THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

14 posts categorized "Film"

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

2R3D6901
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.

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.

04 February 2016

War, propaganda and Skye terriers - The Francis Chagrin collection of sound recordings

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Alexis Bennett is an Edison Fellow at the British Library Sound Archive, and is currently completing his PhD in music at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is also Associate Lecturer. He is also a composer and performer.  Here he writes about his research on composer Francis Chagrin.

Each donation to the Sound Archive at the British Library carries with it a certain air of mystery, especially if the format on which it is recorded has made reproduction difficult without specialist help. This was certainly the case for the materials donated by the family of the composer Francis Chagrin (1905-1972). Nearly all of the 484 recordings contained in the collection are lacquer discs of session recordings conducted by Chagrin. There are also some BBC shellac discs from his days working for the BBC French Service.

Francis Chagrin was Romanian by birth, but settled in London via Paris. His recordings were discovered in a garage by his family and donated to the British Library in 2006. Many of these discs are from the war period, during which he worked in London for the BBC French Service, a branch of what is now the BBC World Service that broadcast to occupied France. It is a fascinating trove of propaganda announcements, jingles, and other items, all set to music by Chagrin. They have arresting titles, which in themselves might give a sense of the kind of items that were being broadcast to the French: ‘Ne va pas en Allemagne’ is a sombre chant set to a dark orchestral accompaniment, and ‘Ça ira’ adapts an old revolutionary song.

When the discs were donated to the Sound Archive, they were digitized by the specialist staff so that researchers like me can listen to them repeatedly without damaging the originals. I am currently undertaking the task of cataloguing these recordings and aligning them on the British Library cataloguing system with the manuscripts and other special materials on Chagrin (these include scores, letters, cue-sheets, etc).

Chagrin78Research into the Chagrin materials can shed light on some of the ways that the composer borrowed from his own back catalogue. Early in his career, and soon after he settled in London, he scored a documentary called Five Faces (Alexander Shaw, 1937). It examined different groups of people living on the Malay Peninsula. Trawling through the BBC discs, (some of which are made from shellac, not lacquer) I found a French Service jingle that reuses the opening musical material from that film. The score for the film, and by implication for the material used in this jingle, is also held at the British Library. To the left is an image of the shellac disc and you can hear it in the attached file.

Five Faces BBC French Service


There are some recordings that do not originate from Chagrin’s French Service work, notably a broadcast recording of his Prelude and Fugue for orchestra (1947), which was performed at the Proms (then still called the Promenade Concerts); and a good representative sample of some of his film music, much of it now somewhat obscure, like his score for the rare documentary The Bridge (J. D. Chambers, 1946), which examined postwar reconstruction in Bosnia. This is an interesting case in point, in view of my cataloguing work, since by cross-referencing the sound recording of this film score and the manuscript for his concert work Yougoslav Sketches, it can be ascertained that the latter is simply an adaptation of the former. I’m not the first to make this particular connection (the musicologist Philip Lane worked on a CD recording of some of this music in 2005), but it is exciting to be collecting together all these materials at the British Library and cataloguing them in such as way that general readers and listeners can understand these links between paper sources and sound recordings easily.

Other, possibly more well-known, music can be found among these recordings, like cues from Chagrin’s score for the Disney film Greyfriars Bobby (Don Chaffey, 1961), which dramatizes the tale of the eponymous Edinburgh dog, a Skye terrier who allegedly slept by the graveside of his favourite human, Jock. This music shows Chagrin’s light-hearted side, but his skill and craftsmanship shows through (he studied with the legendary Nadia Boulanger in Paris).

You can read a detailed examination of the Chagrin archive in my forthcoming article for a special edition of Journal of Film Music, due Summer 2016:

https://journals.equinoxpub.com/index.php/JFM

Edison Fellowships are awarded annually by the British Library and funded by the Saga Trust.

29 January 2016

Audiovisual archives and the Web

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This is the text of a talk I gave on 29 January 2016 at the Institute of Historical Research's 'The Production of the Archive' conference. The conference sought to "bring together historians, archivists and scholars from other cognate disciplines to explore shared understandings of the nature of the archive, which is highly topical as archives shift from the traditional fixity of text to the fluidity of multi-faceted digital objects."

Websites

Good afternoon. My name is Luke McKernan, and I am Lead Curator for News & Moving Image at the British Library. I’m going to talk about something that has interested me for some while, which is the changing scale of audiovisual archiving. I'm going to do so by looking at two things: YouTube, and web archiving. I'll conclude by considering how historical enquiry and archival care may combine to understand the audiovisual archives we are building for ourselves now.

Film archiving traditionally has been a painstaking business. When films were produced on film, then the objective was to acquire adequate materials to enable the archivist to reproduce the film as closely as possible to the form in which it was originally produced, ideally from an original negative. There were many challenges for the film archivist. National film archives did not really get underway until the 1930s, meaning that much of the first 40 years of cinema was destined to be lost. In the United Kingdom, there is no legal deposit legislation in place for film, so film archivists have had to go out to producers, distributors and collectors to obtain suitable film copies, and not everything has been collected. This is also a costly business, since filmstock is expensive, and bulky, requiring specialist storage conditions as well as specialist equipment to ensure its long-term survival.

The situation, from a statutory point of view, is a little better for television, since a national television archive was enshrined in the 1990 Broadcasting Act. Videotape is also cheaper than film. The expense of film, combined with the distribution models to cinemas, constrained what could be produced, and consequently what could be archived. Television had a different distribution model, one which allowed it to broadcast content non-stop across multiple channels, but the medium for capturing this - tape – was adequate to the task. Very broadly speaking, our moving image archives were able to meet the challenge of archiving much of what was produced, assuming that they were resourced properly to do so.

Over the past ten years, the picture has changed utterly. What has changed it is YouTube, founded in April 2005, and what it has changed relates to scale, content, description, discovery and expectations of access.

Firstly scale. There are just under one million films and television programmes held by the BFI National Archive, the UK’s national moving image collection, collected over eight decades.. By wild contrast, I estimate that there have been 2.7 billion videos uploaded to YouTube since 2005. 400 hours of video are added to the site every minute. There are some film collections out there who haven’t managed to collect more than 400 hours of content in years. In one year in the UK, there are approximately 700 films given a cinema release, 6,000 physical videos published, and about 600,000 television programmes broadcast (excluding repeats). It is not known what proportion of YouTube’s possible 2.7 billion is British in origin, but the number is certain to dwarf that produced by traditional means. Does this render the traditional film archive meaningless, or reductively niche?

Kanefinger

Citizen Kane vs Charlie Bit My Finger

So, secondly, content. Vast amounts of this online content is what might be termed trivia: ephemeral videos of skateboarding pets of the kind that would never have been acquired by a film archive, nor even conceived of as a type of film production before the YouTube era. But is it trivia? How are we to judge what a moving image should be? Is the understanding of it as an art medium, of the kind best revered in a cinematheque, now something absurdly narrow? What, intrinsically, is the difference between, say Citizen Kane and Charlie Bit My Finger? Perhaps we should only look at the numbers – unless it is the numbers that are scaring us, and we prefer to cling to old certainties.

When it comes to description, things become problematic. The metadata for videos on YouTube and other video platforms is generally very poor. What metadata there is relates chiefly to when and in what form the video was uploaded to the site, with additional, often entirely random classification terms added by the uploader. The traditional archive puts far greater value on the specificity of the objects in its care.

Discovery and expectations of access are where the deep change lies. YouTube gives you everything, or at least it appears to do so. Access to moving images traditionally has been exclusive, even challenging. The films have been hard to track down, expensive to access, difficult to share. Now anything you can think of is there instantly, arranged in channels or discoverable individually. If a video is not there, it is effectively invisible, not worthy of consideration. A false sense of permanence has been inculcated - that every video is there, and that every video will always be there, with the concomitant reaction by many scholars that if a video is not on YouTube then it is not worth bothering, or necessary, to seek it elsewhere.

But not only is YouTube not infinite, but it is also shedding content on a massive scale. An unknown number of videos is taken down from the site every day, because of copyright infringement, or changing priorities of some publishers, or the embarrassment of those who have decided to hide away some of their youthful indiscretions.

 No figure has ever been supplied by YouTube on just how much disappears from the site, but I can give a personal example. I manage a website, called BardBox, which curates original Shakespeare videos to be found on YouTube, Vimeo and other platforms. They are videos of all kinds: original creations, mashups, fan videos, animations, actualities - representative of the broad mix of YouTube genres.  Recently I had a spring-clean of the site to check out how many of the videos were still active, and a quarter was no longer there. Has 25% of YouTube disappeared?

Is YouTube an archive? It is and it isn't. It is a repository for cultural content, which it maintains even if the videos are subsequently withdrawn, and although the files it holds are of a lower resolution than the original videos. It provides access. The scale of what is maintains is unprecedented, utterly dwarfing all that preceded it. It seems to be there for the long term. What it fails to provide is certainty. If it is an archive, it is a new kind of archive, one with built-in impermanence, a vast repository for uncertain times.

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Legal Deposit UK Web Archive

Now let us turn to web archives, which is where the British Library’s interest comes in. In 2013 non-print Legal Deposit legislation was passed which enabled the British Library, working with the other legal deposit libraries in the UK and Ireland, to begin archiving the UK web. There are around 4 million websites in the UK, and most of these we take an archival snapshot of once a year. The result is some 2.5 billion web pages in the Legal Deposit Web Archive. The British Library promotes itself as having some 150 million objects in its collection, but that refers to physical objects and is of increasing irrelevance in a digital age. Numerically speaking, it might be more sensible to describe the British Library as a large digital archive, with a few books on the side.

The 2013 Legal Deposit act excluded video and sound, for a variety of reasons. In practice this means that we do not archive websites which are predominantly video and audio-based, such as YouTube, or iPlayer. But if an audio or video file is incidental to the purpose of a website or webpage, then it can be collected. The result of this can be seen in the figures for the moving image collection that I manage. The conventional collection – which is a mixture of news and sound-based videos – numbers around 100,000 titles. If I add videos gathered incidentally through web archiving, the number rises to half a million. A further 40,000 videos is added every month, so that by this time this year we will have a collection of a million videos.

The situation is similar for sound. The Library holds the national sound archive, a collection of some 6.5 million recordings. In probably no more than four years time, there will be more sounds in the web archive than there are in the traditional sound archive.

What then is an audiovisual archive? Is it the archive gathered by traditional means, in which the best-quality material is selected through curatorial guidelines, to ensure a representative collection of optimum preservation quality? Or is it the random vastness of the web archive, in which videos of low image quality, minimal metadata and frequently spurious significance, are contained within a larger archive of web texts? Should we sacrifice quality of image for quantity of content, or should we maintain principles of selectivity, so that the best content is preserved in its optimum form? Should the traditional archive and the web archive be developed separately, or should they be managed collectively, and if so what does this mean for curation, collecting policies and the scholars who use such resources?

Thatcher

An archived web page with missing video element

These are largely theoretical questions at present. The Legal Deposit Web Archive is in its infancy. Discovery of the archives, which is restricted to terminals in the reading rooms of the various legal deposit libraries, is in need of considerable improvement before the archive can be properly used for research, and resource limitations mean that we’re not even able to playback those audio and video files as yet. Moreover, most researchers aren’t interested in web archives as yet because they have the real web that they can use.

But gradually the realisation will sink in that websites do not last (the average lifespan of a web page has been estimated at around 70 days), and that what was present has become the past, when historical enquiry of the web archives will begin in earnest.

When that point comes, we will have a new kind of audiovisual archive. It will be one that puts audio and video in their contexts. The great limitation of audiovisual archives has been is that is all that they are. They are dedicated to their medium alone. This is fine when the interest is only in the medium, which means chiefly when it is viewed as an art form. But film is equally important for its subject matter, and for that it requires context. Film of itself is meaningless - we have to describe it, to put words to it, for its images to signify something. This is why video has come into its own in the web era - not simply because of the volume of content, but because of the contextualisation. Videos have to be embedded somewhere, and in the embedding they find their meaning. Traditional film archives take the medium out of its original exhibition context; web archives preserve that context.

At present we have film and sound archives that stand alone. They represent their particular medium; they defend its special identity. Some film and sound archive have been absorbed within larger archives, as happened when the British Library took over the National Sound Archive in the 1980s. The sound archive ever since has played a balancing act between integration within the Library's systems and maintaining its separate identity. The national film archives of Wales and Scotland have been incorporated within their respective national libraries, and have faced a similar challenge.

But this slow process of change is going to be rapidly overtaken by the growth in web archiving. In one year's time web video at the British Library will outnumber the remaining moving image collection by ten to one. It will be 15 to one the year after that, and so on, exponentially. I can ignore this upstart archive, or I can engage with it, and to do so I need to learn from researchers of every kind, but particularly historical researchers, how to understand what we are inheriting, how to manage it, how to explain it, how to make it discoverable and most useful. The British Library is engaging with scholars on how to use the web archive now, ranging from subject specialists to big data analysts. But I am interested - and I hope others will be interested - in what the future web archive will look like, and especially how it will operate as a repository of rich media.

As a society we are generating videos at a colossal rate, and look likely to do so at an ever increasing-rate in the future. Archives built on the traditional model cannot cope with the scale of this. The web's video platforms, such as YouTube, offer the illusion of the optimum archive, but they fail to offer adequate descriptions, context or permanence. As scholars we must be wary of them; we certainly must not rely on them.

The web archive, however, promises to be transformative in how video (and audio) contribute to future understanding, because they will be wholly embedded in the archive. The numbers will be vast, but the numbers for every kind of archival digital object we are now generating will be vast. We'll just have to deal with it. What web archiving may promise, though, is the end of audiovisual archives as we know them. Once text, image, audio and video are all preserved as one, why should we specialise? That's the question that lies at the heart of the future management of digital archives. Hopefully it will take just a little longer than the end of my professional life before we decide on the answer.

11 December 2015

Audio-Visual Resources and The Academic Book of the Future

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In early 2015 I was fortunate enough to catch Bex Lyons giving a presentation on The Academic Book of the Future. This is a research project sponsored by the British Library and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and delivered by a research team led by Dr Samantha Rayner at UCL. The project seeks to explore the future of academic books in the context of open access publishing and digital change.

ABF

Aside from the fascinating debates about what constitutes ‘academic’, what constitutes a ‘book’, and what an ‘academic book’ might be in the current research landscape – I was struck by the potential applications of the project to the collection I am vested in at The British Library: sound.

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The British Library sound archive is an extraordinary collection of over 6.5 million recordings dating back to the birth of recorded sound in the early 19th century. If you were to listen to our entire collection back to back, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no holidays or breaks, it would take you over 140 years – plus the collection is growing daily! It is a unique research resource, comparable only to the Library of Congress sound collections in the USA. Find out more about our collection here 

Sound recordings are the closest thing to time travel that we have as a research tool. Take for instance this audio clip of JRR Tolkien visiting a tobacco shop. We are instantly transported to 1929 when the recording was made, and it is easy to feel that you are being addressed directly. The time that has passed between then and now seems to vanish. (image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/12255828365)

The Save Our Sounds project

Professional reel-to-reel player being maintainedMany of the British Library’s recordings are under threat of disappearing as technologies change and some formats begin to naturally decay, and in response to this challenge the Library has launched a major campaign to digitise our historic sound collections.

As well as enabling us to future-proof our collections, the Save Our Sounds campaign is a unique opportunity for us to take stock of our role as audio heritage archivists, cataloguers, librarians, and collectors. Part of this includes considering access and the ways in which our collections are used by researchers. It is here, at the crossroads of research and engagement, that linking up with The Academic Book of the Future project becomes very exciting.

At the moment, if an ‘academic text’ includes audio or visual resources these tend to be included as DVDs, CDs, and perhaps even CD-ROMs (yes, they are still floating around out there!). As the technological landscape of the world changes, the ability to access and play CDs, DVDs and most definitely CD-ROMs will become increasingly limited. From the initial survey work that has been done for the Save Our Sounds project, the main preservation concern is not that the recordings themselves are at risk of disappearing, but the obsolescence of the playback equipment.

So, how will audio-visual resources be included in academic books of the future?

In current and emerging contexts in which content is increasingly digitised and media-rich, how will the ability to incorporate audio-visual research directly into research outputs change the way in which these outputs are created, accessed, and referenced?

We hope that working with The Academic Book of the Future project to address some of these questions will offer important insights into how researchers are using sound and moving image resources, and highlight common issues and concerns across disciplines.

If you are or have used sound and/or audio-visual materials for research do please complete our short survey. The closing date is Friday 1st April.

A symposium has been arranged to discuss the findings of the survey & hear presentations by publishing houses, app developers, and researchers. The symposium will address and encourage discussing ways of working together to fully explore the potential of audio-visual components in the academic book of the future. Save the date – 23rd May 2016 at The British Library, London.

Find out more about Save our Sounds at www.bl.uk/saveoursounds, follow @SoundHeritage for live updates from our digitisation studio, @SoundArchive for tweets from the sound team, and use #SaveOurSounds to join the conversation on Twitter.

Steven Dryden - Sound & Vision Reference Specialist 

27 August 2015

Mátyás Seiber collection of recordings goes on line

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Seiber's own collection of recordings donated by his daughter Julia Seiber Boyd,  the Matyas Seiber collection, has been digitised and put on line on BL Sounds.

Mátyás György Seiber (1905-1960) was born in Budapest where he studied composition with Zoltan Kodály and cello with Adolf Shiffer at the Budapest Academy of Music. From the late 1920s he taught in Frankfurt where his classes in jazz were the first of its kind. He left Germany in 1933 and settled in England in 1935 where he worked as a freelance writer and did various jobs including writing music for films. In 1942 Michael Tippett offered him a teaching post at Morley College where during this decade he was a founder of the Society for New Music with Francis Chagrin, and the Dorian Singers.

Seiber wrote in many different forms including opera, ballet, songs and chamber music; he also wrote much incidental music for radio, television and film productions. Most of his finest works are represented in his collection of discs.

Seiber Kodaly talk disc 1943Some of these recordings are in poor condition being more than eighty years old, but they are unique and of great historical interest as Seiber recorded many of the broadcast first performances of his works.  Some important BBC talks from the early 1940s survive here including part of one on his teacher Zoltan Kodaly in 1943.  This is a glass disc coated with cellulose nitrate that was broken into three pieces.

A seven part series Composing With Twelve Notes was broadcast in 1952. Seiber’s Second String Quartet (1934-35) uses Schoenberg’s serial techniques and can be heard here in the first UK broadcast from 1957. The cantata Ulysses written in 1946-47 is given in a performance with Peter Pears as soloist while the incidental music for Faust, a radio play from 1949 by Louis MacNeice based on Goethe, comes from the recording session discs. The Cantata Secularis (1949-51) based on Virgil, survives here in the first broadcast performance from 1955 with Walter Goehr and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. 

Seiber Town like AliceIn addition to incidental music for radio plays, Seiber also wrote film scores including A Town like Alice, the 1956 Rank film starring Peter Finch and Virginia McKenna.

Seiber’s interest in jazz and blues is evident as there are recordings (mostly copies of commercial discs) of the great blues singers Josh White and Leadbelly. Seiber probably used these in his research for writing incidental music as there are also recordings by folk song collectors Alan Lomax and A.L. Lloyd. One early disc from his time in Germany is of Seiber playing various forms of jazz-influenced dance styles – ragtime, Argentine tango, slow fox-trot and Charleston,while the earliest dated recordings come from South West German radio in 1932.

 

07 May 2015

Lord of the Rings recording engineer David Gleeson receives British Library Edison Fellowship

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Current Edison Fellow David Gleeson writes about his work for Decca in London and the major film studios of Hollywood.

Returning to the UK after nearly twenty years abroad, several life events drew me to the British Library’s Oral History of Recorded Sound, which in turn led to applying for an Edison Fellowship.

Straight out of London University in 1984, I went to work as a research assistant for Decca, Belsize Road, where a veteran team of analogue recording pioneers was trying to come to terms with a new generation of digital recording pioneers – just as mono engineers had had to come to terms with stereo engineers in the 1950s – and not without conflict. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I was fortunate to be present amongst those who’d invented methods that have remained unchanged through all of the upheaval of the digital era. I then went to work at Abbey Road where the ‘Decca Tree’ and other orchestral recording techniques were an unquestioned given. In 1991, I moved to California and co-ran the scoring stage at Skywalker Sound, where Decca Trees were as much a natural part of the environment as the rolling hills of Lucas Valley Road.

By 2000, I’d set up a post-production facility with Ren Klyce and Malcolm Fife, in which David Fincher’s Fight Club was the first project. On our next Fincher film, Panic Room, I co-produced the score for Howard Shore. Howard subsequently invited me to join his Lord of the Rings films, directed by Peter Jackson. It was a watershed moment in film scoring, just as multitrack digital tape recorders had reached their peak and digital audio workstations were taking over. Much of the preparation work for the extended Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers involved building a team and workflow which allowed orchestral multitrack recordings to be edited during the session, deploying technology that had yet to be tested in such a pressured environment. Needless to say, at the front end of all this new-fangled technology stood a Decca Tree.

LOR 1 Gleeson

Control Room, Studio One, Abbey Road – Peter Jackson and Howard Shore with Oscar statuette – Academy Award, Best Original Score, The Fellowship of the Ring (photo by David Gleeson 2002)

LOR 2 Gleeson

Watford Town Hall – Peter Jackson taking a break with the timps during LPO recordings for The Two Towers, Howard Shore standing by with a spare mallet (photo by David Gleeson 2002)

After two years of production work, I took a step back from the bustle which had involved spending much of the year away from home, 20-hour workdays, frequent all-nighters, and endless travel. A writing sabbatical ultimately led to recording work at The Banff Centre. It was there, high up in the Canadian Rockies, that I met up-and-coming recording engineers who wanted to learn all there was to know about Decca Trees and scoring sessions alike. Fortunately for them, John Dunkerely, former chief engineer at Decca, was there as visiting faculty to impart much wisdom on the subject. 

A point of discussion with John was that we’d recently lost many of the luminaries of what had become known as the Golden Age of Decca. Between 2004 and 2012, engineers, Kenneth Wilkinson, Roy Wallace, Cyril Windebank, Jimmy Lock, and Jack Law had all died, as well as producers, Erik Smith, Ray Minshull, Andrew Raeburn, Christopher Raeburn and Peter Andry.

Unlike conductors and a few of the more successful producers whose lives are pored over in great detail with resulting hagiographies, precious little had been documented on the lives of the engineers. Fortunately for posterity, and the rest of us, the OHRS had recorded interviews with Decca’s Tony Griffiths and Arthur Haddy. Since starting the Edison Fellowship, interviews have been conducted with Michael Gray, Jimmy Brown, and Tony Hawkins. 

The Edison Fellowships are designed to encourage scholarship devoted to the history of recordings of classical music and music in performance through creating the conditions for concentrated use of the Library's collections of recordings.