When historians, anthropologists, archaeologists and other kinds of historical sleuths attempt to reconstruct the past, their efforts are usually in the tangible realm. They recreate famous dwellings, restore damaged artefacts, and work out how ancient humans might have looked based on the shape of their bones.
That’s why a recent project by French musicologist Mylène Pardoen is particularly fascinating, if not a little odd.
Known as an “archaeologist of sound”, Mylène’s latest project is to reconstruct the soundscape of a part of Paris – the Grand Châtelet and Pont au Change – from the 1700s. You can listen to the work below:
It’s not just the sounds of horse-drawn carriages, noisy markets and the mechanical sounds of early industry that strike you, but the concentration of these sounds. Mylène explains that because there was no gas or electricity at that time, "artisans gathered close to the natural light, near the bridge, and that created a density of sound… Today that would give us an impression of being smothered. But today, we have wider streets. Back then the streets were narrow. People worked in the street and were squeezed against one another. "
You might not fully appreciate just how detailed and sophisticated the work is on first listen. But once you learn the detail that Mylène and her team went to, which 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”), and the inclusion of flies buzzing around a fishmonger, or the sound of clacking coming from a typesetter’s studio, you might be a little more impressed. Maybe even a lot.