THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

6 posts categorized "Literature"

12 December 2016

Recording of the week: 'Winter' by Vita Sackville-West

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

Listen to Vita Sackville-West reading 'Winter' from her book-length poem The Land, excerpted from a two-disc set published by the International Educational Society in 1931. Following the format of the book, each of the four 78 rpm sides is titled after one of the four seasons. The poem is in the traditional pastoral mode, taking the natural world and its rustic denizens as its subject. The print version had been published by Heinemann in 1926 and had won the following year's Hawthornden Prize for Imaginative Literature. In 1933 Sackville-West was to be awarded the prize a second time, for her Collected Poems.

Winter, from The Land by Vita Sackville-West

Winter-mood-113325_1920

All four parts of Sackville-West's "The Land" can be found in Early Spoken Word Recordings on British Library Sounds

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

04 August 2016

Theatre of Sound. An interview with Aleks Kolkowski

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Theatre of Sound is a nine-minute video which highlights the creative re-use of archival sound recordings in the field of sound art and music composition. It also touches on the use of early audio recording technologies in contemporary performance. These topics are illustrated with video documentation of two projects developed by composer/musician and sound artist Aleks Kolkowski.

 

Sound and Music

With Larry Achiampong, Aleks Kolkowski is one of two Sound and Music-Embedded Programme composers-in-residence at the British Library Sound Archive. This is a twelve-month residency for composers and creative artists, sponsored by Sound and Music, a national charity for musicians, and funded by The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Besides being a composer and a musician, Aleks Kolkowski is an expert on historical recording techniques. He makes audio recordings on wax cylinders and on acetate discs, and creates public performances using these techniques, in collaboration with poets, musicians and artists. Many of the recordings are available to listen to online through his website Phonographies.

Save Our Sounds

The Library has embarked on a preservation programme: Save our Sounds, which is a 15 year project to digitize and preserve as much as possible of the nation's rare and unique sound recordings, not just from the Library’s collections but also from partner collections across the UK.

It is an aim of the programme to raise understanding, usage and public enjoyment of audio heritage more generally. And in this respect, the work of Aleks Kolkowski at the British Library Sound Archive supports the programme, by exposing the history of sound recording in a performative way.

Aleks's work is helping to create awareness and interest among different generations of new audiences. He has also contributed to the Sound Archive by adding his own collection of recordings made at the Library's studio, which will eventually be available online through the British Library Sounds website.

Performance Documentation

I have been documenting the performances and other creative outputs of Aleks at the Library since February to produce this video which I presented in Copenhagen at the performance archives conference SIBMAS 2016.

In addition the video features archival recordings and documentation from the Bishop Sound Company collection of sound effects for theatre, which dates from the early 1940s till the end of 1960s. The sound effects were recorded direct onto lacquer discs and then pressed to 78 rpm shellac for hire or sale. There are more than 3000 discs and hundreds of open-reel tapes in the collection. Aleks will be re-using this material in one of his future projects.

It has been very positive and enjoyable for me and other Sound Archive colleagues to work with our two composers-in-residence Aleks and Larry. Artists challenge people to see collections differently. They revive interest in collections and create awareness in ways that can't be done from inside the archive. They also contribute to reaching new audiences, who perhaps would not have come into contact with the collections otherwise.

Find more about the British Library's Drama and Literature Recordings and keep up with our activities on @BL_DramaSound.

30 April 2016

The Poetry Periscope Project

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If you walk these days through the British Library Piazza, you will spot a striking yellow tube standing near the front entrance. It brings to mind yellow submarines and periscopes. Step closer and you will learn it is in fact a ‘Poetry Periscope’, inviting you to press one of its buttons – do so and you will be rewarded with the recording of one of 30 European poems in either its original language or in English. Developed as a sound installation by Czech organization Piana na ulici and Czech Centre London, in collaboration with the British Library and The Poetry Society, The Poetry Periscope is a part of the European Literature Festival 2016 taking place at the British Library and other UK venues. 

'The Poetry Periscope is not only about poetry. It is also (about giving) an example of how an individual can contribute to a public space to please people', says project creator Ondřej Kobza.

Pp_newsletter blog

 

Poetry Periscope Project_ blog

The British Library Piazza will host the Poetry Periscope for four weeks (27 April – 19 May), and you can join us on Tuesday 3 May (18.30–19.30) for the official launch. It’s a free event with poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan and live readings of poems from across Europe, read by UK poets Richard Scott, Gabriel Akamo and Charlotte Higgins with special guest readings by Michal Habaj (Slovakia).

Ondřej Buddeus (Czech Republic):

I am thirty-five I am thirty-five. I am very happy.

I have an intelligent and faithful wife

after ten years of a nice relationship

I got married. That was five years ago.

I have no children, mortgage, empathy,

nor other debts. I have an education, a fine sense

for the arts, and natural self-confidence.

I ain’t bothered. I am very happy.

I would now like to give thanks

to my wife, to God and the state. Thank you.

I am thirty-six. I am very happy.

(Translated from Czech by Tereza Novická; poem is due to be published in 2016.)

The Poetry Periscope (known also as the Poetry Jukebox) has been developed in the Czech Republic by “Piána na ulici” (Pianos on the Street), a Prague-based organisation focusing on public space interventions. The first Periscope was installed in March 2015 in Prague and since then Poetry Periscopes have been installed all over the world – from Kiev to New York – and now it has arrived in the UK. Don’t miss your chance to encounter the richness and diversity of European poetry before the Periscope sets off on tour to a number of festivals and venues around the country, including Brighton, Birmingham, Ledbury and Durham. Written by Katerina Siegelova, Czech Centre London & European Literature Festival

18 April 2016

Shakespeare and the Nightingale

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The works of Shakespeare contain many references to the sounds of the natural world, whether that be the ominous notes of a Raven in Henry VI or the "tu-whit, to-who" of a Tawny Owl in Love's Labour's Lost

One bird that appears in several of Shakespeare's plays and poems is the Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos). A source of inspiration for writers and poets across the ages, this small, plain-looking bird is best known for its exquisite voice that can often be heard just as other birds are starting to fall silent for the night. The Nightingale was once a common summer visitor to the British countryside, so it's likely that its beautiful song would have been a familiar sound to Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the fairy queen Titania commands her subjects to sing her to sleep before commencing their nocturnal duties. The fairies call on the Philomel, a colloquial name for the Nightingale, to use his sweet tunes to send their queen to sleep:

Philomel, with melody
Sing in our sweet lullaby;
Lulla, lulla, lullaby, lulla, lulla, lullaby:
Never harm,
Nor spell nor charm,
Come our lovely lady nigh;
So good night, with lullaby.

A Midsummer Night's Dream ( 2:2 663-669)

Once asleep, the fairy king Oberon squeezes the juice of a magical flower onto Titania's closed eyelids that will make her fall in love with the first living thing she sees upon waking, which just so happens to be the donkey-headed Bottom. 

Oberon and Titania

Charles Mottram, 1807–1876, Oberon and Titania - "Midsummer Night's Dream", Act II, Scene II, Engraving, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

In the Taming of the Shrew, the fortune-seeking Petruchio is determined to win over the strong-willed Kate by countering her insults with compliments:

I’ll attend her here
And woo her with some spirit when she comes.
Say that she rail; why then I’ll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale.

Taming of the Shrew (2:1 1013-1016)

000910

Taming of the Shrew, Katherine and Petruchio, graphic, J.D.L. Courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library

The Nightingale makes another appearance in Shakespeare's romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet. The morning after their secret marriage, Juliet tries to persuade Romeo not to leave by saying that the birdsong they heard came from a Nightingale and not a lark announcing the break of day:

Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day.
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear.
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate tree.
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.

Romeo and Juliet (3:5 2098-2102) 

Romeo_Juliet poster

Poster advertising Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet. Signed J.L. Lith. Library of Congress.

Just as the writers of the past endeavored to celebrate the magnificent song of this little bird through the written word, so the sound recordists of today try to do the same with sound.  Here is just one of our many recordings of a singing Nightingale, recorded in an English forest in the early hours of an April morning in 2008 by Phil Riddett. A sweet lullaby indeed. 

Nightingale song recorded in Kent 2008 by Phil Riddett

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The British Library's current exhibition Shakespeare in Ten Acts is a landmark exhibition on the performances that made an icon, charting Shakespeare’s constant reinvention across the centuries and is open until Tuesday 6th September 2016.

10 November 2015

Celebrating 80 years of talking books

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80-years-of-talking books

The gathering of famous literary characters pictured above - I think that's Hercule Poirot at the back there - took place at the British Library on 5 November. It was organized by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to highlight the 80th anniversary of the Talking Books service for people who are blind or partially sighted.  

The RNIB's Talking Books service provides 4,000 audio books every single day to people with sight loss.

In celebration of its 80th anniversary, the service will be provided entirely free for all blind and partially sighted people, starting today.  

The first talking books were issued on 24-rpm discs with Braille labels, under the series title 'Talking Books for the Blind'. 

The British Library holds a collection of around 200 or so of these. They were donated by the RNIB in 2009, long after the format had been discontinued.

The content ranges from Bible stories to classics like The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot and thrillers such as The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain.

However many of the sets are incomplete and many titles are not represented at all, including the very first: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

The Library is keen to expand the collection should the opportunity arise. If you have any of these discs please do get in touch.

And if you would like to know more about the history of talking books I can recommend this 2013 blog post by Matt Rubery: The First Audiobook.

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.