THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

14 posts from September 2017

29 September 2017

Cooking steaks and why not to reduce the National Grid voltage

Britain’s National Grid has run constantly since 1938, a single interconnected nationwide network supplying power to our homes and workplaces from distant power stations. Over the years it's expanded and developed, endured wartime bombing, striking miners, partial power cuts, faulty power stations, and terrible weather conditions. Yet the grid itself has never been switched off.

Frank LedgerFrank Ledger signing a contract for uranium enrichment

This giant machine of pylons and cables and switcher has run continuously for nearly 80 years, under the watchful eyes of generations of national grid controllers. How does it feel to have been one of the people tasked with keeping the lights on at all costs?

Frank Ledger - steaks in the stock exchange canteen

If you want to know more about the history of electricity supply, why not come along to The Life Electric: Oral Histories from the UK Electricity Supply Industry at the British Library on the 19th of October 2017?

Blog by Tom Lean, Project Interviewer for An Oral History of the Electricity Supply Industry

27 September 2017

Don't let work kill the housewife, let electricity do it for you!

As autumn turns to the dark and cold of winter, many of us will be turning on the lights earlier and switching on the central heating without giving it a second thought. It's easy to forget that it's only been a few decades since household electricity supplies became universal in Britain. In 1935 about 30% of British homes didn't have electricity at all.

Electric cooker 1Southern Electricity Service advert from the Wiltshire Times, 1953 (British Newspaper Archive)

Even in homes that did have power, there were comparatively few electrical appliances, and electricity was often used alongside candles, gas lighting and coal fires. In the 1940 and 1950s the newly nationalised electricity industry made a huge effort to build up Britain's electrical system, building dozens of power stations and encouraging people to use more electricity in their workplaces and homes.

Alan Plumpton - Electric as a way of life

A big effort was made to convince housewives that electrical appliances would bring them cleaner and more convenient lives, but electricity was new and people needed to be shown how to use it. Back in the 1950s electricity board commercial engineer Alan Plumpton (C1495/10) found himself selling electrical appliances to people who had never had them before. As he remembers in this interview clip, electricity may have been modern, but people still needed a bit of convincing to let it into their homes, with the sales pitch of "don't let work kill the housewife, let electricity do it for you!"

If you want to know more about the history of electricity supply, why not come along to The Life Electric: Oral Histories from the UK Electricity Supply Industry at the British Library on the 19th of October 2017.

Blog by Tom Lean, Project Interviewer for An Oral History of the Electricity Supply Industry

26 September 2017

Sounds of London

Pinar-Cevikayak-Yelmi

In this guest blog post Pınar Çevikayak Yelmi describes her recent audio recording projects.

Initiated in July 2017 during my research at the British Library, the London Soundsslike Project aimed to collect symbolic sounds of London. A list of the most characteristic sounds of London was informed by public participation - British Library staff and others responded to a questionnaire I circulated. Then I recorded a representative selection of these sounds and archived them on the Soundsslike platform. The London Soundsslike Project remains a dynamic crowd-sourced sound archive which is open to further contributions.

The London project is a sub-project of the Soundsslike Project which aims to raise public awareness of urban and cultural sounds and to create a global crowd-sourced sound archive. The Soundsslike Project was initiated to expand the Soundscape of Istanbul collection which was created during my doctoral research at Koç University, Istanbul. The Soundscape of Istanbul project approaches everyday traditions and daily urban life from a sonic perspective and aims to increase public awareness of cultural sounds, e,g. through public exhibitions.

Sound is part of our daily lives and our cultures, and is of great importance in terms of intangible cultural heritage. Sonic cultural heritage is twice endangered due to the physical characteristics of sound itself and the dynamic structure of intangible culture. Sounds that are not protected or archived get lost forever. In a dynamic city such as Istanbul, daily life and urban sounds change rapidly. Therefore, it is necessary and worthwhile to conserve cultural soundmarks of the city so as to sustain cultural identity and cultural memory. The Soundscape of Istanbul collection is now archived at Koç University’s library, on the Europeana Sounds platform and on the global database WorldCat. 

Here are some sound samples from the London Soundsslike Project, with accompanying images:

Big-Ben-Chimes

Big Ben Chimes

Tower-Bridge

Tower Bridge

Free-Evening-Standard-Man

Free Evening Standard Man

Ferry-Horn

Ferry Horn

25 September 2017

Recording of the week: a poetry reading by Kayo Chingonyi

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

Zambian-born poet Kayo Chingonyi reads selections from his pamphlet Some Bright Elegance (Salt, 2012) and other works.

In this recording you can hear some of the stories behind the poems. For example, Kayo’s thoughts of himself as a writer in the poem ‘Daemon’, and his memories of making cassette mixtapes of songs recorded from pirate radio, which informed ‘Guide to Proper Mixtape Assembly’. And, before the reading of ‘Orientation’, Kayo invites the listener to imagine being a secret service operative, setting the mood for the spy poem that follows.

Kayo Chingoyi reads

Kayo Chingonyi_2016

 Kayo Chingonyi, British Library 2016.

The recording was made in the British Library studio, 12 March 2013, for ‘Between Two Worlds: Poetry & Translation’, a British Library project created in collaboration with Amarjit Chandan, and funded by the Arts Council.

For other recordings of Kayo Chingonyi accessible at the British Library please see:

Interview with Kayo talking about his work and influences (2013)

‘Beyond Bounds: Britain Re-Presented in Poetry’: event at the British Library with Kayo Chingoyi and fellow poets Anthony Joseph, Jay Bernard and Vahni Capildeo (2016)

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

24 September 2017

World Rivers Day

You may not know it, but a global celebration of the world's waterways has taken place on the last Sunday of September every year since 2005. From rallies and special film screenings to community cleanups and riverside get-togethers, this annual event highlights the importance of our rivers and the need to protect them.

In honour of World Rivers Day 2017, here are some of our favourite river recordings from around the world.

Agua Azul cascades recorded in Chiapas, Mexico by Richard Beard (BL ref 149032)

Riverside atmosphere recorded in Wedza, Zimbabwe by Nigel Tucker (BL ref 125784)

River Dart below the surface recorded in Devon, England by Peter Toll (BL ref 212542)  

Boyd River atmosphere with frogs recorded in New South Wales, Australia by David Lumsdaine (BL ref 150641)


Creek-593146_1920

Be sure to check out the Twitter hashtag #WorldRiversDay for more info on the day's events. You can also find other watery sounds in the Environment and Nature section of British Library Sounds.

20 September 2017

Reflections on the clip bank: oral history interview highlights

Camille Johnston is a Masters student from University College London who recently completed a summer placement working with the British Library’s oral history collections.

When I began my placement with the Oral History section I couldn’t have predicted what I would discover over the summer months. I’ve been granted access to a vast collection of extracts taken from life story recordings which, while providing an amazing insight into the many different collections developed by the department, are also fascinating as items in themselves.

These extracts have been described as the 'best bits' of interviews, and often give the listener a real sense of the interviewee in just a few minutes. However, what is included in the extract – and what doesn't 'make the cut' – is inevitably a very subjective process. These extracts are products of the decisions made by the individuals involved in their creation.

In the following clip there are enough details to give the listener an idea of the context of the interview. We learn about the interviewee's job, his attitude to his work, norms in his profession, and his working relationships. Taken from the collection, 'An Oral History of British Fashion', Michael Southgate (C1046/08) describes the process of choosing models for mannequins and comments on the success of the Twiggy mannequin.

Michael Southgate - mannequins

A lot of work has gone into creating the clips but, because they were seen as ephemeral at the time of their creation, they are not as well documented as the full interviews they were clipped from. The bank is potentially a very useful resource for web and social media promotion but the clips in it need first to be organised, renamed consistently and permission to use each one checked and documented.

The process of taking extracts from recordings for use in exhibitions, public presentations, promotion, teaching, and internal events requires some consideration of not only the intended audience for the clip, and associated concerns relating to access conditions and copyright ownership, but also the implications of sharing only a small section of a life story recording. How can the integrity of the full interview be preserved when all that is presented is a short clip? Can a clip convey the subtleties of mood and expression present in a full length interview? What is lost or gained?

These questions have accompanied me throughout the summer as I’ve explored and audited the Oral History Clip Bank. The clip bank is a folder stored on a shared drive containing over 3,000 extracts from life story recordings. Clips vary from personal reflections, observations, and amusing anecdotes to potentially sensitive sections extracted for review by the department's advisory board.

The following clip is an example of a short anecdote, taken from the collection: 'Food: From Source to Salespoint'. Robert Johnson (C821/10) tells a story about Bill Knapman taking merchant banker visitors into the cold store.

Bob Johnson - the cold store

As part of my placement I’ve produced recommendations for managing and arranging the clip bank, adding extracts to the clip bank, and reusing existing content. This has included recommendations for file naming, the development of a spreadsheet to document information about clips, and guidelines to assist internal clip bank users. To make these recommendations relevant and useful they have been tailored to suit the needs of interviewers working within the department.

Clip bank picThe clip bank and its metadata spreadsheet

Over the three summer months I've met most of the oral history team and have learnt about the different processes involved in producing a life story recording. These processes include the initial research stage and development of interview questions, arranging and carrying out interviews over multiple meetings with interviewees, the process of summarising content in between meetings (and how this helps the interviewer to further tailor questions), ingesting recordings into the digital library system, and cataloguing these recordings. I've also practised editing clips using WaveLab, and explored how clips are shared online and within exhibitions.

Websites that host British Library oral history clips include: British Library Sounds, Voices of Science, Sisterhood and After, the Sound and Vision blog, and the British Library SoundCloud channel. Exhibitions which have hosted clips in summer 2017 include: Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty at the British Library, Artists’ Lives & Chelsea College of Arts: An Audio Exhibition at Chelsea College of Arts, Sephardi Voices at the London Jewish Museum, Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage at the Library of Birmingham and In Their Own Words: Artists’ Voices from the Ingram Collection at the Lightbox in Woking.

There is great potential for existing clips to be shared again and if clips are well documented this process will be much more efficient. The new system for managing clips therefore encourages and supports future access to clips. There are checks in place to make sure clips are not used inappropriately, and the spreadsheet documents all uses of a particular clip to make sure clips are not repeatedly used for similar events. The spreadsheet includes a 'Keywords' field to encourage users to log the different themes covered in clips, promoting more diverse use.

For example, the following clip could inspire ideas for set production, interior design, and the sourcing of materials as well as provide information relating specifically to Derek Jarman's film 'Caravaggio', Andrew Logan's working environment, and the closing of Biba. Taken from the collection 'Crafts Lives', Andrew Logan (C960/87) describes the Butler's Wharf studio space.

Andrew Logan - Butler's Wharf studio

More Clip Bank highlights will be added to the new Oral History Clip Bank playlist as they are discovered. For more oral history news join the team on Twitter.

18 September 2017

Recording of the week: Oldbury – a tour of a decommissioned nuclear power station

This week's selection comes from Tom Lean, Project Interviewer for An Oral History of British Science.

For nearly 60 years much of Britain’s electricity was supplied by a fleet of eleven Magnox nuclear power stations, built between the 1950s and the 1970s. They were the first series of full-scale nuclear power stations in the world, each built with a pair of nuclear reactors supplying hot steam to a set of turbines to generate electricity for homes and workplaces. While they became the workhorses of the nuclear industry, gradually their numbers dwindled as they reached the end of their design lives and one by one they were decommissioned. North of Bristol, amongst the last to be built was Oldbury, which first went critical on the 18th of September 1967. Switched off in 2012, it now stands silent awaiting the start of a decades-long process that will gradually demolish the station and decontaminate the site. Yet today Oldbury remains much as it was when the station was operational, even if its control rooms and reactor halls seem eerily empty, as Peter Webster, station manager in the 1990s, explains in this video tour of Oldbury recorded last year for An Oral History of the Electricity Supply Industry

In-depth oral history interviews documenting the lives and careers of those who worked in the electricity industry can be found in the Industry: water, steel and energy collection on British Library Sounds.

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

15 September 2017

Open House 2017: Architect Neave Brown on the Alexandra Road estate

Open House is a great opportunity to explore some of London's architectural gems.  It opens up the city’s architectural heritage and encourages people to interact and explore these great buildings. Architects’ Lives offers another way to explore some of the highlights of Open House.  It offers unique recordings with the creators of these buildings and gives a chance to explore the genesis of some of London’s landmarks.  It also charts the trajectory of some of Britain’s most eminent architects.

CoverAlexandra Road Estate by James O. Davies (copyright English Heritage)

One of the highlights of Open House 2017 is the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate designed by Neave Brown.  It was built during the golden age of Camden Council’s architects department in the 1970s under the leadership of Sidney Cook.  Architect Neave Brown eschewed high-rise for high density using a horizontal street pattern.

Concrete was used for both the structure and the form. A talented group of young architects were working as part of the team: Benson and Forsyth, Eldred Evans and David Shalev and engineers Tony Hunt and Max Fordham.  It was awarded Grade II* listed status in 1993.  Neave Brown received the commission as a young architect after having designed small residential blocks in Camden, in his recording he recalls ‘it was the most astonishing brief ever’. You can listen to his full life story recording at British Library Sounds (C467/113).

Neave Brown on the Alexandra Estate

Working in a similar time period, but in a different London context, Sir Denys Lasdun was also exploring the use of concrete for the Royal College of Physicians in Regents Park. You can listen to his account at British Library Sounds (C467/32).

Royal college of Physicians by Denys Lasdun photo Niamh DillonRoyal College of Physicians by Denys Lasdun (photo Niamh Dillon)

Blog by Niamh Dillon, Architects' Lives Project Interviewer