THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

3 posts categorized "Cinemas"

11 December 2015

Audio-Visual Resources and The Academic Book of the Future

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In early 2015 I was fortunate enough to catch Bex Lyons giving a presentation on The Academic Book of the Future. This is a research project sponsored by the British Library and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and delivered by a research team led by Dr Samantha Rayner at UCL. The project seeks to explore the future of academic books in the context of open access publishing and digital change.

ABF

Aside from the fascinating debates about what constitutes ‘academic’, what constitutes a ‘book’, and what an ‘academic book’ might be in the current research landscape – I was struck by the potential applications of the project to the collection I am vested in at The British Library: sound.

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The British Library sound archive is an extraordinary collection of over 6.5 million recordings dating back to the birth of recorded sound in the early 19th century. If you were to listen to our entire collection back to back, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no holidays or breaks, it would take you over 140 years – plus the collection is growing daily! It is a unique research resource, comparable only to the Library of Congress sound collections in the USA. Find out more about our collection here 

Sound recordings are the closest thing to time travel that we have as a research tool. Take for instance this audio clip of JRR Tolkien visiting a tobacco shop. We are instantly transported to 1929 when the recording was made, and it is easy to feel that you are being addressed directly. The time that has passed between then and now seems to vanish. (image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/12255828365)

The Save Our Sounds project

Professional reel-to-reel player being maintainedMany of the British Library’s recordings are under threat of disappearing as technologies change and some formats begin to naturally decay, and in response to this challenge the Library has launched a major campaign to digitise our historic sound collections.

As well as enabling us to future-proof our collections, the Save Our Sounds campaign is a unique opportunity for us to take stock of our role as audio heritage archivists, cataloguers, librarians, and collectors. Part of this includes considering access and the ways in which our collections are used by researchers. It is here, at the crossroads of research and engagement, that linking up with The Academic Book of the Future project becomes very exciting.

At the moment, if an ‘academic text’ includes audio or visual resources these tend to be included as DVDs, CDs, and perhaps even CD-ROMs (yes, they are still floating around out there!). As the technological landscape of the world changes, the ability to access and play CDs, DVDs and most definitely CD-ROMs will become increasingly limited. From the initial survey work that has been done for the Save Our Sounds project, the main preservation concern is not that the recordings themselves are at risk of disappearing, but the obsolescence of the playback equipment.

So, how will audio-visual resources be included in academic books of the future?

In current and emerging contexts in which content is increasingly digitised and media-rich, how will the ability to incorporate audio-visual research directly into research outputs change the way in which these outputs are created, accessed, and referenced?

We hope that working with The Academic Book of the Future project to address some of these questions will offer important insights into how researchers are using sound and moving image resources, and highlight common issues and concerns across disciplines.

If you are or have used sound and/or audio-visual materials for research do please complete our short survey. The closing date is Friday 1st April.

A symposium has been arranged to discuss the findings of the survey & hear presentations by publishing houses, app developers, and researchers. The symposium will address and encourage discussing ways of working together to fully explore the potential of audio-visual components in the academic book of the future. Save the date – 23rd May 2016 at The British Library, London.

Find out more about Save our Sounds at www.bl.uk/saveoursounds, follow @SoundHeritage for live updates from our digitisation studio, @SoundArchive for tweets from the sound team, and use #SaveOurSounds to join the conversation on Twitter.

Steven Dryden - Sound & Vision Reference Specialist 

07 May 2015

Lord of the Rings recording engineer David Gleeson receives British Library Edison Fellowship

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Current Edison Fellow David Gleeson writes about his work for Decca in London and the major film studios of Hollywood.

Returning to the UK after nearly twenty years abroad, several life events drew me to the British Library’s Oral History of Recorded Sound, which in turn led to applying for an Edison Fellowship.

Straight out of London University in 1984, I went to work as a research assistant for Decca, Belsize Road, where a veteran team of analogue recording pioneers was trying to come to terms with a new generation of digital recording pioneers – just as mono engineers had had to come to terms with stereo engineers in the 1950s – and not without conflict. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I was fortunate to be present amongst those who’d invented methods that have remained unchanged through all of the upheaval of the digital era. I then went to work at Abbey Road where the ‘Decca Tree’ and other orchestral recording techniques were an unquestioned given. In 1991, I moved to California and co-ran the scoring stage at Skywalker Sound, where Decca Trees were as much a natural part of the environment as the rolling hills of Lucas Valley Road.

By 2000, I’d set up a post-production facility with Ren Klyce and Malcolm Fife, in which David Fincher’s Fight Club was the first project. On our next Fincher film, Panic Room, I co-produced the score for Howard Shore. Howard subsequently invited me to join his Lord of the Rings films, directed by Peter Jackson. It was a watershed moment in film scoring, just as multitrack digital tape recorders had reached their peak and digital audio workstations were taking over. Much of the preparation work for the extended Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers involved building a team and workflow which allowed orchestral multitrack recordings to be edited during the session, deploying technology that had yet to be tested in such a pressured environment. Needless to say, at the front end of all this new-fangled technology stood a Decca Tree.

LOR 1 Gleeson

Control Room, Studio One, Abbey Road – Peter Jackson and Howard Shore with Oscar statuette – Academy Award, Best Original Score, The Fellowship of the Ring (photo by David Gleeson 2002)

LOR 2 Gleeson

Watford Town Hall – Peter Jackson taking a break with the timps during LPO recordings for The Two Towers, Howard Shore standing by with a spare mallet (photo by David Gleeson 2002)

After two years of production work, I took a step back from the bustle which had involved spending much of the year away from home, 20-hour workdays, frequent all-nighters, and endless travel. A writing sabbatical ultimately led to recording work at The Banff Centre. It was there, high up in the Canadian Rockies, that I met up-and-coming recording engineers who wanted to learn all there was to know about Decca Trees and scoring sessions alike. Fortunately for them, John Dunkerely, former chief engineer at Decca, was there as visiting faculty to impart much wisdom on the subject. 

A point of discussion with John was that we’d recently lost many of the luminaries of what had become known as the Golden Age of Decca. Between 2004 and 2012, engineers, Kenneth Wilkinson, Roy Wallace, Cyril Windebank, Jimmy Lock, and Jack Law had all died, as well as producers, Erik Smith, Ray Minshull, Andrew Raeburn, Christopher Raeburn and Peter Andry.

Unlike conductors and a few of the more successful producers whose lives are pored over in great detail with resulting hagiographies, precious little had been documented on the lives of the engineers. Fortunately for posterity, and the rest of us, the OHRS had recorded interviews with Decca’s Tony Griffiths and Arthur Haddy. Since starting the Edison Fellowship, interviews have been conducted with Michael Gray, Jimmy Brown, and Tony Hawkins. 

The Edison Fellowships are designed to encourage scholarship devoted to the history of recordings of classical music and music in performance through creating the conditions for concentrated use of the Library's collections of recordings.

18 February 2010

Recommended reading no. 1 - Picture Palace

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Picturepalace

I'm going to establish some occasional series here on the Moving Image blog, and will start with a series that reviews books on film (which of course you can find here at the British Library). The emphasis is going to be on unfamiliar or neglected titles. No one researching film needs to be told of the value of, say, David Thomson's Biographical Dictionary of Film or Siegfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler, but there are plenty of titles that ought to be taken off the shelves a little more often than tends to be the case.

We'll kick off with Audrey Field, Picture Palace: A Social History of the Cinema (London: Gentry Books, 1974)

Apart from biographies, there wasn't a huge number of British film history books published before the great growth of scholarly interest in British cinema from the 1980s onwards. So it is curious that this elegant, observant and very readable social history of cinema in Britain from the earliest years to the 1940s should turn up in so few bibliographies or reading lists. Audrey Field worked at the British Board of Film Censors (now the British Board of Film Classification) from 1948, rising to become Examiner of Films, and retiring in 1973. Her book looks at the habit of cinema-going, and in that alone it was unusual for its time. Scholarly interest in the 1970s was very much focused upon the screen, and it is only recently that academia has woken up to the realisation that film is as much a social phenomenon as an artistic one.

Field therefore looks not at the films, but at the audience, at the cinemas they visited, the people who ran the cinemas, and the critics and self-appointed guardians of those audiences (the BBFC among them). It is a book filled with good common-sense and a warm sympathy for the audiences who found in the cinema such a marvellous (and cheap) means to escape drudgery and to discover emotion, glamour and fantasy. She pokes gentle fun at the assorted anxious commentators and legislators who felt it incumbent upon them to control this medium that had to be wrong if was so popular among the undiscriminating masses, and her book is particular strong for the early years of British cinema. She cites a great many original documents (regrettably there are no notes and the bibliography is thin) which are a discovery in themselves and an encouragement to pursue the subject further.

Field gives particular attention to children - not for any sentimental reason, but simply because they formed such a large proportion of cinema audiences from the start, and because they are too often written out of cinema histories. She also looks at those who worked in the cinemas - projectionists, usherettes, managers - using her own interview material. She of course gives particular attention to the role of the BBFC (an industry body, not a state one), whose uneasy role she explains with an understanding of how such body must necessarily be a social barometer.

Throughout her focus is on those audiences who were simply out for a good time. As she observes:

"at the heart of all the tumult and heart-searching, were the patrons, the rank and file of the nation who, for once, having paid the piper, were calling the tune. Spellbound, fidgeting, lusting, loving, frozen with pleasurable fright, weeping a little, eating and laughing immoderately, the secret people, secure in the friendly dark, eluded the prying gaze of the sociologists to remain an enigma still".

So she writes well too, and this is a book well worth seeking out, not for its apparent nostalgia but for its intelligence and clarity. It reminds us what cinema is about, and warns us that the study of films is empty without consideration of how and by whom they are seen.