THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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23 posts categorized "Sound recordings"

16 August 2016

Celebrating poetry pamphlets: new readings online

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by Ian Cooke, Head of Contemporary British Published Collections

The call for entries to the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets 2016 is now live. Each year, the awards celebrate publishers, illustrators and authors of new poetry pamphlets. For the 2015 awards, we invited our shortlisted poets to record readings from their pamphlets at the British Library. These recordings are now available on Soundcloud. Here are more details on the poets and readings:

Gill McEvoy, our award winner for 2015, reads from her pamphlet ‘The First Telling’, published by HappenStance press. The poems relate an experience of rape, the ‘tellings’ being sessions with a counsellor. In this recording, Gill McEvoy reads, ‘The First Telling’, ‘There’s a grey parrot’, ‘I touch the cigarette’, ‘Magpie’, and ‘In the bathroom, scrub skin’. The judges for the 2015 award commented, ‘we admired the way this pamphlet deals not just with trauma and its aftermath, but with the difficulty of articulating what has happened, the challenge of finding the right words. Form and content mesh together perfectly in poems that use the power of silence as well as the power of language’.

Anja Konig, was shortlisted for her first poetry pamphlet collection, ‘Advice for an Only Child’, published by Flipped Eye press. Anja reads ‘Not the Last Chapter’, ‘Triple Negative’, ‘She’s Good with her Hands’, and ’We are the Bees of the Invisible’. In shortlisting this pamphlet, the judges commented, ‘Anja Konig’s debut pamphlet is witty and inventive. There’s a surprise on every page – her short poems look slantwise at relationships, the female body and what it means to write. We found these poems unsparing, yet lifted by a light touch’.

Peter Riley’s ‘The Ascent of Kinder Scout’ is a pamphlet-length poem that refers to the Kinder Trespass of 1932; a protest against the permanent enclosure of land for the purposes of grouse shooting. Published by Longbarrow Press, this is the eleventh section of a work provisionally entitled North. Describing this work, the 2015 judges said: ‘Evoking the Dark Peak in Derbyshire with startling clarity, we felt this pamphlet brilliantly captured what it’s like to look to landscapes for resolution, only to be humbled by the scale of them. Expansive but exact, it takes in the history of a trespass, the ghost of a lost friend and the future of a broken nation’.

Alan Jenkins reads two poems from ‘Clutag Five Poems Series No 2’, published by Clutag. The poems in this pamphlet are all linked by the Thames and places close to it in South West London, and the memories and personal associations that these places hold. In this recording, Jenkins reads ‘Beckett’s Wharf’, and ‘Upper Mall’. Our 2015 judges wrote, ‘Set against the backdrop of the Thames, these are haunting, understated elegies that often find the narrator challenging his own grief, trying to explain the source of it, trace it beyond the immediacy of loss. Assured and elegant, these poems moved us deeply’. In addition to these poets, the judges also shortlisted David Tait’s ‘Three Dragon Day’ for the 2015 award. David, who works as a teacher in China, was unable to attend the 2015 awards. The title of his collection refers to a Chinese phrase for describing heavy fog. The awards, supported by the Michael Marks Charitable Trust, celebrate the vitality, diversity and sheer talent of poets and poetry publishers in the UK. The shortlisted poets for 2015 demonstrated the range and power of contemporary poetry. As the entries start to come in for 2016, we are looking forward to an equally rich, exciting and moving collection of pamphlets.

28 April 2016

From poets to punk: Who is Barry Miles?

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Key counterculture figure, bookshop manager, editor, publisher, author, music journalist, archivist, biographer: all of this, and more, is Barry Miles, or just ‘Miles’, as he is better known.

His archive, acquired by the British Library in 2013 and recently catalogued, is a rich and unique source of information not only to anyone interested in Miles himself, but also to those researching the Beat Generation, and the ‘60s and ‘70s culture and music.

Miles organised and arranged his papers thoroughly. Divided into correspondence, projects files, folders relating to his publications, and reference material, the archive reflects all stages of Miles’s life and career, from his time as a student at Gloucestershire College of Art in the early ‘60s to the present day.

At the centre of the London underground scene, as manager of Better Books, co-founder of Indica Gallery and Bookshop and International Times (IT), and organiser of many events, Miles developed an extensive network of contacts, within and outside the UK, many of whom were also good friends. Jim Haynes, Peter Asher, Pete Brown, Victor Bockris, Caroline Coon, Piero Heliczer, Richard Neville, Gordon Ball, Simon Vinkenoog, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Urban Gwerder, to name but a few of his correspondents.

MilesICALeaflet

Flyer on Indica Books limited headed paper advertising The Ginsbergs at the ICA, a recording of the reading given by Allen and his father on 22 August 1967. Reproduced with kind permission from Barry Miles.

With the same people, Miles collaborated on numerous adventures: there are over 100 files in the collection relating to projects in which he was involved, for example his work as editor of Horde and Long Hair, as London correspondent of East Village Other, as co-founder of Lovebooks, Miles, Asher and Dunbar Ltd., and ECAL, as Time Out editor, as manager of Zapple, and as music journalist for New Musical Express. The files include letters, publicity material, press cuttings, newsletters, photographs, reports, notes, press releases, events programmes, draft articles and unpublished material. 

  MilesLongHair1

Trial proof of the cover of Long Hair magazine, Lovebooks second poetry publication, 1965. Miles edited the issue and contributed to the cover drawing. Reproduced with kind permission from Barry Miles.

The first interview Miles did, published in IT on 16 January 1967, was with Paul McCartney, a friend of Miles - the two had met through Peter Asher, whose sister, Jane, was Paul’s girlfriend at the time. Later interviews that Miles did with, amongst others, John Lennon, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Ed Sanders, and The Clash, feature in the archive, either on tape or as transcripts.

After a period as a freelance editor for Omnibus Press, Miles became a prolific writer, publishing 50 books, some of which have been translated into foreign languages. Not to mention the over 400 articles he wrote and his numerous contributions to other authors’ books. For his writing, Miles conducted meticulous research and many interviews, as it emerges from the number of research files and tapes he produced. Also included amongst the material relating to his publications are various drafts, notes, correspondence with editors, letters from fans and colleagues, publicity material, royalty statements, press reviews, and cover proofs.

MilesNapkinnotes

Handwritten notes by Barry Miles, on airline napkin. The material from these notes was used for many articles written by Miles, for magazines such as International Times, Hot Ratz, Changes. Reproduced with kind permission from Barry Miles.

His first ‘proper book’ was the biography of Allen Ginsberg, which took him five years to complete and for which Miles recorded 40 tapes of interviews with Ginsberg, his friends and family, now part of the British Library sound collection.

Biographies of other influential figures in Miles’s life followed including William Burroughs, Paul McCartney, Frank Zappa, and Charles Bukowski. His two memoirs, In the Sixties and In the Seventies, together with his London Calling, are detailed accounts of the London underground life and his major and minor players.

Included in the archive are also some rare, limited, special or signed editions of Miles publications, including an unauthorised reprint of his article 1970 ‘The Rebirth of Joy’, the 1973 catalogue of Lilia Aaron exhibition in Switzerland, a 1963 clipping of Miles's article How To Undress a Painting in Slate 2, the magazine of Gloucestershire College of Art, and a typed copy of Horde number 1, 1964.

Poetsoftheworld

Unused ticket for Poets of the World / Poets of Our Time, Albert Hall poetry reading, 11 June 1965. Miles was involved in the organisation of the event.

Miles created files of reference material for items he used most frequently, mainly for publications or exhibitions. Amongst these are a Better Books paper bag, designed by John Sewell; an unused ticket for Poets of the World/Poets of Our Time, the first large-scale Beat generation reading in Europe at the Albert Hall poetry reading, on 11 June 1965, which Miles helped organise; Indica Gallery and Books photographs and flyers; and a leaflet for the party at the Roundhouse for the launch of International Times, 15 October 1966.

A few items from the Barry Miles archive, including a leaflet for The Roxy club and the first interview with the Clash, will feature in the forthcoming free exhibition Punk 1976-78, which opens on the 13th May 2016.

The catalogue of the Barry Miles archive is available online from Explore Archives and Manuscripts.

by Silvia Galotti, Manuscripts Cataloguer

13 April 2016

Seamus Heaney: From “Ex-poet” to Nobel Laureate

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Recently the British Library hosted an event to mark the publication of Seamus Heaney’s translation of Book 6 of Virgil’s Aeneid, published by Faber. Poets Jo Shapcott, Tom Paulin, Matthew Hollis, and Simon Armitage gave readings from the work, offered insights to Heaney’s influence on their own work, and read much-loved poems from Heaney’s celebrated collections. The translation, which details Aeneas’s descent into the Underworld, is the last collection from the Nobel Laureate, who died in 2013. Here Richard Price, Head of Contemporary British Collections, reflects on two meetings he had with the Laureate at the Library.

SHeaney

Seamus Heaney at the University College Dublin, February 11, 2009, By Sean O'Connor [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m lucky enough to have met Seamus Heaney a couple of times, as part of my job here at the British Library. My first encounter was when he had just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was giving a lecture for the Library on the poetry of Robert Burns, an important influence on Ulster poets in the nineteenth century and perhaps still to this day.

Those were in the days of the Round Reading Room in the British Museum when I was a junior curator in the Library there. He had a little time before the event so before he took to the lectern, I met him with my then colleague Mary Doran, the Curator of Modern Irish Collections, and we ushered him into an anteroom.

We had recently acquired a very rare item relating to Heaney’s early days of writing and were excited about what his reaction might be. It was the Hilary Term 1961 issue of the magazine Gorgon (Hilary Term is the second term, at the start of the calendar year). He had been an assistant editor of the magazine as a student at Queen’s University, Belfast and this was the last issue he was involved in. Unusually, he supplied his own, extra, editorial.

  Gorgon Heaney

Gorgon, Hilary Term Issue 1961. British Library shelfmark: Cup.410.f.750

It was quite something to be able to show the new Nobel Laureate this early piece of his poetry activism, a slim mimeographed magazine, crammed with poems and articles Heaney had been involved in selecting (the main editor, Pat Roche, makes a point in his editorial that the assistant editors had taken a particularly active role in the process).

Even so, the mere fact of Heaney’s involvement magazine wasn’t why we were so excited: rather, it was because of the dramatic way in which Heaney signed off his editorial. “I am not an ex-editor of Gorgon but something (I have convinced myself) more despicable,” he writes in his last sentence of the editorial, “an ex-poet.”

Heaney editorial

An extract from Seamus Heaney’s editorial in the 1961 issue of Gorgon in which he signs off as an ‘ex-poet’

What would the elder, feted, famed, Nobel prize winning, poet say to that?

He laughed, of course.

I think in that chuckle there was an affection for his younger self and for the earnest activity of all poets, young or otherwise. The high stakes of poetry, its solemnities, its purposefulness, even in humour, is particularly felt. Five years later, Heaney would publish Death of a Naturalist to worldwide acclaim. As well the first edition of Death of A Naturalist, Faber, 1966, the Library has sound recordings of him from this time and later, e.g. from our British Council collection.

Heaney Catalogue

Image from a handbook issued by the British Council: Catalogue of Tape Recordings (November 1974).

 

I suppose all poets are like the “young bloods” he describes in the opening of The Aeneid VI, making quick landfall, “vaulting quickly out” with their urgent poetry, metaphorically in search of flints for fire or simply to stand amazed at new rivers.

Aeneid

The cover of Seamus Heaney's Aeneid Book VI, with kind permission of Faber & Faber

The second time I met Seamus Heaney, sadly the last time, was in late 2003. It was in our new building at St Pancras – Heaney had been viewing the Ted Hughes exhibition I had curated because he was going to give a reading of some of Hughes’ poems for the launch. We met for a cup of coffee with Hughes’s widow, Carol. We were talking about Hughes of course, who had been an early inspiration and then a great friend to Heaney.

Then, to my surprise, Heaney began to talk about Robert Henryson, the fifteenth century Scots Makar, the name given to a Scottish poet of national standing. He said he had started to translate, or retell, Henryson’s Testament of Cresseid. This would clearly be one of Heaney’s present-in-the-past projects which followed on from his acclaimed version of Beowulf, in which contemporary battles, and contemporary hubris, seem pre-echoed. As with Edwin Morgan’s translation of Beowulf, which Morgan had described as his ‘Second World War poem’, there is a feeling in Heaney’s translations that in such epic translations the present is being addressed by the past.

 

Cresseid

“Fair Cresseid” © Hughie O’Donoghue, painting reproduced as a tipped-in plate, from Seamus Heaney’s Testament of Cresseid, Enitharmon Editions, 2004, used with kind permission of the publisher and artist

Testament of Cresseid is a sorrowful story about the fate of the once beautiful, vivacious Cresseid, separated from her lover Troilus. For lamenting her life intemperately she is punished by the gods with disfigurements akin to leprosy (though if anything sounds intemperate to me, those punishments do!). Years after they have parted, Troilus recognises her but does not reveal his identity, instead giving a large amount of money to the leper colony. Cresseid, realising who her patron was, dies in grief.

Henryson is in a sense writing a sequel to Chaucer’s poem Troilus and Criseyde, and is also part of a great Troilus literary chain, since Shakespeare, in one of his more bitter plays, would later dramatise the story in Troilus and Cressida.

Leper house gate

“Leper house (gate”), © Hughie O’Donoghue, painting reproduced as a tipped-in plate, from Seamus Heaney’s Testament of Cresseid, Enitharmon Editions, 2004, used with kind permission of the publisher and artist

Heaney’s Beowulf had only recently been published when we met that second time. Famously, the British Library holds the original Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, and in fact, now, the manuscript of Heaney’s translation, too. Manuscripts were the link for the Henryson poem, too: Heaney had seen a Henryson manuscript at the Library and this had inspired him, after long admiring the poet, to render Henryson from Middle Scots into modern English.

Heaney’s Testament would later appear in a beautiful artist’s book with images by Hughie O’Donoghue, published by Enitharmon (British Library shelfmark: LD.31.b.557), as well as in a more commercial publication five years later.

Cresseid 2

 “Cresseid” © Hughie O’Donoghue, painting reproduced as a tipped-in plate, from Seamus Heaney’s Testament of Cresseid, Enitharmon Editions, 2004, used with kind permission of the publisher and artist

As we talked, Heaney emphasised how the Makar’s distinctly moral vision appealed to him: there is a teacher-like morality in Henryson he especially admired. As he talked I thought I detected, what, a hesitation? Knowing me as a Scottish poet, was he testing me, about Scottish reaction to ‘versioning’ this apparently sacrosanct text?

No, the moment passed, and I am still not sure if anything happened at all. In retrospect, I doubt he was worried. Henryson, Beowulf, Virgil, are each surely a gift to the world, in the original or in its re-transmission, and there would surely have been little reason for qualm.

Where is your garden

“Where is your garden?”, © Hughie O’Donoghue, painting reproduced as a tipped-in plate, from Seamus Heaney’s Testament of Cresseid, Enitharmon Editions, 2004, used with kind permission of the publisher and artist

Seamus Heaney highlights in the British Library include

  • Gorgon, Hilary Term 1961. Queen’s University literary magazine for which Heaney was an assistant editor.
  • Eleven poems (Belfast: Festival Publications, [1965]), X.909/37714. Heaney’s first collection, followed in 1966 by Death of a Naturalist (Faber).
  • Many sound recordings from 1966 onwards, including some made by our own curators.
  • Beowulf, typewritten drafts of Heaney’s translation with MS annotations; 1995. Add MS 78917
  • 'Forecast', a typewritten poem (inspired by the Shipping Forecast) with autograph annotations, extensively re-worked and edited. Presented by the author; 3 April 1998, Add MS 74089
  • Correspondence between Ted Hughes and Heaney, 1991-1998 (Add MS 88918/35/12)
  • Testament of Cresseid, with images by Hughie O’Donoghue, Enitharmon Editions, 2004, LD.31.b.557.

08 September 2014

The International Workshop Festival Collection (1988 - 2001)

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A guest post by Dr Dick McCaw, Senior Lecturer in Drama and Theatre.
Department of Drama and Theatre, Royal Holloway, University of London.

Let me introduce you to the materials in the archive of an organization with which I had the pleasure of working between 1989 and 2001. It was called the International Workshop Festival and the name describes pretty much what it was – a festival consisting of talks, workshops and demonstrations given by internationally recognised figures in the performing arts. These workshops were designed to offer professionals opportunities to find out about new developments in the performing arts, to reconnect with their training method, or to explore new approaches to training or composition. Some of the workshop leaders were professional teachers; others were eminent directors, actors, dancers and puppeteers, who would share their insights or questions about their respective art forms.

The archive has recently been donated to the British Library. The collection should give you an idea of what used to happen in each year (in the first few years it took place in April but after 1990 it was concentrated on the month of September).

So what does it consist of?

  • Videos of workshops
  • Videos of talks
  • Audio recordings of talks
  • Photographs from 1995 to 2001
  • Programmes and publicity for each festival
  • Articles, reports and other materials (including two T-shirts)

I joined the festival in 1989, one year into its existence, though I was already very aware of it since I knew the founder and Artistic Director, Nigel Jamieson, and a close friend had taken part in one of the workshops in April 1988.

Nigel Jamieson and Dick McCaw (1994) edited

Dick McCaw and Nigel Jamieson, 1994. Photograph © Simon Richardson

Nigel left to live in Australia in 1992 and since I had been managing the festival for three years, I was invited to become its second Artistic Director. One of my first decisions was to document some of the workshops, and in 1993 I met Peter Hulton of the Arts Documentation Unit with whom I was to work from then until the time of writing (September 2014).

The festival would begin with two weeks in London, after which we would undertake projects in a number of cities in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We worked in Belfast, Bristol, Coventry, Derry/Londonderry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Nottingham. The London leg would typically consist of 10 week-long workshops and the same number of weekend workshops. We therefore needed a venue with plenty of studios and up until 1999 this was provided by the London Studio Centre. The 2000 festival was in the Jerwood Space and 2001 was at the Battersea Arts Centre. With five simultaneous workshops there is no way that all of them could be documented. Occasionally we would have a second person behind the camera but we probably only recorded about 15% of the workshops in any one festival. Peter did not record all the talks, and we would only sometimes remember to bring in a tape-recorder. So this archive offers a selective snapshot of some of our past activities.

In 1997 we received funding from the Arts Council of England to buy digital cameras and authoring equipment for what were then called CD-ROMs. The multimedia format of the CD-ROM offered Peter and me the opportunity to create a different kind of documentation. In addition to the video footage we could include photos and written commentaries. Our first DVD-ROM appeared in 2001 and the seventh and last was produced in 2006. All of our CD/DVD-ROM documentations are in the British Library archive.

Dominique Dupuy 3 (Greenwich Dance Agency 1996)_edited

Dominique Dupuy, Greenwich Dance Agency, 1996. Photograph © Simon Richardson

IWF was not unique as an organiser of training opportunities: in Wales there was the Centre for Performance Research in Aberystwyth (formerly Cardiff Arts Lab), and based in Manchester there was the Physical State International. But we were the only festival and I found it important to foster its existence as a unique gathering for professionals at all stages in their careers. IWF was more than just an in-service training provider; it was also a social event. But now there is no organization dedicated to continuing professional development or training. Already IWF and these other organisations are a historical phenomenon.

The festival day was packed: before the workshops there were warm-ups, first with the singer Helen Chadwick, and after them there were wind-downs, most often taking the form of a Feldenkrais lesson with Scott Clark. After a pause for a beer we would then have an evening programme of talks. It was a 12-hour day, from 9.30 in the morning to 9.30 in the evening.

‘Archive’ is a grand-sounding word but often it consists of all the materials that have survived, quite often to be found under the bed or stuffed in a cupboard. This archive is no different. After I left IWF I lost contact with the festival management, and six years later it was no more. I have no idea of the whereabouts of the photographs taken by Simon Annand between 1988 and 1994, nor of any written documentations. Luckily, Peter Hulton had kept copies of video recordings between 1994 and 2001. I had some recordings of the talks, but this represents probably about 10% of the total programme. None of the projects after 2001 was recorded.

The photographs in this archive all date from 1995 when we were joined by the photographer Simon Richardson who would travel with us to every project. They are ‘seconds’ that he had kept in his studio. The prints might not be to the quality that Simon would display in an exhibition but they are the only surviving record that exists'.

Gojo Masanosuke (London Studio Centre, 1998) 1 edited

Gojo Nasanosuke, London Studio Centre, 1998. Photograph © Simon Richardson

Just before I took all the printed material to the British Library, I laid it out on my bedroom floor so that I could easily make an inventory of it all. While away on a weekend break there was a water escapement from the flat above and my bedroom was flooded. The paper documents were badly damaged but thanks to the Library’s conservators all were salvaged, though the colour is washed out and they probably still smell a bit. As I say, an archive is what, by chance, has survived.

Apart from the printed documents there are Word documents which contain reports by Nigel or myself on each festival. There is a certain amount of correspondence, and funding applications. Nigel’s festival reports offered a fine-grained description and analysis of the year’s activities, and I followed him in producing these each year. I have never re-read these reports (some of which were really long) but remember writing them with some pleasure. They were an account of everything I had learned in that year. Someone keen on studying the management of a festival like IWF might want to dip into these files.

If you are interested in professional training and development, if you want a snapshot of what was happening at the more experimental end of the performing arts spectrum in the 1990s, you might want to spend a few hours browsing through these materials. I hope you have an interesting journey!

NB. The collection is listed on the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue under the collection number C1526.

16 July 2014

Aleister Crowley on record

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The British Library's summer exhibition Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is the UK’s largest ever exhibition of mainstream and underground comics. Many of the works on display, particularly those published from the late 1960s onwards, uncompromisingly address political issues, gender issues, drugs, sex and violence, among other subjects.

A modest section located towards the exit acknowledges the interest in magic and mysticism of comics writers such as Alan Moore, who has famously stated that he regards himself as a magician first and a writer second.

Visitors can view Moore's work alongside the magic book (c. 1581-3) of Elizabethan occultist John Dee, and a notebook (c. 1899) kept by Aleister Crowley while in magical training with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, whose other members included the poet W. B. Yeats, and the writers of supernatural fiction Algernon Blackwood and Bram Stoker (more about them in the Library's next big exhibition - on Gothic literature).  

Born in Leamington Spa, Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) was a poet, writer and mountaineer (also, according to Somerset Maugham, 'the best whist player of his time'1).

He is best known however as the twentieth century's most influential exponent of the practice of 'magick' (Crowley added a 'k' to differentiate his practice from stage magic).

The Oxford English Dictionary defines magic as 'the use of ritual activities or observances which are intended to influence the course of events or to manipulate the natural world, usually involving the use of an occult or secret body of knowledge; sorcery, witchcraft'.

In his lifetime Crowley's activities attracted highly negative reports in the press: a front-page Sunday Express article from 4 March 1923, for example, painted Crowley as 'a drug fiend, an author of vile books, the spreader of obscene practices' and  'one of the most sinister figures of modern times'.

At around the same time the weekly journal John Bull ran a series of anti-Crowley articles with titles such as 'The King of Depravity' and 'The Wickedest Man in the World'. The latter phrase has stuck ever since, cropping up almost without fail whenever Crowley is mentioned in the mainstream media.

John-Bull-24-March-1923

Should you be interested, the articles mentioned here can be consulted in microfilm format in the British Library's new Newsroom

Years after his death, Crowley's dictum 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law', and his rejection of conventional religious and societal mores, attracted the attention of the rock and pop generation: in 1967 the Beatles included an image of Crowley on the front cover of their Sgt. Pepper LP sleeve; the Doors posed with a bust of Crowley on the reverse of their 1970 compilation LP 13; Led Zeppelin had Crowley's 'Do what thou wilt' inscribed into the run-out groove of their third album; and unlikely followers Eddie and the Hot Rods used Crowley's image and the 'Do what thou wilt' quote on the sleeve of their 1977 single 'Do Anything You Wanna Do' (i.e. 'Do what thou wilt' rendered in rock'n'roll argot) .

Underground musical artists such as Psychic TV, Coil, and David Tibet's Current 93, have likewise made their interest in Crowley evident in various ways.

When the curators of the Comics Unmasked exhibition requested an audio sample of Crowley speaking, we thought it a good time to take a closer look at the recordings that circulate of his voice.

The first question, naturally, was: are they authentic?

Within the Library's sound archive, suspicions had been aired some years ago that a circa 1990s CD issue of the Crowley recordings (the same set of recordings has been issued over the years by various labels, as we shall see) was unlikely, for various technical reasons, to have been, as stated on the product, a collection of recordings originally made on wax cylinders.   

I sent a speculative email to David Tibet, who was the first person to produce an LP-length collection of the Crowley recordings ('The Hastings Archives', GOETIA 666, 1986). David replied immediately, explaining where he had sourced the tapes used for his release ('a Thelemite group run by Kenneth Grant'), and stating unequivocally that the recordings 'are absolutely genuine and absolutely Crowley'.

'The Hastings Archives' is an unusual record in many respects: there is no written information on the outer sleeve beyond the label/catalogue number and the handwritten limited edition number (the Library's copy is numbered 105/418); neither the title nor the name of the artist appears on the sleeve or label at all; one side plays at 45 rpm, the other at 33; and the paper label on mint copies covers the centre hole and has to be punctured so the record can be played. Finally, a contemporary promotional flyer/insert states that 'the plates for LP manufacture have now been destroyed'.

David Tibet put me on to William Breeze of the Crowley Estate who kindly shared with me some liner notes he had previously prepared towards a possible authorized release of the recordings.

These notes quote Crowley's diary entries of 1936 onwards, which make several references to recording sessions, and a letter to the HMV company, in which Crowley, trying to interest HMV in a commercial arrangement, mentions that his recordings were  made 'privately in Coventry Street', presumably in a walk-up DIY recording booth. The resulting products would have been 78 rpm lacquer discs (sometimes referred to as 'acetate' discs) not wax cylinders as has been claimed on some issues of the material.    

William Breeze says that the original discs are believed lost or possibly in a private collection, but that at least one copy (as in dubbing) of one of the original discs does exist in the Estate's holdings.

I don't know which titles are featured on this disc but it may perhaps have served as the source for the first commercial issue of a Crowley voice recording: a 7" vinyl disc (Marabo UPS 500, 1976), the A-side of which features Crowley reciting two poems, 'La Gitana' and 'Pentagram'. The sound quality here is slightly superior to any subsequent issue of these tracks. The disc is backed with 'Scarlet Woman', a spooky Leonard Cohen-ish rock song performed by a group called Chakra. An insert that comes with the disc (missing from the Library's copy unfortunately) suggests the Crowley recordings were made in the 1940s.

La-Gitana

I asked British Library audio engineer Tom Ruane to compare four versions of the same recording, drawn from: (a) the Marabo 7";  (b) 'The Hastings Archives' LP; (c) 'Aleister Crowley' LP (OZ 77, 1986); (d) 'The Great Beast Speaks' CD (DISGUST 1, 1999).

Wavelab-7

The image above is a screen grab from Wavelab 7 software showing a comparison of the four sound waves. The top one (the Marabo 7") is the 'cleanest' and closest to the source; the next one down ('The Hastings Archives' LP) is a slightly quieter version - and the sound wave is now 180 degrees out of phase, as it is on version (c), which is probably a straight copy of (b).

Though versions (c) and (d) clearly come from the same source (or one that is a generation or two removed), they have had differing levels of compression and equalization applied, to bring out the 'top end' (higher frequencies).  All three later versions play very slightly faster than the Marabo 7".

Tom tells me that the noise profiles are in tune with the kind of groove distortion one expects from a 78 rpm disc.

In the world of sound archiving, final judgements on provenance and authenticity sometimes have to be suspended to a degree, especially if one does not have access to the original master copy of the recording under scrutiny. But the circumstantial and technical evidence in this case is fairly persuasive and there seems no reason to doubt that these are indeed recordings of the voice of Crowley.

Copyright regulations do not allow us to post any sound clips here but all the recordings discussed may be consulted at the Library free-of-charge by appointment. 

Notes:

1. Crowley served as the model for Somerset Maugham's character Oliver Haddo in his 1908 novel The Magician

With thanks to William Breeze, David Tibet and Tom Ruane.

27 June 2014

Performance Archives: SIBMAS TLA 2014 - New York City

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SIBMAS BLOG

I have recently returned from the biennial SIBMAS TLA conference, which took place in New York City, 10-13 June. SIBMAS stands for Société Internationale des Bibliothèques et des Musées des Arts du Spectacle (International Association of Libraries, Museums, Archives and Documentation Centres of the Performing Arts). TLA is the Theatre Library Association, USA.

SIBMAS connects professionals from thirty five countries around the world working on institutional and independent performing arts collections of all genres. The theme for this conference was Body, Mind, Artifact: Reimagining Collections, with a special focus on dance archives.

Most dance and performance archives hold a substantial amount of video and audio recordings. The collections are ongoing and are frequently accessed by performers, companies, researchers and enthusiasts. For this reason they are often credited as living archives or artist-driven archives. Capturing and documenting the creative process, working with artists and re-purposing legacy materials are core tasks for these archives.

At the SIBMAS conference, keynote speaker Marvin Taylor, Director of the Fales Library and Special Collections, made the following bold statement: ‘Stop making the digitization of paper a priority. Most of the paper from the last forty years will be OK in ten years. Video, audio, and digital files will not’.

Preserving video is a challenge for all archives. The main components of this challenge and how these compare with those for other media formats is what I am going to briefly highlight here.

Access to video and audio recordings requires machines to play a wide variety of formats. Playback machines quickly become obsolete and disappear from the market. Once this happens, finding spare parts for existing machines becomes the only option to keep them working. To palliate the shortage of machinery and spare parts eyes and hopes are now on 3D printing technologies, but this has not yet been implemented in an archival habitat and it wouldn’t solve the problem of obsolete electronics.

Hence, access and preservation needs make it mandatory that recordings are transferred into digital formats. Digitization resources are generally not extensive enough for the ideal purposes of most archives.

Archival standards regarding the transfer of analogue video and the archiving of born-digital video are in dispute and therefore inconclusive. For example, the short history of digital video has already generated a plethora of diverse file formats, and although there are principles, there is no formal agreement on which codec ought to be used.

So far archivists have narrowed codec choices to four compressed for long-term archiving and one for uncompressed. That is out of the three hundred plus available out there. Also, every manufacturer produces its own codec and format.

Intrinsic to all born-digital video archiving procedure is the question of storage. HD formats contain five times more data than standard definition videos and those proportions multiply by four when considering files on 4K (cinema and Ultra High Definition TV standard) resolution.

I thought Marvin Taylor’s statement pointing out what we are up against with video collections deserved attention. In his words once more: ‘If we do not act now, we will lose the ‘incunable’ period of born-digital and electronic media’.

The conference also coincided with the 60th anniversary of SIBMAS and to mark such a special occasion TLA New York hosts opened the doors to some of the most renowned performance collections of the city. It was very hard to choose which institutions to visit from a list composed of Brooklyn Academy of Music, Carnegie Hall, Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Mark Morris Dance Group, MoMa Archives, Museum of the City of New York, New York Philharmonic Archives, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, New York University Fales Library, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Roundabout Theatre Archive, and the Shubert Archive.

I visited the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and the MoMa Archives. Both were very impressive, but I am sure that would have been the case for all the archives mentioned above.

Curators and archivists from the NYPL Performing Arts division had prepared a special display for delegates, which included drawings, prints, a scale model of the set of the Broadway show Cabaret, photographs, 3D paper objects, an actual Tony and an Oscar awards.

We also learnt that the NYPL Performing Arts has over 24,000 dance films and tapes which are currently being digitized. Due to copyright, the majority of the collection is accessible on the premises only. Please see here for more information.

The icing on the cake for me was the Library’s jaw-dropping video tool, which allows researchers to compare several videos at the same time and create a link to share the results with others. NYPL’s Digital Curator Doug Reside explained how they have developed this and other tools in the NYPL Labs. More about the Labs here.

At the MoMa archives we talked to Milan Hughston, Chief of Library and Museum Archives, and Michelle Elligott, Museum Archivist and regular contributor to Esopus Magazine. Their Department of Media and Performance Art  houses, among others, the Fluxus collection, which came to the Museum from a private collector. The Museum Archive provides researchers access by appointment; they have an onsite database of the collections and over 30.000 electronic images from MoMa exhibitions. Most of their collection materials are yet to be digitized.

The papers from the conference will eventually be published. For more information about the conference programme, publications and useful performance arts links please visit SIBMAS website. That’s all from now, to be continued at the next SIBMAS conference: ‘Freeze! Challenge the Hierarchy: Researcher, Artist, User!’, which will take place in Copenhagen 2016.

With thanks to SIBMAS TLA  and to my colleague Andrew Pearson, our video expert here at the British Library.

26 June 2014

‘The most beautiful lyrical prose of the 20th century’: Happy birthday Laurie Lee

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Laurie Lee in 1935 cropped

Laurie Lee in 1935

Laurie Lee was born one hundred years ago today in a house on the road that leads out of Stroud and climbs up through Slad, the Cotswold valley which he later immortalised in Cider With Rosie (1959). Gloucestershire is celebrating the centenary in style in a summer-long programme of events, but Laurie Lee’s popularity and significance goes far beyond the Cotswolds. Here at the Library, home to Laurie Lee’s archive, we held an early birthday celebration of sorts with an evening of readings and reflections from P J Kavanagh, Tim Dee, Brian Patten, Adam Horovitz and Louis de Bernières.

  Louis playing cropped
Brian Patten, Tim Dee and P J Kavanagh look on as Louis de Bernières plays the Spanish guitar

The centenary of Lee’s birth seems like an appropriate time to reconsider Lee’s literary legacy, not least because Lee seems to have felt that his work wasn’t fully appreciated by the literary establishment, hugely popular though it has always been.  After his overnight success with Cider With Rosie in 1959 Lee seemed to feel that his work was looked down upon in some quarters: ‘poor old Laurie, such a good poet, what a pity he’s now writing best-selling prose.’ Lee’s perception of his critical reputation was one of the points discussed by fellow poet and friend, P J Kavanagh:

Listen to P J Kavanagh remembering Laurie Lee

If Lee felt that he was regarded as a lightweight, it was perhaps a result of some of his early reviews. In response to criticism from the poet Roy Fuller who challenged Lee to leave aside nature writing, write about contemporary themes and use a greater range of verse forms, Lee responded: ‘You dare me to be more complicated, but I dare to achieve simplicity’. Luckily for us Lee was true to his word: he pursued his quest for the illusion of simplicity in prose and verse; his work continued to be infused with a sense of the past; and he proved himself to be one of the finest nature writers in the English language. This last point was the topic of naturalist Tim Dee’s talk:

Listen to Tim Dee on Laurie Lee's nature writing

Following a wonderfully humorous rendition of U A Fanthorpe’s poem ‘Dear Mr Lee’ by U A Fanthorpe, Louis de Bernières spoke about Lee’s last book and his own personal favourite, A Moment of War.

Listen to Louis de Bernières on A Moment of War

The full recording of Laurie Lee: A Celebration of his Life and Legacy will be available to listen to onsite at the Library shortly, but here are a few more clips of our guests reading from Lee’s work:

Listen to Brian Patten reading an extract from 'First Bite at the Apple', from Cider with Rosie

Listen to Tim Dee reading an extract from Cider with Rosie about the Slad Valley

Listen to Adam Horovitz reading an extract from 'The Kitchen', from Cider with Rosie

Listen to Adam Horovitz reading 'Edge of Day' by Laurie Lee

Listen to P J Kavanagh reading 'Home from Abroad' by Laurie Lee

If these clips have whetted your appetite to hear from Laurie Lee himself, you'll find a selection of recordings available on our recently released Laurie Lee CD, the latest in our spoken word series. And if you'd like to see material from his archive, a free exhibition on Lee and the Spanish Civil War is on display in the Treasures Gallery until 20 July. 

01 May 2014

The Spirit Voice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Drama and Literature Recordings section of the British Library aims to collect recordings of literary and other interesting spoken word material as extensively as possible.

However, as Toby Oakes, a previous British Library curator of spoken word recordings, once put it in his article 'Recording the Paranormal' (Playback, Winter 2002): '(Although) we deal with the voices of the dead every day ... our subjects tend to have been alive at the time of recording.'

This was the opening sentence of a report on the Library's then recent acquisition of a batch of 60 tapes made by Dr Konstantin Raudive, who believed that the dead could communicate with the living through the medium of radio waves.

The tapes are available for listening but are not easy to navigate. Newcomers wishing to explore the world of EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon), as it is known, are instead referred to the commercial CD 'The Ghost Orchid: An Introduction to EVP' (PARC CD1, 1991), which collects many examples of the genre, including the recordings first issued on vinyl by Raudive in 1971 on the EP 'Breakthrough' (subtitled 'An Amazing Experiment in Electronic Communication with the Dead'), which accompanied his book of the same title.

The recorded evidence is not especially convincing, being short comments or fragments that without the accompanying spoken 'translation' would probably not strike the listener as having any meaningful content.

A recent book on the subject, Rorschach Audio by Joe Banks (Disinformation, 2012), is also recommended. Banks seeks to understand why it is that someone might be psychologically disposed to find the recorded evidence for EVP to be credible, and comes up with some interesting conclusions.

The Library holds copies of all the above items, and much more in a similar vein: including the 3-CD set issued by Berlin label supposé 'Okkulte Stimmen - Mediale Musik: Recordings of Unseen Intelligences 1905-2007', and the 'Art After Death' series of CDs, for which Californian artists Chris Kubick and Anne Walsh recorded mediums channelling the voices of, among others, the artist Yves Klein.  

We also hold a video recording of the talk Joe Banks gave at the Library on 28 June 2013. 

Would Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have believed in EVP? Quite probably. He certainly believed - in his own words, 'beyond all doubt' - that the dead could communicate with the living. On his only commercially issued spoken word disc he devoted more of his recorded talk to his belief in spiritualism than he did to his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes.

Conan Doyle Speaking

Listen to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on spiritualism

Conan Doyle recorded the above on 14 May 1930, just two months before his death.

In July 1930, one week after Conan Doyle's death, thousands of people attended a séance at the Royal Albert Hall at which a medium claimed to have communicated with him (an event featured in Julian Barnes's 2005 novel  Arthur & George).

Four years later, on 28 April 1934, a séance held by Noah Zerdin at the Aeolian Hall, New Bond Street, attracted a capacity audience of 560 people, with many turned away. It was  the first large gathering of its kind to be recorded, and Conan Doyle was one of 44 people heard speaking from the 'other side'.    

Listen to the spirit voice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Noah Zerdin (1888-1972) was, coincidentally, like Raudive, a Latvian. In 1906 he fled the Tsarist regime in Russia for London and established a successful business in Oxford Street as a furrier. It was only after a devastating fire, in which his wife Bertha died and his business was destroyed, that he began holding séances, apparently believing that he had successfully made contact with his late wife. This seeming link between an individual's experience of profound trauma and their willingness to believe in the supernatural is one of the themes explored by Joe Banks in Rorschach Audio.

The Aeolian Hall proceedings were professionally recorded on 26 acetate discs. These were to lay undisturbed in a trunk for 67 years before being discovered in 2001 by Dan Zerdin (Noah's son). The discovery led to a fascinating BBC Radio 4 documentary What Grandad Did in the Dark, first broadcast 4 January 2002, and the discs were subsequently donated by Dan to the British Library.

Both the radio documentary and the original discs are available to listen to at the British Library, but you may need to make an appointment.

With thanks to Dan Zerdin