THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

141 posts categorized "Arts, literature & performance"

07 September 2018

The MiniDisc revival starts here (maybe)

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Sony launched the first MiniDisc players and recorders in 1992. MiniDiscs were small (around 2¾" square) floppy-disk-style cartridges with an 80-minute recording capacity, intended to supplant the tape cassette format.

Some major-artist commercial albums were issued as pre-recorded MiniDiscs, and the Library has a few examples of these in its collection. In its heyday, however, at least in the UK,  the MiniDisc arguably found more favour as a recording medium, particularly among broadcasters (and oral historians). The Millennium Memory Bank project, for example, created by BBC local radio stations across England, together with Radio Scotland, Radio Ulster, Radio Wales and Radio Cymru - and held at the British Library - alone comprises more than 6000 MiniDiscs.

Sony ceased production of MiniDisc machines in 2013 so the format may be considered officially obsolete. For Paul Maclean, though, and his fellow H. P. Lovecraft appreciators in the Cthulhu Breakfast Club, who have just released their first 'MiniDisc Exclusive Release', the format is very much alive.

MiniDisc

I asked Paul to say a few words on the attraction of obsolete recording formats:

I've been by training and trade, an archaeologist and museum scientist. I’ve always had a 'backwards-looking curiosity' combined with a love of the technological. In more recent years my work has focused on the web and especially net-based audio such as podcasts - they are a wonderful and practical way to reach people around the world almost instantly - but at the same time I think something is lost by the lack of the physical: the particular, more direct connection between audience and creator that can exist with physical artefacts.

In 2017 I produced a wax cylinder recording of a podcast (through Poppy Records), which proved popular - likely due to the novelty of using some of the latest technology (Ambisonic high resolution digital recording) married to one of the earliest recording formats. The cylinders were manufactured for us by Paul Morris. However a wax cylinder meant a very short show: only 2 minutes!

Our normal shows tend to run over an hour. Having both a love of obsolete audio formats and fond memories of Sony’s short-lived but superbly engineered MiniDisc system, the MiniDisc format seemed a logical next step.

Denon-replicator

Over the past few years I’ve collected a number of MD players and was also lucky enough to acquire a Denon DN-045R MD replicator (above) which allows me to produce pristine new MD recordings in quantity. The last Sony MiniDisc machine may have left the factory in 2013 but the format still has its loyal fans (of which I am one).

These days the typical audio I produce is distributed online in high resolution AAC format - it’s efficient and effective, but so are millions of other web audio files in an ocean of new content every day - but sometime’s what’s old is new again. Perhaps one day Sony may release a new version of the format (with less draconian DRM), in the same way vinyl has made a revival. One can but hope!

05 September 2018

Behind the Scenes of the Man Booker: a National Life Stories film

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Sarah O'Reilly, oral history interviewer for Author's Lives writes about 50 years of the Man Booker Prize and a new film. produced by National Life Stories.  

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Man Booker Prize, the leading literary award that rewards ‘fiction at its finest’.

Here at National Life Stories, we thought it would be a good moment to delve into our Oral History collections to see what we could find out about the history of the Man Booker, as revealed by the past administrators, winners, shortlisted authors and judges who we’ve recorded for the BL’s Sound Archive.

Booker advert resizedPublicity poster for the 1980 Booker Prize (Credit: Booker Prize Archive)

The early Man Booker was dogged by controversies. In 1972, winner John Berger announced he would be donating half his prize money to The Black Panthers. Two years later, judge Elizabeth Jane Howard fought successfully to have a book written by her husband Kinglsey Amis included on the shortlist. And two years after that, the winner was decided on a coin toss, because the judges couldn’t agree amongst themselves...

David Storey win the 1976 Man Booker Prize (C408/024)

Award resizedDavid Storey wins the 1976 Man Booker Prize (Credit: Marc Henrie)

It was only in the 1980s that the prize began to achieve international fame, helped first by the battle between William Golding and Anthony Burgess for the 1980 Booker, and then by Salman Rushdie who won the following year with ‘Midnight’s Children’. Fifteen years later, Salman Rushdie was one of a number of writers to leave congratulatory answerphone messages for Graham Swift, who was awarded the Man Booker in 1996 for his novel ‘Last Orders’:

Answerphone messages for Graham Swift, 1996

To hear these, and many other stories about the history of the Man Booker, watch this film.

03 September 2018

Recording of the week: adrift on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean

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

Sir Wilfred Thomason Grenfell (1865-1940) was a British physician, medical missionary and humanitarian, who worked on the Newfoundland and Labrador coast, Canada for over forty years.

In 1908, on his way to operate on a child, he travelled from St Anthony on Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula on a sledge drawn by dogs, and found himself stranded overnight on an ice floe drifting in the Arctic Ocean. He survived this potentially fatal mishap and was rescued the next day.

Grenfell_DrSir Wilfred Grenfell, his sledge dogs and the bronze tablet at St Anthony Hospital he had made to commemorate the dogs that saved his life. (Images from the 1910 edition of Adrift on an Ice-Pan. Shelfmark: 10460.cc.20.)

Grenfell wrote a short book narrating his near-death experience entitled Adrift on an Ice-Pan (1909) which is now in the public domain. It’s an interesting read illustrated with photographs of him and his sledge dogs, which he calls ‘his team’. Regretfully he had to sacrifice three of his beloved dogs to avoid freezing to death that night.

This audio recording of Grenfell himself narrating the incident is a short version of his book. It was issued by the HMV label in May 1911.

Adrift on an Ice Floe in the Arctic Ocean (BL shelfmark 1CL0029069)

Grenfell755rePostage stamp dedicated to Sir Wilfred Grenfell issued on the year of his death. (British Library Universal Postal Union Collection. Photo: Paul Skinner, Lead Curator, Philatelic Collections).

Through his career Wilfred Grenfell campaigned and raised funds for the building of hospitals, orphanages, schools and the improvement of living conditions for Labrador and Newfoundland fishermen and their families. He wrote several books of his travels in the area to promote it to the general public.

His legacy has inspired authors like English travel writer Bruce Chatwin and US novelist Saul Bellow. There was even an Adrift on an Ice Pan comic version published by True Comics in 1941, which you can also read online.

Further reading: Grenfell, Sir Wilfred Thomason by Ronald Rompkey. Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news

21 August 2018

The Bernstein Centenary

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Leonard_Bernstein_-_1950s
Leonard Bernstein in the 1950s  (Unknown photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Leonard Bernstein was born 100 years ago this month.  During the second half of the twentieth century he was the one figure that brought classical music to the general public in a way never before attempted.  In the early 1950s he used the new medium of television to disseminate his passion for and knowledge of music to the widest possible audience.  Indeed, a whole generation of Americans grew up with a love and understanding of great music thanks to Bernstein.

Between 1954 and 1958 eight live broadcasts introduced by Alistair Cooke encompassed a broad range of music including classical, jazz, musical comedy and the art of conducting posing such questions as ‘What makes opera grand?’  The first programme on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is especially fascinating as Bernstein reveals the composer’s earlier ideas and sketches giving his own explanation for their deletion.  The opening page of the score is printed large on the studio floor with members of the orchestra standing on their appropriate staves.

However, it was Bernstein’s series of 53 televised Young People’s Concerts that opened up the wonders of music to a whole generation.  While the British Library has in the collections his later television appearances which were commercially produced (mainly by his record label at the time, Deutsche Grammophon), over previous years I have made an effort to obtain all of Bernstein’s early television material.

DVD box set
1DVD0010176 (BL Collections)

In 1959 the US State Department sponsored a tour of the New York Philharmonic which included 50 concerts in 17 countries.  Filmed records of the visits to Moscow, where Bernstein is seen with Shostakovich and Boris Pasternak, and Venice were available on DVD in Japan and can be seen at the British Library.  The tour ended on 10th October 1959 when Bernstein and his orchestra gave a concert at the Festival Hall in London, parts of which were recorded directly to tape from the live radio broadcast in excellent sound by a private individual, Dr. Schuler, whose son donated his collection to the British Library in 1999.  The Times review was headed ‘Like burnished copper – New York orchestra’s fine tone’ and referred to Bernstein as ‘that paragon of brilliance and versatility.’  Here is an excerpt from the Second Essay by Samuel Barber.

 Barber Second Essay 10101959 extract

Bernstein and the New Yorkers returned to London in February 1963 and Dr Schuler recorded the Symphony No. 7 in D minor by Dvorak and Elgar’s Cockaigne overture, an extract of which can be heard below.

Elgar Cockaigne 13021963 extract

A selection of Bernstein video materials at the British Library

Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts 1DVD0005845

Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts Volume 2 1DVD0010018

The Unanswered Question - Six talks at Harvard by Leonard Bernstein 1DVD0009993

Archive of American Television presents Leonard Bernstein Omnibus 1DVD0009994

The Love of Three Orchestras 1DVD0010180

Historic Television Specials Moscow; Venice; Berlin; The Creative Performer; Rhythm 1DVD0010176

The Joy of Sharing - The last date in Sapporo 1990 1DVD0010178

For all the latest Classical news follow @BL_Classical

08 August 2018

Actors and directors: the Anwar Brett collection

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Anwar Brett (1966-2013) was a freelance film critic and the author of the book Dorset in Film (Dorset Books, 2011). For around 25 years, from his early 20s onward, he wrote for a broad range of different national and regional newspapers and magazines.  He also contributed to The International Directory of Film & Filmmakers and the 1995 edition of Children’s Britannica.

It is clear he was passionately interested in film and also devoted to his home county of Dorset (he lived in Wimborne). His other interests included boxing and football.

Anwar-Brett

Anwar Brett's wife Tracey donated his massive archive of tapes of interviews and press conferences to the British Library in 2016. The collection numbers approximately 1500 tape cassettes, covering the period 1989-2006; and approximately 900 CD-Rs, covering 2007-2013. This unique set of recordings features film actors and directors, mainly in a press conference setting but also sometimes in more informal settings - on-set or in telephone conversations (a 2001 telephone interview with Rita Tushingham is almost wholly concerned with the fortunes of Liverpool Football Club!). 

Speakers include major international and British stars such as Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, Whoopi Goldberg, Samuel L. Jackson and Helen Mirren; and directors Kathryn Bigelow, Beeban Kidron, Spike Lee, Mike Leigh, Barbet Schroeder, Martin Scorsese and Wim Wenders -  to give a more-or-less random sample from this hugely varied collection.

The tapes are currently being catalogued by my colleague Trevor Hoskins. Trevor is about a quarter of the way through at the moment but it will be a long while yet before the end is in sight.

To follow progress and to see the tapes catalogued so far please go to our Sound and Moving Image catalogue and type in 'Anwar Brett tapes'. All are available to listen to on request via our free Listening and Viewing Service. You will need a British Library Reader Pass though.

Anwar-Brett-cassette

To whet your appetite, here is a short clip of the then 23-year-old Danny Dyer, recorded on-set by Anwar Brett in June 2001, during the filming of the The Mean Machine.

Please note that this recording was made outdoors on a windy day, with consequent very noticeable wind noise. Contains strong language.

Listen to Danny Dyer

With thanks to Trevor Hoskins and Nick Churchill.

30 July 2018

Recording of the week: painting people blue in Hull

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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

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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

 

23 July 2018

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

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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.