THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

7 posts from June 2018

18 June 2018

Recording of the week: Dennis Brutus

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

In this archive recording from the African Writers Club collection, South African poet and anti-apartheid activist Dennis Brutus reads the introductory poem from his debut volume Sirens Knuckles Boots. At the time of the book's publication - in Nigeria in 1963 - its author was in prison on Robben Island. The reading is extracted from an interview with Brutus on his poetic work, conducted by Cosmo Pieterse and recorded 5 October 1966. 

Listen to Dennis Brutus reading from 'Sirens Knuckles Boots'

Dennis-Brutus-book-cover

The African Writers Club collection comprises over 250 hours of radio programmes recorded in the 1960s at the Transcription Centre, London, under its Director Dennis Duerden. The collection features interviews, readings and literary and current affairs discussions, and includes contributions by many of the leading African writers and artists of the time.

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

15 June 2018

International research collaboration on South Asian audiovisual heritage

In March this year the British Library began a new research project with the Archives and Research Center for Ethnomusicology American Institute of Indian Studies (ARCE) in India, focused around our South Asian audiovisual heritage collections.

Funded through a grant from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the project is part of  the Rutherford Fund – a major UK Government investment launched in 2017 to promote international research collaboration.

In this post, Dr Sangeeta Dutta, ARCE Archivist, discusses the research fellowship she has been undertaking as part of the project, in the World and Traditional Music section of British Library Sound Archive.

 

IMG_E6537
Dr Sangeeta Dutta

The ‘International Fellowship in South Asian Audiovisual Heritage: Preservation, Research and Engagement’ is a collective endeavour, involving the exchange and sharing of resources of two audiovisual archives - the British Library Sound Archive and the Archives and Research Center for Ethnomusicology American Institute of Indian Studies (ARCE), India. It aims to facilitate the exchange of knowledge of archival practices and of collections, or information about collections, held in each location. A particular objective is to exchange historical recordings made in the first decades of the 20th Century on wax cylinders, and to make them accessible for users at both the archives.

In India, ARCE is one of the pioneers of audiovisual archiving. It was established in 1982, with a vision to bring together the recorded collections of music and oral traditions of South Asia. It has collections of field and published recordings, voluntarily deposited or donated by foreign and Indian scholars and institutions, which are preserved in climate controlled storage and made available for users in a well-equipped listening and viewing room. It has recording, transferring and audio and video archiving facilities, across different technologies and formats. It follows global standards of preservation in audio and video formats in the digital era.

Since I began my fellowship in March, I have had the opportunity to explore various South Asian collections, specially the recordings made in India, and to become familiar with the workflows of the British Library Sound Archive. This fellowship has also been instrumental in providing the opportunity to contribute to the Library’s major digitisation programme, the Save Our Sounds Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. As part of my contribution I have created collection preparation documents for 11 South Asian collections, which have been prioritised for digitisation.  

ARCE lab-3
M. Umashankar in the audio lab at ARCE

I have also been involved in the cataloguing process of both the field and published recordings in the World and Traditional Music section of British Library Sound Archive, creating catalogue entries, working with newly acquired collection items and dealing with born-digital collections. These experiences have been a brilliant learning opportunity for me as Rutherford Fellow. The project has also allowed me to compare, develop and share approaches towards making sound heritage accessible for wider dissemination.

During the Fellowship I have had the opportunity to attend various training courses, ranging from metadata creation to developing dissemination processes. Through these I have learnt something of the tools and practices that will be applicable at various stages of audiovisual archiving in future. The Fellowship has also made it possible for me to visit related institutions and exhibitions in and around London, and to meet scholars of various disciplines - archivists, museum curators, ethnomusicologists, etc. These meetings and discussions have immensely influenced my thought processes involving audiovisual archiving in relation to ethnomusicology.

Another component of the project has been the engagement of two Collections Assistants, one at the British Library Sound Archive (Christian Poske) the other at ARCE in India (Dr Divya Shrivastava). The assistants have contributed towards the preparation of the recordings shared between the two archives, exchanging knowledge around respective cataloguing formats, and developing a model for the classification and cataloguing of musical instruments. Both the Collections Assistants have had the opportunity to make short visits to the partner archives, thereby having hands on experience of archival processes in both institutions.  

IMG_6512
Dr Janet Topp Fargion (Lead, Curator of World and Traditional Music, centre) with Collections Assistants Christian Poske and Divya Shrivastava during her visit to the British Library  

One of the most useful outcomes of the sharing of recordings between our two audiovisual archives will be the wider level of dissemination, particularly where users cannot visit the actual site where the recordings are preserved. The project will make information and expert knowledge of ARCE collections available for the first time to British Library users and audiences in the UK. In India, on the other hand, where ARCE is one of the primary research centres for ethnomusicology, being able to provide access to British Library collections will be of great value to users – a mixture of Indian and international scholars.

Thus the Rutherford Fellowship has facilitated a substantial international collaboration between the British Library and the ARCE. This has enabled the Library to share resources preserved in London with the region of origin. At the same time detailed knowledge held at the ARCE, for example of particular instruments and instrument classification systems, will allow these resources to be more usefully described and discovered. We thank our funders for helping to create this new pathway for the circulation of knowledge among the institutions, building a bridge between the archives and their users. 

 

Follow @BL_WorldTrad@BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

 

11 June 2018

Recording of the week: a Mute Swan's heart

This week's selection comes from Greg Green, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

There are hundreds of thousands of recordings of birds in the sound archive, but not all are of the typical songs and calls we would expect. I have come across recordings of wingbeats (swans, pigeons, ravens and hummingbirds all make fantastic wing sounds), drumming/pecking (woodpeckers and nuthatches), and bill clattering (the somewhat bizarre display of albatrosses). However, there are a few special recordings of something truly intimate, a heartbeat!

Mute Swan heartbeat, recorded by Richard Ridgway on 8th December 1970 (BL ref 29109)

The Mute Swan’s heartbeat in this recording was captured by the late Richard Ridgway on Kilcolman Wildfowl Refuge in County Cork, Ireland. Richard owned and ran the refuge with his wife Margaret. This recording clearly captures Richard’s passion and care for the birds at Kilcolman as well as his interest in sound recording.

  Mute SwanMute Swan, taken from Coloured Figures of the Birds of the British Islands, 1885-1897 (CC-BY, Biodiversity Heritage Library)

Mute swans are normally very defensive and can be incredibly aggressive when threatened. So it is no mean feat that Ridgway managed to tame this bird enough to be able to place a microphone on its chest and stroke its head. He even notes that the swan's heart rate increases when it is stroked. The swan also calls in this recording, and almost seems to respond to the recordist’s voice, which sounds unusual when recorded straight from the birds chest. It’s hard not to smile when imagining a man cuddling a swan while listening to its heart!

This recording has been digitised as part of the library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

Follow @gregegreen@BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

UOSH_Footer with HLF logo

06 June 2018

Make yourself at home! The BBC in a multi-cultural world

David Hendy, Professor of Media and Cultural History at the University of Sussex writes about an upcoming event at the British Library, Britain Reimagined: A New Oral History of the BBC.

The clue is in the name. The British Broadcasting Corporation. It’s a national broadcaster. When its motto proclaims that “Nation Shall Speak Peace unto Nation”, it doesn’t just mean different nations speaking to each other. It also means the nation – Britain - speaking to itself.

But who exactly gets to speak? When the BBC began in the 1920s, it all seemed straightforward – at least to that great Founding Father, John Reith. Christian, high-minded, infused with Victorian spirit of paternalism, Reith was adamant: only “the best” in thought or culture should be broadcast, “only those with a claim to be heard above their fellows” should talk at the microphone, only those with an “educated” southern English accent could be announcers, only programmes of devout Christianity could be aired on a Sunday.

Even at the time, this took little enough account of the richness of regional or working-class life. But after the Second World War - when Britain became home to thousands of immigrants from the Caribbean or Eastern Europe, and later from Kenya, Uganda, India and Pakistan – a dramatic change in attitude was surely inevitable. Like most who arrived at Tilbury on the Empire Windrush in 1948, many of the new immigrants were already British subjects: this was their Motherland. And there’d been a rich Black and immigrant presence here for centuries. Even so, for the BBC a new balancing act was required. Differences had to be acknowledged, yet new settlers needed to be integrated. Which was more important?

Una%20Marson%20in%201941%20hi000374838Una Marson during a BBC broadcast to the West Indies, 1941. Copyright: BBC.

The story of how the BBC navigated these tricky waters can be traced in vivid technicolour through the BBC’s own immensely rich archives, more and more of which are being opened-up to public view for the first time. They offer a lively gallery of programmes and pioneering individuals. Una Marson, pictured above, was born in Jamaica and joined the BBC’s staff during the Second World War. She was the first black producer on its payroll – and a pioneer in cultural programmes transmitted to the Caribbean.

Una Marson interviewing Ken "Snakehips" Johnson, 1940. Copyright: BBC.

That fragile recording of Marson interviewing the jazz band-leader Ken “Snakehips” Johnson in 1940, only a matter of months before he was killed in the London Blitz, is just one among many we’re making available online through a new project based at the University of Sussex, working in collaboration with the BBC.

At our workshop on 10 July, Britain Reimagined: A New Oral History of the BBC we’ll be listening to, watching - and talking about – Una Marson, the programmes she made, and her dramatic departure from the BBC in 1946. Through newly-released oral history recordings and programmes not seen since their first broadcast, we’ll also be encountering many other fascinating individuals who helped – and in some cases hindered – the BBC’s slow embrace of a multi-cultural world: the people behind the first TV programmes for British Asians in the 1960s, Make Yourself at Home; the creators of Open Door, a bold 1970s experiment in ‘access TV’; the broadcasters who first brought Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists to the microphone.

The story these records tell isn’t straightforward: the BBC was brave in some areas, cautious in others. Nor is the story always reliable. There are gaps in the archive – including the testimonies of listeners and viewers themselves - and questions to be answered about who gets to tell the BBC’s own history now.

MikePH2Mike Phillips, former broadcaster, 2018. Copyright: Connected Histories of the BBC.

So, we’ll also be joined live on 10 July by a special guest – and a brand-new contributor to our ‘unofficial’ oral history of the BBC: the former journalist and crime-writer Mike Phillips, pictured above, who in 1998 wrote the ground-breaking book Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain. We hope you can join us.

05 June 2018

London dialect in pop music

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Spoken English writes:

The mixed reception among my children and their peers to Arctic Monkeys’ sixth studio album, Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, is, I suspect, the equivalent of my Kid A moment. I’m probably not qualified to contribute to the debate on the album’s artistic merit, but the continued evolution in Alex Turner’s singing style struck me as linguistically significant in that he now reveals much less of his Sheffield identity.

As noted in a previous blog post it is pretty rare in mainstream pop music to detect a regional accent, but Turner was at one time a notable exception. However, in a British context, perhaps not surprisingly, London has arguably featured more prominently than elsewhere in British popular music culture from music hall (Gus Elen singing oh it really is a wery pretty garden in ‘If It Wasn’t for the ‘Ouses in Between’ [1931]), through musical theatre (Stanley Holloway singing wiv a little bit of bloomin' luck in ‘My Fair Lady’ [1964]) to contemporary pop, rock and hip hop.

Like most British acts the vast majority of London artists tend to adopt a more conventional ‘transatlantic’ pop voice when singing (listen to David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ [1981] or Adele’s ‘All I Ask’ [2015] and you’ll hear dance and ask sung with a short vowel, which contrasts with the long vowel they and other Londoners use when speaking spontaneously). Unlike most British dialects, though, there is a substantial back catalogue of pop music performed in an instantly recognisable London accent and a quick glance at one example per decade since the 1960s offers glimpses of typical elements of London pronunciation and insight into change over time.

1960s: ‘Lazy Sunday Afternoon’ by the Small Faces [1968]: contains echoes of music hall Cockney; notable features include my pronounced like ‘me’, TH-fronting (with pronounced as ‘wiv’) and the vowel quality in nice (‘noyce’) in the opening line oh wouldn’t it be nice to get on with my neighbours

1970s: ‘Cool for Cats’ by Squeeze [1979] is crammed full of London cultural references; notable features include H-dropping and TH-fronting (Heathrow pronounced as ‘Eafrow’) and frequent T-glottaling (the substitution of a glottal stop for the <t> in ninety, got, get and at) in the line the Sweeney's doing ninety cause they've got the word to go they get a gang of villains in a shed up at Heathrow

1980s: ‘Rabbit’ by Chas & Dave [1981] combines music-hall humour and pub sing-along conventions in a style affectionately dubbed ‘rockney’; notable features include H-dropping (heart pronounced as ‘art’), yod-dropping (knew pronounced as ‘noo’) and an older dialectal pronunciation of off (rhyming with ‘morph’) in the line now you was just the kind of girl to break my heart in two I knew right off when I first clapped my eyes on you

1990s: ‘Parklife’ by Blur [1994] is a portrayal of contemporary London life in which Damon Albarn adopts a more markedly London accent in his singing style, unfairly dismissed by some commentators as ‘mockney’; notable features include my pronounced like ‘me’, a glottalised <p> sound in cup of tea, H-dropping and the distinctive vowel sound in house (‘aahse’) in the line, delivered by actor Phil Daniels, I put my trousers on have a cup of tea and I think about leaving the house

2000s: ‘Defeat You’ by N-Dubz [2006] is one of many 21st century songs that captures Multicultural London English (MLE), a distinctive blend of established London forms and features from British Asian, British Caribbean and non-native speaker varieties; ‘traditional’ Cockney features include T-glottaling and L-vocalisation (the substitution of an ‘oo’-like vowel for the <l> sound so that royalty sounds something like ‘roy-oo’y’) in the line you ain’t gonna see no royalty cheques; Caribbean English features are apparent in pronoun exchange (I for ‘me’) and word final consonant cluster reduction (vex for ‘vexed’) in the line you don’t wanna see I vex; while the invariant tag innit in the opening line listen to I innit is thought to have originated in British Asian speech communities.

2010s: The latest singer to excite my dialectologist’s ears is Croydon-born Whitgift and Brit School old boy, Loyle Carner. The single ‘No CD’ from his Mercury Award nominated debut album, Yesterday’s Gone [2017], is lyrically a fascinating mix of well-established Cockney, imported vernacular and extremely current slang that neatly reflects London’s vibrant cultural mix, delivered in an extremely authentic, contemporary accent that is relatively classless, socially and ethnically ambiguous and yet – geographically – unmistakeably London as is immediately apparent in the opening lines:

DD00006998 Loyle Carner NO CD

Loyle Carner Yesterday's Goneay ay oh please we ain't got no P's because we spent all our money on some old CDs

it's like oh please we ain't got no P's because we spent all our money on some old CDs

we saying oh please we ain't got no P's because we spent all our money on some old CDs

we got some old Jay Zs couple ODBs place ‘em up in perfect order

cause my OCD won't let me keep it I never speak it and keep it a secret

it be peak if any geezer would hear it and then repeat it

so we keep it keeping out of reach from all the eejits

if you need it best believe it you won't seek it

locked up in my room deep cocoon like you're digging in crates

already done with your digging so your digging is bait

Carner, L & R. Kleff. 2017. No CD. Loyle Carner ft. Rebel Kleff. Yesterday’s Gone. [LP]. UK: Universal, AMF 0007. BL Shelfmark: DD00006998

Loyle Carner Field DayNotable lexical items: geezer [= ‘chap/fellow’] is recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) from 1885, but is, I suspect, nowadays most closely associated with speakers from London, while eejit [= ‘fool/idiot’], listed from 1853, is categorised as ‘Anglo-Irish dialect’; this celebration of established vernacular forms blends seamlessly with current urban slang forms like P [= ‘penny/pound’ i.e. ‘money’], peak [= ‘unpleasant’] and bait [= ‘obvious’], none of which has yet made it into the OED, but all three are recorded in Green’s Dictionary of Slang as 21st century British coinages and included in Wikipedia’s London slang glossary.

Notable grammatical constructions: alongside lexical markers, Carner uses non-standard grammatical forms such as ain’t [= ‘have PRESENT NEGATIVE’] which he combines with no to form a double negative (we ain’t got no P’s). Although the use of ain’t as an invariant negative for both ‘be’ and ‘have’, and indeed multiple negation, exist in numerous varieties of English around the world, they are both clearly productive markers of present-day London dialect as confirmed by the analogous construction (you ain’t never seen no royalty cheques) in ‘Defeat You’ noted above. Carner also adopts a narrative device, quotative be like (it's like oh please we ain't got no P's), that is extremely common among young English speakers worldwide as a means of introducing reported speech and a phenomenon that has received considerable attention among academic linguists.

Notable pronunciation features: in common with many of the singers included here, Carner exhibits L-vocalisation (old pronounced like ‘oh-ood’ and couple pronounced like ‘cupp-oo’) and consistently uses T-glottaling in word final position (ain’t, spent, got, keep it, speak it, secret, hear it, repeat it, need it, believe it, seek it, bait).

While none of these features individually is unique to London English, the combination is typical of many young Londoners and shows how the British Library’s sound archives – spoken voice and music alike – are a wonderful linguistic resource. Our Unlocking our Sound Heritage project and investment in new technology in collaboration with the music industry to enable us to receive music in digital formats means even more London music will be available to linguists and other researchers now and in the future. Let’s hope, like Loyle Carner fans last weekend, they end up having a field day.

04 June 2018

Recording of the week: the orchestral power of embroidery machines

This week's selection comes from Lucia Cavorsi, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Serious/Speakout was a UK promotion company to which artists submitted their demo tapes when seeking performance opportunities during the 1990s.

This particular recording features an excerpt of Concerto for Percussion and Embroidery Machine. It world premiered at Warwick Festival in 1991 and was composed and performed by musician Matthew Griffiths, the now CEO of Youth Music.

Matthew Griffiths

Fascinated by the idea of making art out of daily life objects (especially the traditionally gender specific ones), I contacted Matthew and asked him to tell me more about it.

So here’s the story: Matthew graduated as a solo percussionist in 1989. The then Artistic Director of the Warwick Festival, Richard Phillips, introduced him to Robert Hornby, the Director of Bryant & Tucker. This was an embroidery company in Leamington Spa that produced badges for companies using, at the time, state of the art computerised embroidery machines which were very loud and very rhythmic. After the enthralling visit to the factory, Robert Hornby commissioned the percussionist to compose a new work for the Warwick Festival and Matthew suggested creating a composition utilising the sounds of the machines.

The theme of the 1991 Festival was Prokofiev, so the Bryant & Tucker machines were programmed to create a unique badge portraying ‘Peter and the Wolf ‘ as a memento for the audience to take away after the performance. To do this, the machines had to run for about thirty minutes creating a variety of cross rhythms, juddering sounds and ‘white noise’ as they created the badge. The sounds were notated and the musician and the programmer worked together to focus on the sounds that were musically most interesting. These were then incorporated into the computer programme for the badge production. This became the orchestral accompaniment with Matthew playing live percussion over the top as the concerto soloist. The multi-percussion set up included a marimba, vibraphone, timbales, cymbals and bells and it was played in front of the one massive embroidery machine in the factory before a sold out audience.

Excerpt of Concerto for Percussion and embroidery machine (C728/684)

The performance only happened once.

The idea subsequently won an award from ABSA (Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts) for the most innovative sponsorship by a small business.

This recording is part of the Serious Speakout Demo Tapes collection (C728) which has been digitally preserved as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

Follow @lcavorsi, @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news. Many thanks to Matthew Griffiths for his assistance with this piece.

01 June 2018

The voice of Jack Johnson - heavyweight boxing champion of the world

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

360px-Jack_Johnson_boxer_c1908Jack Johnson c.1908

The legendary Jack Johnson (1878-1946) is remembered as the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion, a title he held from 1908 to 1915.  At a time when race relations were extremely volatile in the United States, Johnson caused a sensation not only by beating all white challengers in the ring, but by consorting with white women and marrying three of them.

Johnson was arrested in 1912 for violating the Mann Act, a 1910 Federal law criminalizing the transport of any girl or woman across the state line for ‘immoral purposes’.  He was convicted a year later by an all-white jury, sentenced to a year in prison, but fled the country for seven years before returning to serve his time in 1920. For some years, Mike Tyson and John McCain campaigned to get him pardoned and recognised as one of the United States greatest sports legends, but it was not until last week that President Donald Trump gave Johnson a posthumous pardon.

Burns-Johnson_boxing_contest _December_26th_1908_photographed_by_Charles_KerryFight with Tommy Burns 26th December 1908, Sydney, Australia

For those of us who have a fascination with the earliest recordings, Johnson’s heyday fortunately coincided with the invention and development of film and sound recording.  Because he was a superstar and his fights were so popular they were filmed as early as 1908 (albeit silent) to be shown at a later date to fee paying audiences in theatres.  Indeed, the fight that took place on Boxing Day 1908 in Sydney Australia where he gained the title is extant.  His status meant that record companies requested his services for discs of him speaking on training, his views on physical culture, and descriptions of his most famous fights.  The discs are rare today.  Indeed, only two of three parts of the recording he made for Columbia in the United States in 1910, My own story of the big fight, have turned up.

When Johnson visited England in October 1911 for a fight at Earl’s Court he also toured the music halls where crowds flocked to see him.  A film, preserved by the BFI, was taken of him visiting the Manchester docks and leaving the Regent Theatre in Salford.

Edison Bell Peckham-page-001Jack Johnson and wife Lucille at the Edison Bell Studio in Peckham (Sound Wave August 1914, BL collections)

Johnson defeated Frank Moran on 27th June 1914 at the Velodrome d'Hiver in Paris then traveled to England to record for Edison Bell’s popular Winner label on the 30th June.  The two sides, titled Physical Culture, were recorded at their studio in Glengall Road, Peckham.  In his exemplary book Lost Sounds: Blacks and the birth of the recording industry 1890-1919, Tim Brooks devotes a chapter to Jackson and his handful of recordings and illustrates it with photos acquired from the British Library.  The main message of the lecture is that we should all drink more water – Johnson could hardly have imagined that a hundred years later nearly everyone could be seen with a plastic bottle of water in their hand or bag.

Disc labels-page-001Disc loaned by Mr Gray

The Edison Bell recording is also an extremely rare disc, but in 1993 a Mr Gray brought his copy of it to what was then the National Sound Archive for a dubbing to be made.  Mr Gray had found it in a junk shop in Edinburgh in 1986.  I remembered seeing this on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue and years ago discovered a photograph of the disc labels in a drawer at the Sound Archive’s previous premises in Exhibition Road.  Today, after a little searching, I have discovered that photo so the disc can be seen and heard again more than one hundred years after it was recorded.

 Physical Culture

Johnson’s career from the beginning of the twentieth century is documented for us in a way that is given to few from that period.  His was also an important chapter in social history, one still resonating today with the President’s pardon.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical