight columns of sound. The circular space between the two cylinders provides access for the maintenance of the loudspeakers and entry to the underground control room. The inner cylinder acts as a resonance chamber with the curved surface shaping the sound.
Standing in le Cylindre Sonore the sounds from the loudspeakers, the sound of water flowing from the columns to a pool beneath the floor, the sounds from the water cascades alongside the staircase and the circular framed sky above create a meditative space sequestered from the city.
I spend much of my life recording the sounds of Paris. My practice mainly involves the relationship between sound and place and how sound can define, or help to define, a place. Very rarely though do I come upon a public space like le Cylindre Sonore where the sounds are the place.
Inside the Jardin des Bambous
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.