Soundscapes of Paris and London

Grateful Graduate  Project: Reasons 168-207

The senses are such an important way through which we experience – and form perceptions, affective attachments, dislikes for space. They build up our memories of places and inform our broader experience of life in general.

Sound is one of those very important senses that inform our experience of spaces and different places.

Several components of the ‘soundscapes’ of Paris and London combine to make them two interesting places to live and study.

Here are a few pieces of the soundscapes of Paris and London that offer a sense of place, and  help set one’s emotional disposition in either city:

The London Soundscape

1. The whirring of bicycle wheels from an active city

2. The clinking of beer bottles after work that spills into the streets – communicates the importance of camaraderie and being sociable in this city (not all cities are that way!)

3. London bus engines powering on,  an important part of the urbane buzz of the city

4. The alarm-like sound of traffic lights becoming green in some places,  sound indicating rhythm of the space, reinforcing the space as shared between pedestrians and other commuters

5.Drilling and construction sounds during the day – part of the sound of progress. In some parts of the world, and even smaller  communes there are no drills to be heard

6. Big Ben live! – a reminder of being in the centre of the English speaking world for those familiar with  BBC world radio service from different locations of the globe.

7. The pealing of bells in Westminster from different places – there is something quintessentially European about bell ringing at a certain level of frequency. It’s an important sound that gives sense of place and time…

8. The sound of children across London ( increasingly rare in other parts of Europe) – a sound marker of a vibrant space

9. The pounding of the ground by avid joggers – more sound that suggest energy, determination, go-getter-dness (new word there)

10.The loud indecipherable English from local Londoners, a reminder of being close to the East End,  sound that gives sense of place and maybe even insight into the nature of the social structure of  London – certain decibels and frequency, tones, accents are ways of  establishing a sense of the dynamics of place..

11. Several other languages and accents on the street,  the sound of being babel like, multicultural, international

12. The frequent, live performance of the warning to “stay clear of the closing doors”, and “mind the gap” between the platform and train – sound becomes a marker of space and constant orientation

13. The beep of your Oyster Card as the door opens or closed to allow you onto or out of the underground – interesting to hear how certain inflections are used to indicate being allowed into space or disallowed to enjoy it. Sound becomes part of the overall sense of inclusion and exclusion from urban space..

14. Sunday morning early (literal) birds twittering (in the original sense) in one of London’s parks – a reminder of ‘nature’se existence in the midst of concretised urban spaces

15. The clacking of horse hooves on tarmac every once in a while – trasitional modes of transport and their sound against that of cars speaks to that essential intersection of modernity and tradition in London, sound becomes a reminder of place and its’ essence

16. The cruising past of boats along the Thames, particularly those of river ‘security’. That sound has  several ‘meanings’ attached to it – for this blogger, it is both the sound of surveillance and a reminder of the centrality of water to the city’s geography and Ìistory. The Sound of the boat is something that jolts my memory and associations of London to the Thames

17. Streetside product Promoters asking for some of your time, for support for yet another cause:   Sound becomes a reminder of the city as a public square, a place of contestation of ideas, competition for attention

18. The sound of delivery vans along south bank in the early hours of the morning – nothing says ‘product supply chain’ quicker than a solitary sound of a reversing delivery truck –  this small aspect of the soundscape becomes a reminder of the many actors that  do their part in making the city work. It’s a great way to be reminded to pay attention to all small details when going about more academic work – who would have thought that of sound being an intellectual trigger?

19. The sound of gulls around the globe theatre – a reminder of London as part of this historic maritime superpower. Yes, the simple sound of gulls does that for this blogger

20. Music just under millennium bridges and  the buzz on the pavement of  the globe theatre communicates the artistic  and social vibrancy of  the city…

The Parisian soundscape

1. Music instruments in public space.. Violins entire orchestras, guitars, accordions – a key feature of the urban soundscape in Paris, its sense of playfulness

2. French language being spoken:  gives a sense of the space’s resistance to being overly multicultural, the persistence of French as a language and culture

3. The sncf  train melody and announcements-lady at the large stations – gives an interesting sense of departure, return, placement, orientation – of being located in  France

4. RATP announcements for the next metro and security warnings – few things say ‘you’re in Paris’ more effectively than these twin sounds.

5. Calming effect of water features in gardens and fountains in different public spaces (hotel de ville , Place St Michel, Place de la Sorbonne)

6. Pavement side  cafe clinking of customer plates, cutlery, cups and saucers reminds one of the centrality of food to Parisian sociality and social life

7. The bell ringing of  RATP long accordion shaped buses as they approach intersections.. They are not quite London’s increasingly chic red buses but they form a distinct aspect of Paris’s soundscape

8. Saturday night buzz around Le Marais.. Faint notes of electronic dance music, the continual buzz from packed restaurants: the neighbourhood’s soundscape is a reminder to go out and live a little

9. Sophisticated muffled chatter and jazzy ambiance in cafes and restaurants around Port Royale and beyond: the sound and ambience of a classical image of Paris that many people hold in their imaginations.

10. Pealing of Notre dame bells and several churches around the city: a reminder of the  very Catholic geography and history of Paris

11. The sound of street performances around St Michel – always a signal that creativity and the urge for self expression is still part and parcel of the soundscape and essence of this city

12. The ubiquitous presence of tourists and the babel like cacophony of central Paris in peak season: the sound in itself signifies the value of Paris as an international destination

13. Quietness only interrupted by the echo of heels o-in the small streets of the city – out of the main streets and key traffic arteries – a reminder of the several dimensions to the city beyond the crowds

14. The continual buzz of service trucks at work, keeping the city in presentable shape (Everything from street cleaning to recycling collection)  as a constant reminder of the processes that go into staging and presenting Paris to the world…

15. The familiar ‘tink’ of the automatic door bell of my local boulangerie somehow gives a sense of grounding in a particular neighbourhood

16. The quiet whirr of velib bikes at midnight as a signature part of the city’s late night soundscape

17. Erratic loud conversation of wannabe ‘gangsterised’ bourgeois kids in oversized clothing, trying to speak in bad French. Where else could one find this? Only in Paris!

18. Scooters, everywhere. There seem to me, to be more present in Paris, than London? They certainly are a quintessential part of Paris’s transport soundscape

19. The car ‘horn’/ hooter… It just seems more present and in greater use in my imagination of Paris than London, perhaps what we hear from city soundscapes are also telling of what we pay attention to!

20. The metro wheels on steel rails, at times over bridges and on Line 8, the screeching of the rails on line 8 before Porte Doré: the metro sound becomes an important part of the background music of memories made in this city

I am grateful for the universe of sound and the distinct associations that they create to both cities. The sensory experience of Paris and London will be a key part of life moving forward. I won’t hear scooters and not remember Paris, or big ben and remember jogging along the Thames. The soundscape, I find, is an important component of the experience of urban life – and more so, the experience of studying in a city. For those in more rural settings, the stillness also sets a different kind of student experience – London and Paris’s background offers several noises to steer activity (or distraction).  This blogger is appreciative of the energising effect of the sounds of these two great cities.

This is part of a project to collect 365 reasons to be grateful for the graduate student experience offered by Paris and London over the course of 2013