After Notre Dame’s devastating fire in 2019, renowned American sound artist Bill Fontana realized that the cathedral bells—which survived the blaze and have remained in the building’s two bell towers—weren’t completely silent. They were picking up the ambient sound of the city life and reconstruction work around them and silently resonating.
Fontana conceived a sound sculpture, called Silent Echoes : Notre-Dame, in which seismic accelerometers were installed on the ten bells of Notre Dame Cathedral, allowing the acoustic image of the cathedral and the imprint of a city to be revealed and projected elsewhere. In June 2022, these sounds will be transmitted live and played at the Pompidou Centre for a month-long sound art installation.
Theatre Projects dealt with all the logistical and technical elements in installing the accelerometers, including working with the Etablissement Public de Reconstruction de Notre Dame (EPRND), the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), and French telecom giant, Orange, to transmit the sounds from the bells using fiber optic cables. We coordinated the work with IRCAM (Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, which translates roughly as Institute for Musical and Acoustic Research and Coordination), HBK, who provided the accelerometers, and the Centre Georges Pompidou. We also worked closely with National Geographic photographer Tomas van Houtryve to visually document the installation work.
Silent Echoes: Notre-Dame sound sculpture was premiered on the 5th floor terrace at the Centre Pompidou, facing the two bell towers of Notre Dame, and running from June 8 through July 2, 2022.