|Turgot-Bretez Map, 1739|
Paris is one of the settings of my current project, Refiner’s Fire, Book 6 of my American Patriot Series. While researching the city, I serendipitously ran across a fascinating video that recreates the background sounds of 18th century Paris. It was created by French musicologist Mylène Pardoen for the Bretez Project, which was presented at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie in 2015.
Be sure to watch the video below. In addition to recording historically accurate sounds, Pardoen worked with experts to carefully map out the old streets of Paris and combine the audio with the city’s historical context to create a 3-D rendering based on one of the best maps of the day, the 1739 Turgot-Bretez map, shown on the left. Turgot was the provost of Paris merchants who commissioned the map, and Bretez was the engineer who directed the survey of the city.
Pardoen explains that they chose the Grand Châtelet district between the Pont au Change and Pont Notre Dame bridges because in the 18th century 80% of Paris’ background noise was concentrated there. Since there was no gas or electricity available back then, many artisans of luxury items, such as jewelers, engravers, and furriers established shops in this district to take advantage of the greater natural light along the river. The tall houses and narrow streets on either side of the bridges captured the sounds, creating a dense sound environment.
The soundscape is based on documents such as Le Tableau de Paris, published in 1781 by Louis-Sebastien Mercier and on works like those of Arlette Farge, who specialized on the history of the 18th century; Alain Corbin, who researched the history of the senses; and Youri Carbonnier, a recognized authority on houses built on bridges.
|A View of Paris from Pont Neuf|
In the video you’ll hear 70 sonic tableaux, many created by trades such as shopkeepers, craftsmen, and boatmen. You’ll recognize the rhythmic whoosh of air as a blacksmith in his shop in a Paris alleyway stokes his fire with a bellows, followed by the sound of a hammer on iron. There are roosters crowing in the distance and pigs squealing as they’re driven to market; the buzz of conversation at the street markets; carriages rolling along cobbled streets punctuated by the clopping of the horses’ hooves; the rush of the Seine, and the washerwomen working under the arches of the bridge; the hum of flies at the fishmongers’ stalls; the noise of the loom in the woolen mill that stood at one end of the Pont au Change; the scraping of hides in the tanneries on Rue de la Pelleterie; and type being set at the print shop on Rue de Gesvres. Overhead are the cries of the seagulls drawn to the city’s waste heaps. You’ll also be able to discern how sounds echo beneath bridges and in covered passageways and the effect produced by the varying heights and construction materials of the buildings.
Joust of Sailors from Pont Notre Dame and Pont Au Change
“It is a research project that will continue to evolve,” Pardoen says. “The next step will be to include the machines and devices that are now missing from the image, and allow the ‘audience’ to stroll freely through the streets of the neighborhood.” One thing I’d really love to have is a version that has English captions, and maybe that will eventually happen. It would really help non-French speakers in doing research.
Today I’m giving away one copy of any one of the volumes of my American Patriot Series, in either print or ebook edition. In order to be entered in the drawing, please leave a comment by the end of the day sharing what you liked best about the video, and what you think of the sounds, the changing scenes, and how it helped you to visualize a distant time and place in a new way. Please include whether you prefer ebook or print edition, and give your email addy in this form: yourname at yourinternetprovider dot com, so I can contact you if you win. I’ll announce the winner in the comments on this post tomorrow, so be sure to check back.
J. M. Hochstetler is the daughter of Mennonite farmers and a lifelong student of history. She is also an author, editor, and publisher. Her American Patriot Series is the only comprehensive historical fiction series on the American Revolution. Northkill, Book 1 of the Northkill Amish Series coauthored with Bob Hostetler, won Foreword Magazine’s 2014 Indie Book of the Year Bronze Award for historical fiction. Book 2, The Return, received the 2017 Interviews and Reviews Silver Award for Historical Fiction and the 2018 Shelf Unbound Notable Indie Award. One Holy Night, a contemporary retelling of the Christmas story, was the Christian Small Publishers 2009 Book of the Year.