THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

31 posts categorized "Events"

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.

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

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Many of the selections are rare and unpublished and they can be accessed from any of the exhibition’s listening pods, which have been designed for a secluded and prolonged listening experience.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. You can have your own voice recorded too at our Super Sonic one-day event on Saturday 25th November

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.

27 September 2017

Don't let work kill the housewife, let electricity do it for you!

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As autumn turns to the dark and cold of winter, many of us will be turning on the lights earlier and switching on the central heating without giving it a second thought. It's easy to forget that it's only been a few decades since household electricity supplies became universal in Britain. In 1935 about 30% of British homes didn't have electricity at all.

Electric cooker 1Southern Electricity Service advert from the Wiltshire Times, 1953 (British Newspaper Archive)

Even in homes that did have power, there were comparatively few electrical appliances, and electricity was often used alongside candles, gas lighting and coal fires. In the 1940 and 1950s the newly nationalised electricity industry made a huge effort to build up Britain's electrical system, building dozens of power stations and encouraging people to use more electricity in their workplaces and homes.

Alan Plumpton - Electric as a way of life

A big effort was made to convince housewives that electrical appliances would bring them cleaner and more convenient lives, but electricity was new and people needed to be shown how to use it. Back in the 1950s electricity board commercial engineer Alan Plumpton (C1495/10) found himself selling electrical appliances to people who had never had them before. As he remembers in this interview clip, electricity may have been modern, but people still needed a bit of convincing to let it into their homes, with the sales pitch of "don't let work kill the housewife, let electricity do it for you!"

If you want to know more about the history of electricity supply, why not come along to The Life Electric: Oral Histories from the UK Electricity Supply Industry at the British Library on the 19th of October 2017.

Blog by Tom Lean, Project Interviewer for An Oral History of the Electricity Supply Industry

23 February 2017

Behind the candy-striped jackets – oral history uncovers the unspoken

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David Kynaston is perhaps best-known for his prize-winning studies of Britain in the later twentieth century, most tellingly his Tales of a New Jerusalem series, including Austerity Britain, Family Britain, and Modernity Britain.  We can now hear David Kynaston reflect upon how he weaves personal memories through his studies of this dramatic period, as he gives the National Life Stories Lecture, ‘Uncovering the unspoken: memory and post-war Britain’, to be held in the Knowledge Centre at the British Library on 13 March 2017.

Austerity Britain book cover

Austerity Britain by David Kynaston

To inform the themes of his lecture Kynaston welcomed four eminent guests to the purpose-built recording studio in the Library: Clare Short (former British politician), David Warren (former British diplomat), Anne Sebba (writer, presenter and lecturer) and Sarah Dunant (novelist, journalist, broadcaster and critic). This wide-ranging and lengthy discussion – which will also be archived and made available at the British Library – covered the speakers’ reflections on some key themes including class, sexuality, education, gender, the influence of family background and the mechanics of how we remember.  If, like me, you are intrigued to know how Kynaston will intertwine these themes with his wider reflections on post-war Britain then book a ticket to attend the lecture.  Tickets are available via the British Library Box Office.

Of course, Kynaston is no stranger to oral history. National Life Stories is the oral history fieldwork charity based in the British Library Sound Archive that has been collecting and commissioning oral history interviews for the last thirty years.  David Kynaston deposited the interviews from two of his key works on the City of London, which are available for anyone to listen via the Listening and Viewing Service at the Library; one on the City investment group, Phillips & Drew (now incorporated into UBS Global Asset Management) and the second on LIFFE.  The Kynaston London International Financial Futures & Options Exchange (LIFFE) Interviews is a series of over 65 recordings with employees and former employees of LIFFE conducted in 1996 as part of the research for his book LIFFE: A Market and its Makers (Granta, 1997).

  Floor traders cropped
Floor traders © Power Stock Photo Library

When Kynaston conducted his interviews in 1996 LIFFE was at its zenith, as one of the largest futures, commodities and equity exchanges in Europe. The exchange floor was a hive of activity, noise and colour where each trader - kitted in a distinctive coloured blazer - would use a mix of hand-signals and shouts from ‘the pit’ to conduct the exchanges.  In this clip from the City Lives project, we hear about the events at the opening of LIFFE in 1982 and then a description how the exchange functioned in the mid 1990s. The first speaker is David Burton, Chairman 1988-1992 (this recording is from 1993), and the second is his successor Nick Durlacher (interviewed in 1995).

Burton & Durlacher (LIFFE)

David Burton interviewed by Cathy Courtney, 1992-1994, and Nicholas Durlacher interviewed by Cathy Courtney 1995. Both of these interviews from City Lives are available to listen online, British Library Sound Archive refs C409/077 and C409/127.

Within only four years of these interviews LIFFE changed beyond recognition. The last open outcry trading pits were closed in 2000 as trading shifted to electronic platforms.  Gone were the coloured jackets, the shouts and the practical jokes of the brokers.  Both City Lives and the Kynaston London International Financial Futures & Options Exchange (LIFFE) Interviews capture personal descriptions of these moments in the life of the City of London from the perspectives of those who worked there and experienced the intense life on the trading floor.

If you are not able to attend the lecture, we plan to film the event and make it available online. More news will follow on this in later March.

Mary Stewart, Curator of Oral History

13 December 2016

Artists’ Lives Exhibition at Tate Britain

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From now until Autumn 2017, selected audio recordings from National Life Stories’ Artists’ Lives project (C466) will be on display at Tate Britain, London, as part of the free exhibition, ARTISTS’ LIVES: SPEAKING OF THE KASMIN GALLERY.

  172 kasmin on phone 118Kasmin in his gallery at 118 New Bond Street, c.1966. Photograph courtesy Kasmin.

Celebrating the history of the Kasmin Gallery, a Mayfair gallery that played a key role in the art scene of 1960s London, the exhibition brings together artwork originally shown in the gallery (subsequently acquired by Tate), including the works of Jules Olitski (1922-2007) and Robyn Denny (1930-2014), together with related audio extracts from Artists’ Lives (available via touch-screens in the exhibition’s seating area) that allow visitors to explore the history of the Kasmin Gallery and developing art market through the voices of those directly involved, including artists, curators and Kasmin himself.

To mark the launch of the exhibition, a conversation event was held at Tate Britain on Friday 9 December 2016, which saw gallerist Kasmin, Nicholas Serota, Director of Tate, and biographer and cultural historian Fiona MacCarthy reflect on their own personal experiences of life story interviews, as well as the content of the exhibition itself. A one-day conference entitled The Voice of the Artist was also held at the Courtauld Institute of Art on Saturday 10 December 2016, which brought together artists, curators, art historians and oral history experts to explore the importance, relevance and complications of life story interviews in the context of art studies and art education. Novelist William Boyd gave the conference’s keynote lecture, which discussed his 1998 fictitious biography Nat Tate: An American Artist 1928–1960 and the centrality and importance of life stories in his work.

 

74390004Kamsin gallery exteriorKasmin outside the Kasmin Gallery on New Bond Street, 1960s. Photograph courtesy Kasmin.

Over 200 Artists’ Lives life story recordings are now freely available on BL Sounds, the British Library’s online sound resource. To explore Artists’ Lives interviews not online please search the British Library’s Sound and Moving Image catalogue.

Artists’ Lives is run by National Life Stories at the British Library in association with Tate. The Henry Moore Foundation, The Henry Moore Institute and the Yale Center for British Art have supported the project since its inception in 1990. National Life Stories is grateful to all its sponsors in relation to the exhibition ARTISTS’ LIVES: SPEAKING OF THE KASMIN GALLERY, particularly the Gubenkian Foundation UK and the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation.

Dr Cai Parry-Jones

Curator, Oral History

23 September 2016

Europeana Sounds second editathon!

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As part of our Europeana Sounds project we will be holding our second wildlife sounds editathon at the British Library between 10am and 4pm on Saturday the 8th October.  Join us on a sound safari, as we explore the sound holdings on African wildlife.

Sound safari

Europeana Sounds is a three year European funded project, coordinated by the British Library. As part of the project we are aggregating over half a million audio recordings into Europeana and have been working on licensing and enrichment and participation, which includes smaller crowdsourcing projects.

The editathon enables participants to work with our African and British Wildlife sounds collections to expand Wikipedia and enrich existing pages. Whether you’re a fan of editing Wikipedia, have a passion for sounds, or would like to know more about our collections, come along and spend the day with the Europeana Sounds team. There will be Wikimedians available throughout the day for hands on training so if you’ve never edited before, now would be an ideal time to come and learn how it’s done. If you have previous experience of editing, bring your headphones and listen to some of our wonderful collection whilst improving Wikipedia.

The full event details are available on our project website, and the sign up page can be found here. We just need you to your laptop, headphones and enthusiasm and we’ll provide the rest (including lunch!).

Workshop Programme:

10.00-10.30 Arrival and welcome coffee. Log on and computer checks.

10.30-10.45 Introduction to the British Library and an introduction to Europeana Sounds.

10.45-11.00 Introductions to British Library Sounds and Wildlife collection from curator Cheryl Tipp

11.00-11.15 Introduction to Wikimedia

11.15-12.45 Hands on session editing Wikipedia and training available throughout.

12.45-13.00 Recap and sharing

13.00-14.00 Lunch

14.00-15.45 Edits continue

15.45-16.00 Recap of the day and work done

16.00 End!

If you have any further questions or would like to know more please contact Laura Miles: laura.miles@bl.uk

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.

08 July 2016

Hidden Traces. A sound walk

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Opening this Saturday 9 July, Hidden Traces is a new sound installation by Gabriele Reuter and Mattef Kuhlmey. It takes the listener through a promenade of voices on the streets around The Place, the dance venue just off Euston Road, London.

A combination of sound choreography, urban history and oral reminiscences of childhood and everyday life in the local area, was used to create a series of short audio plays, which have been placed on listening points on and around the buildings and streets surrounding The Place.

For Gabriele Reuter, understanding city planning and the way the cities are constructed is very much related to understanding space and choreography. In this context there is no dance; here, choreography is about arranging memories in time and space.

Gabriele ReuterGabriele Reuter (on the right) with interviewee Emma Coates from Wallace Space. 

Gabriele is a choreographer, dancer and urban historian. She works in Berlin and Nottingham and trained at The Place where she has presented many of her works over the past ten years. She collaborates regularly with sound designer, artist and composer Mattef Kuhlmey.

Hidden Traces has been commissioned by The Place and supported by the British Library. The sound journey has been inspired by interviews with local residents made for the project, and archival recordings from King’s Cross Voices interviews, courtesy of Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre.

Experiencing Hidden Traces is free but booking is essential through The Place box office. On collection of your ticket you will be given a map showing the different listening stations, a pair of headphones and a mp3 player. The order of the listening journey is up to each individual listener.

The project has amassed a legacy of audio interviews with local residents, plus sound pieces composed from the fieldwork materials, and a short video interview with Gabrielle talking about the connections between choreography, urban history, memories and the use of dance as a discipline to engage with communities. All the recordings will be archived and eventually made available to listen to at the British Library.

Hidden Traces runs from Sat 9 - Sat 16 July, 10am - 5pm. Please come along for a unique experience.

24 June 2016

Fourth of July punk special

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Joey-Ramone

On 4 July 2016 it will be 40 years since influential New York punk band the Ramones played their first gig in Britain, just up the road from the British Library, at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm.

The photo above, taken by Ramones manager Danny Fields, shows lead singer Joey Ramone outside the venue.

The Roundhouse was built in 1847 by the London and North Western Railway as a turning yard for trains, although it didn't serve this purpose for long. For 90 years or so, from 1864, it was used by Gilbey's Gin as a warehouse. Then, from 1964, it became a performing arts centre, hosting new theatre work by Arnold Wesker, Peter Brook and the Living Theater, and concerts featuring underground rock bands, including, in 1968, the only UK performances by the Doors.

Which is where Danny Fields comes in....

In 1966, despite a less-than-wonderful relationship with lead singer Jim Morrison, Danny had been instrumental in the Doors' signing to Elektra Records. He went on to manage the Stooges, the Modern Lovers, and - for a brief period - Lou Reed, and negotiated record deals for the MC5 and Nico, respectively.

Notice that all these artists figure among the select group that arguably paved the way for 70s punk music in some way. Certainly, at least, they were respected by the artists and followers of the new scene.

By 1976, finger on the pulse as ever, Danny was managing the premier US punk band, the Ramones.

There is a lot more to Danny's career in music than the few points listed above, so, if you can, why not come along to the British Library Punk 1976-78 event on 4 July and hear the man himself in conversation?

It's a rare opportunity and should be a great night. We will also be presenting a special preview screening of the brand new documentary film by Brendan Toller Danny Says

Photo of Joey Ramone © Danny Fields. My Ramones by Danny Fields is published by First Third Books.