Historians Imagine What Paris Sounded Like in the 18th Century

Imagine the sounds coming out of a busy blacksmith shop in an alleyway in Paris sometime back in the 18th century: the hammering of wrought iron, the rhythmic whoosh of air as the blacksmith uses a bellows to stoke a fire.

We have no recordings of the actual sounds of Paris in those early days, so to try and make those 18th-century streets and alleys of Paris come to life takes a bit of careful historical research and a little imagination.

That’s where French musicologist Mylène Pardoen, who’s been described as an “archaeologist of sound,” comes in. She’s created an “interpretation” of what Paris might have sounded like way back then.

Her latest, the “Sound of 18th Century Paris,” takes you to a Paris you’ve literally never heard before. Listening to it is like being transported back to the Grand Châtelet neighborhood of Paris two centuries ago, said Pardoen in an interview on RTS Swiss Radio.

“On the Pont au Change, one of the relatively noisy bridges of Paris, there were a great many artisans of luxury items, such as jewelers, engravers, polishers. … It is important to realize that during the 18th century there was no gas or electricity, so the artisans gathered close to the natural light, near the bridge, and that created a density of sound. The houses were very tall, so the sound stayed. It did not leave the bridge. The sound remained there and seemed thicker than it would today. It was not louder, nor was it less loud. It was denser.

“There were more sounds that collided with one another. Today that would give us an impression of being smothered. But today, we have wider streets. Back then the streets were narrow. People worked in the street and were squeezed against one another. ”

Of course, Hollywood offers up historical movies from time to time, with soundtracks to match the older era. Pardoen’s Parisian soundtrack has been similarly designed, right down to the sound of roosters crowing in the distance, the buzzing street markets and horse carriages rolling along cobbled streets.

“Again, on the Pont au Change, you hear the Seine, which is the aorta that keeps Paris alive,” says Pardoen. “On the right side, there were furriers who worked on pelts, but what you hear are the washerwomen working under the arches of the bridge. Then you hear the Notre Dame bridge pump, which brought drinking water to the Parisians. People drank the river water and lived, that’s it! That pump no longer exists, so I had to record and capture the movement of a restored water mill with a wooden mechanism [ . . . ]


Read complete story at: Historians Imagine What Paris Sounded Like in the 18th Century – Towleroad

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