THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

9 posts from July 2018

30 July 2018

Recording of the week: painting people blue in Hull

This week's selection comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Husband and wife, Kārlis and Shirley, talk about the magical experience of being part of photographer Spencer Tunick's 'Sea of Hull' installation in which 3,200 people volunteered to take off their clothes, paint themselves blue and stand in front of Tunick’s camera in Hull city centre in the early hours of the morning one day in 2016. In this extract they describe how being part of this collaborative artwork changed the way that people interacted with each other in public space, how they dealt with the cold, the amazing sight of 3,000 neat little piles of clothes and the difficulty of showering off the blue paint in the changing rooms of Hull ice rink. Later in the conversation they discuss how Hull was the place where Kārlis first arrived in the UK as a child refugee from Latvia and that this made their ‘Sea of Hull’ experience particularly poignant.

The Listening Project_painting people blue in Hull (excerpt)

 

Karlis and Shirley

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between Kārlis and Shirley can be found here.

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

26 July 2018

The elusive Pathé cylinders of Mary Garden

Garden as Melisande
Page from 1904 Pathé catalogue with Garden as Mélisande (BL collections)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Soprano Mary Garden was born in Aberdeen in 1874.  Her mother was only fourteen years of age when Mary, one of four daughters, was born.  The family went to America when Mary was nine years old, so her formative years were spent there.  Her musical talent was evident at an early age; she studied in Chicago, then Paris where she made her debut with the Opéra-Comique in 1900 in the title role of Louise by Charpentier.  An ambitious and dominant woman, she had an affair with composer André Messager, twenty years her senior, who conducted her performances of Louise.  Garden starred in two world premieres and took on many other roles during these years as well as having a role written specifically for her by Jules Massenet – his opera Chérubin.  Her performance in the title role of Richard Strauss’s Salomé in New York caused a sensation not least by her performing the Dance of the Seven Veils in a body stocking.  Garden’s career was mainly in Paris and the United States, her only appearance at Covent Garden in London taking place in the 1902-1903 season.

Front page
Front page from 1904 Pathé catalogue (BL collections)

It was in 1902 that Claude Debussy selected her to sing the lead in his new opera Pélleas et Mélisande.  Two years later Garden made history by recording four discs for the Gramophone Company in Paris accompanied by Debussy at the piano.  These are the only sound recordings made by the great French composer.  However, during her visit to Britain around June 1903, Garden recorded six cylinders of Scottish songs for the English branch of the French label Pathé.  Two of these also appeared on disc at the time but the four remaining cylinders are of extreme rarity.  I was delighted to find that local collector Richard Copeman recently acquired one of these elusive four from a Scottish collector, as they have never been heard since their release in 1904.  I would be pleased to hear from anyone who knows of the whereabouts of any of the other three cylinders.  Although Mr Copeman had made a transfer of his cylinder, our engineer Rob Cowlin experimented with different sized styli until we got the best sound.  Thanks to Mr Copeman we can all now hear this major rarity.  Garden made three further cylinder recordings for Edison in 1905, discs for Columbia in 1912 and Victor in the late 1920s.  She retired from the opera stage in 1934 eventually returning to Scotland where she died at the age of 92 in 1967.

Robin Adair Mary Garden

For all the latest Classical news follow @BL_Classical

 

24 July 2018

Dangerous Oral Histories: Risks, Responsibilities and Rewards

Riddel hall
Riddel Hall, Queens University Belfast

On 28 and 29 June this year, over 200 people gathered at Queens University, Belfast to discuss and debate Dangerous Oral Histories: Risks, Responsibilities and Rewards. This first joint conference hosted by the Oral History Society (OHS), the Oral History Network of Ireland (OHNI) and the QUOTE hub attracted academics, community group representatives and individuals with a personal passion for oral history from places as widely spread as Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Mexico and South Africa. The programme was bursting at the seams – plenary and dynamic presentation sessions, interactive workshops and 100+ speakers filling out 24 panel sessions held across the two days. This was the first time I had attended the Oral History Society’s annual conference and I was particularly struck by the professional organisation and delivery of the whole event. There were high levels of interest in, and support for, everyone’s contributions. A really inclusive environment for budding and expert oral historians alike.

It’s hard to summarise such a mammoth event in a couple of paragraphs, so this blog focuses on my takeaways from the conference. It includes references to sessions I attended and replays a number of quotes picked up from other attendees that I spoke to.

Contributors put forward diverse definitions of danger. Topics included physical, psychological and emotional danger that recalled genocide, abuse and conflict, across political, social and religious boundaries. Presentations on oral history methodologies and governance highlighted danger by identifying the risks associated with individuals’ privacy, the future use of recordings and their safe storage. Ethical dilemmas were aired, such as how to protect the vulnerable without ‘flattening out’ their testimonies from the historical record. Not unexpectedly, the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) popped up everywhere; discussion and debate that will inform evolving guidance of the legislation and its implementation.

Risks of archiving
... the risks of archiving dangerous oral history for public access.

Over two days, in formal settings and during networking opportunities, we reveled in the excitement of oral history, the historical method that exposes us to illuminating and inspiring challenges. For example, when we are engaged in Recovering evidence, disrupting lives? The risky business of uniting archival evidence and oral history, or when a project participant on The Journey to Recovery: Narratives of Addiction asserts that they are being asked the wrong questions if the researcher really wants to get to the crux of the issue. We evaluated the value of oral history, ‘a powerful history’. Its ‘moral force’ enables us to ‘uncover hidden voices’ across nation states, in government institutions and within the home. Panel sessions such as Exploring Difficult Oral Histories of Families and Women, Trauma and Silence allowed access to historical sites not usually visited by empirical historical methods. Fluid memories in a fixed museum: Remember Bhopal Museum, India was just one example of how recording and airing individuals’ subjectivities challenges listeners to ‘re-evaluate dominant narratives’. We also considered the legacy of oral history; the rewards that can be reaped by future generations if researchers navigate their way through the wishes of interviewees, and the requirements of GDPR to manage the risks of archiving dangerous oral history for public access.

The unique and rich nature of oral history testimony was continuously and consistently reinforced during the conference. At the same time, all delegates were reminded of the methodological issues that surface on a regular basis. With social events before, during and after the conference, everyone went home with minds, eyes, vocal chords and limbs invigorated, but perhaps also desperate for a quiet weekend.

For more highlights of the conference, check out #DangerOH18

Sue Bishop is a student of the ARHC-funded Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership. She is studying History with the University of Leicester’s School of History, Politics and International Relations.

23 July 2018

Recording of the week: Saqi Farooqi (1935-2018)

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

This week we feature a complete studio recording of the Indian poet Saqi Farooqi reading his work. The reading was made at the British Library almost exactly 10 years ago today. The poet reads in Urdu and English, with Richard Price from the British Library reading English translations of the Urdu originals. (Farooqi didn't trust himself to emphasize the right words in the English translations.)

Saqi Farooqi reading (C1340/9)

Saqi-Farooqi

Saqi Farooqi was born in India in 1935. When he was 12 he moved to Bangladesh, and did his matriculation there; after four years he moved to Pakistan and did a B.A. at Karachi University; and in 1963 he settled in London, where he initially worked for the BBC's Urdu section, translating news reports.

In an interview made for the British Library at the same time as this reading, he spoke about the poetic philosophy he had followed for the previous 50 years; his admiration for the performance styles of Yevtushenko and Dylan Thomas; his opposition to 'clichés of language, emotion and thought'; and his guiding belief that poetry is 'a musical statement with intelligence'.

Poems read by Richard Price in English translation, then by Saqi Farooqi in the Urdu original: ‘Mastana Heejra’; ‘Spider’; ‘The Trust’; ‘An Injured Tomcat in an Empty Sack’; ‘To a Pig’; ‘Shah Sahib and Sons’; ‘The Hunchback’.

The English translations were made by Frances W. Pritchett, with the exception of ‘Spider’ - which was translated by Mahmood Jamal - and the possible exception of ‘Mastana Heejra’ (translator not known).

Poems composed and read in English by Saqi Farooqi: ‘Anne-Marie’; ‘The Life and Death of Mike Macbeth’; ‘Betrayal’.

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

20 July 2018

Mrs Boulton and the woodland warbler

Have you ever noticed how some animals are named after people? Hume's Partridge. Lady Amherst's Pheasant. Waller's Starling. I come across this quite a lot when cataloguing new collections and have often wondered who these people were.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that these species were named after the naturalists who discovered them. Now, there are no rules that say you can't name a new species after yourself, however it's generally regarded as bad form in most taxonomic circles. Helps keep the egos in check etc.  It's perfectly acceptable to name a species after somebody else though. Most names are given as a declaration of admiration or love, however a few have been chosen out of spite. What better way to insult a critic or a rival than by naming a disagreeable specimen after them? Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, was the king of the nomenclature slap down. Mess with Linnaeus and you could be sure that a smelly weed or a boring nettle would soon bear your name.

In this particular example we're going to look at Mrs Boulton's Woodland Warbler, Seicercus laurae. Now more commonly referred to as Laura's Woodland Warbler, this little songbird can be found in the dry forests and swamps of central Africa. The species was discovered in 1931 by the American ornithologist W. Rudyerd Boulton (1901-1983) who specialised in the avifauna of Africa. While assistant curator of birds at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Boulton made several research trips to Africa accompanied by his first wife, the ethnomusicologist Laura Crayton Boulton (1899-1980). It was with Laura that he discovered this previously unknown warbler which he named in her honour.

Laura's Woodland Warbler, recorded at Mount Namba, Angola by Michael Mills (BL ref 163291) 

The Boultons continued to explore the ornithological and musical treasures of Africa until the mid 1930s when their marriage began to fall apart. The couple finally divorced in 1938 and, though Laura continued in the field of ethnomusicology, Rudyerd's professional life took an entirely different turn. In 1942 he joined the African branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the US intelligence agency formed during World War Two, where his knowledge of the landscape, people and politics of central African countries was put to good use. In the same year he married his second wife, the socialite, poet and psychic Inez Cunningham Stark. Though mainly based out of Washington DC, Boulton was heavily involved with operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, most notably the procurement of uranium ore for the Manhattan Project.

At the end of WWII, Boulton continued working in intelligence for several years, including a stint with the CIA, until, apparently at least, turning his back on espionage in 1958. A year later he created the charitable Atlantica Foundation with his third wife, the wealthy widow Louise Rehm. The remit of this foundation was broad but ambitious, aiming to establish and support research into zoology, ecology, fine arts and parapsychology. The couple based their operation out of Zimbabwe and were by all accounts generous supporters of research and education in the area until their deaths in 1974 (Louise) and 1983 (Rudyerd).

But what of the woman who inspired the name of our woodland warbler? Laura Boulton became a renowned field recordist, filmmaker and collector of traditional musical instruments from around the world. During her life she embarked on almost 30 recording expeditions throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and North America, amassing tens of thousands of sound recordings, photos, films, books and instruments. She experienced first hand advancements in recording technology, beginning her career with an Edison phonograph before progressing to a disc cutting machine and eventually a portable reel to reel recorder. Her legacy can be found in various institutions across the United States, from the Center for Ethnomusicology at Columbia University to the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University. 

Boulton LP  One of Boulton's published collections of ethnographic field recordings (BL Shelfmark 1LP0247765)

When beginning my research I never imagined that two such colourful characters would be behind the name of this rather inconspicuous little warbler. Two years after the discovery of Laura's Woodland Warbler, Rudyerd was himself taxonomically immortalised by the American herpetologist Karl Patterson Schmidt, who named a new species of Namib day gecko, Rhoptropus boultoni, in his honour. And in case you're wondering, Schmidt must have liked Rudyerd. Rhoptropus boultoni is a pretty cute gecko.

Follow @CherylTipp for all the latest wildlife news. 

19 July 2018

Classical Podcast No. 2 - Rob Cowan shares his passion for the artistry of violinist Bronislaw Huberman

Biddulph photo
Bronislaw Huberman (courtesy of Biddulph Records)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Welcome to another in the occasional series of podcasts showcasing treasures from the classical collection of the British Library Sound Archive.

A veteran broadcaster, Rob Cowan currently presents Cowan’s Classics on Classic FM.  From an early age he was exposed to classical music in recordings by the greatest performers of the twentieth century and has spent a lifetime listening to, commenting on and promulgating these vital recordings that enshrine the greatest music interpreted by the greatest artists.

Rob CowanRob Cowan (photo by Jonathan Summers)

Extended recordings used with permisison of Biddulph Records.

Previous Classical podcasts can be heard here.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

16 July 2018

Recording of the week: have you eaten yet?

This week's selection comes from Rowan Campbell, former PhD placement student who worked on the VoiceBank collection.

The greetings used in different languages can reveal a lot about what is important to their respective cultures. And as someone who is always thinking about the next meal, this Singaporean phrase is close to my heart (or stomach):

汝食饱未 (lí chia̍h pá buē)? You eaten already? (C1442/6296) 

When I lived in Hong Kong, my friends would use a similar phrase in Cantonese, and variations of it it crop up in other East Asian countries too. I like how it operates on two levels: first and foremost, it allows you to immediately plan to go have dinner if you haven't already eaten! But behind that is an expression of consideration for the other person's wellbeing - because what better way to show someone you care than to share a meal with them.

Dumplings-2392893_1280

This recording comes from the Evolving English Wordbank, an extensive collection of recordings that capture English dialect and slang from around the world. The collection was created between November 2010 and April 2011 by visitors to the British Library exhibition, Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices and includes local, regional and vernacular forms and idiolectal expressions used within families or friendship groups.

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

09 July 2018

Recording of the week: exploding seed pods

This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds.

The soaring temperatures of summer can have explosive results, especially if you happen to be standing near a gorse bush. This thorny, evergreen shrub produces an unmistakable sea of bright, yellow flowers from January to June. As the flowers begin to fade, a mass of black seed pods emerge to take their place. Slowly but surely, the heat of the summer sun dries out these downy carriers until the structures burst open, expelling the tiny seeds enclosed within. The force of this explosion produces a sharp, popping sound, as can be heard in the following example recorded on the Isle of Wight by Richard Beard.

Exploding seed pods (BL ref 212269)

24921214482_051c505a74_bGorse seed pods (Photo credit: Starr Environmental on VisualHunt / CC BY)

This recording was chosen in memory of the field recordist Richard Beard (1953-2018) whose work in the wildlife section helped process hundreds of unpublished collections for more than a decade. Richard also contributed many thousands of his own recordings to the British Library, some of which can be heard in the Weather and Water collections on British Library Sounds. An oral history interview with Richard, conducted in 2013, can be found here.

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