THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

6 posts categorized "Festivals"

20 June 2017

A conversation: celebrating the donation of the Hay Festival archive

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To celebrate their anniversary the Hay Festival, led by Director Peter Florence, has generously donated the archive of some 5000 audio recordings, 2000 video recordings, and many folders of correspondence. Here, Head of Contemporary British Collections Richard Price reflects on the Festival and its archive.

Digital-Audio-Tape

Thirty years ago, the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts began life as a conversation round a kitchen table. Actors Norman Florence and Rhoda Lewis were talking with their 23-year old son, Peter Florence, about the possibilities of live literature, of the extra life books can have when their authors are discussing them with a live audience. Was there room in the literary calendar for a new literature festival? They thought probably yes, and they thought right: thirty years later, from its modest beginnings in improvised spaces in the Welsh borders town of Hay-on-Wye, the Hay Festival is now one of the largest literary festivals in the UK.

You can go too far with the word ‘conversation’ – it has become a cliché of cultural criticism that a book is ‘in conversation’ with another earlier book, this painting ‘in dialogue’ with another. And is a reader really ‘in conversation’ with the book they are reading? -- this to my mind just slightly misrenders that mysterious relationship between a reader and literature.  Even interactive apps can’t really have a dialogue with their users, and a traditional book can’t really, either.  But that is one of the glories of a reader’s relationship with a book: the conversation is all in the reader’s head. One of the joys of reading is the peaceful stimulation of internal ‘voices’ which reading entails.

A festival is more clearly a two-way conversation -- or a series of ones . It is a gathering to share word and thought and enthusiasm, and to pass all that literate energy on, to learn through interchange (yes, authors do learn from their audiences – it’s not a one-way transaction); to inspire.  A festival is one of the few places where author and audience can actually meet and talk about the ideas a writer has dwelt with for many years, labouring to create their book. Members of the public will relish that opportunity (and the opportunity to meet other readers) but for many writers it is also a time when they can step out of their normal solitude and see at first hand the effect their writing has had on other people.

Over the years, the Festival has played host to almost every UK writer or public intellectual with a significant public profile. Writers featured in the archive are far too numerous to name but include Maya Angelou, Orhan Pamuk, Hanif Kureishi, Will Self, Karl Ove Knausgård, Dave Eggers, Ben Okri, George Szirtes, Germaine Greer, Mario Vargas Llosa, Ian McEwan, Michael Ondaatje, Carlos Fuentes, Laurent Binet, Ruth Rendell, Arnold Wesker, Margaret Atwood, Susan Sontag, Paul Muldoon, Doris Lessing, Edna O'Brien, Jackie Collins … and the list goes on.  Artists and musicians include Philip Glass, Michael Nyman, Brian Eno, Billy Bragg, Grayson Perry, and Gilbert & George.

The Library holds many discrete collections of audio recordings of public and literary talks. These include talks recorded at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), the writers' organization PEN International, and the Royal Society of Literature. The Hay Festival collection, however, greatly exceeds in scale all of these collections put together.

Clearly, Hay is a major player in the literary part of the creative economy. Although the archive is bound to be used for the light it sheds on individual authors – and hundreds of authors have appeared at Hay - it is also likely to be a source for understanding how festivals can generate success and sales.

Researchers at the British Library will find the Hay archive a rich source in that regard, and they will also be able to use our other resources alongside the archive to get a fuller understanding of literary production. Fiction or poetry captured in a book has already been through all kinds of dialogue before it reaches the printed page. The writer’s real-life conversations with friends, family, other writers, his or her editor, mentors, school days teachers, new teachers, colleagues and even strangers past and present, all will have affected the production of a short story or a novel or a poem.

The Library’s Author’s Lives oral history programme (in partnership with National Life Stories) tries to capture the hidden life of the writer and their work. We interview acclaimed writers at length – the interviews take place over several days – taking them back through their lives in a way that can sharply elucidate the work they would later produce. In our contemporary manuscripts collections we acquire authors’ notebooks, diaries and letters to, again, build a richer picture of the writer and their world.

And then finally there it is: the finished published work, going out multiply to readers of all kinds. Our Legal Deposit collection of UK and Irish books, in which a copy of almost everything published in these territories is held at the British Library, helps preserve the immense creativity of these islands as represented in those literary traditions.

The Hay Festival archive will complement these collections by focussing on the continuing life of the book after its physical entity – Hay is about readings of the work itself and discussions of the feelings and ideas literature and other works conjure. The Hay archive bears witness to authors who have shaped the literary landscape of recent times – Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy, James Kelman, and Beryl Bainbridge, to name just a few. Politics and science are also part of the Hay worldview, and so Jimmy Carter, Mary Warnock, Germaine Greer and Mo Mowlam are there – all figures who in their various ways are fundamental to an understanding of modern times, and, no doubt, to the continuing conversations of future generations.

30 November 2016

International Folk Music on Film

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Copyright © Tareque Masud Memorial Trust
Muktir Gaan (Song of Freedom) - winner  - International Folk Music Film festival 2016

This year marks the 6th successive year that the International Folk Music Film Festival in Nepal has gathered together a collection of filmmakers from across the globe whose films of musical traditions reveal the true vitality of the medium in the documentation of music and performance. Despite the impact of natural disasters and political embargoes, Ram Prasad (the Director of the festival) has been determined to continue to keep the festival going. With the support of his dedicated collaborators and an international field of inspiring filmmakers, the festival has continued and his determination has paid off.  Copies of selected films from the festival are held in the British Library (with the collection reference C1516) which has now developed into a very interesting archive of films that record ‘traditional’ or folk music and the role of music in traditional cultures around the world.

In the six years since its inception the festival has screened over 180 films submitted by a wide range of filmmakers from a variety of disciplines. The advisory board for the film festival includes ethnomusicologists, anthropologists, musicians and filmmakers whose diverse perspectives on the role of music in culture ensure the content remains multi-faceted and wide in focus. Like music itself, the films cannot be defined through words alone and they continue to expand the concept of what a folk music film really is.

Copyright © Tareque Masud Memorial Trust
Muktir Gaan

There are several categories of awards including: short film; Best Nepali film; Best instructional film; Music therapy award; Intangible Heritage documentation award and a Lifetime achievement award. The winner of the long film category in 2016 was Muktir Gaan (Song of Freedom), a film by Tareque Masud and Catherine Masud. The film follows a music troupe, singing to inspire the freedom fighters, during the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971. 

The Folk Music film festival differs from many of the more well-known ethnographic film festivals by the breadth of film styles included in the programme. The film committee selects record footage and films from very low budget productions to screen alongside big budget and crowd funded productions and archive films. Alongside the competition films there are a number of invited films which allow the viewer to reflect on the work of a filmmaker whose work demonstrates the power of  documenting music through film; an international filmmaker or ethnomusicologist who has created significant documents of Nepali culture; an artist or significant figure from within the Nepalese musical community who has contributed to Nepalese musical heritage.

Maruni dance
Prev Dem discussing Arnold Bake film

The inclusion of archive footage of Nepalese traditions sourced from international filmmakers and archives and locally made films about Nepalese culture is not an accident. Rather it is one of the stimuli for the founders of the film festival, Ram Prasad and Norma Blackstock, who are both on the board of the Music Museum of Nepal.

The museum is home not only to a large collection of traditional instruments but also to a growing archive of audio and film recordings of Nepali musical traditions made by the museums founders and local filmmakers. Norma and Ram have been slowly bringing together digital copies of archive footage of Nepali music and culture found in archives and personal collections around the world to add to the collection including copies of ethnomusicologist, Arnold Bake's, material from British Library collection C52 (see music blog 2012).

Film festival crowd
Film festival audience

The film festival therefore serves as a vehicle for reconnecting communities with their cultural heritage through screening historic footage of these traditions. The invitations to attend the festival are extended throughout the Nepalese community across generations. The success of the festival in extending the legacy of documenting music on film is exemplary.

The festival is also a key part of the Music Museum of Nepal's cultural engagement programme.  This year they hosted filmmaker Karen Boswall as they extended their training opportunities to local filmmakers interested in documenting their own traditions.  Encouraging and developing local filmmakers and students to engage with documentation of their own cultural traditions in film adds to the ever growing collection of contemporary footage of the wide range of musical traditions found throughout the many culture groups of Nepal.

The documentation of cultural traditions and the communication of knowledge about these traditions is one of the main aims of the festival. The results from this workshop will be included in the final batch of films to be received from the festival. Many of these films have now been added to the videoserver which is available in the reading rooms at the British Library.

 

Videoserver
Videoserver

For anyone wanting to access videoserver in the British Library Reading rooms please contact the Listening and Viewing Service  for more information. 

Find out more about the work of the British Library's Sound Archive and the new Save our Sounds programme online.

Follow the British Library Sound Archive @soundarchive and the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities @BL_WorldTrad on Twitter.

 

 

 

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.

20 October 2015

Radio Festival 2015 at the British Library - with highlights from the radio archive

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Brian Eno delivering the John Peel Lecture at the British Library
Brian Eno delivering the John Peel Lecture at the 2015 Radio Festival

The British Library recently hosted the 2015 Radio Festival, including BBC Radio’s John Peel Lecture, presented this year by Brian Eno, and a two day programme bringing together leading figures and experts from the UK radio industry. Hosted by Paddy O’Connell, this year’s speakers included radio and TV presenter Chris Evans, Will Page of online music service Spotify and Peter Barron, Google’s European Head of Communications.

Ahead of the Peel Lecture on the Sunday 27 September, BBC 6 Music took up residence in the foyer of our St Pancras building for an ‘Afternoon from the British Library’ with musician/DJ Jarvis Cocker and Mary Anne Hobbs broadcasting live. During the programme, Cocker and Hobbs registered for Reader Passes, before exploring the Library’s collections underground. Here they discovered some of the many rare and unique recordings in the sound archive, and even came face to face with an early edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Jarvis Cocker visiting the British Library (photo Toby Keane)
Jarvis Cocker exploring the LP stacks in the British Library's sound archive. Photo by Toby Keane

The Festival was the perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the British Library’s sound archive, an extraordinary collection of around 6.5m recordings dating back to the birth of recorded sound in the 19th Century. Adam Tovell, the Library's Production Co-ordinator (Technical Services), delivered the TechCon keynote address, outlining our concerns and solutions to the threats currently facing this unique collection; not least the danger that sounds may soon be lost due to obsolescence of the historical playback devices required to reproduce them, or as the materials from which they are made naturally decay.

This is one of the two central challenges of our Save our Sounds campaign, which we highlighted throughout the Radio Festival conference, the other being the archiving challenges of capturing today’s radio for researchers and students of the future.

During the Festival, we also played attendees some of our favourite sounds from the British Library’s radio archive, a collection of some 200,000 hours dating back to the 1920s. They were chosen by curators and staff from across the Library and played in between festival sessions:

Mary Stewart - The Ballad of John Axon - BBC Home Service, 1958

Luke McKernan - The Sinking of Radio Caroline, 1980

Caroline Brazier - Folk-Song Cellar - BBC Home Service, 1966

Jonnie Robinson - The Listening Project, 2012

Nora McGregor - Pressures of the Unspeakable - Resonance 107.3 FM, 1998

Andy Linehan - Johnny Rotten on Capital Radio, 1977

Rob Perks - George Ewart Evans - BBC Third Programme, 1964

Polly Russell - Anna Raeburn on The World Today - New York, 1974 

Richard Ranft - Music From a Small Planet - BBC Radio 4, 1983

Steve Cleary - Sono-Montage - BBC Third Programme, 1966

Steven Dryden - Kenny Everett on Capital Radio, 1970s

Paul Wilson - Pre-War Radio Luxembourg, 1935

To mark the end of the Festival, visitors to the Library were rewarded with an unexpected 15-minute performance by award-winning musician and BBC Radio 2 presenter Jamie Cullum, whose group played in our Entrance Hall.

Jamie Cullum (photo by Tony Antoniou)
Jamie Cullum playing in the Library's entrance hall. Photo by Tony Antoniou

With thanks to producer Simon Tester for recording the radio collection highlights, the Radio Academy, Gregory Whitehead, Anna Raeburn, Frances Taylor and Sophie McIvor.

08 September 2014

Archiving WOMAD 2014

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The British Library’s relationship with WOMAD (World of Music Arts and Dance) is nearly as long as the festival's existence, recording performances for archival purposes since 1985. The first recording in the WOMAD Collection, C203/1, was of the Chinese sheng and flute players, the Guo Brothers, who had recently arrived in London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and were just beginning to create a name for themselves in this country. It was made on Ampex 456 ‘Grand Master’ tape at half-track stereo and in the recordists' notes, strong winds were reported as interfering with the quality of the recording.

1985 flyer from Steve Sherman s_sherman@sky.com

Since 1985 and each year, with the exception of three, a small team of staff from the British Library record as many of the performances as possible, including workshops and interviews. This summer, between 24 and 27 July, six members of staff attended the festival equipped with portable digital recorders and recorded ninety-one performances, covering 95% of the festival. These recordings have recently been catalogued and processed and are searchable on our catalogue. They can be listened to free of charge through our listening service on-site at the British Library in King's Cross in London and in Boston Spa, Yorkshire. 

The British Library holds a significant number of early UK appearances by artists who, since performing at WOMAD, have made great inroads on the international music scene; artists such as Baaba Maal, first recorded by the British Library at WOMAD in 1991, Thomas Mapfumo, first recorded in 1990 and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, first recorded in 1985, to cite only a few. In total we hold around 2,100 hours of audio (you would need close to 3 months of non-stop listening to listen to it all!) of performances at WOMAD, held on different physical formats such as open reel tape, DAT, CD-R and digital audio files; all are stored in our basements and backed up digitally for preservation and access.

Womad advert

The British Library holds five million recordings on over one million items dating back to the 1890s and possibly earlier. The sound collections have their origin in 1906, when the British Museum began collecting metal masters from the Gramophone Company. Recording performances at WOMAD is one example of the many ways in which the British Library actively develops its sound collections although the majority of material is acquired through donations, purchases or loans.

Steven Dryden, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist, was a member of the WOMAD team this year. In this paragraph he relays his higlhight of the festival: experiencing the live sound of DakhaBrakha, made possible thanks to Dash Arts, the creative agency which brought the group to the United Kingdom.

My highlight of WOMAD 2014 has to be ‘Ethno Chaos’ founders DakhaBrakha - brooding, shamanic ‘noisescapes’ from Ukraine. The Siam Tent filled to capacity throughout the four piece set, the atmosphere building and building with each song. The sound is eclectic, in the truest sense of the word; there is a traditional folk element but also, dance, hip-hop and tribal rhythms. The songs often build to terrifyingly claustrophobic dins, but remain rhythmic and chant like - just as the ‘Ethno Chaos’ tag might suggest, there is a lot of beauty in this chaos. One couldn’t help but reflect on everything that has happened in the Ukraine in the last year. Perhaps DakhaBrakha are capturing the zeitgeist of a generation of Ukrainians? The performance is swamped with pride, Ukrainian flags are featured on stage and amongst the audience. But there is something more here, the sound of the four piece is defiant and confident, totally uncompromising between the past and the future sounds of the Ukraine. This band sucks you in to their world of noise and forces you to contemplate, all while moving your feet.

Listen to an excerpt from DakhaBrakha's performance

Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World and Traditional Music, attended WOMAD festival for the first time.

Bernie Krause's talk at the Society of Sound Stage was an inspiring complement to the numerous musical performances I recorded at WOMAD: The Good Ones, Monsieur Doumani, Aar Maanta, Siyaya, Amjad Ali Khan, Mulatu Astatke, Kobo Town, Magnolia Sisters, amongst others. In his talk, the bio-acoustician and founder of Wild Sanctuary, an organization dedicated to recording and archiving natural soundscapes, invited the audience to reflect on the origins of music by suggesting structural relationships between what he identifies as the three layers of the soundscape - the geophony ('non-biological sound that occurs in the natural world'), biophony ('all of the sounds that animals create collectively in a natural wild environment') and the anthrophony ('all the human noise we create'). Using spectograms and audio recordings from his personal archive and recordings of the BayAka Pigmies made by Louis Sarno, his points were made audible.

Listen to an excerpt from Bernie Krause's talk

Andy Linehan, Curator of Pop Music, attended the first WOMAD festival in 1985.

As ever, it is difficult to pick out the highlights of WOMAD – there is so much to see, hear, taste and enjoy even though we are working - but Manu Dibango has long been a personal favourite on record so it was great to see him live and Richard Thompson’s late-night set reminded me what a great guitarist and songwriter he is. Ibibio Sound Machine played a storming set on Saturday afternoon and Youssou N’Dour was as classy as ever that evening. Sunday brought my favourite band of the weekend – Les Ambassadeurs, the reformed band led by Salif Keita who revisited their 1970s blend of afrobeat, funk, jazz and soul in an all-too short 75 minutes of aural pleasure.  And in a contrast of style the final performance of the weekend was a blistering set by Public Service Broadcasting (probably the first band to have played both the British Library Entrance Hall and Womad) who enthralled a packed Siam tent and drew proceedings to a close. It didn’t rain either.

Listen to an excerpt from Public Service Broadcasting's performance

Get in touch to listen to performances from WOMAD on-site at the British Library and listen online to sounds from World & Traditional Music and Pop Music online! See you next year for WOMAD 2015!

19 August 2011

Sheffield Doc/Fest Meet-up

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It's been a little on the quiet side here at the Moving Image blog of late, but that's not to say that things are quiet at the British Library. Our moving image plans are pressing ahead in all sorts of interesting ways, which I hope to be able to report on soon, as this blog creeps back into life a little more.

Meanwhile, we have other stuff happening in September, with three film-related events which you might like to take note of. Here's the first of them:

Sheffield Doc/Fest Meet-up

Mon 05 September 2011, 16.00 - 18.00

Who should attend? Documentary film makers
Place: British Library Business & IP Centre
Cost: Free
How to Book: View our events calendar and book online

Come along to the British Library in London to carry on your conversations from this year’s Doc/Fest in June, meet new people and learn more about the free resources available to documentary makers and digital media practitioners in the Business & IP Centre.

Join us for drinks at this great networking opportunity for documentary lovers, Doc/Fest veterans, and those completely new to Doc/Fest and curious about the industry. Find out how the British Library can help you realise projects, assist in research and how you can access their world-renowned resources.

Charlie Phillips, Doc/Fest’s Marketplace Director will also be in attendance to advise on documentary project financing and development.

About Sheffield Doc/Fest

Sheffield Doc/Fest brings the international documentary family together to celebrate the art and business of documentary making for five intense days in June every year. Find out more at http://sheffdocfest.com