THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Music blog

5 posts from July 2014

31 July 2014

Recordings from the Skamba Skamba Kankliai music festival, Lithuania

The British Library has recently acquired  a collection of field recordings made at the Skamba Skamba Kankliai Festival in Vilnius, Lithuania. The recordings were made by field recordist and composer Yiorgis Sakellariou with support from World & Traditional Music at the British Library and the generous guidance of Dr. Austė Nakienė at the Lithuanian Institute of Folklore and Literature in Vilnius. The following text, written by Yiorgis Sakellariou himself, details his experience at the festival and features audio excerpts from the collection:   

The Skamba Skamba Kankliai recording project is more so the documentation of an intense listening experience rather than the result of thorough ethnomusicological research. When I arrived in Vilnius I was mainly motivated by the curiosity to see how traditional Lithuanian music is presented and staged at a large-scale festival. My previous knowledge on the subject was fragmentary. I had recently lived in Lithuania for about a year and during that time I became interested in the country's folk music, however I never developed an organized method of collecting or documenting it. Nonetheless, it was easy to discover that there is a big variety of songs and dances and, furthermore, a long history of recording and archiving Lithuanian music.

Since 1973, Skamba Skamba Kankliai has been held annually in Vilnius, Lithuania and currrently it is organized by the Vilnius Ethnic Culture Centre. Every year the festival welcomes a large number of folk ensembles that present a wide and diverse range of traditional music. The festival also hosts international ensembles. In 2014, ensembles from Azerbaijan, Italy, Iran and Georgia assisted and performed folk music from their countries.

Skamba Skamba

The concerts took place in several locations of the old town of Vilnius and many times they overlapped which made it impossible to record every single one. I tried to record music that was as diverse and representative as possible, documenting material on the basis of style, place of origin, instrumentation or age and gender of singers. Often the decision was purely practical (distance between stages, exhaustion, weather conditions etc.). The recordings attempt to capture not only the performed music but also the sonic atmosphere of the festival. The concerts took place in squares, parks, streets, alleys, theatres and churches and on several occasions the purely musical sounds are mixed with street and crowd noise or simply the recording location’s ambiance.

This collection can only document a small sample of Lithuania’s long musical tradition but hopefully the recordings will stimulate curiosity of listeners who are interested in world and traditional music. I do not consider the recorded material as a relic of a past that desperately tries to catch up with the present and secure a place in the future. These songs, which mostly originated in late 19th century’s rural life, are filtered through the new ideas and experiences of the people that currently perform them and afterwards through me, an observer/recordist of the performances. The recordings themselves act as another filter, substituting the physical experience of actually being present at the performance. Yet, despite the multiple layers of filters, the core of the music remains intact. My impression, or perhaps even wish, is that its truthfulness can still deeply affect the listener of the 21st century. 

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Here are a few highlights from the festival selected and commented by Yiorgis Sakellariou.

Sasutalas folk ensemble performs Kas tar teka par dvarelį 

Listen here

The most significant form of Lithuanian singing is the polyphonic sutartinės (from the word sutarti meaning 'to be in agreement'). Each song includes short melodic patterns with few notes, which are sung independently following the polyphonic vocal music rules of heterophony, canon and counterpoint. On 1 June, the last day of the festival, Sasutalas folk ensemble performed a set of sutartinės at Adomas Mickevičius yard. A few children were playing games around the yard shortly before it started to rain.  

Toma Grašytė, Adelė Vaiginytė and Ieva Kisieliūtė perform Lioj saudailio, vokaro (sutartinė) 

Listen here

This sutartinė was performed by three singers at the opening of Nakties muzika (Night Music), a concert that was set in the atmospheric Lėlė theatre late on the evening of 30 May. A mesmerized audience of around forty people was in attendance.

Liucija Vaicenavičiūtė perform Vaikščiojo motulė po dvarų

Listen here

Earlier that day at the Lėlė theatre, Čiulba Čiulbutis (Little Bird Warbles), an event focusing on solos, duets and trios, took place. Liucija Vaicenavičiūtė is a member of the ensemble Vaicenavičių šeima (Vaicenavičius family). She sings a song about a mother who wakes her sweetest young daughter up and encourages her to go to the garden and look after their male guests.

Tatato folk ensemble performs Ar aušta rytas, ar diena?

Listen here

Tatato is the ensemble of the studio of the Ethnomusicology Department of Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy. The ensemble director, Daiva Vyčinienė, has been devoted to the spreading and teaching of Lithuanian folk music for the past twenty years. 

You can listen to more recordings from the Skamba Skamba Kankliai Recording Project in British Library Reading Rooms by searching for C1661 on our catalogue. The British Library also has several CD publications documenting Lithuanian songs and music from 1908-1941 which were kindly donated by the Lithuanian Institute of Folklore and Literature. In addition, Yiorgis Sakellariou has also deposited environmental field recordings made in Lithuania at the British Library which you can find on our catalogue under collection number WA 2014/019.

Listen online to more collections from World & Traditional music!

12 July 2014

Gertrude Stein the librettist: free event at the British Library

On Monday 21 July the British Library's Eccles Centre for American Studies will be hosting a free lunchtime talk by Mary Chapman (University of British Columbia) on Gertrude Stein’s libretto for Virgil Thomson's opera The Mother of Us All. Her title is 'Gertrude Stein: Suffragist, Librettist, Modernist, or Nazi Collaborator?'

SteinGetrude Stein first collaborated with Virgil Thomson on the opera Four Saints in Three Acts, which remains the composer's most famous work. It was almost twenty years later that they worked together on a second opera, The Mother of Us All. The opera is ostensibly a portrait of the pioneering suffragist Susan B. Anthony in postbellum America, but in her talk Mary Chapman will argue that the opera also gave Stein an opportunity to consider her own political role in Vichy France prior to the enfranchisement of French women.

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Susan B. Anthony

The talk is part of the Eccles Centre's Summer Scholars series, a series of free daytime events this summer where writers and scholars will discuss their work and forthcoming publications in an informal setting. Attendance is free and all are welcome. Tea and coffee will be provided. To reserve a place for any event, please email eccles-centre@bl.uk. All events take place at the British Library Conference Centre, Chaucer Room. Mary Chapman's talk is on Monday 21 July, 12:30-14:00.

Mary Chapman is an Associate Professor of English at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada. She specializes in American literature and transnational American Studies; in particular, she works on intersections between cultural forms (parades, print culture, parlour theatricals, suffrage activism), literary production, and
politics in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America.

The full Summer Scholars leaflet is available here: https://www.bl.uk/eccles/pdf/ecclessummerscholars2014.pdf

 

11 July 2014

Hugh Davies Experimental Music

Hugh Davies b&w

Hugh Seymour Davies was only 61 when he died in 2005, but he had established himself as the leading British composer of experimental music. After completing his degree at Oxford, where he studied with Edmund Rubbra, Davies succeeded Cornelius Cardew as assistant to Karlheinz Stockhausen and later began to invent instruments, the most well-known being the Shozyg. This was in 1967, the same year in which Davies was asked to establish an electronic music studio at Goldsmith’s College in London. He later developed sound installations and sound sculptures.

The British Library was delighted to receive his collection of recordings which were donated by his wife Pam Davies and a selection of these are available to listen to here by permission of his estate. The remainder of the collection can be heard in the reading rooms of the British Library.

10 July 2014

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today...

July 10th marks the fiftieth anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ third LP, A Hard Day’s Night. The LP was conceived as a soundtrack to the film of the same name, directed by Richard Lester, which had its UK premiere on July 6th and featured the first seven songs from the album in full.

The success of both the film and the album cemented the band’s status as a transatlantic, if not global, phenomenon. A Hard Day’s Night was the first Beatles LP to consist entirely of self-penned songs and many consider it (and the title track in particular) to mark the beginning of the band’s most productive and exciting period of creativity.

A hard day's night 7" single
The BL’s copy of the single is a rare pre-release demonstration copy.

July 10th 1964 also saw the release of the title track as a seven-inch single, with Things We Said Today appearing as the B-side. The song A Hard Day’s Night is famous both for its memorable opening chord and for its unusual title. The phrase ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was believed to have come from an exhausted Ringo Starr, following a long day of filming on March 19th 1964 whereas, in fact, John Lennon had previously used it in his book, John Lennon In His Own Write. Lennon is said to have regarded this as a coincidence, affectionately referring to Starr’s utterance as a ‘Ringoism’. The phrase became popular within the group and Lester adopted it as the title of his film in mid-April, thus sparking off a friendly competition between Lennon and Paul McCartney as to who could come up with the title song.

On this occasion it was Lennon who got there first. He wrote the song very quickly; scribbling the lyrics on the back of his son’s birthday card (Julian Lennon had turned one the previous week). This birthday card has been on loan to the British Library for some time and is on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at The British Library. The fact that the lyrics were written on the back of a birthday card is significant, for it suggests that the words came to Lennon so quickly that he wrote them down on whatever happened to be close to hand.

A hard day's night birthday card
John Lennon’s lyrics to A Hard Day’s Night are handwritten on the back of this birthday card on display at the British Library.

For those who study them, handwritten first drafts of song lyrics or poems have a special quality, in that they appear to record for posterity the instances of those initial creative sparks. Moreover, it could be argued that the more ephemeral the item on which the lines have been written, the closer the item seems to be to that now long-gone moment of inspiration. When we study the handwritten lyrics to A Hard Day’s Night, it is easy to imagine Lennon scribbling them down so as not to forget them.

Visitors to the British Library will notice that Lennon made an important revision to this initial draft. On the morning of April 16th (the day the song was recorded), Maureen Cleave, Evening Standard journalist and friend of The Beatles, picked Lennon up in a taxi and took him to the Abbey Road studios. Cleave recalls suggesting that Lennon reconsider the line ‘I find my tiredness is through’. Lennon, borrowing Cleave’s pen, crossed out the line and wrote ‘I find the things that you do’ in its place.

As has been the case with so many Beatles songs, A Hard Day’s Night has spawned an astonishing range of cover versions including, famously, Peter Sellers’s version from 1965 in which the actor and comedian recites the lyrics while impersonating Lawrence Olivier’s performance of William Shakespeare’s Richard III.

A hard day's night LP
The album A Hard Day’s Night was the first Beatles album where all the songs were composed by Lennon and McCartney

A Hard Day’s Night was the third Beatles single to go straight to Number One in the charts one week after release and by July 23rd had sold 800,000 before going on to become the group’s fourth million-selling single in the UK. The album entered the album chart at Number One and sold 600,000 copies in Britain by the end of the year.

Andy Linehan & David Fitzpatrick

01 July 2014

Songs of the Dinka of South Sudan

The British Library has recently acquired  a collection of field recordings made in South Sudan which document Dinka song culture. Songs of the Dinka of South Sudan - Diɛt ke Jiëëŋ ne Cuëny Thudän - can now be accessed via our catalogueby searching for C1580, and listened to online.  Dr. Angela Impey, one of the researchers on the project, has written the following text which contextualizes the research project and gives some general information on Dinka culture:

The songs in this collection were recorded for a project entitled Metre and Melody in Dinka Speech and Song, which was conducted between 2009 and 2012 by researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in collaboration with Dinka researchers in South Sudan. The academic aims of the project were, first, to understand the interplay between Dinka song structures and the Dinka language (which distinguishes words not just by different consonants and vowels but also by means of vowel duration, pitch and voice quality), and, second, to learn more about the song tradition and the ways it has responded to the intense disruptions caused by protracted civil war.  

Funding for the project was provided by the ‘Beyond Text’ programme of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. Project participants included Bob Ladd, Angela Impey, Bert Remijsen, Elizabeth Achol Ajuet Deng, Peter Malek, Miriam Meyerhoff and Simon Yak Deng Yak.

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Photo credit: Robin Denselow

ABOUT DINKA SONG

Almost everyone in Dinka society will accumulate a repertoire of personal songs during their lifetime, and most dialect groups follow a similar compositional process. Individuals who lack the ability to compose good songs will approach a talented composer in the community and commission a composition in exchange for a cow or an agreed sum of money. Occasionally a composer will be considered a talented lyricist only, in which case a second individual, who has an aptitude for good melody making, will be brought into the process. Upon completion, the song will either be taught directly to the ‘owner’, or if the owner is not a good memoriser, via a group of relatives or age-mates, who will gradually pass it on to the owner.

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[In this ox song (C1580/59), Deng Jok Ajuoong, praises his ox, Mading, which he compares with an elephant. He sings about how he acquired his ox through hard work.]

Most musical structures in sub-Saharan Africa are based on highly repetitive, multi-part vocal and rhythmic interactions, and melodies are typically based on the hexatonic (six tones per octave) or equi-heptatonic scales (seven tones equally distributed across the octave). In contrast, Dinka tuning systems follow a standard pentatonic scale (five tones) and songs are composed in an extended series of linear, interconnected song-segments that follow a simple, regular or semi-regular pulse. Certain song types are accompanied by clapping, clapping sticks or a small double-sided drum (loor), and are performed either solo, in unison or in simple call-response format. The only melodic instrument played by the Dinka (apart from more recently introduced western instruments) is a 5-stringed lyre referred to as rababa. Marked aesthetic variations do occur across the dialect groups, which are likely to be the result of different social, economic, environmental and political circumstances.

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[This song (C1580/6) is performed by a women's group during the war in South Sudan. It is an encouraging song about Dr. John Garang and Koryom, a battalion of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The women start the song by singing “The Arabs said we are afraid, how can we be afraid while John Garang is strong?”]

Apart from one book (available in British Library Reading Rooms) published on song lyrics by Francis Mading Deng in 1973, no formal research has been conducted on Dinka music. Yet songs play a fundamental role in the lives of all Dinka people, functioning as individual and social chronicles of relationships, experiences and historical events. In fact, the Dinka boast an usually complex taxonomy of songs – praise songs, war songs, songs of initiation, cathartic songs, religious songs, to name a few – each of which is defined by discernible melodic, rhythmic and performative features. Woven through all song types, however, is the poetic allusion to the interconnection between self, cattle and land or locality. As one musician explained: If you know our Dinka songs, you will know the Dinka people.