THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

7 posts from February 2017

23 February 2017

Behind the candy-striped jackets – oral history uncovers the unspoken

David Kynaston is perhaps best-known for his prize-winning studies of Britain in the later twentieth century, most tellingly his Tales of a New Jerusalem series, including Austerity Britain, Family Britain, and Modernity Britain.  We can now hear David Kynaston reflect upon how he weaves personal memories through his studies of this dramatic period, as he gives the National Life Stories Lecture, ‘Uncovering the unspoken: memory and post-war Britain’, to be held in the Knowledge Centre at the British Library on 13 March 2017.

Austerity Britain book cover

Austerity Britain by David Kynaston

To inform the themes of his lecture Kynaston welcomed four eminent guests to the purpose-built recording studio in the Library: Clare Short (former British politician), David Warren (former British diplomat), Anne Sebba (writer, presenter and lecturer) and Sarah Dunant (novelist, journalist, broadcaster and critic). This wide-ranging and lengthy discussion – which will also be archived and made available at the British Library – covered the speakers’ reflections on some key themes including class, sexuality, education, gender, the influence of family background and the mechanics of how we remember.  If, like me, you are intrigued to know how Kynaston will intertwine these themes with his wider reflections on post-war Britain then book a ticket to attend the lecture.  Tickets are available via the British Library Box Office.

Of course, Kynaston is no stranger to oral history. National Life Stories is the oral history fieldwork charity based in the British Library Sound Archive that has been collecting and commissioning oral history interviews for the last thirty years.  David Kynaston deposited the interviews from two of his key works on the City of London, which are available for anyone to listen via the Listening and Viewing Service at the Library; one on the City investment group, Phillips & Drew (now incorporated into UBS Global Asset Management) and the second on LIFFE.  The Kynaston London International Financial Futures & Options Exchange (LIFFE) Interviews is a series of over 65 recordings with employees and former employees of LIFFE conducted in 1996 as part of the research for his book LIFFE: A Market and its Makers (Granta, 1997).

  Floor traders cropped
Floor traders © Power Stock Photo Library

When Kynaston conducted his interviews in 1996 LIFFE was at its zenith, as one of the largest futures, commodities and equity exchanges in Europe. The exchange floor was a hive of activity, noise and colour where each trader - kitted in a distinctive coloured blazer - would use a mix of hand-signals and shouts from ‘the pit’ to conduct the exchanges.  In this clip from the City Lives project, we hear about the events at the opening of LIFFE in 1982 and then a description how the exchange functioned in the mid 1990s. The first speaker is David Burton, Chairman 1988-1992 (this recording is from 1993), and the second is his successor Nick Durlacher (interviewed in 1995).

Burton & Durlacher (LIFFE)

David Burton interviewed by Cathy Courtney, 1992-1994, and Nicholas Durlacher interviewed by Cathy Courtney 1995. Both of these interviews from City Lives are available to listen online, British Library Sound Archive refs C409/077 and C409/127.

Within only four years of these interviews LIFFE changed beyond recognition. The last open outcry trading pits were closed in 2000 as trading shifted to electronic platforms.  Gone were the coloured jackets, the shouts and the practical jokes of the brokers.  Both City Lives and the Kynaston London International Financial Futures & Options Exchange (LIFFE) Interviews capture personal descriptions of these moments in the life of the City of London from the perspectives of those who worked there and experienced the intense life on the trading floor.

If you are not able to attend the lecture, we plan to film the event and make it available online. More news will follow on this in later March.

Mary Stewart, Curator of Oral History

22 February 2017

They Walk Alone – A Benjamin Britten discovery

Britten by Berkeley

Benjamin Britten composing in Crantock, Cornwall 1936 [PH/1/30]

Photo Lennox Berkeley, by permission of the Lennox Berkeley Estate 

Rob Smith, metadata support officer on the Save our Sounds project, alerted me to the fact that he had discovered a hitherto unknown recording of an early work by Benjamin Britten.  Rob has been working on the Bishop Sound discs, which were made for theatrical productions, and has previously blogged about them here.

Britten1edit

As a young man, Britten wrote some incidental music for the play They Walk Alone by Max Catto (1907-1992) who was a Manchester playwright and novelist born Mark Finkell.  It was first performed at the ‘Q’ Theatre, Kew Bridge on the 21st November 1938.

Miss Beatrix Lehmann, who has not been seen on the London stage since her appearance in Mr Eugene O’Neill’s trilogy, Mourning becomes Elektra, will have the leading part in They Walk Alone, a new play by Mr Max Catto, which Mr Berthold Viertel is to produce at the “Q” Theatre to-day week.  (Times 14th November 1938)

Programme cover

PG/1939/0132/1 Image provided by the Britten-Pears Foundation

The play then moved to the Shaftesbury Theatre on the 19th January 1939 and was presented by Firth Shephard. Jack Bishop had a long standing working relationship with Shephard and had been involved with a number of productions with him by this point. From the 1st May 1939 to 3rd June 1939, the play was performed in the Comedy Theatre on Panton Street, where Bishop had some offices for a period of time.

Lehmann played Emmy, a girl who goes to a Lincolnshire farm to become a servant.  She is affected by organ music from a nearby chapel which is sometimes heard in the early hours of the morning.  Young men are found horribly murdered, a dog howls and the melodrama ends with Emmy being found out and caught as the murderess.

Programme synopsis

PG/1939/0132/8 Image provided by the Britten-Pears Foundation

The music was not mentioned in the Times review of the play which was published on Britten’s twenty-fifth birthday.  Special praise was given to Lehmann in the role of Emmy.

Here is melodramatic material played by an actress of rare imaginative power and played by her for its thrill.  She uses her face as a tragic mask sprung to life; she does not hesitate before the uses of the grotesque; she draws fear into her on her finger-tips; she employs, as first-rate acting in melodrama must employ, the forces of dramatic hypnosis.  Analysis of the play cannot make much of it, but under Miss Lehmann’s spell it has astonishing impact.  (Times 22nd November 1938)

Ten years later Catto used his play as the basis for the British film Daughter of Darkness (1948) where Siobhan McKenna played the role of Emmy, resulting in the offer of a Hollywood contract.  The role of the organ music as catalyst for her criminal tendencies was replaced by a travelling circus.

Britten wrote a few cues for dramatic moments but the only extended piece, titled Prelude to They Walk Alone, edited by Colin Matthews, was first published in 2004 by the Britten Estate.  The Trustees of the Britten Estate have kindly given me permission for the whole recording to be posted on this blog.  So here we have the first recording of the work, the unidentified organist playing from the manuscript.  There are two complete takes of the Prelude, the first with experiments in registration, the second, presented here, a more unified performance.  This is the disc that would have been played at performances of the play and you can hear it here.

Prelude to They Walk Alone

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20 February 2017

Recording of the week: Pierre Bourdieu and Terry Eagleton

This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

In this recording, made in 1991 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, British literary theorist Terry Eagleton discusses the intricacies of the concept of ideology with French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002).

Bourdieu explains his concept of symbolic violence, by which he means the systems of meaning that legitimize and thus solidify structures of inequality, often in a way that is undetectable and invisible to its very victims. 

Pierre Bourdieu and Terry Eagleton in conversation

Francisco_de_Goya_y_Lucientes_-_Duelo_a_garrotazosFight with Cudgels (c.1820-1823), Francisco de Goya. Wikimedia Commons.

This recording is an accessible introduction to one of the most influential social thinkers of the last three decades of the twentieth century, and also one of the very few available online featuring Pierre Bourdieu explaining his work in the English language.

Over 800 recordings of talks and discussions held at the ICA between 1982-1993 can be explored on British Library Sounds

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.   

16 February 2017

Leafscape: an exhibition

Botanical artist Jess Shepherd has spent the past few years immersed in the world of leaves, both from a visual and sonic point of view. In this special guest post, Jess writes about how field recording became an intrinsic part of her creative process.

As a botanical painter, I specialise in painting very large watercolours of plants and am always working to surprise the viewer. Between 16th and 25th February, I will be holding my first solo exhibition of over 30 new watercolour paintings in Bloomsbury, London. For this exhibition, I explore my vision of a botanical dystopia, challenging our own sense of scale, its value and how we measure it.

Twitter_graphic

The story began when I picked up a leaf from a London pavement in July 2014. At the time I was moving house and felt that the condition of the leaf told my own story. It had been scuffed by the streets of the city and was no longer attached to the tree, but blowing across the floor in the wind. Like me, it was on the move.

After carefully painting this leaf larger than life size I was drawn to paint another and another. Eventually, after months of painting these leaf portraits, all from different moments in time and place, I have created a visual story. Some of these leaves measure over a meter in length.

041120151210Leaf 041120151210, Cercis siliquastrum, Watercolour on paper, 760 x 560mm

For the past two years I have also collected the environmental sounds from where each leaf was growing using an Olympus LS-14 recorder. These sounds document a journey from the East End of London, through the avenues of Hyde Park and streets of Chelsea into the deep rural countryside of Granada in Spain where I now have a second studio. I started collecting these sounds because I became interested in documenting the elements of our existence that I could not capture with paint. I also began to wonder how leaves would interpret their spaces if trees could hear. By recording the sounds from the precise locations of my source material, I feel I have been able to add a new dimension to botanical art; that I am able to communicate the importance of plants and our environment more poignantly. It is my way of catapulting botanical art into the 21st Century whilst also looking at topics close to my heart such as what is reality and what it means to exist.

Spain_birds and rain

Spain_goat bells

All of these environmental sounds have been skilfully arranged by musician Derek Thompson (Hoodlum Priest) who, through a process of both precise and random digital manipulation, has created a composition where place, time and space become intertwined. This multimedia journey is our vision of a botanical dystopia; the natural world in a state of decay through interaction with the encroaching urban environment.

Leafscape extract

The idea of recording sound introduces a completely new element to botanical art and I hope that this interpretation of both the natural and human worlds will encourage listeners to be as aware of the diversity and beauty of sound in the city as much as that of the countryside.

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Leafscape will be on show at Abbott and Holder from 16th-25th February 2017.

A copy of the accompanying book & soundtrack has been donated by the artist to the British Library and will soon be available in our Reading Rooms.

Audio clips and images courtesy of Jess Shepherd.

13 February 2017

Recording of the week: John Blackwood McEwen

This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

Scottish composer Sir John Blackwood McEwen (1868-1948) had a distinguished career producing a large amount of music, little of which is heard today. He was Principal of the Royal Academy of Music from 1924-1936 and was knighted in 1931. His String Quartet No. 6, 'Biscay', written in 1913 (and confusingly published as No. 8), consists of three movements. The second and third were recorded in 1916 by the London String Quartet and a live recording from 1951 of the complete work exists from the Library of Congress. Here is the delightful third movement, La racleuse (The Oyster-Raker) from 1916.

String Quartet No. 6 (Biscay)_La racleuse

Portrait_of_Sir_John_Blackwood_McEwenPortrait of Sir John Blackwood McEwan by Reginald Grenville Eves (Royal College of Music, CC BY-SA 4.0) via Wikimedia Commons

Visit Chamber Music on British Library Sounds to listen to more performances by the London String Quartet.

Follow @BL_Classical and @soundarchive for all the latest news

08 February 2017

2017 UK-India Year of Culture: Praise music of Rāṛh, India

2017 is the UK-India Year of Culture. It marks the 70th anniversary of Indian independence and, through a varied programme of projects and events – led by the Ministry of Culture in India, the Nehru Centre and other Indian cultural organisations in the UK and the British Council – aims to highlight India-UK cultural relations. World and Traditional Music will publish several blogs through the year that will spotlight various musical traditions from India through the prism of collections and projects at the British Library. The first is a guest blog from Jyoshna La Trobe.

Jyoshna gained her PhD in Music from SOAS, University of London in 2010, on “Praise singing and the Performance of Ecstasy, in the Purulia District of West Bengal, India”. Her collection at the British Library (C1211) comprises over 140 hours of audio and video recordings made primarily as part of her doctoral research and in continued projects to date.

 

Fig 1. Rarh kirtan team, India
Rāṛh kīrtan team, India

It’s been twenty years since I began this journey of researching the music culture of Rāṛh in north east India, particularly kīrtan ‘praise music’. Though I had been practicing kīrtan for many years I could not begin to grasp the depth or scope of the music tradition of which I was a part until 2006 when I was able to embark on detailed research for my doctorate at SOAS. Informed by Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar's seminal book entitled Rāṛh, translation into English from Bengali in 2004, I ventured to this region with some knowledge of its special significance in Indian history. The mechanics and structure of the kīrtan music, I soon discovered, were unknown to anyone outside the region at the time. Hence my endeavour was to explore how the musicians could create such ecstatic heights of devotional expression.

What is kīrtan?

Fig 2 Kirtan expert, Sri Jagaran Mahato and Kirtan team
Kīrtan expert, Sri Jagaran Mahato and Kīrtan team

Kīrtan (Sanskit. kiirtana) comes from the Sanskrit word ‘kirt’ which means ‘loud’. In the panorama of music traditions all around the world, ‘loud’ calls or chants to the deity can be heard, whether a Hallelujah chorus, a Hari Bolo kīrtan, or any other sacred chant sung by a congregation at a ceremonial gathering. In essence, kīrtan is the musical expression of spiritual longing and a horde of other emotions, all directed to the deity whose name is being sung, through song, chant, music and dance (samgiita). Calling only the name of god or nama kīrtan is also known as marai kīrtan in this region.

Marai Kīrtan

My research is not the whole spectrum of Rāṛhi kīrtan, which is too vast to cover, but is focused on Rāṛhi marai kīrtan meaning ‘circular’ or ‘grinding’ the name of god. “Marai is not a Bengali word, it is local Purulian or Rāṛh local word, it means to move in a circle, while the internal meaning is ‘to grind’, for if you grind Hari’s name, in your heart, like sugarcane, then it will melt and become nectar for God” (Jagaran Mahato 2007: personal communicaton).

Textually speaking, marai kīrtan could not be simpler: musicians devise a multitude of ways of singing god’s name with only two words, Hari Bolo. Hari is the name of god, and bolo means ‘speak, say or call’. As a musical structure its complex form is not dissimilar to a western classical or jazz piece with specific instrumental parts, rhythmic patterns, melodic and drum compositions (katan). What sets marai kīrtan apart from western classical music, however, is the continuous or repetitive singing of Hari bolo that melts away any sense of separation between the singer and the sacred name. To achieve this state of ‘melting’ marai kīrtan is performed without break for many hours, weeks, or even longer. “Kīrtan is a type of music that you can’t compare with other types, you can’t bind it, you can’t make a boundary line or limit it, or say that there is an end to it” (ibid.).

In marai kīrtan, then, one observes chanting, dance and instrumental music, interwoven into one dynamic form of sacred performance that is geared towards arousing devotion.

Chanting the divine names, can inspire a ‘supra’ aesthetic or ‘transcendental’ experience, for in Rāṛh, kīrtan’s predecessor is the mystical Baul song tradition (Baul is from Sanskrit word batul meaning ‘mad’ in the sense of ‘mad for god’). These ancient Baul mystic songs are full of double entendre masking references to their secret Tantric practices, although understood by those who have been initiated into the intuitional science of Tantra. They represent the earliest form of spiritual culture in the region and possibly the world. [Tantra is Sanskrit for ‘liberation from dullness’ with Shiva being the adi guru or 'first lord'.] Rāṛh is the homeland of both the Baul and the kīrtan traditions.

The boundaries of Rāṛh

Rāṛh or Rāṛho, means ‘reddish soil’, says local expert, Acaryā Kirtyananda Avadhuta. He says the territory, mostly in Bengal, and border lands of Orissa and Jharkhand, was known as Rāṛh bhum, with bhum meaning “land or country” (1966: personal communication).

Rāṛh existed as one kingdom until the seventh century yet still exists in the memory and imagination of the Rāṛhi people today. Though Rāṛh is one of the most economically impoverished areas in India, it remains extremely rich in music culture with at least five indigenous music genres: kīrtan or praise music tradition; the masked dance of the ancient warrior or Chhau; folk or jhumur songs and dances; Baul or mystical songs and nacini nach or ‘dancing girls dance’.

Fig 4 The Ulda Samkirtan Team, winners of the Rarhi Mari Kirtan competition 2016
The Ulda Samkīrtan Team, winners of the Rāṛhi Marai Kīrtan competition 2016

Kīrtan and Social Egalitarianism: Caste - a ranked, hereditary and endogamous group, ordinarily of people of the same occupation - is usually ascribed at birth and is immutable. Even though there is a professional kīrtan caste called the Vaisnavites (such as the Ulda team in the photo on the right) no one is barred from doing kīrtan on the basis of gender, caste, “tribe” (used in an official governmental sense) or social group. Kamaladev from the Lalgar Youth Group, says, “In Hari nam kīrtan there is no question of castes, creed or colour it is open to all, if you come with a pure heart and mind” (2007: personal communication). In a caste society that undervalues “tribal” values, kīrtan can create a sense of equality and respect.

The first Marai Kīrtan competition and festival, June 2016

Two years ago, Sanjay Mahato, my research partner, and I became aware of how many local kīrtan groups were singing more rang (popular song melodies) than the traditional Rāṛhi kīrtans. We decided to hold a kīrtan competition and offer prize money as an incentive for these ‘teams’ (a term the local kirtan musicians use) to continue performing the traditional Rāṛhi kīrtans. We took our inspiration from the late kīrtan expert, Sri Rishi Das, who had shown me a printed poster of a kīrtan competition where his father’s group had won second prize. To our utter amazement, 42 kīrtan groups entered into the competition. The teams came dressed in full paraphernalia, with their spotless white, orange or blue dhotis (traditional men's garment), light coloured sashes tied tightly around their waists or hanging loosely around their necks, sandalwood markings on their forehead, and bare feet. Teams generally consisted of three lead singers (mul gayaks), two khol double-sided drum players, and dancers who play large cymbals (kartal), as well as other instruments that have been adapted from western music ensembles, such as the harmonium, clarinet (replacing the traditional bamboo flutes) and the casio keyboard. They came to do kīrtan in the hot summer sun, or in the late midnight hours, depending on the time they had been allocated some travelling long distances in rented trucks, bringing with them their own village supporters. As each team did kīrtan they were assessed by four local judges and me (as the only international observer). These judges were experts in their field and representing north, south, east and west Rāṛh. Each team performed with utmost sincerity, expertise and devotional expression.

While transcribing their interviews, I was deeply touched by their humility and their depth of knowledge. One such team said, "Our team has been running for 52 years, that means my father and grandfather were there. Only people are changing. Our team is continuing generation after generation. It keeps us healthy, our mind peaceful, and in our family life there are no problems because of kīrtan" (Bhubanipur Samkīrtan team personal communication 2016). Another team discussed the social effects of kīrtan,“Kīrtan helps to bind the society, when we are doing kīrtan we are 15 people, it means 15 families are together, all sharing our joys and sorrows. All social problems can be stopped if you do kīrtan (Dumurbaid Samkīrtan team, personal communication 2016).

Fig 6 The Rupapaita Samkīrtan team, runners up in the Competition
The Rupapaita Samkīrtan team, runners up in the competition
Fig 7 The Panjonia Kirtan team, third place in the Competition
The Panjonia Kīrtan team, third place in the competition

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The kīrtan team from Amrabera, talked about kīrtan providing solace and “heavenly pleasure” for “through kīrtan we stay in touch with spirituality” (2016 personal communication). Some kīrtaniyas are known to fall into samadhi or ‘complete absorption into the divine’ and others report that they experience a deep sense of spiritual fulfillment while doing kīrtan. In the end, though it was a difficult task, the judges decided on the three winners, the Ulda Team who came first, the Rupapaita team second and the Panjonia team third.

Watch a summary posted on YouTube by Kavita Neumannova. 

The next Rāṛhi Marai Kīrtan competition and festival in Rāṛh will be in October 18 - 21 2017 where everyone is welcome, and treated as family. As expressed by an American visitor to the Kīrtan Festival, “Rāṛhi Kīrtan has changed my life in just two days; where I find maximum unfettered ecstatic expression to the lord, it is beyond words” (Suniita Schaeffer: personal communication 2016). For my part, I am also very grateful for the inspiration this mystical land and people have given me.

Jyoshna La Trobe (jyosnalatrobe@gmail.com) 07/02/2017 

 

Individual items in Jyoshna's collection can be found on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

Find out more about the work of the British Library's Sound Archive and the new Save our Sounds programme online.

Follow the British Library Sound Archive @soundarchive and the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities @BL_WorldTrad on Twitter.

 

06 February 2017

Recording of the week: Linton Kwesi Johnson on dub poet Michael Smith

This week's selection comes from Stephen Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary & Creative Recordings.

In this recording, poet and reggae artist Linton Kwesi Johnson gives a lecture on the late Jamaican performance poet Mikey Smith (1954-1983), author of 'Me Cyaan Believe It'. The talk is based on his personal knowledge of the poet and the obscure circumstances of his death.

Remembering Michael Smith_Linton Kwesi Johnson

Linton-Kwesi-Johnson

The recording was made live in Cambridge in 2012, at the conference 'The Power of Caribbean Poetry: Word & Sound'. Linton Kwesi Johnson's oral history interview, made for the British Library project 'Authors' Lives' 2014-2015, is available to listen to at the Library by appointment.

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news.