THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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167 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

15 January 2018

Recording of the week: Anglo-Romani and dialect

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

It was great to see Peaky Blinders back for a fourth series as, among its many delights, it offers a rare glimpse in the mainstream media of Anglo-Romani. Given the presence of traveller communities across the UK it’s perhaps not surprising that Romani has influenced local dialect in many parts of the country. Speakers either side of the English-Scottish border, for instance, will be familiar with terms like gadgie [from gaujo = ‘(non-gypsy) man’], mort [= ‘girl, woman’], mooey [from mui = ‘mouth, face’], radgie [from radge = ‘mad, angry’] and scran [= ‘food’]. A small set of Romani words are used more widely, including cushty [from kushti = ‘good’], mullered [= ‘dead, killed’] and mush [= ‘man (esp. as form of address’] and a recent collaboration between the British Library and Guardian newspaper to document regional words confirmed the relationship between Anglo-Romani & dialect as contributors supplied numerous expressions including chore [= ‘to steal’ (Poole)], dinilo [= ‘fool, Idiot’ (Portsmouth)], jukkel [= ‘dog’ (Carlisle)], ladging [= ‘embarrassing’ (York)] and tuvli [= ‘cigarette’ (Newark)].

Gypsies_camping_-_probably_Swansea_(20740154331)

Probably the most unfortunate contribution of Anglo-Romani to English is the word chav, which in recent years has been adopted by young speakers all over the country to refer negatively to a stereotypical young ne’er-do-well characterised by cheap designer clothes, anti-social behaviour and low social status. The word derives from the much more endearing Anglo-Romani word chavvi [= ‘boy, son’] and illustrates how certain social groups have unfortunately always attracted suspicion and condemnation. A WordBank contributor from the Medway, Kent who can pukker [= ‘to speak’] Romani explains, for instance, how he will often jel down the tober to see my little chavvis in my vardo [‘go down the road to see my children in my caravan’], while another contributor submitted an expression assumed to be local to Newark, seemingly unaware of its Romani origins. The book Romani Rokkeripen To-Divvus (Thomas Acton and Donald Kenrick, 1984) records mandi [= ‘I’], buer [= ‘woman’] and rokker [= ‘to talk, speak’].

Jel down the tober to see my little chavvis in my vardo  (BL shelfmark C1442/2355) 

Mandi don't know what the buer is rokkering (BL shelfmark C1442/1079)

Over 400 recordings capturing English dialect and slang worldwide can be found in the Evolving English Wordbank collection on British Library Sounds.  

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

22 December 2017

National Life Stories Podcast 4: Christmas Podding

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Cathy Courtney, Project Director on the National Life Stories oral history projects Artists’ Lives and Architects’ Lives, chatted to David Govier for our fourth National Life Stories podcast. The conversation starts with why Cathy got into oral history, and moves on to discuss why oral historians ask about Christmas.

Along the way you will hear extracts from the following interviews:

Neil Hufton interviewed by Cos Michael, Food: From Source to Salespoint, 2006 (C821/195)

George Messenger interviewed by George Ewart Evans, 1956 (T1419W)

Bill Adcocks interviewed by Rachel Cutler, An Oral History of British Athletics, 2010 (C790/48)

Christopher Butler interviewed by Andrea Hertz, History of Parliament Oral History Project, 2016 (C1503/142)

Michael Rothenstein interviewed by Mel Gooding, Artists’ Lives, 1990 (C466/02)

John Watts interviewed by Cos Michael, Food: From Source to Salespoint, 2006 (C821/190)

Nigel Bell interviewed by Paul Merchant, An Oral History of British Science (C1379/91)

Eric Ash interviewed by Tom Lean, An Oral History of British Science (C1379/92)

Cedric Battye interviewed by Jan Sanderson, Unheard Voices: Interviews with Deafened People, 2008 (C1345/12)

Eva Jiricna interviewed by Niamh Dillon, Architects’ Lives, 2015 (C467/127)

National Life Stories Podcast 4 - Christmas

You can find out more about National Life Stories at our website. Search for 'Christmas' at British Library Sounds  to find over 1,350 Christmas memories, songs and broadcasts!

20 December 2017

Two very small records

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God-save-the-king

At the Wembley Empire Exhibition of 1924, one exhibit that caught the public eye was a dolls’ house, specially created for Queen Mary, which contained a fully-working miniature gramophone complete with six tiny records made by His Master's Voice.

Around 35,000 miniature discs were produced for sale as souvenirs, at sixpence each. Despite this far-from-limited edition, copies are hard to come by now, perhaps because they could so easily be lost or mislaid. The souvenir discs featured a 22-second rendering of ‘God Save the King’ by the popular Australian singer Peter Dawson. At just 34 mm (1 and 5/16th of an inch) in diameter, this is the smallest 78 rpm disc ever made.

A copy is currently on display in the British Library's free Entrance Hall exhibition LISTEN: 140 Years of Recorded Sound.

This is not the world's smallest playable record however. A contender for this coveted title arrived at the Library just a few weeks ago, courtesy of Michael Ridge.

One-inch-lathe-cut-disc

This 1" diameter 33 rpm lathe-cut disc by GX Jupitter-Larsen and Zebra Mu (each contributes an 8-second piece) is cautiously described by issuing label Quagga Curious Sounds as 'likely to be one of the smallest lathe cut records ever released'! Sadly, the limited edition of 110 copies is already sold out.

19 December 2017

An Oral History of Oral History - where did it all start for you?

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Charlie Morgan, Archive and Administrative Assistant for National Life Stories explores the Oral History of Oral History collection.

What happens when roles are reversed? When a doctor is the patient, when a chef gets served dinner, when an oral historian is the one who gets asked all the questions? Well that’s exactly what you get (minus the doctor and the chef) in one of our newest online collections, an Oral History of Oral History.

An Oral History of Oral History is a collection of life story interviews with the pioneers and leaders of oral history in the UK. The interviews were mostly conducted by Robert Wilkinson and cover the technological, organisational and methodological changes within the discipline since the 1950s. If you've ever had an interest in oral history but haven't really understood what it is or who the people are who practice it, this is the collection for you.

SoundArchive_22Feb08-000448Rob Perks with Paul Thompson and Jennifer Wingate as they prepare for their interview for an Oral History of Oral History (C1149/09)

Although everyone in the collection is well-established in their field, the benefit of the life story approach is that the interviews include everything from childhood to hobbies and not just career highlights. With that in mind, for this blog I went back to the start and tried to find out where it all began, how each person got involved with oral history in the first place.

For many of the early practitioners, especially those with connections to the History Workshop movement or Ruskin College Oxford, there was a political dimension to oral history. In his interview, Alun Howkins describes how he initially went to Ruskin to study economics but on the advice of Raphael Samuel he switched to history. It was then that he began to interview poachers in Headington Quarry near to his home town Bicester. For Alun the entire goal of History Workshop had been “to give back the history of the poor to the poor” and with that in mind “it seemed perfectly logical that the way to do that was a tape recorder”.

Alun Howkins on switching to history at Ruskin (C1149/10/06)

Alun Howkins on interviewing poachers (C1149/10/07)

While for some there was an explicitly political impetus to oral history, for others it has been driven by much more practical purposes. Cynthia Brown first encountered oral history when she was completing her undergraduate dissertation and was looking for additional information on local funeral directors. She needed evidence, had exhausted the documentary sources and so, “which is so often the case with oral history”, decided an interview was the best way to get it.

Cynthia Brown on interviewing funeral directors (C1149/32/06)

Elizabeth Roberts is another oral historian who came to oral history more by chance than pre-planning, and she was initially very sceptical of the whole thing. After being instructed by John Marshall at the University of Lancaster to conduct some interviews, Elizabeth describes how she was “absolutely appalled” at the idea and “couldn’t think how on earth this was going to be valuable”. Luckily for us she gave it a go anyway.

Elizabeth Roberts on her first interviews (C1149/08/03)

As we’ve seen, many people first got involved with oral history on the recommendation of someone else in the field. For Alun Howkins it was Raphael Samuel, for Elizabeth Roberts it was John Marshall, and for Brian Harrison it was Paul Thompson. According to Brian, Paul and Thea Thompson “went around with their machines and made converts” and in him they definitely found one.

Brian Harrison on meeting Paul and Thea (C1149/24/02)

One great strength of the Oral History of Oral History project is that it covers multiple generations. So not only can we listen to Brian Harrison describe the influence Paul Thompson had on him, but we also get to hear from Paul himself. Paul's interview is especially valuable as it fills in a lot of the gaps. For example, many of the interviewees in this collection talk about conducting interviews long before they had heard of the term 'oral history' but Paul is able to tell us where it came from. We also get to hear a very un-catchy alternative term that was thankfully left behind.

Paul Thompson on the term 'oral history' (C1149/29/02)

These interviews and stories featured here are just a small selection of those in an Oral History of Oral History. There are many others in the collection, plus the original recordings of another pioneer of oral history, George Ewart Evans, but of course there are also many stories of being introduced to oral history that have never even been recorded. So if you’re an oral historian or if you work with oral history why not tweet us at @BL_OralHistory and let us know how you first got involved.

16 December 2017

Christmas carols from Turing's computer

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Following the viral response on the internet to Jack Copeland and Jason Long's 2016 blog concerning their restoration of the world's earliest surviving computer music recording, the pair's follow up is in two parts: (1) they explain how they resurrected the authentic sound of Turing's long since dismantled Manchester computer, by reconstructing two Christmas carols that the computer played in a BBC Radio broadcast in December 1951, and (2) they examine and clarify the competing international claims to the title of World's First Computer Music.

Jack Copeland FRS NZ and Jason Long write:

Listeners to BBC radio heard an utterly new sound in 1951 — a computer playing music. Among its Christmas fare the BBC broadcast two melodies that, although instantly recognizable, sounded like nothing else on earth. They were Jingle Bells and Good King Wenceslas, played by the mammoth Ferranti Mark I computer that stood in Alan Turing's Computing Machine Laboratory, in Manchester.

According to Ferranti’s marketing supremo, Vivian Bowden, it was "the most expensive and most elaborate method of playing a tune that has ever been devised". Bowden may have kicked himself for predicting, at this seminal moment, that computer-generated music had no future.  

Turing (standing) at the Ferranti Mark I console (Courtesy of the University of Manchester School of Computer Science)
Alan Turing (right) at the console of the Ferranti Mark I. Photo courtesy of the University of Manchester School of Computer Science

Seemingly nothing remained of the computer's short Christmas concert, apart from Bowden's brief description in his 1953 book Faster Than Thought. We realized, though, that we had everything needed to recreate the computer's historic performance of these carols, thanks to our recent research into other music played by the Ferranti computer.

Previously we restored a 1951 BBC recording of the Ferranti playing three pieces of music. One of the engineers present at that long-ago recording session, Frank Cooper, had squirrelled away a BBC disc, and this is believed to be the earliest surviving recording of computer-generated music. The three pieces on the disc were God Save the King, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and In the Mood.

The performances on Cooper's disc contained between them a total of 152 individual computer-generated notes. By manually chopping up the audio, we created a palette of notes of various pitches and durations. These could then be rearranged to form new melodies. It was musical Lego: endless new structures could be produced from these basic building blocks. The process of recreating the carols was not always straightforward, however. Sometimes the notes we needed were missing from the palette, since they did not appear in the three reference pieces. Missing notes had to be manufactured, first by calculating the closest frequency that the Ferranti computer could generate — it wasn't always able to hit a note exactly — and then shifting the frequency of one of the specimens in the palette to achieve a match (while trying, moreover, to keep the specimen's spectral signature the same, so as to maintain a natural sound). Another problem was duration: sometimes a note needed to be shorter or longer than the specimen in the palette, so we either pared the specimen down, or pieced together copies of it by hand.

We had to re-score each carol to fit the computer's needs, especially in terms of key and complexity; and our scores mirrored the three reference pieces in length and tempo. Then we selected notes from the palette and pieced them together to fit the scores. Some handcrafting was required to create a realistic performance. For instance, a fake-sounding "machine gun effect" was liable to set in if the score required the same note to be repeated several times, so we achieved a natural sound by piecing together different specimens of the same note, taken from different places in the restored recording. Every time we stitched a new note into the melody, we cross-faded manually: fading out one element while fading in the next gave the optimum sound quality when piecing the notes together.

Slowly, the computer's gutsy renditions of the carols reappeared. Play them and enjoy! But beware of occasional dud notes. Because the computer chugged along at a sedate 4 kilohertz or so, hitting the right frequency was not always possible. It's a charming feature of this early music — even if it does in places make your ears cringe.

At about this time, other primeval mammoth computers were also starting to find their voices. Bowden mentions that the Whirlwind computer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology played Bach fugues at Christmas time — 'much more highbrow' than the Ferranti's carols, he said.  

The pilot model of Turing's ACE in London, 1952
The pilot model of Turing's ACE in London in 1952. © Crown Copyright and reproduced with permission of the National Physical Laboratory

In London, too, the pilot model of Turing's Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) played Bach, possibly earlier than Whirlwind, using a loudspeaker set into its control panel. The pilot model ACE first came to life in May 1950, and by about February 1952 it was also "composing" — in a sense — its own music, using some special equipment designed by engineer David Clayden. The rising arpeggios of ACE's atonal music "gradually became more complex and faster, like a developing  

David Clayden
David Clayden. Photo courtesy of The Turing Archive for the History of Computing

fugue", until they "dissolved into coloured noise as the complexity went beyond human understanding", explained Donald Davies.[1] (Davies, originally Turing's assistant, was a driving force in the ACE project after Turing went to Manchester.)

For a long time, the history of early computer music was muddled. Reference works such as The Oxford Handbook of Computer Music stated that “the first computer to play music” was the Australian CSIRAC (pronounced "sigh-rack"). However, recent research has shown that this was most definitely not so.[2] We discovered that a predecessor of the Ferranti computer also played musical notes in Turing's Manchester Computing Machine Laboratory. This was the university-built prototype on which the Ferranti Mark I was based (and it was itself an enhanced version of Manchester's primordial "Baby" computer). Turing called it the "pilot machine", not to be confused with the pilot model of his ACE in London. The Manchester pilot machine was operational in April 1949, well ahead of the Sydney CSIRAC, which was partially operational in late 1950 — several months after Manchester's note-playing pilot machine had been switched off for the last time, in fact. 

CSIRAC: A CSIRO image
CSIRAC and its creator Trevor Pearcey in Sydney in about 1952. A CSIRO image

Unlike CSIRAC, though, the Manchester pilot machine seems never to have played a conventional melody. Turing used the synthetic musical notes as aural indicators of what was going on with the machine, like the beeps and bongs of today's mobile devices — whereas CSIRAC played honest-to-goodness tunes. It turns out, though, that CSIRAC can't even claim the distinction of being the first computer to play conventional music.

Our research has shown that an American computer called BINAC was making music before CSIRAC ran so much as a test program. BINAC, built by the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation in Philadelphia, was the forerunner of the famous Eckert-Mauchly UNIVAC — the Ferranti Mark I and the UNIVAC were the first electronic computers to hit the market, both in 1951. 

BINAC. Photo courtesy of the Computer History Museum
BINAC played music in Philadelphia in the summer of 1949. Photo courtesy of the Computer History Museum

When BINAC was completed, in August 1949, Pres Eckert and John Mauchly threw a party for the programmers and engineers. This featured a musical offering from BINAC itself. One eyewitness — a partying engineer named Herman Lukoff — described the event: “Someone had discovered that, by programming the right number of cycles, a predictable tone could be produced. So BINAC was outfitted with a loudspeaker … and tunes were played for the first time by program control.” 

The programmer responsible for creating BINAC's music-playing program — the first in the world, so far as we know — was Betty Snyder, later Betty Holberton. Recalling her intensive work programming BINAC, Holberton said: “I was on the machine 16 hours [with] 8 hours off and I slept in the ladies' room.” 

Betty Snyder. U.S. Army photo
Betty Snyder. U. S. Army photo 

And the title of the first music played by a computer? "Everybody was going to come to the party at the end of creating the BINAC", Holberton remembered; "Well, I thought I'd do something special for them ... an interpretive routine that would play music. All I could get out of that machine was an octave, so I played For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow."[3]

Our timeline for the origins of computer music places BINAC in the limelight, in mid 1949. The Sydney CSIRAC played its first tune a year or two later, and the Bach-playing ACE in London may have preceded it. In Manchester, the Ferranti computer performed its first melody in 1951, when Christopher Strachey wrote a program that blared out God Save the King (see our blog 'Restoring the first recording of computer music'). But as to the starting point of it all, the very first experimental computer-generated musical note was probably heard in Turing's Manchester laboratory.

References

[1] Davies, D. "Very Early Computer Music", Resurrection: The Bulletin of the Computer Conservation Society, vol. 10 (1994), pp. 19-21: http://www.computerconservationsociety.org/resurrection/pdfs/res10.pdf

[2] See Copeland, B. J., and Long, J. "Turing and the History of Computer Music", in Floyd, J., Bokulich, A. eds Philosophical Explorations of the Legacy of Alan Turing, Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science, 2017.

[3] Frances Elizabeth "Betty" Holberton in interview with Kathy Kleiman, part of "Oral Histories of the ENIAC Programmers", ©1997, by Kathryn Kleiman and the ENIAC Programmers Project, www.eniacprogrammers.org. Quoted by permission.

The authors

Jack Copeland

Jack Copeland is Distinguished Professor in Arts at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. His recent book The Turing Guide is a comprehensive and easy-to-understand guide to Turing and his work, and it contains further information about the Manchester computer and its music (Oxford University Press, 2017, pbk).


Jason LongJason Long is a New Zealand composer and performer, focusing on musical robotics and electro-acoustic music. He has carried out musical research at the University of Canterbury, the Victoria University of Wellington, Tokyo University of the Arts, and the Utrecht Higher School of the Arts.

 

05 December 2017

The first '3-D' picture disc

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Magical Love - label

The British Library has one of the largest sound archives in the world. Visitors to our free exhibition Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound can explore the sound archive via specially constructed listening booths, each containing a menu of 100 sounds designed to illustrate the the breadth and depth of the collection.

We have also included on display some of the more visually appealing sound carriers in the collection, among them a selection of historical and modern picture discs.   

Of course, there was not room for everything we wanted to include. We have on show what is thought to be the first 'modern' picture disc, from 1970, Curved Air's debut album 'Air Conditioning'. Sadly though, we couldn't quite find room for Saturnalia's 'Magical Love' LP, from 1973.

'Magical Love' distinguished itself visually by being not just a picture disc, but a picture disc with '3-D' holographic labels (see image above). Although the issuing label, Matrix Records, was based in London, the disc itself was manufactured by Metronome in Germany.

It featured vivid imagery drawn from the world of cosmology, with the band members each posing semi-naked behind a fiery crucible on one side, and 12 rather fierce-looking papier-mâché masks representing cosmological archetypes on the other. The pictures were all taken by Peter Hudson, with the exception of the picture of lead singer Aletta which was taken by Mark R. F. Hanau, who also designed the 3-D labels.

Magical Love - disc and booklet

Magical Love - side B

Spectacularly colourful and attractive as all this was, it didn't do the band's career a lot of good. Unfortunately, the picture disc technology of the time undermined the sound quality of the record, and it was not a commercial success. 

Magical Love - excerpt

[Images: Eva del Rey]

04 December 2017

Recording of the week: Britain's first supercomputer

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This week's selection comes from Tom Lean, Project Interviewer for An Oral History of British Science.

It has been 55 years since the commissioning of Atlas at the University of Manchester in 1962, one of the world's very first supercomputers. Developed largely by the University of Manchester and Ferranti, the enormous machine was probably the second most powerful computer at the time and pioneered a number of innovations in hardware and software. Capable of processing about a million instructions a second and with over 670 kilobytes of memory, Atlas had as much computing power as several smaller machines, albeit far less than the simplest desktop machine today. It was said that when Atlas went offline, Britain lost half its computing power. Yet despite this awesome potential, only three Atlas computers were ever built. As Atlas's lead hardware designer Professor David Edwards recalled for An Oral History Of British Science, it was rather difficult convincing the sceptics that Britain even needed a machine that was so powerful:

We only need one computer for the country_Dai Edwards (C1379/11)

University_of_Manchester_Atlas _January_1963

The Atlas computer at the University of Manchester, 1963 (Iain MacCallum)

Visit the library's Voices of Science web resource to explore 100 life stories about environmental science, British technology and engineering from 1940 to the present.

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

27 November 2017

Recording of the week: pond life

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

Have you ever wondered what a pond sounds like? Most of us will have spent some time dipping for tadpoles, watching insects glide across the surface or looking out for flashes of colour as fish move beneath the water, but our interactions with ponds are usually visual. For some people though, the promise of what's going on sonically is just too hard to resist.

Most wildlife sound recordists will have a hydrophone somewhere in their arsenal and are only too happy to investigate this otherwise silent world. While visiting a smallholding in north Wales, Peter Toll's curiosity was piqued by a little pond that had been carefully created to give life to as many creatures as possible. In his accompanying notes, Peter remarked: 

"It looked so still and tranquil above the surface, until I lowered my hydrophones and was truly amazed by what sounds I could hear below the surface."

What Peter heard was an ecosystem brimming with life. The sounds of newts, invertebrates and oxygenating plants came together to create a vibrant aquatic soundscape, as can be heard in the following excerpt. As the old adage goes, looks can definitely be deceiving. 

Pond atmosphere recorded by Peter Toll in Llandrindod Wells, Wales on 30 Sept 2011 (BL ref 212534) 

Underwater-1529206_1920

A selection of underwater sounds from the archive was put together for a special programme broadcast by NTS Radio in October 2017. To find out more and listen again please click here.

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