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157 posts categorized "Contemporary Britain"

13 November 2017

Recording of the week: Ancient Evenings

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

It is now 10 years since the death of Norman Mailer, one of the best-known and most widely read US authors of the post-war period. This week's recording features Mailer in discussion with Melvyn Bragg at the ICA. London, in 1983. Mailer's epic novel of ancient Egypt, Ancient Evenings, had been published just a few days previously. Mailer discourses on the 'class system' of Ancient Egypt, among related subjects. It didn't pay to be poor in those days either, apparently.

Norman Mailer and Melvyn Bragg in conversation (C95/55)

ICA-flyer

This recording comes from a substantial collection of talks and discussions held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London between 1982-1993. 

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09 November 2017

The unlikely musical family of Parlophone records: George Martin’s early years

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Guest blogpost by Edison Fellow Myles Eastwood, a London-based producer and engineer who runs Eastwood Records, alongside co-founding FixTheMusic, an online platform for booking musicians.

When George Martin died in March 2016 aged 90, the headlines predominantly focused on his work as producer of The Beatles. The infamous “fifth Beatle” moniker was taken up by both The Guardian and The Telegraph, whilst The Economist celebrated “their humble servant”.[i] Martin’s input as musical and technical enabler for the so-called Fab Four is well documented, but his role also spread into pastoral and even paternal territory – Paul McCartney spoke of a “second father” figure – so it’s no wonder the band and their producer are treated as synonymous.[ii]

Beatles_and_George_Martin_in_studio_1966

Beatles and George Martin in studio 1966 (Wikicommons)

Martin’s discography beyond The Beatles also received some attention, though perhaps not as much as it deserves. Many of his obituaries celebrated the comedy and children’s records Martin produced for Parlophone in the late 1950s and early 1960s, several of which still hold up to contemporary ears, but beyond that his early Parlophone releases have not made it into mainstream cultural memory. Chris King’s review of a six-CD box set release of Martin’s work epitomises this pattern of reception:

While the concept of paying tribute to one of music's most illustrious producers is commendable, the truth is that his mainstream output during the 1960s eclipses the rest of his work, thus rendering the other CDs all but redundant. Perhaps a box set concentrating solely on Martin's 1960s pop productions might have proved the better option.[iii]

It is these earlier, ‘eclipsed’ records on Parlophone that have been the focus of my Edison Fellowship at the British Library. They are many and varied in musical style, often twee and quaint by modern standards, but they also say a lot about Martin’s formative years as a producer, and more broadly the musical landscape of postwar Britain.

Martin joined the German-British record label Parlophone in 1950 under the tutelage of Oscar Preuss, whose recording Parlophone logocareer was typical of his generation. Joining the Berlin-based International Talking Machine Company in 1904 aged 15, Preuss toured the world recording musicians from across Europe, as well as Brazil, Mexico and a number of Asian countries. Perceval Graves’ 1928 interview with him centres on his “log-book, [...] a complete chronicle of recording on Four Continents”, with Preuss recalling “long and tiring journeys, sometimes over miles of desert”, including one trip to Aleppo where wax disc shortages led to a two-week wait for the missing cases to reappear on camel-back.[iv]

Preuss’ attitude towards Arabic music is both uncomfortably colonial and endearing, with one Egyptian singer, a cotton magnate, thanking him for their sessions by gifting Preuss a rug that he hangs at home in South East London. Other projects are remarkably prescient of scenes from psychedelic recording sessions of the mid-1960s: “The amount of raw spirits, cocaine and other drugs absorbed by artistes and their entourage throughout sessions lasting from early evening till two and three o’clock in the morning [...] rather alarmed me until I got used to it!”[v] Yet Preuss’ description of musical devices, instrumentation and improvisation, alongside the pragmatic concerns of capturing the material on a limited medium (“their songs are customarily of an interminable length [...], a prompter is inevitable”), convey a sensitive listener who was, as Christopher Stone puts it, “a leisurely, rather cynically genial man, whom you recognise instantly as a master of his craft and a devil for work.”[vi]

Preuss retired in 1955, shortly before his death in 1958, and was succeeded by the 29-year-old Martin as head of Parlophone. The label was one of several EMI subsidiaries alongside HMV and Columbia. In his 1979 autobiography Martin bemoans Parlophone’s marginalised status in the organisation, held back by reluctant management staff and a limited budget. The label showcased a huge variety of music at this time including jazz, classical and various folk traditions, and when Martin began signing acts the label’s output diversified further still. Joy Nichols’ rendition of “Little Red Monkey” from 1953, sung alongside Jimmy Edwards and Dick Bentley, typifies Martin’s novelty output, a clip of which can be heard below.

1CS0075275 Little Red Monkey (excerpt)

More rare is the instrumental version performed by Frank Chacksfield, whose orchestras were middle-of-the-road powerhouses that churned out numerous light music releases during this period. This release features the composer himself, Jack Jordan, on the clavioline, an electronic keyboard instrument with a distinctly reedy sound.

9CS0010019 Little Red Monkey instrumental (excerpt)

Though Martin later claimed his ambition was to find an equivalent to Cliff Richard, an artist whose sales hugely bolstered EMI’s Columbia in the late 1950s, the route taken by the producer was somewhat circuitous. He tried his hand at “do it yourself” records in 1956, a proto-karaoke series of backing tracks performed by Ron Goodwin’s “Parlophone Pops Orchestra” and aimed at amateur singers,[vii] and when he began signing up comedians and variety acts such as Flanders and Swann it was difficult to predict which records would sell. “Mock Mozart”, for example, was a novelty release by actor Peter Ustinov, who sang the harmonies of a miniature opera parody by overdubbing his own voice and bouncing down takes between two tape machines. Martin spent hours coaxing him through the process, yet the record only sold a few hundred copies.[viii]

1CS0075217 Mock Mozart (excerpt)

Martin also supervised a number of classical sessions when he joined Parlophone. Artists included pianists such as Sidney Harrison and George Chavchavadze, as well as the London Baroque Ensemble, whose rendition of the last movement of Mozart’s Serenata notturna, K. 239 conducted by Karl Haas can be heard below.

1LP0164908 Mozart K239 (excerpt)

It would be tempting to paint Martin as the classically-schooled practitioner whose trained hand turned whatever pop he produced to gold. A cursory survey of his classical credentials throws up familiar biographical milestones. After serving in the Royal Navy, Martin won a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, following which he played oboe in various orchestras and worked at the BBC Music Library. He brought his compositional experience to numerous Beatles records, arranging string parts for tracks like “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby”, to the extent that some commentators have portrayed Martin as the literate Beatle, the one who realised ideas for the band members who could not read music.

Yet this would be a disservice to Martin’s eclecticism. Sidney Harrison was actually his senior and had recommended Martin years earlier to the Guildhall following a bout of written correspondence. In one letter Harrison advised Martin, who had sent him his own Chopin-inspired compositions, to “know his marine band and start arranging for them.”[ix] The London Baroque Ensemble was never quite as grand as its title implied, and Martin delighted in recounting the unassuming nature of the affair: having met eighteenth-century music aficionado Peter Ustinov at a party, musicologist and conductor Karl Haas “decided to form the London Baroque Society and invited Peter to be the President. Karl was the conductor, I was the secretary – and that was the London Baroque society”.[x] When the narrative of lofty classical producer was bolstered by classist connotations in relation to The Beatles, Martin was most at pains to set the record straight: “I’ve been cast in the role of schoolmaster, the toff, the better-educated, and they’ve been the urchins that I’ve shaped [...] It’s a load of poppycock, really, because our backgrounds were very similar. [...] I wasn’t taught music and they weren’t, we taught ourselves.”[xi]

What, then, might a suitable lynchpin be for understanding Martin’s career? Another Parlophone artist gets us a little closer. “My Lady Greensleeves” sung by Luton Girls Choir in 1950 is part of the prolific recorded output of a choir that began at the most local level (“The girls must live within five miles of Luton’s Town Hall”) and grew to international fame with appearances in front of the Royal Family, gracing iconic venues like St Paul’s Cathedral. The choir was run for several decades by the enthusiastic Arthur E. Davies, who wanted to revive the “dying art” of choral singing, and its membership ranged from schoolgirls to the age cap of 23. “Greensleeves” is of course the quintessential English folk song, and under Davies’ direction and an orchestra led by Ivor Novello Award-winning film music composer Philip Green, the choir achieved a rousing rendition.

Luton

1CS0075002 Greensleeves (excerpt)

This was part of the soundworld Martin inherited when he joined Parlophone. It is surely telling that the next time he encountered the tune he was hastily writing an arrangement to close “All You Need Is Love” for the Our World television special. “Write absolutely anything you like, George,” The Beatles asked him: “The mixture I came up with was culled from the ‘Marseillaise’, a Bach two-part invention, ‘Greensleeves’, and the little lick from ‘In the Mood’.” The broadcast went out in June 1967 to an estimated half a billion people. If Mozart, Chopin and other accepted greats were central to Martin’s canon then so too were the British traditions of folk song, community choirs and parochial classical societies. He may not have had a signature sound like other leading producers of his generation, say John Culshaw or Quincy Jones, but his eclecticism was a trademark of sorts.

Here I am positing the Englishness of Martin’s records not as some nebulous nationalistic quality, but rather a specific phonographic heritage unique to postwar Britain. It is rooted in a DIY mentality of re-purposing technology and circumventing corporate regulations. It draws on the sound worlds of revue, music hall and brass bands, as well as various non-Western music traditions, though always filtered through a Eurocentric lense inherited from mentor Preuss. These elements pervade British popular music of the 1960s as much as the loudly celebrated American strands of rock ’n’ roll, R&B and Tin Pan Alley, yet they receive considerably less scholarly attention. Music historians should dig here before signing off on George Martin’s inestimable contribution to recorded music.

With thanks to Joanna Hughes and Sonita Cox at the EMI Archive Trust, Mark Lewisohn and Kenneth Womack

For all the latest Classical news follow @BL_Classical

Images reproduced through Fair Use from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parlophone; http://www.infotextmanuscripts.org/webb/webb_luton_pageant.pdf; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Beatles_and_George_Martin_in_studio_1966.JPG 

[i]    Cf. Sweeting, A. “Sir George Martin Obituary”, The Guardian, 9 March 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/mar/09/george-martin-obituary (accessed 21 August 2017); “Sir George Martin - Obituary”, The Telegraph, 18 March 2016, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/obituaries/2016/03/18/sir-george-martin---obituary/ (accessed 21 August 2017); “Their Humble Servant”, The Economist, 19 March 2016; https://www.economist.com/news/obituary/21694967-jack-all-trades-behind-much-beatles-success-was-aged-90-obituary-george-martin (accessed 21 August 2017).

[ii]   McCartney, P. “Paul McCartney on George Martin”, 9 March 2016, Paul McCartney [website], https://www.paulmccartney.com/news-blogs/news/paul-mccartney-on-george-martin (all accessed 21 August 2017).

[iii]  King, C. “Produced By George Martin: 50 Years in Recording [review]”, Amazon [website], https://www.amazon.co.uk/Produced-George-Martin-YEARS-RECORDING/dp/B00005BCHH/ (accessed 10 August 2017).

[iv]  Preuss, O. C. “Round the Recording Studios / No. 1 - ‘Songs of Araby’”, The Gramophone, March 1928, 411-412.

[v]   Ibid., 412.

[vi]  Stone, C. “Our Masters and Mothers”, The Gramophone, December 1929, 293.

[vii] “Sing to these Records!”, New Musical Express, 12 October 1956, 6.

[viii] Martin, G. (1979) All You Need is Ears, London, 53-55.

[ix]  Lewisohn, M. “George Martin: A Sound Life”, Produced By George Martin: 50 Years in Recording [liner notes], May 2001, 4.

[x]   Martin, G. (1979) All You Need Is Ears, London, 39.

[xi]  Quoted in “George Martin obituary: The Beatles producer who made the Fab Four a worldwide success”, The Independent, 9 March 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/sir-george-martin-obituary-the-beatles-record-producer-who-made-the-fab-four-a-worldwide-success-a6920546.html (accessed 15 August 2017).

[xii] “Luton Girls Choir”, Luton Coronation Pageant Book, Luton, 24, http://www.infotextmanuscripts.org/webb/webb_luton_pageant.pdf (accessed 10th August 2017).

[xiii] Martin, G. (1979) All You Need Is Ears, London, 192.

06 November 2017

Recording of the week: watching Britain's nuclear bomb tests

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

On 8th November 1957, hundreds of British military and scientific personnel gathered at Christmas Island, a remote speck of land in the Pacific Ocean. They were there for Operation Grapple X, the first successful test of a British hydrogen bomb. At 1.8 megatons, the blast was about a hundred and forty times more powerful than the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, and signified Britain's mastery of the secrets of thermonuclear power. Amongst the witnesses to the mushroom cloud rising above Christmas Island was a 35 year old technician named Frank Raynor. As he recalls, in perhaps something of an understatement, it was “quite impressive” to watch:

Frank Raynor_C1379/76

Grapple

The tests were also witnessed by Laurance Reed, a naval officer on HMS Warrior. He describes a shipboard atmosphere of excitement, anxiety and awe when the first bomb was dropped. 

Laurence Reed_C1503/37

The full interview with Frank Raynor can be found in the Oral History of British Science collection on British Library Sounds.

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

31 October 2017

Made-up about this boss new Liverpool Dickie

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Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

We can all probably remember the first time we met a Scouser [= ‘person from Liverpool’] face to face. Leafing through Tony Crowley’s excellent Liverpool English Dictionary immediately transported me back to 1983 and a fellow first year student in halls of residence who regularly described himself as dead made-up [= ‘really pleased/excited’] or disdainfully proclaimed that’s last [= expression used dismissively of e.g. unpleasant drink or food/embarrassing choice of clothing/dismal taste in music]. Made-up and last are both in Crowley’s wonderful new dictionary, which is the culmination of years of research into Liverpool English. There have been countless entertaining and informative treatments of Scouse [= ‘the dialect of Liverpool’] – both in print and online – but Crowley provides a long overdue authoritative inventory of Liverpool vernacular based on evidence from published works, thus enabling a reader to trace the provenance of over 2,000 fascinating expressions.

Liverpool English DictionaryIt’s intriguing, for instance, to be able to consult his entries for items in the Library’s own Evolving English WordBank – examples of contemporary dialect and slang words and phrases submitted to the British Library by members of the public in 2010/11. The following items that feature in both resources include established Liverpool favourites such as made-up [= ‘pleased’]; forms that reflect local pronunciation, like antwack(y) [= ‘antique’]); references to local specialities, customs and folklore, such as Wet Nellie [= type of bread pudding] and Hickey the Firebobby [= bogeyman evoked to frighten children/deflect them from asking awkward questions]; and recent coinages, like jarg [= ‘fake, useless, rubbish’]. Returning to 1983, it turns out my new friend was actually from Formby, so might potentially be dismissed by sticklers as a Plastic Scouser [= ‘person from the Liverpool hinterland rather than the city itself’]. Intriguingly, there’s no entry for Plastic Scouse(r) in Crowley’s dictionary, although there are several (conflicting) definitions in Urban Dictionary and elsewhere online including this BBC Voices Recording. Opinions as to the exact geographic boundary of Scouseland [= ‘Liverpool’] inevitably vary, but towards the end of our first term my mate from Formby certainly staked a genuine claim to membership of the wider Scouse community by asking me if I was intending to put up any chrizzie dezzies [= ‘Christmas decorations’] in my room. This brilliantly playful construction is an example of a highly productive process of word formation in Liverpool English – abbreviating the stem of an existing word and adding the suffix <-y> or <-ie> (e.g. plasticplazzy) and/or changing the final consonant of the stem before adding the suffix (e.g. plasticplaccy).

Crowley includes several of these highly distinctive hypocoristic forms. Many are arguably universal in colloquial speech, like bevvy [= ‘drink’ (from ‘beverage’)], bezzie [= ‘best mate’], butty [= ‘sandwich’ (from ‘bread-and-butter’), chippy [= ‘chip shop’], footy [= ‘football’], offy [= ‘off-licence’], pressie [= ‘present’], sarnie [= ‘sandwich’],  trackie [= ‘tracksuit’], tranny [= ‘transistor radio’] and wellies [= ‘Wellington boots’]; others are probably more geographically and/or socially restricted, such as bezzies [= ‘best clothes’], cozzie [= ‘swimming costume’], lazzy [= ‘elastic’], lecky [= ‘electricity supply’], lippy [= ‘lipstick’], photie [= ‘photograph’] and trainies [= ‘trainers’]. Even more noteworthy, though, is the set of entries that are, if not absolutely unique to Merseyside, then much more common there than elsewhere. Several refer to significant local landmarks, such as Dellie [= ‘Adelphi cinema’], Mizzy [= ‘Wavertree Playground’ (known locally as ‘The Mystery’)], Parly [= ‘Parliament Street’], Scotty Road [= ‘Scotland Road’], Sevvy Park [= ‘Sefton Park’], Tocky [= ‘Toxteth’] and Vauxy [= ‘Vauxhall Road’ (I’ve never heard Vauxy in reference to the Vauxhall Road in London, for instance)]; others refer to municipal institutions or authority figures that have special local significance, including binnie [= ‘binman’], bizzies [= ‘the police’ (from ‘busybody’)], corpy [= ‘Liverpool Corporation’], cuzzies [= ‘customs officer’], lanny [= ‘landing stage’], ozzy [= ‘hospital’], plainee [= ‘plain-clothes detective’]; while several relate to domestic objects and/or cultural activities including food, daily routine and leisure pursuits, such as avvy [= ‘afternoon’], conny onny [= ‘condensed milk’], cowie [= ‘cowboy film’], finny addy [= ‘finnan-haddock’], loosie [= ‘cigarette sold individually’], mobie [= ‘mobile phone’], muzzy [= ‘moustache’], emmy oggie [= ‘empty house’], rollie [= ‘roll-up cigarette’], squashies [= ‘squashed/broken chocolate sold at reduced price’] and sterry milk [= ‘sterilised milk’]. As a productive form, Crowley’s dictionary cannot possibly hope to be comprehensive, but forms like conny onny and mobie demonstrate how this process applies equally to traditional and to modern household items and my mate's use of chrizzie dezzies shows how it can be used to create highly original forms that may or may not be adopted more widely – the BBC Voices Recordings captured basies [= ‘baseball boots’] and grungies [= ‘fan of grunge rock music’], for instance.

Crowley’s dictionary is a unique celebration of the extraordinary ingenuity and creativity of Scouse vocabulary. To explore the equally distinctive Scouse accent, try this recording in the Library’s Evolving English VoiceBank.

26 October 2017

Black History Month – Dean Dixon

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Dean_Dixon_(1941)

Dean Dixon photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1941 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For Black History Month this year I have chosen to highlight the work of African American conductor Dean Dixon who was a familiar figure in the London concert halls of the 1960s.

Born in Harlem, New York in 1915 to West Indian parents, Dixon studied at the Julliard School of Music and graduated from Columbia University.  His professional debut was in 1937 at Town Hall, New York and in 1941 he was the first African American to guest conduct the New York Philharmonic receiving further engagements with other first rank American orchestras.  He founded the American Youth Orchestra in 1944 and became responsible for various university courses in music education while later in his career he was responsible for organising children’s concerts.  However, the 1940s was a difficult time for African Americans to succeed in the United States and many musicians went to Europe in the search for fulfilling work.  Dixon first went to Paris in 1949 then worked in Israel and Scandinavia.  During the 1950s he was director of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and from 1961 to 1974 director of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra during which time he was also director of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.  During the 1970s Dixon returned to the United States to guest conduct many of the well known orchestras.

Dixon first appeared in London in May 1955 conducting an all-Beethoven concert with Eileen Joyce as soloist in the Piano Concerto No. 4.  He was often a guest conductor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and when Rudolf Schwarz’s contract as director of the orchestra came to an end in 1962, Dixon was one of a team of conductors chosen to take his place in the forthcoming season.  He was in good company as some of the others included Colin Davis, Antal Dorati, Rudolf Kempe, Lorin Maazel, Jean Martinon and Igor Markevitch.  When Dixon conducted Mahler’s First Symphony in May 1963 the Times critic corrected his own ‘mental reservations’ when he wrote: ‘Mr Dixon is an American Negro conductor, and as such might be supposed to feel alien to the music by a Central European composer of the decadent “fin de siècle.” In the event, these mental reservations proved entirely unfounded, for Mr Dixon’s performance recaptured on the whole the spirit of the First Symphony most admirably.’

Dixon recorded for the Westminster label including an excellent disc of Liszt Symphonic Poems with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Schubert Symphonies, the Dvorak Cello Concerto with Antonio Janigro and MacDowell Piano Concertos with his first of his three wives, Vivian Rivkin.  Recently, German label Audite has issued radio broadcasts of Dixon accompanying the great Rumanian pianist Clara Haskil and a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 from 1962.  With the Prague Symphony orchestra he recorded a disc of Weber Symphonies for Supraphon.

Dixon championed American music making recordings for the Desto label, and the British Library holds a rare recording of excerpts from the American Music Festival of 1948 with Dixon conducting the premiere of the Viola Concerto by Quincy Porter with Paul Doktor as soloist. 

Porter Viola Concerto

Dixon also broadcast rare repertoire for the BBC including the Second Symphony by Humphrey Searle.  When he accompanied Greek pianist Gina Bachauer in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Fairfield Hall in Croydon one critic wrote, ‘…the highlight of Beethoven’s third piano concerto was the rapport between the soloist (Miss Gina Bachauer) and orchestra in the Largo.’  Here is the opening tutti of the concerto demonstrating Dixon’s attention to detail with crisp wind playing and fine moulding of phrases.

Beethoven Concerto No. 3

Dixon died in 1976 at the age of 61.

Follow @BL_Classical for all the latest news

16 October 2017

Recording of the week: soul midwives

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

Friends, Vanessa and Felicity, talk about their work as soul midwives which involves working with people who are dying to ensure that their death is personal and dignified. They describe the different ways that people approach and experience death and how their work has changed the way that they view life and think about their own death. They discuss at length the mysteries that surround death, how other people react to what they do and the gift of insights that they feel are given to them by the people they work with. They also describe the experiences of death that made them want to do this job, they talk about how much they enjoy what they do and say that, contrary to what people might think, it actually involves a lot of joy and laughter.

The Listening Project_soul midwives (excerpt)

Vanessa and Felicity

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 Vanessa and Felicity can be found here.

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

12 October 2017

LISTEN: 140 Years of Recorded Sound

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Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound is the Library's new free exhibition in the Entrance Hall Gallery until 11 May 2018.

This exhibition also inaugurates the Library’s Season of Sound which, includes happy hour listening sessions, a series of talks and late-night shows.

What would you find?

  Gallery_blog

100 Sounds

In the exhibition space we present 100 sounds from the archive, amounting to nearly seven hours of playing time, dating from 1889 to 2017 and covering music, drama, oral history, wildlife, environmental sounds, accents and dialects, and radio.

Many of the selections are rare and unpublished and they can be accessed from any of the exhibition’s listening pods, which have been designed for a secluded and prolonged listening experience.

Hand-out_blog

 Some of my favourites…

  • Radio drama: a musical excerpt from an off-air recording of a radio play by Caryl Brahms and Ned Sherrin - The People in the Park made in 1963. This is an example of a radio drama which was not saved by the BBC and which the British Library has preserved from an off-air recording. The chosen musical excerpt is representative of the humour and the strong feminist message of the piece.
  • Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan live at WOMAD recorded by the British Library in 1985. The Library has 2500 hours of recordings made at the WOMAD Festival by a team of volunteer staff from 1985 till the present.
  • Brendan Behan singing ‘The Old Triangle’ in 1954 from his play The Quare Fellow. This is a private recording donated by the Theatre Royal in Stratford East.
  • An excerpt from an oral history interview with chef Cyrus Todiwala, interviewed by Niamh Dillon in 2008, recalling his reaction to first encountering Indian restaurant menus when he arrived in the UK from India in the 1990s.
  • A wildlife recording of a Turkish soundscape at dusk made by biologist and field recordist Eloisa Matheu in 2010.
  • Hugh Davies performing his composition ‘Salad’ on a variety of egg and tomato slicers in 1978.

Also… the voice of Florence Nightingale; James Joyce reading from Ulysses; the voice of Brahms; Maya Angelou live in Lewisham; the earliest recording of British vernacular speech; bird mimicry; whale songs; …

‘Mystery tracks’

To put you in the zone we have installed five ‘mystery tracks’ at the very front of the exhibition space. If you are curious to know the ‘when’, ‘where’ and the ‘who’ of the mystery tracks, the details are revealed in a hand-out available elsewhere in the space.

Mystery tracks 1blog 

Timeline

For reference there is a timeline listing key developments in the history of recorded sound (including radio), and illustrating how the effect of recordings and recording technologies has changed our relationship to sound over the years.

Listen timeline_blog

Artefacts

The British Library has a collection of rarely seen audio players and other artefacts. For this exhibition we have taken a few out of storage. Players include an Edison home phonograph from 1900 and a Nagra SN miniature tape recorder from 1970. The artefacts include a colourful selection of picture discs and the original nickel-plated stamper used to press a disc version of Tennyson reciting 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' in 1890.

Listen to Tennyson reciting 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'

Edison Diamond Disc phonograph_blogEdison Diamond Disc phonograph (c.1919)

Boy Wireless

To illustrate how archival sounds can inspire new works in the 21st century, composer and sound artist Aleks Kolkowski has created a unique sound installation.

Boy Wireless was inspired by a diary kept by a sixteen-year old radio enthusiast, Alfred Taylor, writing in 1922-23, at the dawn of broadcast radio. The original diary is also on display in the space.

BoyWireless_B Boy Wireless sound installation by Aleks Kolkowski

Aleks Kolkowski_blogAleks Kolkowski at the British Library cutting souvenir voice recordings on the exhibition’s opening night.

Save Our Sounds

The Library’s sound archive is one of the biggest on the planet. It contains six and half million audio recordings from all over the world in over forty different formats. The preservation of recorded sound is at the heart of our work. In 2016 the Library launched the Save Our Sounds Programme to digitise the most vulnerable items in our collection and in other collections across the UK. Donations to support the programme are welcome.

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for more news.

11 October 2017

James Gowan on the Engineering Building at the University of Leicester

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"The building committee we were dealing with wanted to make a statement, and indicate their presence, and make a splash, and I think that was probably successful" - James Gowan

47958155_bebd6e3385_bThe Engineering Building, Leicester University by Steve Cadman at Flickr

James Gowan on the Engineering Building design

The Leicester building did involve a lot of drawings but not as many as one would expect because most of the time we were sorting out options rather than doing working drawings.  Because we were in the dark really, we didn’t have a model to work to, not like a Corbusian model, we were shaping the thing up from scratch.  So we were trying out various types of roofs, various arrangements for the front, and that was done at a smaller scale.  … One of the things that fixed the building was that, the fact the hydraulic tank had to be 60 feet up in the air to get the pressure ….and we had a lot of pressure from the building committee to have a tower facing Victoria Park and having a presence that could be seen by the wider public. ….The building committee we were dealing with wanted to make a statement, and indicate their presence, and make a splash, and I think that was probably successful. 

JGowan&JSterling_0266_10James Gowan and James Stirling, Gowan in the foreground (© Sandra Lousada)

The building proved ground-breaking in its form, construction and use of materials and aroused huge interest nationally and internationally with many younger architects recalling site visits while under construction.  However, it was the last project Stirling and Gowan worked on together.  Subsequently, James Gowan focused on housing for both private clients and for the public sector and James Stirling became known for large scale urban projects such as the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain and No. 1 Poultry in the City of London.

Niamh Dillon, Project Interviewer, Architects' Lives

Listen to James Gowan's full interview at British Library Sounds