I AM AN ENGLISHMAN living in Paris where I record sound. Most of my work involves capturing the street sounds of Paris but I do sometimes venture further afield.
Recently, I spent a long weekend in the north east of England partly to recharge my batteries and partly to record the sights and sounds of that delightful part of the world.
But while I was there, echoes of Paris were never far away. Sometime ago, I wrote a blog piece about les passages couverts, the wonderful early nineteenth-century Parisian arcades that first introduced the notion of primitive ‘shopping malls’ - a group of shops clustered together, inside and under cover. Delightful as these passage couverts are, they are not exclusive to Paris - they are to be found in England too.
I discovered this one, the Central Arcade, whilst visiting Newcastle-upon-Tyne recently. It’s Edwardian, built in 1906, designed by Oswald and Son of Newcastle and I think equally as elegant as the Passage Verdeau or the Passage Jouffroy in Paris.
What made the Central Arcade particularly special was the completely unexpected surprise I came upon whilst I was exploring it. In the arcade is one the UK’s longest established and largest music stores which goes by the unlikely name of JG Windows. It’s a veritable emporium of all things musical - acoustic and digital pianos, keyboards, synthesizers, electric, acoustic and classical guitars and much, much more.
Stepping inside, I was delighted to find my sound of the day.
Inside JG Windows:
A man walked in off the street and sat down at an £8,000 digital piano. He put his briefcase down beside him and began playing. The lower register of the piano was transformed into a string bass for his left hand whilst his right hand caressed the piano sounds in the upper registers. I was transfixed. When he finished playing, he simply picked up his briefcase and left just as quickly as he came without speaking a word to anyone.
I couldn’t help wondering what his story was. Was he a frustrated musician who couldn’t afford an £8,000 digital piano? Maybe he was road testing it with a view to buying it – or maybe he just needed a musical fix before heading off for his next appointment. Who knows? Whatever his motivation the sound he made obviously pleased him … and it certainly pleased me.
What I took away from this was that, if we take the time to listen, there are captivating sounds to be found everywhere – in Paris, in London, and in Newcastle too.
Des Coulam has a passion for recording and preserving our sonic environment. He writes and records the Soundlandscapes blog at www.soundlandscapes.wordpress.com.