Here, a long term study, both production laboratory and preservation of intangible heritage. It concerns the Guingamp-Paimpol railway line, in the Côtes d’Armor.
It all begins in 2016, with no blueprint whatsoever, around an audio marker that’s impossible to miss : a train horn, always heard from a distance and operated along this 36 km line each time there is no level crossing gates protecting a minor road. As it so happens, this line, now too old, is going to be closed down.
Beyond the physical disappearance, a presence will vanish, the soundscape is going to change. The landscape, even ? The dismantling operations are to begin with the autumn. During the summer, I start recording the train horn.
I know virtually nothing about trains (except as a passenger). The Brélidy-Plouëc station (now benefitting by Stéphane Bern’s heritage lotto) is the place where we would take the six year old and she would pretend to drive the old worn red wagon (a track motorcar), once intended for maintenance and now stationed on a refuge track.
The train horn, very much alive, is a sort of foghorn for an overland vessel, whose carrying-distance depends on the weather. It’s a signal of the outside world that reaches home, above the woods, beyond eyesight.
Why wish to preserve this presence ? No sponsor, no budget, no project, at first sight nobody to be upset by this disappearance, by this change in the land-sound-scape. Some nearby residents may even be glad to get rid at last of the heavy rattle of the train going over the joints of the old railway, boring litany. Then why record it ?
Well, probably because I can : nothing stops me from placing a sensor by the tracks (the driver honks his horn all the more when he sees my gear).
Also, I’m willing to take the time to do this. I already record hours of wind combing the trees, on the very thin grounds that they may, someday, be of some use. When in fact, they put that time aside, they take it away from the world’s affairs.
Then, because no other signal than this horn dares to send off such huge sound pressure through the countryside, for the sake of the passengers’ security.
What boldness in the wailing ! What style ! It doesn’t say : « step aside ! », it says : « You can’t ignore me … »
Lastly, because the propagation of these blows of horn is fantastic. The driver has some honking latitude : the horn modulates. The sound surfs among the atmospheric layers, reverberates, spreads, swims in the countryside. It’s a real sound subject.