Bill Fontana ‘Arche Sonore’ 1994

Arche Sonore’ (62’49”), cassette recording, 1994


‘Sound Island’ was commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the allied landing on the shores of Normandy. The result was an installation under the Paris’ Arc de Triomphe with loudspeakers hidden on the facade at ground level and a circle of 16 loudspeakers on the terrace. Recordings for this installation were made in France during June and July 1994.

This mix was aired on french national radio on June 6th, 1994 and recorded on a C90 cassette. My cassette has 2 different titles: ‘Arche Sonore’ and ‘Improvisation’ as a subtitle. None of them fits with the english ‘Sound Island’. They were the titles used by the french national radio (and commissioner) at the time.

Bill Fontana (from the souvenir video for ‘Sound Island’):

‘In 1994, I did a commissioned project entitled ‘Sound Island’ for the french Ministry of Culture at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. ‘Ile Sonore’, as it was called, was a sound installation on the 3 different levels of the monument. The 2 underground access tunnels had live underwater gurgling sounds transmitted from hydrophones submerged off Louis in English Channel. On the ground level, loudspeakers were hidden on the facade of the Arc and a live natural white sound from breaking waves on the Normandy coast […]. This also had the effect of masking the formidable traffic noise surrounding Paris’s busier traffic circle. The sound of the crashing waves also spurt out onto the large boulevards surrounding Place de l’Etoile. On the 3rd level is an observation deck where visitors have one of the most impressive visual panoramas of Paris and I explored the idea of hearing as far as one can see. I placed microphones in 16 different locations, including the Opera, the Bourse, the Louvre, the Sacré-Coeur cathedral, various lively parisian cafes and many others. Visitors could hear individual locations as well as a rich collage of the sound landscape of Paris.’


What we hear is originated in live recordings made by Bill Fontana in Normandy and in Paris prior to the exhibition. Sounds of Normandy: the surf on the coast, the wind, fog horns. Sounds of Paris: birds from the Jardin Des Plantes zoological garden (including the omnipresent peacock), cars passing around the Arc De Triomphe, a concert and applause, commemoration ceremonies including officials’ speeches & military music, tourists on top of the Arc (the terrace), a church bell. The mix creates an aural mirage with the omnipresent sound of waves and the sound of traffic.

This project strikes me as not being in the Fontana canon, being a megamix of different sound recordings made at different occasions, contrary to his habit of bringing a distant location live recording in an other remote location.

Note: The first 5 minutes of my amateur recording has rather harsh sounds of waves and wind, getting more balanced after a while. I intend it merely as memory of an under documented Fontana project.


(Pictures: stills from the video at



4 Responses to “Bill Fontana ‘Arche Sonore’ 1994”

  1. 1 Andy June 9, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    We stumbled across Bill Fontana’s Sound Island when we visited the Arc de Triomphe during a Paris holiday on 7/4/94. Pretty much by accident and also because I was intrigued I shot some video.
    My video on You Tube.
    Well this is what I got. The video starts in the tunnel that takes you under the traffic circle to the arc. At the time I did not know that “the 2 underground access tunnels had live underwater gurgling sounds transmitted from hydrophones submerged off Louis in English Channel”, you can kind of hear it when I’m not babbling. Once above ground and under the Arc we became aware of the work and I made an effort to record the sounds coming from the speakers at street level. We did not go the top of the arc. There was also a 50th D-Day anniversary ceremony there that day that I spent some time recording and that is a separate video on You Tube.

  2. 2 continuo June 9, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Thanks, Andy. Your video adds some details on the installation setup which are priceless for people who weren’t there like myself.
    Do you still have by chance the ‘Sound Island’ handbill appearing in the video? I’d love to have a scan.

  3. 3 Andy June 10, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    I doubt if we saved the handbill. I’ll check tho.

  4. 4 Ina Boiten January 18, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    I could not download your recording. That;s a pity because I am analysing this soundwork of Bill Fontana for my PhD research. If you have a copy for me that would be very helpful.

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