In search of the sound of Notre-Dame

The work of the cathedral is progressing slowly. Hundreds of scientists are participating. In particular to restore its acoustic cocoon.

In 2024, a Te Deum should resound under the vaults of Notre-Dame to celebrate the reopening to worship of the emblematic cathedral of Paris. What if this religious song was inaudible? Restored, or even partly rebuilt, in particular its framework, could the masterpiece of Gothic art never regain its acoustics? This question was one of those raised during the symposium bringing together for a progress report, on October 19 and 20 in Paris, the scientific task force of the CNRS and the Ministry of Culture, a hundred experts, specialists from the study of materials (wood, stone, metals, glass) or digital simulation, sociologists, anthropologists, or, therefore, acousticians, responsible for recreating the acoustics of the building as it was before the fire.

Because a cathedral is, as much as an architectural gesture, a sound setting where voices, songs and organ chords rise up. “No one can say that originally large religious buildings were designed with acoustic constraints, but there was no doubt a reflection on how the voice carries”, estimates Mylène Pardoen, doctor in musicology (CNRS) at the Maison of Human Sciences Lyon Saint-Etienne, which founded a specialty of which it is the sole representative, “archeology of the sound landscape”. His group aims initially to retrace the acoustic evolution of Notre-Dame Cathedral. “Decorative elements such as a painting or statuary, the exposure of a wall to the sun or the installation of a rood screen separating laymen and religious can have a role in the propagation of sounds. We will try to trace this story, from construction to fire, ”she explains. A painstaking job that takes place mainly in the library in search of clues.

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