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Notre Dame’s reconstruction gets help from budding field of soundscape archaeology


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J-P Mauro - published on 11/21/21

The efforts of soundscape archaeologist Mylène Pardoën will help ensure Notre Dame's acoustics reemerge exactly as they were.

While experts are working to ensure Notre Dame de Paris looks as it did before the 2019 fire, one archaeologist is trying to recapture its famous acoustics. Mylène Pardoën, a self-described “soundscape archeologist,” has spent over a decade analysing acoustic environments to reproduce sounds of the past. Now, she is part of a dedicated effort to restore the everyday sounds of the famed sacred space. 

Pardoën told the BBC that she established her role as a soundscape archaeologist, the first of her kind, after questioning why museums routinely overlook sound as a valuable aspect to exhibits. She identified audio as an element that would engage another of the five senses to better connect viewers with the past. 

Whereas a regular archaeologist scours excavation sites, meticulously documenting what artifacts are unearthed, Pardoën delves into historical documents, art, literature, and any other records of the time period she is studying. 

By understanding the everyday life of an era, Pardoën can begin to piece together the era’s soundscape. This is a very involved process that takes into account everyday objects, cultural habits, and even what kinds of animals were present. Just as individual brush strokes come together to form a painting, these sounds help establish the soundscape. She explained to the BBC: 

“For example, we know from historical sources that there were animals like dogs and horses around the cathedral in the 18th century. So, I’ll go out and record [the] sounds of those animals.”

The recordings are given to a team of engineers who have designed a computer simulation that determines how materials and structural design impact the sound. The goal is to prevent significant change to Notre Dame’s acoustics during the rebuild. Pardoën warned that even small changes, like laying carpet or choosing a different material to rebuild the vault, could have drastic repercussions. 

Currently, Notre Dame is closed for asbestos and lead removal, but that has not stopped Pardoën’s quest. Instead, she is recording sounds of a work site where French medieval enthusiasts are recreating a castle using methods from the period. These historical sounds of carpenters, masons, and blacksmiths at work will help her recreate the ambiance of the time. 

Read more at the BBC.

ArchaeologyNotre DameScience
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