all good things….

The time has come for my Vitrines Sonores sound installation to be eventually taken down after nearly four months of continual playing around the city of Lens.  All of the nineteen shops that hosted the installation were very positive about the the work and its effects on generating interest and indeed custom.  In fact, quite a few of the shopkeepers requested another version of the installation in the near future; however, all good things must come to an end, and it is nice to completing this work on such a positive note.

The above video is the short documentary feature made by the local Télé Gohelle television company last month – another nice memory of my stay in Lens.  I shall miss this town, its people, its history, and its pride and passion.


Lens Résonne


Yesterday evening we had a mid-installation party that we had organised for all the Vitrines Sonores retailers, the City Mayor and councillors, and also the Mission Louvre Lens Tourisme.  This was actually the first time that all these people had come together, and so I hope many long lasting connections were made.  The local Télé Gohelle television company are also in the process of making a short documentary feature about the installation, and so I will post this as soon as it become available.

ecoutez les vitrines sonores

Today is my last day in Lens, at least for the moment. It is time to pack, and it is time to return to England, where my next project awaits. It seems strange to leave as over the last few months I have become accustomed to living here, and have felt very welcome in the town.  With the installation complete, in the last few days I have had the opportunity to make a short movie teaser for the project. Emilie, from the Mission Louvre-Lens Tourisme, accompanied me on my last install (a week ago) and filmed the process on her mobile phone.  I think the film nicely captures the install process as well as the enthusiasm of the host retailer together with the resulting customer interest in a way that has been typical of all the other installations around the town.

up and running


One hundred metres of cable, twenty two Feonic audio Drivers and nineteen shop windows later, my Vitrines Sonores sound installation for the city of Lens is now complete.  This has been such a nice project to do, with such enthusiasm from all the different retailers and the support from the Mission Louvre-Lens Tourisme, so thank you to all.  It has been lovely revisiting the shops and listening to the owners’s accounts of how the installation has been working for them: introducing new people into their premises and generally surprising everyone within earshot.

working with dinosaurs


I have just spent a sweltering afternoon with a large number of dinosaurs as I installed another one of my Feonic installations, this time in the window display of the local toy shop.  In total, I have nineteen Vitrines Sonores installations to do, although actually, this one was my ninth (as I began installing at the end of last week).  And so, with a week to go before the deadline, I am easily comfortably ahead of schedule. Actually, it is good practice to install early, as it allows the hosts to get used to the sounds and leaves plenty of time for negotiation with regards to final tweaks, etc.

younger sounds


As a few of the shops who will be hosting a Vitrines Sonores cater for children, I have been recording some sounds that will connect with younger ears.  I recorded such a sound today as Lens was visited by the chart-topping Alpha Diallo – a French-Guinean rapper with a hit solo CD, as well as a member of the very successful Sexion d’Assaut collective.  Needless to say there were hundreds of young people, some waiting all day, ready for his arrival, clutching CDs and bits of paper for him to sign.  I joined the crowd and managed to record the excitement at the moment the artist arrived.  This sound is also significant as I think it will be my last recording for this project.  I now have about sixty in all, and am now currently editing and sequencing the sounds in preparation for installation next week.

up the junction


This morning I visited the SCNF train depot in Mericourt (about 15 minutes cycle from Lens) where I had an invitation to record the various sounds in the repair workshop.  This had taken quite a while to organise and so when this morning arrived with the news that their was a train workers’ strike, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going to happen: whether there was going to be nothing to record (as tools would have been downed) or whether it would be easier to record as there would be less ambient noise….  When I got there, there seemed to be a fair bit of work going on, although I learned that maybe 80% of the workers were absent.  The result was that I was able to move around fairly freely, without getting in anyone’s way, and I spent a very pleasant morning with my guides David and Alexander exploring the different sonic qualities of the inner workings of the trains.




In contrast to my working with the loud mining sounds, I have been exploring the area around Lens in search of quietness.  In fact, the whole area is pretty tranquil, although from a recording point of view it is difficult to escape the monotonous sound of traffic, which appears to be always present although thankfully fairly quiet.   The southwest seems to have fewer main roads and for that reason sounds more tranquil, and out in that direction is the Vimy war memorial, which towers above the surrounding countryside, above the noise and in a slient world all of its own.



So much of Lens’ culture seems to be connected with their mining industry of old: sports, the Harmonie bands,  even some of the nature reserves; and, of course, the giant “Terrill” slag heap pyramids that serve as a reminder, breaking up the otherwise flat horizon.  For this reason I have been working with a collection of mining sounds from the archive of the excellent Lewarde mining museum.  The challenge here has been to find sounds that I think are appropiate to the task in hand, as many of the sounds are so intense and actually not the listening experience that I want for this installation – such a noise, and so completely different from the otherwise tranquil sounds of the region above the ground.

floral harmonies


Today was the town’s flower market: lots of flowers, lots of stalls and music supplied by the three of the local Harmonie bands.  They played for about half-an-hour each in front of the town hall, and then all together as a massed ensemble with each of the three conductors taking in turn to lead the music making.  I had wanted to include the sounds of L’Harmonie in my installation as they are obviously an important part of this local culture, and so this morning presented me with an opportune moment to make the recordings that I wanted.



A return visit to the ‘Page 24’ brewery gave me the opportunity to record another aspect of their beer-making process: the bottling. This takes place in a separate location in the brewery, away from the large aluminuim  tanks, and is where the bottles are cleaned, filled with the beer, sealed and then packed into crates ready for delivery.   The bottles travel along conveyor belts, making their musical sound as they gently knock together, before arriving on the final pallette where they await their delivery.



After another trip around town, visiting the many independent retailers, we have managed to more-or-less finialise all the host locations for the Feonic devices which will broadcast the various components of the ‘Vitrines Sonores’ sound installation. Not every window is the same, of course (in any town): different types of glass resonate in different ways and in accordance to how they are fixed into the architecture. Then there’s the location, the atmosphere of the shop and the personality of the retailer to take into consideration…. All these factors determine the balance between what might sound best and what will suit that particular host. Today’s visited locations were a good mix of sonically responsive window fronts and enthusiastic retailers, which all helps to feed the momentum anticipating the project launch next month.



Throughout the area there are many local wind bands (known as ‘L’Harmonies’ and sometimes ‘Fanfares’), many of which owe their origin in some way to the mining industry that once was and which used to encourage their development. Lens, too, had it’s Harmonie band (L’Harmonie des Mines de Lens); however, as happened with many of the ensembles: as the mining industry declined, it became municipally funded and in this way they carry on to this day. I have joined the now titled ‘l’Orchestre à Vents de Lens’ whilst I am living here as part of my residency, and I am enjoying meeting and rehearsing with my fellow local musicians.

sang et or


Lens has a football team, currently close to the top of the second division, and if it plays well tonight it will be be assured of a promotion into Ligue 1. The stadium is about ten minutes walk from the centre of town and has a capacity of over 40000 (which is more than the population of Lens itself) and so it’s influence can be felt, not only because of the number of red and gold dressed fans that make their way to and from it when a match is on, but by the sound of the supporters during the game. Whist the team might not be the best in France (yet!) the Lensois are well known for the passionate support they give to their team, and their cheers, chants and songs can be heard when the game is on.

hubble bubble


This area of France is, of course, well-known for it’s beer making, and Lens has two breweries within 10km of the town. The most famous is probably ‘Ch’ti’, which is brewed in Bénifontaine (about 8km north of Lens town), and to the west is the smaller Brasserie Saint Germain, which crafts the ‘Page 24’ beer. I spent an interesting afternoon visiting Brasserie Saint Germain to make some sound recordings of the beer making process and will aim to use some of these sounds in my final installation.

Bonne Fête du 1er Mai


“Bonne Fête du premier mai”, as they say here!

This is the day when France goes quiet, as everything (or almost everything) stops for the national holiday.  And so, in order to take advantage this I was up before dawn this morning to do some more nature-recording, this time in some of the “Zones Refuges” around town.  These nature reserves are too small and usually too close to traffic noise to be normally considered as suitable recording locations; and so this morning, with so few cars on the road, I was presented with what was probably a once-in-a-year opportunity.  By about 7am I had finished what I had to do (sunrise was 0622) and so I made my way home only to be greeted almost every 100 metres by an assortment of ad-hoc flower stalls – setting up for the day in order to sell their May Day bouquets of Muguet: (Lilly of the Valley): a symbol of springtime, good luck and happiness, and given as a sign of affection.  Apparently the first of May is the only time of the year when people can sell flowers on the street without having to buy a permit, and so in every direction flowers were being exchanged as well-wishes for the coming season.

shop visits


The sound installation, when completed, will play from the windows of a selection of (independent) shops scattered throughout the town.  Using Feonic technology I will be able to work with the window fronts as loudspeakers capable of playing my sounds.  Today we visited a number of the shops who have expressed an interest in hosting one of my “Vitrines Sonores” so that I could demonstrate how the technology worked and answer any queries they might have.  I was really impressed at how enthusiastically the different retailers embraced the concept and how open they were to the idea.  Of course, each installation hosted by each shop will be a collaboration between myself and the owner, and so a positive synergy at this stage of the project is a good sign….

petits bois



Surrounding Lens there are a series of small woods, young and old, my favourite of which are those on the outskirts of Aix-Noulette.  Here, the variation of dense forest and open farmland has led to a wide variation of wildlife (birds, insects, voles, and so on) and so I have spent a few mornings this week rising early and exploring its many paths through its undergrowth.  Closer to the city, the woods take the form of smaller “zones refuges”, though there are many, just the same, and serving to remind one of what the land must have looked like before it was built upon.



As the second week of my stay in Lens draws to a close, it is apparent that a number of themes have revealed themselves as being important for the region.  First, there is the mining industry (or the remnants thereof): the shared experience of so many people as they worked together, and now a shared memory.  There are the activities that blossomed from the mining communities, such as the “Harmony” wind bands and music groups that still rehearse and perform today.  There are the sports of football and pigeon-racing (and many more, I’m sure), and the pride and the passion for these that unite so many people.  And, not least, there is the context of the surrounding natural countryside, where black and green merge to produce a home for both wildlife and places for escape and relaxation.

Comme la deuxième semaine de mon séjour à Lens s’achève, il est évident qu’un certain nombre de thèmes se révèlent comme important pour la région.  Premièrement, il y a l’industrie minière (ou les restes de ceux-ci): l’expérience partagée de tant de personnes comme ils ont travaillé ensemble, et maintenant une mémoire partagée.  Il y a des activités qui s’épanouit dans les communautés minières, telles que les Orchestres de l’Harmonie qui toujours répétent et donnez des concerts aujourd’hui.  Il y a des sports du football et les courses de pigeons (et beaucoup plus, je suis sûr) et la fierté et la passion pour ces qui unissent tant de gens.  Et, surtout, il y a le contexte de le paysage naturelle environnante, où le noir et le vert fusionnent pour produire un habitat naturel pour la faune, aussi bien que lieux d’évasion et de détente.



The keeping of pigeons seems to be very popular across the region – maybe something to do with the flat terrain, who knows?  Certainly, every weekend, there seems to be a host of pigeon-related events going on, across the Nord-Pas region and stretching into Belgium, and it can’t be a coincidence that the Federation Columbophile Francais has its HQ only half-an-hour away from Lens….  Anyway, working from a list of well over one hundred local pigeon fanciers (or Colombophiles, in French) we managed to track down an enthusiast in the town of Loos en Gohelle who was willing to let me come and record the sound of his birds.  The set-up here was very impressive with all the pigeons living in an immaculate extended loft (or shed) and each with their own roosting space.  And so we spent a very enjoyable time recording the calls of the birds and their flights.

La tenue de pigeons semble être très populaire dans la région – peut-être quelque chose à faire avec le terrain plat, qui sait?  Certes, chaque week-end, il semble y être une foule d’événements liés pigeon en cours: à travers la région Nord-Pas et s’étendant en la Belgique.  Il ne peut pas être une coïncidence que la Fédération Columbophile Francais a son siège une demi-heure de route de Lens ….  Cet après-midi nous avons traqué un colombophile passionné de la ville de Loos en Gohelle qui était prêt à me laisser venir enregistrer le son de ses oiseaux.  Le set-up ici était très impressionnant avec plus d’une centaine de pigeons vivant dans une immaculée pigeonnier avec espace, chacun avec leur propre espace de perchoir.  Et donc nous avons passé un moment très agréable à enregistrer les appels des oiseaux et de leurs vols.



There are at least three Markets in Lens.  On Tuesdays and Friday mornings, on the Place du Cantin, there is what in England we might call a farmers market, with local people selling their produce. And, on Saturday afternoons, a little further out of town, behind the swimming pool there is a huge market selling all sorts of stuff.  Whilst the one at Place du Cantin is a fairly quiet affair, the Saturday market is buzzing with people, with traders calling out to attract attention and sell their ware.

Il ya au moins trois marchés à Lens. Les mardis et vendredis matin, sur la place du Cantin, il ya de quoi en Angleterre que nous pourrions appeler un marché de producteurs, avec des gens locaux qui vendent leurs produits alimentaires. Et, le samedi après-midi, plus loin du centre de la ville, derrière la piscine, il ya un énorme marché vendant toutes sortes de choses. Alors que l’un à la Place du Cantin est une affaire assez calme, le marché du samedi est en pleine effervescence avec des gens, avec des commerçants crier pour attirer l’attention et vendre leurs articles.

surprising find


This morning I set up a working studio so that I can work from my base here in Lens, and then I continued my explorations around the city.  Throughout there are various references to the mining industry, and so I was hoping to get to the “Terrils Jumeau”, which are two gigantic slag heaps on the northern outskirts.  Predictably, what with the various one-way systems (I was on my bike) I lost my sense of direction, but instead ended up seeing a road sign for Picasso`s “residence”.  Intrigued, I tracked the location down, only to be presented with the most unlikely place – well, “unlikely” in the sense that it didn`t seem to be preserved in the way heritage sites usually are….  Upon returning home I tried in vain to find any reference of Picasso living in Lens, although I did discover that his friend Edouard Pignon was from the nearby town of Bully les Mines….  With further investigation, it appears that there is a local (and maybe even national) tendency to name random buildings after the artist, and so a name-check doesn’t necessarily mean a physical connection.

Ce matin, j’ai mis en place un studio de travail pour que je puisse travailler à partir de ma base ici à Lens, et puis j’ai continué mes explorations autour de la ville . Tout au long, il y a diverses références à l’industrie minière , donc j’ai été l’espoir de visiter les « Terrils Jumeaux », qui sont deux terrils gigantesques sur la périphérie nord.  Inévitablement,  ce qui avec les différents systèmes à sens unique ( j’étais sur mon vélo ), j’ai perdu mon sens de l’orientation, mais fini par voir un signe de route pour « le résidence du Picasso ».  Intrigué, j’ai suivi l’emplacement, seulement pour être présenté à l’endroit le plus probable – alors, peu probable dans le sens qu’il ne semble pas être préservés dans la façon dont les sites du patrimoine sont généralement….  Quand je rentrai chez moi , j’ai essayé en vain de trouver une référence de Picasso vivant à Lens, bien que j’ai découvert que son ami Edouard Pignon était de la ville voisine de Bully les MinesMais.   Avec la poursuite de l’enquête, it apparaît qu’il existe une tendance locale (et peut-être même nationale ) à nommer bâtiments aléatoires après l’artiste , et donc un nom – chèque ne signifie pas nécessairement une connexion physique .

pedal power


Beside the train station there is a bicycle hire centre offering a range of cycles for loan, and at what I thought was a cheap price, and so today I rented out a bicycle for the next three months. This will aid me in whizzing around the general area – the sound installation will stretch quite a distance in the town, and so I am sure this will be very useful. I’ve been told that the good weather may only last a few more days, and so I’d better make good use of the sunshine to explore as much of the region as I can!

À côté de la gare, il y a un centre de location de vélos offrant une gamme de vélos à louer, et à ce que je pensais était un prix pas cher, et si aujourd’hui je loué un vélo pour les trois prochains mois. Cela m’aidera à voyager facilement autour de la zone – l’installation sonore s’étendra partout dans la ville, et je suis sûr que ce sera très utile. On m’a dit que le beau temps pourrait ne durent que quelques jours, donc je veux profiter du soleil à explorer autant de la région que je peux!



Arrived in Lens today. Already, it appears that we have a number of shops interested in taking part in this project around the town, with others to follow, no doubt. I went into the Louvre-Lens Department for Tourism Office and they had prepared a giant map for me showing the locations of the shops across the town centre. Whilst I was there I also grabbed some reading material on the region for a bit of research. This week, then, I am going to settle in and make the best use of the beautiful Spring weather by getting to know the area and what it feels like to live here.

Aujourd’hui je suis arrivé à Lens. Déjà, il semble que nous avons beaucoup de magasins indépendants intéressés à participer à ce projet autour de la ville, et d’autres suivront sans doute.  Je suis allé dans le bureau du Mission Départementale Louvre-Lens Tourisme  et ils avaient préparé une carte géante pour me montrant les emplacements des magasins à travers le centre-ville.  Pendant que j’étais là, j’ai aussi pris quelques matériels de lecture de la région pour un peu de recherche.  Cette semaine, ensuite, je vais a s’installer et faire le meilleur usage du beau temps de printemps par apprentissage sur la région et ce que c’est que de vivre ici.

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