The Sights & Sounds of 18th Century Paris Get Recreated with 3D Audio and Animation

In what is often called the “Ear­ly Mod­ern” peri­od, or the “Long Eigh­teenth Cen­tu­ry,” Europe wit­nessed an explo­sion of satire, not only as a polit­i­cal and lit­er­ary weapon, but as a means of react­ing to a whole new way of life that arose in the cities—principally Lon­don and Paris—as a dis­placed rur­al pop­u­la­tion and expand­ing bour­geoisie rad­i­cal­ly altered the char­ac­ter of urban life. In Eng­land, poets like Alexan­der Pope and Jonathan Swift sav­aged their rivals in print, while also com­ment­ing on the increas­ing pace and declin­ing tastes of the city.

In France, Voltaire punched up, using his pen to nee­dle Parisian author­i­ties, serv­ing 11 months in the Bastille for a satir­i­cal verse accus­ing the Regent of incest. Despite the huge­ly suc­cess­ful pre­miere of his play Oedi­pus sev­en months after his release, Voltaire would ulti­mate­ly be exiled from his beloved city for 28 years, return­ing in 1778 at the age of 83.

Now, of course, Parisians cel­e­brate Voltaire in every pos­si­ble way, but what would it have been like to have expe­ri­enced the city dur­ing his life­time, when it became the buzzing cen­ter of Euro­pean intel­lec­tu­al life? In the video recre­ation above, we can par­tial­ly answer that ques­tion by expe­ri­enc­ing what 18th cen­tu­ry Paris may have looked and sound­ed like, accord­ing to musi­col­o­gist Mylène Par­doen, who designed this “his­tor­i­cal audio recon­sti­tu­tion,” writes CNRS News, with a “team of his­to­ri­ans, soci­ol­o­gists and spe­cial­ists in 3D rep­re­sen­ta­tions.”

The team chose to ani­mate “the Grand Châtelet dis­trict, between the Pont au Change and Pont Notre Dame bridges” because, Par­doen explains, the neigh­bor­hood “con­cen­trates 80% of the back­ground and sound envi­ron­ments of Paris in that era, whether through famil­iar trades—shopkeepers, crafts­men, boat­men, wash­er­women on the banks of the Seine… or the diver­si­ty of acoustic pos­si­bil­i­ties, like the echo heard under a bridge or in a cov­ered pas­sage­way.” The result is “the first 3D recon­struc­tion based sole­ly on a son­ic back­ground.”

“We are the whipped cream of Europe,” Voltaire once said of his Paris, a lux­u­ri­ous, aris­to­crat­ic world. But 18th cen­tu­ry Paris was also a grimy city full of ordi­nary labor­ers and mer­chants, of “cesspools and kennels”—as a com­men­tary on Dick­ens’ A Tale of Two Cities notes—and of wine-stained streets with­out prop­er drainage. And it was a city on the verge of a rev­o­lu­tion from below, inspired by icon­o­clasts from above like Voltaire. In the 3D video and audio recre­ation above, we get a small, video-game-like taste of a bustling city caught between immense lux­u­ry and crush­ing pover­ty, between medieval the­ol­o­gy and human­ist phi­los­o­phy, and between the rule of divine kings and a bloody sec­u­lar rev­o­lu­tion to come.

We start­ed the video above at the 2:06 mark when the ani­ma­tions kick in. Feel free to start the video from the very begin­ning.

via @WFMU/CNRS News

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Fly Through 17th-Cen­tu­ry London’s Grit­ty Streets with Prize-Win­ning Ani­ma­tions

Beau­ti­ful, Col­or Pho­tographs of Paris Tak­en 100 Years Ago—at the Begin­ning of World War I & the End of La Belle Époque

What Makes Paris Look Like Paris? A Cre­ative Use of Google Street View

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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