Friday, 3 June 2016

18th-century Paris - sounds of the city

The "Projet Bretez" is a virtual reconstruction with a difference.  The brainchild of Mylène Pardoen, musicologist from the Université Lumière Lyon-2, it concentrates on recreating the authentic sounds of 18th-century Paris. The setting, chosen to encompass a wide range of ambient noise, covers the  quartier of the Grand Châtelet between the Pont au Change and the Pont Notre-Dame.  The video game platform takes the viewer along the roads and through the various areas as though on horseback. [The effect is a bit odd, since the buildings are all there but there are no pixelated people at all to make the noise.]

The level of research and technical sophistication is extremely high. As the name suggests, the starting point of the project is  the Plan de Turgot of 1739 (created  by Louis Bretez).  In addition, the team drew on Mercier's Tableau de Paris and other printed and archival sources, as well as  modern authorities in order to recreate the buildings as accurately as possible and so formulate the effect of variables such as height and construction materials on the transmission of sound.

In all the project incorporates seventy "sonic tableaux".  Amongst them it is possible to distinguish the cackling of birds in the poultry market, the flies buzzing on the fishmongers' stalls, the loom at the woollen mill at one end of the Pont au Change, the scrapers wielded by tanners in the rue de la Pelleterie or the noise made by typesetters in the rue de Gesvres...  all overlaid with the cries of the seagulls which were attracted inland by the waste of the city.  All the sounds are authentic; for the machinery and equipment genuine period pieces were employed.  The only exception is the Notre-Dame pump which once drew water from the Seine and had to be recreated using the sound of an old water mill, carefully adjusted to reflect the original height. 


Projet Bretez - official site

Laure Cailloce, "The sound of 18th-century Paris" CNRS Journal , article dated 22.10.2015 [English version]

TV5MONDE interview with Mylène Pardoen [uploaded 08.07.2015]

Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, La joute des mariniers, entre le pont Notre-Dame et le Pont-au-Change, 1756

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