The Eiffel Tower is arguably one of the world’s most recognisable and iconic monuments. In early July 2020 I decided to try something I was not sure would be achievable – record the seismic vibrations of the 324 metre iron structure! Built for the opening of the 1889 World Fair in Paris, the Eiffel Tower initially faced criticism by leading artists and intellectuals for its design, but has since become a cultural icon and one of the most recognisable structures in the world.
I wasn’t certain I would be able to record inside the tower. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure I would be allowed inside with my recording equipment. The Eiffel Tower is the most-visited paid monument in the world and security measures are extremely tight both in and around the monument. The first challenge was to get past security checks. My backpack that contained my recording equipment was initially searched at the main entrance and then scanned through an x-ray machine just before accessing the lifts. I passed through both without any issues.
The next challenge was actually getting the recording of the structural vibrations without raising the attention of the security team. I used a LOM Geofón, a sensitive geophone originally designed for seismic measurements that has been adjusted for field recording purposes. In order to attach the Geofón to the main structure of the Eiffel Tower I used the magnetic attachment that the Geofón is supplied with. I was really nervous about doing this as it looked extremely suspicious attaching a small black device with a cable going into my backpack.
I started checking the main 2nd floor viewing platform and walked all the way round seeing if I could find a suitable spot. I was looking for somewhere out of the eyes of the many, many CCTV cameras but also a section connected to the large iron beams in the centre of the structure. I eventually found an area next to a bench so I could attach the Geofón and hide the cables behind my bag. I sat quietly on the bench and at one point some security guards walked past but didn’t pay any attention to what I was doing. I’ve recorded in stealth mode many times in the past but this was probably the most nervous I have ever been whilst recording.
With a first recording in the bag, I continued looking for more interesting spots. Both the 1st and 2nd floor viewing platforms were quite busy and I had picked up a fair amount of voices from people talking nearby in the previous recording. Although it’s fascinating hearing how voices are picked up as vibrations in the solid iron structure, this wasn’t really what I wanted to achieve. I decided to take the stairwell to head down from the 2nd floor and soon realised this was the spot. The number of CCTV cameras was much lower and the stairwell takes you right down the centre of the structure. I attached the Geofón to one of the beams and hit record. The wind was high, making the whole structure vibrate and the location was close to the lift shaft which also added moments of very low end rumbles to the soundscape.
Often when you set out to record a subject you never really know how successful you will be. There are so many variables in the field and a mission such as this one will often end in disappointment. But I’m delighted this wasn’t the case, the luck I needed was with me.