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One of the reasons I enjoy recording and archiving soundscapes is the preservation of how a place sounds at a particular time in history. As the world we live in develops at an ever faster pace the way the world sounds is constantly evolving and many of the sounds that were once considered part of a place cease to exist.

I was recently listening through some of my recording archive and stumbled across a sound I recorded in Paris eight years ago, a sound that no longer exists in this city. Today in 2020 most of the large TGV train stations in France have LED departure boards that update silently. But back in 2012 all of the main terminals in Paris had the old “Split-Flap” style boards. Each time the board would update, a wonderful flipping noise would be heard.

A Split Flap display is an electromechanical display device that can display alphanumeric text and/or graphics. Each character position has a series of flaps that are rotated to form a concise message. Split Flap displays are also commonly known as Solari Boards, named after the Italian company Solari di Udine that pioneered them in the 1950s. Two of the company’s designers Gino Valle and Remigio Solari initially developed a sign with four flaps, each containing ten digits, perfect for telling the time. With the help of Belgian inventor John Myer, the design evolved to 40 flaps featuring alphanumeric text and numbers, which like the clocks, turned via motors and currents. They soon became a standard in transport hubs as well as on television game shows in the 1960s.

The following recording captures exactly that sound, recorded at Gare du Nord in Paris in 2012. A few years later the departure board had been replaced with a modern LED display and this signature sound ceases to exist in Paris.

Sony PCM D50 + Soundman OKM II binaural mics + A3 adapter
Recorded 06.10.12

Photo : Ian Morton (Creative Commons)