Notre Dame de Paris: Sound archaeologist recreates sounds heard in the temple centuries ago

Whispering voices echo under the canopies and children play near the square. Hooves hit the cobbled streets of the 18th century as merchants bargain in the background. Have you ever imagined the sounds that came to life in a place like Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris hundreds of years ago?

This is what Mylène Pardoën is trying to achieve. Based in the French city of Lyon, he is recommended as a sound archaeologist, a profession he came up with after wondering why museums often neglect the use of sound in their exhibits. For the past 10 years she has been researching monuments and construction sites across the country and analyzing acoustic environments to help her recreate sounds that allow us to travel back in time.

“I tell stories from the past not in words, but in sounds. So there is a narrative aspect to my work, but never a fictional one, “she explained, as her green eyes lit up with interest under her small round glasses.

One of her biggest projects to date: working to restore the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, which was severely damaged by fire in 2019. The collapse of the roof and burnt-out walls caused the cathedral to lose its “voice” of: the unique resonance imposed by an almost sacred silence on the visitors.

Through her work “The Past Has Ears – Our Lady of Paris”, led by the French Ministry of Culture and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Pardoën aims to reproduce the everyday sounds heard inside and outside the cathedral, from its construction in the 13th century until the fire of 2019. Collaborating with a team of acoustic researchers and sound engineers, its findings will help architects choose the materials and techniques that will be used to restore the Virgin of Paris, so that it “sounds” like old.

To recreate these sounds, Pardoën has long been immersed in archives. “I’m looking for anything I can find from the period that interests me. “It can be paintings, sculptures, literature, and even administrative documents to understand what everyday objects surrounded people and therefore what sounds could be heard,” he said. “For example, we know from historical sources that there were animals such as dogs and horses around the cathedral in the 18th century. So, I’m going to go out and record the sounds of these animals. “

Currently, the Notre Dame de Paris is closed to all research teams due to the removal of lead and asbestos. Thus, Pardoën found a new sonic treasure located deep in the forests of northern Burgundy, France. There, he could find sounds, mainly from copies of tools in action, from the Middle Ages.

Guédelon is a unique castle in the world. In 1997, a group of medieval French lovers and friends drank a little more one night over dinner and decided to build a 13th-century castle from scratch, using only the tools and methods available at the time. 24 years later, the castle – which is still under construction – is an unusual archaeological experiment that attracts more than 300,000 tourists a year (before the pandemic) and numerous academics, such as Pardoën.

No workshop escapes Pardoën’s ears, whether it is the carpenter who cuts wood or the baker who kneads. These recordings have different purposes. The first, associated with the Notre Dame de Paris, is to record the work of various craftsmen in the area, such as the builders, who were present in and around the cathedral in the Middle Ages.

This will help her recreate the atmosphere of the cathedral during those years. These recordings will then be inserted into a computer simulation designed by a team of engineers to help predict how materials and structural choices during reconstruction could change the future acoustics of Notre Dame de Paris. Even changes such as the placement of a rug or the use of wood instead of metal for the domes can dramatically change the “voice” of the cathedral.

The second is the classification of these sounds in the intangible cultural heritage of France. Unesco considers as intangible cultural heritage the practices and representations, as well as the knowledge and skills that individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage, such as crafts or rituals.

The sound engineer archaeologist is adamant that she is not a sound designer. “A lot of people think I’re inventing sounds,” Pardoën said. “This is not true. I recover sounds from the past that can be found in the present “.

Source:

www.bbc.com/travel/article/20211116-the-sounds-rebuilding-notre-dames-precious-vaults


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