THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

30 posts categorized "Collection"

04 August 2016

Theatre of Sound. An interview with Aleks Kolkowski

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Theatre of Sound is a nine-minute video which highlights the creative re-use of archival sound recordings in the field of sound art and music composition. It also touches on the use of early audio recording technologies in contemporary performance. These topics are illustrated with video documentation of two projects developed by composer/musician and sound artist Aleks Kolkowski.

 

Sound and Music

With Larry Achiampong, Aleks Kolkowski is one of two Sound and Music-Embedded Programme composers-in-residence at the British Library Sound Archive. This is a twelve-month residency for composers and creative artists, sponsored by Sound and Music, a national charity for musicians, and funded by The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Besides being a composer and a musician, Aleks Kolkowski is an expert on historical recording techniques. He makes audio recordings on wax cylinders and on acetate discs, and creates public performances using these techniques, in collaboration with poets, musicians and artists. Many of the recordings are available to listen to online through his website Phonographies.

Save Our Sounds

The Library has embarked on a preservation programme: Save our Sounds, which is a 15 year project to digitize and preserve as much as possible of the nation's rare and unique sound recordings, not just from the Library’s collections but also from partner collections across the UK.

It is an aim of the programme to raise understanding, usage and public enjoyment of audio heritage more generally. And in this respect, the work of Aleks Kolkowski at the British Library Sound Archive supports the programme, by exposing the history of sound recording in a performative way.

Aleks's work is helping to create awareness and interest among different generations of new audiences. He has also contributed to the Sound Archive by adding his own collection of recordings made at the Library's studio, which will eventually be available online through the British Library Sounds website.

Performance Documentation

I have been documenting the performances and other creative outputs of Aleks at the Library since February to produce this video which I presented in Copenhagen at the performance archives conference SIBMAS 2016.

In addition the video features archival recordings and documentation from the Bishop Sound Company collection of sound effects for theatre, which dates from the early 1940s till the end of 1960s. The sound effects were recorded direct onto lacquer discs and then pressed to 78 rpm shellac for hire or sale. There are more than 3000 discs and hundreds of open-reel tapes in the collection. Aleks will be re-using this material in one of his future projects.

It has been very positive and enjoyable for me and other Sound Archive colleagues to work with our two composers-in-residence Aleks and Larry. Artists challenge people to see collections differently. They revive interest in collections and create awareness in ways that can't be done from inside the archive. They also contribute to reaching new audiences, who perhaps would not have come into contact with the collections otherwise.

Find more about the British Library's Drama and Literature Recordings and keep up with our activities on @BL_DramaSound.

11 July 2016

Embedded Live

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Since autumn 2015, the British Library Sound Archive has hosted Aleks Kolkowski and Larry Achiampong as composers in residence through Sound & Music's Embedded Residency scheme. Larry and Aleks will be performing live on Tuesday 12 July at 18:30 as a way of showcasing their progress in the first half of the residency. You can book your free tickets here but space is limited!

Embedded is a Sound and Music creative development programme funded by The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the PRS for Music Foundation which places composers from a range of disciplines into extended relationships with leading national organisations.

The 12 month residency is an ideal duration for the British Library Sound Archive to host artists, allowing them to engage with the rhythm of the archive, far from the immediacy with which the digital domain has accustomed us to consuming music. In an archive, the journey a listener takes with a sound recording – often on an analogue carrier – can be as long and circuitous as the initial route taken to make the recording.

In their collaborative live performance, Larry and Aleks will draw upon their respective explorations of the sound collections whilst also demonstrating historic sound recording formats, such as wax cylinders, 78rpm, acetate and vinyl records on phonographs and gramophones in combination with contemporary beat making machines and electro-acoustic manipulations.

 

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The artists have seen what takes place 'behind the scenes' during their residency at the sound archive

 

During the residency, Aleks Kolkowski has been focussing on early cylinder recordings and the Bishop Collection, which gathers the sound effects made for theatre by the Bishop Sound and Electrical Company which operated in Soho during the the 1940s and ‘50s. Kolkowski’s work engages with Save our Sounds, the Library's programme to preserve the nation's sound heritage by playfully employing analogue technology and obsolete formats in a contemporary setting. His impressions about creating work within the sound archive give us some insight into what sorts of sounds and artefacts he has been exposed to:

I was prepared for the vastness of the sound collections and familiar with some of the categories but there are always plenty of surprises, many brought to light by the curators. The quantity of home recordings, for instance, dating back to the early 1900s on cylinders is very impressive and are a delight to listen too, as are the domestic open reel magnetic tapes and acetate discs from the 1950s such as the A.W.E. Perkins Collection. To listen to these voices and sounds from the past is to experience social history brought alive. I am also very taken with the large collection of broken records that brings out both the audio archaeologist and the hands-on experimenter in me. I would love to spend time piecing these rare recordings back together and rescuing their sounds, or playfully rearranging them in the style of Milan Knízák’s Broken Music.

Larry Achiampong, an artist with a background in visual arts, has been developing a new body of work stemming from two previous projects, which explore his Ghanaian heritage. ‘Meh Mogya’, which means 'my blood' in Twi, a Ghanaian language, and ‘More Mogya’, meaning ‘more blood’, are the origin for his current exploration of field recordings from wider West Africa. He was particularly inspired by the selection of music present in the recent British Library exhibition West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song and will be re-mixing excerpts in his performance. As part of his residency, Larry participated in Ghana Beats, one of the ‘Late at the British Library’ events alongside artists such as Yaaba Funk and Volta 45.

 

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The Swiss-made "Mikiphone", patented in 1924, is the smallest talking machine ever placed on the market and is part of the sound archive's artefact collection

 

Beyond Embedded, the sound archive is committed to supporting the creation of new work by artists, composers, academics, record labels, and curators. Through annual opportunities such as the Edison Fellowship or one-off commissions, we guide listeners through our collections and enable new research and creative practices, such as with Hidden Traces. This installation functions as an audio map of the Kings Cross area, layering interviews with local residents and archival recordings from King’s Cross Voices interviews to create a narrated journey that reveals how the area has changed. Realised by choreographer and urbanist Gabriele Reuter and sound designer Mattef Kuhlmey, it was commissioned by The Place and supported by the British Library.

The British Library Sound Archive has been pivotal to various artistic productions since its origins in 1955 as the British Institute of Recorded Sound, including Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. In 1983, Martin Scorsese discussed ideas for the musical soundtrack of his film with musician Peter Gabriel, who recently described how the National Sound Archive was crucial to the creation of this soundtrack –

In my research for Passion, many people mentioned the wonderful resources in the NSA (National Sound Archive) and in particular introduced me to Lucy Duran, who both understood what I was hoping to achieve and made lots of great suggestions. Scorsese had asked for a new type of score that was neither ancient nor modern, that was not a pastiche but had clear references to the region, traditions and atmospheres, but was in itself a living thing. 

The soundtrack, which was further developed and released as the album Passion on his record label Real World Records in 1989, brought together Middle Eastern and North African traditions and included appearances by musicians like Baaba Maal, Jon Hassell, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Bill Cobham who were just becoming big names in the world music genre.

Peter Gabriel’s creative process for the soundtrack and album is captured in a compilation record entitled Passion – Sources, which was released shortly after Passion, also by Real World Records. This album includes the “sources of inspiration” – some of the recordings of traditional music he listened to at the National Sound Archive alongside location recordings made during the filming process. For Gabriel, the archive is still a relevant source of inspiration: “There is so much great stuff there, most of which you can’t reach by googling.”

The inexhaustibility of the archive makes it an ideal setting for creation, limited only by the time and patience it can take to search and listen through the sound recordings available. Through the Embedded residency the Sound Archive is able to support the creative process of contemporary artists, acknowledging the ways in which past works can be explicitly influential. The mobile process of creating original work is given new possibilities within the archive, a unique opportunity to work amongst one’s sources, and engage with them in greater depth. As the sound recordings in the archive are re-contextualised into new events and compositions, their meaning is extended and their historicity brought into the present.

30 April 2016

The Poetry Periscope Project

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If you walk these days through the British Library Piazza, you will spot a striking yellow tube standing near the front entrance. It brings to mind yellow submarines and periscopes. Step closer and you will learn it is in fact a ‘Poetry Periscope’, inviting you to press one of its buttons – do so and you will be rewarded with the recording of one of 30 European poems in either its original language or in English. Developed as a sound installation by Czech organization Piana na ulici and Czech Centre London, in collaboration with the British Library and The Poetry Society, The Poetry Periscope is a part of the European Literature Festival 2016 taking place at the British Library and other UK venues. 

'The Poetry Periscope is not only about poetry. It is also (about giving) an example of how an individual can contribute to a public space to please people', says project creator Ondřej Kobza.

Pp_newsletter blog

 

Poetry Periscope Project_ blog

The British Library Piazza will host the Poetry Periscope for four weeks (27 April – 19 May), and you can join us on Tuesday 3 May (18.30–19.30) for the official launch. It’s a free event with poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan and live readings of poems from across Europe, read by UK poets Richard Scott, Gabriel Akamo and Charlotte Higgins with special guest readings by Michal Habaj (Slovakia).

Ondřej Buddeus (Czech Republic):

I am thirty-five I am thirty-five. I am very happy.

I have an intelligent and faithful wife

after ten years of a nice relationship

I got married. That was five years ago.

I have no children, mortgage, empathy,

nor other debts. I have an education, a fine sense

for the arts, and natural self-confidence.

I ain’t bothered. I am very happy.

I would now like to give thanks

to my wife, to God and the state. Thank you.

I am thirty-six. I am very happy.

(Translated from Czech by Tereza Novická; poem is due to be published in 2016.)

The Poetry Periscope (known also as the Poetry Jukebox) has been developed in the Czech Republic by “Piána na ulici” (Pianos on the Street), a Prague-based organisation focusing on public space interventions. The first Periscope was installed in March 2015 in Prague and since then Poetry Periscopes have been installed all over the world – from Kiev to New York – and now it has arrived in the UK. Don’t miss your chance to encounter the richness and diversity of European poetry before the Periscope sets off on tour to a number of festivals and venues around the country, including Brighton, Birmingham, Ledbury and Durham. Written by Katerina Siegelova, Czech Centre London & European Literature Festival

04 March 2016

What does 'place poetry' look and sound like in the 21st century?

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Last Friday the British Library hosted 'Beyond Bounds: Britain Re-Presented in Poetry', a performance of poetry readings by Anthony Joseph, Kayo Chingonyi, Jay Bernard and Vahni Capildeo.

The reading was followed by a discussion about the idea of place poetry in the 21st century.

None of the poets settled for a particular meaning of place. Perhaps because they are all well-travelled and have lived in a myriad of locations.  At one point in the discussion Anthony Joseph said 'place is in the mind’ and ‘home is where you want to be’. Vahni Capildeo told us that her heart belongs to Glasgow. Kayo Chingonyi talked about how London is a place that sucks you into itself. And Jay Bernard made it clear in her reading that place can be a whole made up thing which doesn’t even have to exist.

Anthony Joseph and Vahni CapildeoAnthony Joseph reading from the anthology Out of Bounds / Vahni Capildeo reading from Measures of Expatriation

Kayo Chingonyi and Jay BernardKayo Chingonyi reading from The Color of James Brown's Scream / Jay Bernard reading from The Red and Yellow Nothing.

The event marked the beginning of a 10-month series of complementary poetry events/activities which will take place all over the British Isles. It launched the Out of Bounds Poetry Project, which is administered by the Universities of Stirling and Newcastle and funded by the AHRC. The project is a follow-up from the poetry anthology Out of Bounds. British Black and Asian Poets (2012), edited by Jackie Kay, James Procter and Gemma Robinson, who is also one of the project leaders.

The Out of Bounds Poetry Project will generate online digital resources which will allow both poets and public to have a say on place poetry. More about this in a future post. All the audio material generated by the project will be archived by the British Library.

Overall the event was injected with humour and provocation. You can listen to the audio recording of the event in the Library’s reading rooms (BL reference C1717/1).

Listen to Anthony Joseph_The Ark [excerpt]

The British Library's sound collection is growing by 4000 recordings every month.  Access to collection items is either by appointment through the Listening and Viewing Service, or through the Sound & Moving Image Catalogue (at the Library premises only). Selected recordings are available to listen to online.

Find more about the British Library's Drama and Literature Recordings and keep up with our activities on @BL_DramaSound.

Read about the British Library's Sound Archive preservation programme to digitise the nation's rare and unique sound recordings at Save Our Sounds programme and #SaveOurSounds.

24 February 2016

'Hear Make Heard': Central Saint Martins students' take on sound

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Central St Martins display

In January this year, my colleague Stephen Cleary and I, hosted two sessions to introduce the Sound Archive to a group of our Knowledge Quarter neighbours: students from Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts, London, all studying the Foundation Diploma in Graphic and Communication Design, which is run by Lucy Alexander and Tim Meara.

The agenda of the day included a display selection of collection items and a listening session. The idea was to inspire a creative design response to the Library’s audio collections.

The British Library Sound Archive contains 6.5 million audio recordings from all over the world, on around 42 different physical formats. These cover the entire range of recorded sound, from every kind of music to drama and literature, oral history and wildlife and environmental sounds, stretching back more than 100 years, to the beginning of sound recording.  As you can imagine, there is plenty to choose from for a show-and-tell. 

The most popular showcased items proved to be:

  • Roamin' in the Gloamin' by Harry Lauder (1870-1950), a blue celluloid cylinder, first released as a black celluloid cylinder in 1911, when Lauder was reportedly the highest-paid performer in the world.
  • The first luminescent phonograph cylinder record, The Ghosts of Effingham by Michael Esposito and Carl Michael von Hausswolff (2010), which comes with an mp3 download.
  • Trevor Jackson's Format (2015), a boxed set 'album' comprised of 12 tracks each in different media format: 12" vinyl; 10" vinyl; 7" vinyl; CD; MiniCD; cassette; USB; VHS; MiniDisc; DAT; 8-track cartridge; and 10" open reel tape.

Two weeks later, we were invited to view an exhibition of the 120 finished publications that resulted from the students' visit. It was presented at the Lethaby Gallery at Central Saint Martins, Granary Square. The Gallery was crowded but we managed to take a few pictures to give an idea of the students’ admirable achievements.

With thanks to Lucy and Tim at Central Saint Martins, and to the students for their bright and stimulating response.

Central St Martins_worksCentral Saint Martins students' works 

Central St Martins display_

At the British Library

Find more about the British Library's Drama and Literature Recordings and keep up with our activities on @BL_DramaSound

Read about the British Library's Sound Archive preservation programme to digitise the nation's rare and unique sound recordings at Save Our Sounds programme #SaveOurSounds.

18 February 2016

The World of Paul Slickey: John Osborne's musical flop

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1LS0003279_documentation_webOne of the Library’s audio engineers recently transferred a rare 1959 recording of a musical rehearsal of John Osborne’s play The World of Paul Slickey.

The play, subtitled A Comedy of Manners, was a satire on Fleet Street gossip columnists. The production was directed by Osborne himself, with music by Christopher Whelen, choreography by Kenneth MacMillan and set design by Hugh Casson.

Paul Slickey premiered at the Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth, 14 April 1959, and moved to the Palace Theatre in London on 5 May. Both critics and public detested it. The reviews were a mixture of indignation and anger.

Milton Shulman from the Evening Standard wrote:

       The first night audience at The World of Paul Slickey, by John Osborne, at the Palace, seemed to be about equally divided between those who loathed it politely and those who hated it audibly....the most raucous note of displeasure heard in the West End since the war.

Janet Hamilton-Smith’s review headline for The Times was ‘Extraordinarily Dull World of Paul Slickey’.

Thirty years later, Osborne wrote in his memoirs, ‘I must be the only playwright this century to have been pursued up a London street by an angry mob’.

He also said that the only thing he regretted about the whole affair was rejecting Sean Connery for the role of Slickey:

        I made a monumental misjudgement by dismissing Sean Connery, who turned up one morning looking like my prejudiced idea of a Rank contract actor. It was a lamentable touch of Royal Court snobbery.

Listen to Dennis Lotis singing 'I'm just a guy called Paul Slickey' (excerpt)

The World of Paul Slickey rec

The World of Paul Slickeyweb

If you wish to know more about the play and its reception, the British Library is your one-stop source, where you can access the recordings, and also consult the play’s manuscript, the autobiography of John Osborne and the press reviews of the play.

Audio recordings: BL ref. 1LS0003278-79, 1LL0014340

Manuscripts: Lord Chamberlain plays collection – play-script: BL ref. 1959/15 and Lord Chamberlain - correspondence BL ref. 1959/1836

John Osborne’s memoirs: Almost a Gentleman: An Autobiography: volume II, 1955-196, Chapter 14 ‘A Night to Remember’: BL ref. YK.1993.a.1176.

Press reviews: British Library Newsroom (on microfilms) and onsite Electronic Resources & Journals

Find out more about the British Library's Sound Archive and our Save Our Sounds programme #SaveOurSounds

Stay tuned with the British Library's Drama and Literature Recordings on @BL_DramaSound

23 October 2015

Africa Writes vox pops: What’s new about West African Literature?

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Africa Writes blog

Africa Writes vox pops is a new collection of 32 video interviews made at the Africa Writes festival 4-5 June, 2015. See BL reference C1705.

Africa Writes is an annual literature and book festival organized by the Royal African Society in partnership with the British Library. 

The interviews were filmed by the British Library in collaboration with Afrikult to produce a short film now on show at the British Library's new exhibition West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song co-curated by Marion Wallace and Janet Topp Fargion.

The collection comprises the raw unedited footage of 32 five-to-ten minute interviews, including set-ups, tests for focus, cutaway shots etc. Highlights can be viewed in the exhibition. The videos capture Africa Writes’ international audience of readers discussing contemporary trends in West African literature.

Participants were asked what is new and exciting about West African literature; how West African literature has changed since Chinua Achebe’s generation of writers; how West African literature connects with people's experiences in Africa and the diaspora today; what role do women play in West African literature; and how could West African literature be described in just three words. The results of the final question are expressed in the word cloud shown below.

Wordle 3__

The interviewees agreed unanimously that West African literature has contributed to their lives by helping them to shape their identities and to make sense of their experiences of migration, diaspora and transculturation. Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie topped the list of recommended authors.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is seen as great empowerer of women and an inspiration for the young. Women are considered more prominent in West African literature than ever, not just as characters, but as writers too.

The value of this collection goes beyond the subject of West African literature, delving into what literature means, how it resonates with its readers and how it has helped Africans to reclaim their own history and to engage with the diaspora.

Several interviewees touched on how social media helps to connect writers, publishers and audiences, making African literature more visible and internationally accessible.

The digital space has also helped to circumvent restrictions on publishing in languages besides the hegemonic English and French, providing opportunities to authors who write in West African languages. Furthermore it has expanded the possibilities for online publishing in general and for multilingual and multimedia e-publications such as the Valentine's Day Anthology 2015  of short stories, published by Ankara Press, which includes audio readings by the authors and can be downloaded for free.

When asked what would they like to see more of in the future interviewees' thematic concerns were heterogeneous, including topics and genres such as queer, different gender dynamics and disability stories, thrillers, crime fiction, romance, pop culture, traditional stories, science fiction and non-fiction.

If you haven't read much West African literature and don't know where to start this vox pops collection will set you up. And if you were already into West African literature it will probably help you to expand your reading list until the next Africa Writes festival in 2016. 

A big thanks to the 33 interviewees and Afrikult members: Zaahida Nalumoso, Henry Brefo and Marcelle Akita. And please come to the exhibition which is on until 16 February 2015.

11 August 2015

Conference Report: Performing the Archive, Galway, 2015

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Galway blog3re

I have just returned from the ‘Performing the Archive’ conference at the National University of Ireland in Galway, 22-24 July.  

This was an international conference on performance archives attended by delegates from European countries and the United States: most of them archivists, academics, artists and/or PhD students working with archives.

The three-day programme contained six plenary panels and six concurrent sessions with papers on 25 different topics, which, multiplied by three speakers per session, made a total of 75 papers presented. See programme.

The venue was the Arts Millennium Building, with the evening receptions held at the James Hardiman Library, both modern spaces conveniently close to our student accommodation campus in Corrib Village.

I only have space to mention just a few highlights:

Lost Theatres and their Digital Remains

Various discussions were dedicated to two of the most prominent theatres in the history of Dublin: the Abbey Theatre, considered to be Ireland’s national theatre; and the (fourth) Theatre Royal, which had a capacity of 4000 seats and was reputedly the biggest theatre in Europe.

The Abbey Theatre has an ongoing archive online digitisation project consisting  so far of over a million items of audio, video, photographs, scripts, set designs, posters, documents, and oral history interviews with actors, writers, directors and staff from the Abbey.

In addition, both theatres are being digitally reconstructed with the use of 3D digital technologies by Hugh Denard and his team of Trinity College, Dublin.  Read more.

Complementing these two online resources is the ‘Playography Ireland’ site, which combines two comprehensive databases of new Irish plays produced professionally since 1904.

Holding a Mirror Up to Nature and Society

Next year Ireland celebrates the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising which has been described as ‘the foundational myth of the modern Irish state’ in ‘the war of independence against Britain (1919 - 1921) and the creation of the Irish Free State'. See, for example, Professor David Reynolds's recent article in New Statesman.

Much questioning has gone into the sources for building memory and historiography and in anticipation of the coming commemorations, part of the conference focused on voices absent from the archives, with an emphasis on women and queer histories.

Particularly relevant were two papers: one by Ciara Conway and the other by Miriam Haughton, both of National University of Ireland, Galway.

Professor Tracy Davis of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois  presented a paper on the manuscript diaries of Frederick Chesson, in her words ‘a diary of nobody’, to bring attention to ‘the matrix’ of Victorian diaries and their importance for the writing of history. 

Considering theatre as a mirror and microcosm of society, Professor Patrick Lonergan of National University of Ireland, Galway, presented a paper on gender and how theatres perform in society based on his research at the Abbey Theatre archives, including an interesting example of the imbalance in the number of toilets provided for men and women!

Creativity and Archives

There was also a focus on creative ways of seeing archived materials and conceiving dynamic alternatives of engagement.

For example Blake Morris spoke of The Walk Exchange a collaborative project which develops public educational and creative walks, in which the participants are invited to think about the urban as a text.

Theatre practitioners using archives who spoke included playwright and researcher Jenny Roggers; playwright and journalist Colin Murphy, who spoke about his 2010 play Guarantee; theatre director Louise Lowe of ANU Productions, who talked about PALS: The Irish at Gallipoli; Paula McFetridge, Artistic Director of Kabosh Productions, who has worked on several projects in Belfast; and Joan Sheehy of Limerick City of Culture, who talked about The Colleen Bawn Trials.

Tanya Dean of National University of Ireland, Galway, presented a paper on positive ways of seeing theatre which is not live but yet exclusive as ‘something other than performance', such as the NT Live initiative of London’s National Theatre.

Overall this was a very stimulating three days, efficiently organized by Charlotte McIvor and her colleagues. Conferences like this always give me lots of food for thought for many months to come. A big thank you to everybody who made this conference possible.