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Posts tagged ‘sound recording’


The Bornus Consort

A FEW WEEKS AGO, I was invited by some friends to a party at their home. Nothing unusual about that – except that I live in Paris and my friends live in Warsaw! The invitation intrigued me so I raided my cache of air miles and arrived in Warsaw on a very chilly Friday afternoon.

This turned out to be no ordinary party. It took place in a beautiful apartment in Warsaw with very friendly and interesting guests all of whom, except me, were Polish. But the real stars of the evening were the Polish early music ensemble, The Bornus Consort, who gave a wonderful singing performance which I was privileged to record. This really was a party with a difference!

Established in 1981 by Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski, The Bornus Consort specialise in singing early music from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. Their original aim was to try to reconstruct and record the music preserved in the manuscripts of the Rorantists of Wawel Cathedral in Crakow keeping as close as possible to the original way of performing these early works.

As well as singing early Polish music, the ensemble also sing Dutch polyphony, French chansons, Italian and English madrigals together with contemporary pieces. In recent years the ensemble has focused on various forms of Gregorian chant, including the Dominican liturgical tradition.

When I spoke to him after their performance, Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski’s passion for early music shone through. He told me that his special interest is in thirteenth-century music about which he speaks with great authority and enthusiasm.

The Bornus Consort recorded in a Warsaw apartment:

This was the final piece the Bornus Consort sang during the evening. It is the motet Nunc Scio Vere by Waclaw from Szamotuly (1524-1560). It is particularly interesting because the music comes from the Cracow organ score of 1590 which had the music and the title but no words. The words have been reconstructed by Professor Miroslaw Perz.

Sometimes in life we are privileged to enjoy “cameo” experiences. For me, this was certainly one of those experiences and the memories of this evening in Warsaw will live with me for ever.

I am most grateful to Marcin Bornus-Szczycinski and the Bornus Consort for their permission to publish this piece and to my friends for their very kind invitation and gracious hospitality.


Recording the Past

IT WAS CREATED BY Father Grégoire in 1794 as a “dépôt des inventions neuves et utiles” – a warehouse for new and useful inventions.

Housed in the former priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs in rue Réaumur in the 3rd arrondissement, the Musée des Arts et Metier houses part of the collection of the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers.

The museum has over 3,000 scientific and technical inventions on display ranging from an astrolabe dating from 1567, to the original Foucault’s pendulum, which demonstrates that the earth really does rotate, to a Cray 2 super computer and lots more.

The museum is arranged in seven categories – Scientific Instruments, Materials, Construction, Communication, Energy, Mechanics and Transportation.

Being a lover of sound, I am always particularly fascinated by the Communications gallery, which begins with the printing of the written word and continues through to a communications satellite. Sound and vision are featured with a collection of early telephones, early televisions, early film cameras and projectors together with early sound reproduction devices.

Ambient sound inside the Communications gallery including a creaky wooden floor:

Tape recorders are represented but, this being a French museum, all the recorders are French – so no historic Nagras feature here unfortunately. The one shown above is from the early 1960’s.

Those shown below are from the 1950’s.

Photographing these objects behind glass in a bright, sunlit, room doesn’t show them at their best but even so, the pictures still excite me when I look at them.

Of particular interest to me was this 1950’s magnetic wire recorder.

And let’s not forget the microphones …

I can’t help wondering how many sounds these devices have recorded and what stories they could tell.

One of the features of the Musée des Arts et Métiers that I enjoy is that there are always lots of wide-eyed children keen to explore, to learn and to have fun.  In the Communications gallery a group were enjoying a magic lantern show – but if it’s magic you want, then the Théâtre des Automates is the place to be.

Sound inside the Théâtre des Automates:

The Théâtre des Automates is a side gallery in the museum full of musical clocks and automatons all exquisitely made and some very rare.  While I was in there recently a demonstrator from the museum was explaining the exhibits to a group of children. Her enthusiasm was absolutely infectious.

I certainly recommend a visit to this museum.


The Marché aux Puces and a Nagra III

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.


La Cour Damoye

THE PLACE DE LA BASTILLE is one of the most traffic-infested and noisiest parts of Paris.

The constant cacophony of traffic circulating the Colonne de Juillet, beating over the pavé, pollutes the air not only with carbon emissions but also with unwelcome sound.

Burning rubber in the Place de la Bastille:

But, thank goodness, all is not lost … a few steps away, through the archway of N°12, Place de la Bastille, lies a haven of relative peace.

La Cour Damoye, the entrance to which lies discreetly hidden between two cafés, rests for the most part unobserved by the tourists who pass by.

By day it is a discreet pedestrian thoroughfare but, once the gates are locked in the evening, it reverts to the exclusive use of the residents and the tranquil charm and intimate scale of turn-of-the-century Paris.

La Cour Damoye dates from the end of the eighteenth century. In the early nineteenth century it became home to scrap and rag merchants.

In 1914, the Paris photographer Eugène Atget photographed La Cour Damoye.  By this time it had become the place where cart wheels were repaired. The skilled eye of the photographer captured this working atmosphere—the street lamps, the stored cart wheels on the paving stones, the ladders, and some workshops on the ground floor.

This was a small village where people used to live in harmony in a village-like atmosphere – and today they still do.

La Cour Damoye was renovated in the late 1990’s by the architect Didier Drummond but it still retains its turn-of-the-century character. Now, it is home to four upper stories of residential space, as well as artists, architects, and galleries in the ground-floor ateliers.

The sounds of today’s Cour Damoye:

The sounds of la Cour Damoye are very different today from the sounds to be found there in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but, even so, today’s sounds are a great relief from the cacophony that is the rest of the twenty-first century Place de la Bastille.


Le Réveillon Saint-Sylvestre

THE AVENUE DES CHAMPS-ÉLYSÉES – La plus belle avenue du Monde, as the French call it, the second most expensive strip of real estate in Europe, is a focus for French national celebration – and no more so than for the Réveillon Saint-Sylvestre – New Year’s Eve.

I spent the afternoon of New Year’s Eve in the Champs-Élysées, walking the two kilometres from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde recording my walk, people-watching and window-shopping.

The car showrooms in the Champs-Élysées are guaranteed to provide fascinating displays at any time of the year and, on New Year’s Eve, the Peugeot showroom didn’t disappoint.

On show wsa a Peugeot concept car and a wonderful Peugeot touring car, neither of which, sadly, appeared under my Christmas tree!

I can’t help wondering why a prestigious French car company who can afford the €1.1 million annual rent per 100 square metres of floor space in the Champs-Élysées, and who can put on such an elegant display, should feel the need to accompany it with sound of such banality.

The sound inside the Peugeot showroom:

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Christmas Day in the Bois de Boulogne

THE BOIS DE BOULOGNE, on the edge of the 16th arrondissement, was once the Royal hunting ground of the King’s of France and the refuge for a one time King of England and of the British Empire, Edward VIII, together with his American wife, Wallace Simpson.

Today, it is associated with Roland Garos, the French aviator, whose name was given to the home of the French Open Tennis Championship and of course, the Hippodrome Longchamps, host to the annual horseracing classic, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. At the northern end, close to where I live, is the Jardin d’Acclimatation, an amusement park with a ménagerie and other attractions not least, a miniature steam train that has featured twice in this Blog.

The Bois de Boulogne comprises an area of 8.459 km² (3.266 sq. miles, or 2,090 acres), which is 2.5 times larger than Central Park in New York, and comparable in size to Richmond Park in London.

In the summer, the Bois de Boulogne is a hive of activity especially at weekends. Biking, jogging, dog walking, boat rowing, remote control speed-boats, ad hoc football games and picnics are common currency – almost everything you can think of except barbeques which are strictly forbidden.

It is just a fifteen-minute walk from my apartment to the Bois de Boulogne – and it was this fifteen-minute walk that I did on the afternoon of Christmas Day. I was in need of fresh air and exercise!

The weather was perfect with bright sunshine and the winter sun low in the clear bright blue sky. There was snow on the ground.

I was not alone. Other people were out enjoying the Christmas Day afternoon – the joggers, the dog-walkers and family groups walking off their Christmas lunches.

The snow was crisp and the ground was frozen – but the lakes were not sufficiently frozen to allow one to trespass on them as the sign above shows.

There are thirty-five kilometres of footpaths, eight kilometres of cycle paths and twenty-nine kilometres of riding tracks in the Bois de Boulogne. It was amongst these highways and byways that I walked on the afternoon of Christmas Day. The landscape of the Bois de Boulogne is much changed from when I first came to live here. In the great hurricane of Christmas in 1999, which I remember well, 10,000 trees were felled by the vicious wind that raged through the Bois de Boulogne but, thanks to a vigorous re-planting programme, on Christmas Day this year, the landscape was set to return to that which I remember all those years ago.

The sound of a walk in the Bois de Boulogne late in the afternoon Christmas Day:


Christmas Eve in Paris

It’s Friday and it’s Christmas Eve.

I went out late this afternoon to explore this wonderful city and to see what I could find.

My first stop was the Place Hôtel de Ville. When I emerged from the Métro, light snow was falling. It wasn’t a huge amount, but enough to ensure that this was a ‘white’ Christmas Eve.

The carousel, a permanent fixture, was doing good business.

And, as always at Christmas, in the shadow of the Hôtel de Ville, was the patinoire, the outdoor skating rink, which is always well attended. People of all ages come to the patinoire and all of them much braver than me!

I left the Hôtel de Ville and walked across to the Cathedral of Notre Dame where people were going inside without having to wait in the long lines that seem to be quite normal for most of the year. It will be a different story late this evening of course when they will be queuing up to get into the Midnight Mass.

I walked on to the Square Viviani which was covered in snow. The green benches that I have so often sat on in late summer evenings looking at the Church of Saint-Julien-Le-Pauvre, were today covered in snow.

It was all very pretty, especially the view across the square and La Seine towards the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Inevitably, from there I just had to call into the world’s greatest bookshop, Shakespeare & Co, where I bought Gertrude Stein’s memoire of Picasso which I’m sure will make a good Christmas read. Look out for it; I shall put it up on the ‘Books’ section of this blog in due course.

From there I walked on, across the Boulevard Saint-Michel, across the Place Saint-André des Arts into the rue Saint-André des Arts and then, taking a left turn, into the ‘Passage’ that is home to the oldest coffee house in Paris, Le Procope.

This coffee house has been here since 1686. All the 18th century philosophes were regulars in the Café Procope – Voltaire, Rousseau, Beaumarchais and many others. The French revolution brought another swath of visitors including Danton, Marat, Camille Desmoulins and numerous members of the sans-culotte. In later years the Café Procope played host to George Sand, Gautier, Balzac and Victor Hugo.

It was a great joy for me, on this Christmas Eve 2010, to drink coffee in the footsteps of these great 18th century philosophes. A highlight indeed!

After that delight, I retraced my steps – a quick stop for dinner in La Braserade in the Rue de la Huchette and then the Métro and home.

Thus was my Christmas Eve.

I leave you with this Christmas gift to all of you who have followed this blog throughout the year and have offered me so much support.

More from the singers in Saint-Séverin …

I wish you all a very Happy Christmas.


A Surprise at St Pancras

ON MONDAY MORNING of this week I found myself at St Pancras station in London. I had survived unscathed the Eurostar disruption caused by the recent snow in both France and the UK and so, here I was, with time to spare, waiting to meet some people for a meeting.

I ventured into the excellent Foyles bookshop on the lower level of St Pancras and browsed the books on sale – a wonderful feast as always. I received a call to say that the people I was due to meet were in the Costa Café at the other end of the station so I left Foyles and set off to meet them.

On the way, and much to my surprise,  I came across this group of people standing in a huddle in the middle of the station concourse  They were singing.

Had I arrived earlier I could have recorded more but as it was I was only able to record this short piece. Nevertheless, it brightened up my day.


Animal Rights and Fur Coats

ON SATURDAY AFTERNOON I was buying books in a very over-crowded W.H. Smiths on the corner of the rue Rivoli and the rue Cambon. I came out of the warmth of the bookstore into the chill of Paris in early winter. I turned left into the rue Cambon heading for one of my regular watering holes, Chez Flotte, where I intended to have a well-earned sit down, a small pichet of Beaujolais Nouveau and a good read. As I approached the hostelry I could hear shouting in the distance. I decided to go and investigate.

The rue Cambon was once home to Coco Chanel and her first fashion house in Paris still remains alive and well.

Other glamorous fashion shops also line the rue Cambon.

How appropriate then that at the intersection of the rue Cambon and the rue Saint-Honoré I should find a demonstration taking place – an animal rights demonstration.

A group of young women were protesting about the killing of animals and the use of their skins to provide fur coats and leather handbags for the fashion conscious Parisiennes who frequent this particular quartier of Paris.

Their message was:

These young lady protesters were clearly passionate about their cause … and I found it hard to disagree with them.


Galeries Lafayette

I AM NOT A FAN of shopping but even I have to admit that a trip to the Galeries Lafayette is an experience – especially at Christmas.

Located in the Boulevard Haussmann in the 9th arrondissement, close to the Opéra Garnier, the Galaries Lafayette welcomes around 100,000 visitors a day – more than Harrod’s in London or Bloomingdales in New York.

The sound of a walk through the Galeries Lafayette

Compared to its status today as a 70,000M2 ‘Temple of Shopping’ and Paris icon, the Galeries Lafayette had humble beginnings. In 1895, Albert Kahn rented a shop in Paris at the corner of Chaussée-d’Antin and rue Lafayette to sell gloves, ribbons, veils, and other goods. The shop was small, but sales were good. It was eventually enlarged, and in 1898 Kahn was joined by his cousin, 34-year-old Théophile Bader. The partnership flourished and they soon purchased the entire building along with adjacent buildings on the Chaussée-d’Antin. The Galeries Lafayette was born.

The magnificent glass dome and wrought iron balconies dominate one end of the store  – a vivid reminder of 19th century Paris – contrasting starkly with the clean-cut, up-market, brand-named, cosmetics counters that lie beneath.

The Galeries Lafayette is famed for its stylish window displays – no more so than at Christmas when crowds of people gather to see the show.

Today, the Galeries Lafayette is a magnet for tourists with the Chinese leading the way followed by Americans and then Japanese. A walk through the store reveals a cosmopolitan mix of people some of whom come just to look and others who come to spend, spend, spend!

It may have begun life as a modest corner shop, but the Galeries Lafayette, along with the other new-fangled 19th century department stores, Printemps, Bon Marché and La Samaritaine, started a revolution in retail shopping which continues today.

The sound of a walk outside past the window displays.