This is What Paris Sounded like Three Centuries ago2 min read

Have you ever thought about how our soundscapes have changed over the centuries? Every era has its own particular sounds. For us, it’s the zooming airplanes up in the sky, the continuous typing on our keyboards, and the smartphone notifications bleeping from our pockets. Maybe in twenty years, it will be the millions of delivery drones zooming over our heads and the computer-generated voices of our self-driving cars. Who knows? We’ll just have to wait and see…or hear, to be more accurate.

Nowadays, we are recording so much of our everyday lives, that it probably won’t be a problem to retrace what the 21st century sounded like in a couple of hundred years. However, it’s not as easy to reconstruct what our cities sounded like even a century or two centuries ago. But one artist managed to reconstruct the soundscape of a bygone version of Paris, that of nearly three centuries ago.

A sonic reconstruction of a bygone Paris

French musicologist Myléne Pardoen has managed to create a sonic reconstruction of the Grand Châtelet district of Paris in 1739.1 Pardoen and her team at the University of Lyon worked at the ‘Passages XXI’ lab and used a variety of historical research methods to trace what Paris sounded like three centuries ago. That included measuring the sizes of historic monuments and streets and studying old maps. But they also used sociological strategies, studied 3D representation and even spoke to contemporary citizens that frequented the area.

French musicologist Myléne Pardoen has created a sonic reconstruction of central Paris in the 18th century. The crowds that filled the district were ‘common’ people, but also prostitutes, pickpockets, poets, painters and merchants.

A painting of Paris in the 18th century
A View of Paris with the Île de la Cité by 18th-century artist Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet.

Why reconstruct this particular district in Paris?

But why did she choose the Grand Châtelet district in particular, on the right bank of the Seine? Well, Pardoen had good reason to. In the 18th century, it was one of the liveliest and most diverse neighborhoods in the French capital. The crowds that filled the district were ‘common’ people, but also prostitutes, pickpockets, poets, painters and merchants. There was a healthy mix of dwellings, stores, workshops, stables, shady alleys, but also open spaces. The nearby Seine river was another important influence.

Next time you’re walking through the streets of your town or city, take a moment to savour the sounds of the early 21st century. No matter what we’ll do, it’ll soon be gone and changed forever. And we’ll be the only ones who will have truly heard the original ‘soundtrack’ with our very own ears. A fascinating concept to think about, right?

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  1. Via Mental Floss

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