The Pont Neuf in 1763, by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet

Mylène Pardoen: The Soundscape of 17th Century France

Instead of restoring pottery shards and paintings(as the mudlarks of the Thames do), historians and archaeologists are increasingly turning towards technology and its immersive VR possibilities when explaining and educating people about the past. A new mode for immersive learning about the past is through sound.

French musicologist Mylène Pardoen has set about bringing to life the soundscape of Paris from the 1700’s. In particular the area of the Grand Châtelet and Pont au Change. Listen below and be sure to wear headphones for the full immersive experience. 

You can hear the sounds of horse-drawn carriages, bustling markets, idle conversations and the creaking sounds of early machines here. There was no gas or electricity at that time and artisans gathered close to the natural light, near the bridge, and that created a density of sound in particular areas. Nowadays we have wider streets but back in those days the streets were narrow, labyrinthine  and medieval in confluence, so people were squashed together in somewhat claustrophobic proximity.

Mylène and her team went into exquisite detail to create this historical soundscape and ensure its historical accuracy. This includes working out the number of times the hydraulics on the Notre Dame bridge pump would have rotated (“we came up with six per minute”), the inclusion of flies buzzing around a fishmonger, and the clicking sound coming out of the typesetter’s studio. It was a clearly a labour of love and the result is magnificent.

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