Occasional posts on subjects including field recording, London history and literature, other websites worth looking at, articles in the press, and news of sound-related events.

21 August 2010

Chasseur du Son

SOME TIME AGO, Ian invited me to write a guest post for the London Sound Survey blog. Ian is the sort of guy that it’s very difficult to say “No” to, so I agreed. Some time later I submitted a post, which Ian very kindly published. As it turned out, writing that post was a very useful exercise for me because it made me give serious thought to the type of sound recording that I do.

Living as I do in Paris I can perhaps best be described as a chasseur du son, a sound hunter, endlessly walking the streets of Paris, a promeneur, looking for that Cartier-Bresson “decisive moment”, the prey that the all hunters crave. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau and all the other French twentieth-century street photographers searched for that decisive moment in pictures whereas I search for it in sound.

For my last guest post I used the rue de la Huchette in Paris as my focal point. The rue de la Huchette, nestled in the shadows of the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the churches of Saint Julien le Pauvre and Saint Séverin, is about as Parisian as it’s possible to get. Hundreds of years of history lie in this street, from the medieval to the modern, through wars to peace, from abject poverty to relative prosperity. Today the rue de la Huchette is a tourist trap, deserted in the winter and full to overflowing in the summer.

Imagine then your chasseur du son spending a summer Saturday afternoon in the rue de la Huchette searching for that decisive moment only to find that it is a sound desert. Yes, the tourist chatter is there but he has recorded that many times before and to record it again would add nothing to his ‘Paris Soundscapes’ archive that is not already there. The restaurants fill and then empty but, beyond the clatter of plates, no unusual sounds are to be heard. Back and forth he wanders, this promeneur, looking, searching, hunting, but the prey is elusive.

A bar and a beer, although welcome, provide little respite from the hunt. It must be here somewhere . . . but where? More walking, more searching, it’s four hours now and still nothing. Dinner in the rue de la Harpe adjacent to the rue de la Huchette, time to regroup, to re-think, to make another plan.

A good dinner and large pichet de vin rouge soften the edges. Time to relax, maybe the hunt is not so important after all, a slow walk back to the Hotel de Ville, the Metro and home seems a good plan.

Your chasseur du son leaves the restaurant but the instinct is still there – it’s got to be here somewhere. The Metro calls but something else calls too, that intuitive feeling, the indefinable something that says keep searching. The church of Saint Séverin is a three-minute walk from the restaurant in a street off the rue de la Huchette. The pull is almost magnetic, the scent is strong and the chase is on.

The door of the church opens and there, at last, is the prey, the pot of gold, submitting to the hunter.

Des Coulam produces the Soundlandscapes field recording blog at: