Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library


Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

12 February 2018

Recording of the Week: The Listening Project Symphony

Paul Wilson, Curator Radio Broadcast writes:

This week’s selection celebrates World Radio Day 2018 (13th February) and is an example of the art of radio at its best: blending creativity with actuality to illuminate aspects of our life and times and, in this instance, one of the moral dilemmas of our day. It's an excerpt from the Listening Project Symphony, a beautiful composition by Gary Carpenter for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, first broadcast live from Manchester in December 2012. The piece incorporates extracts from some of the intimate and often surprising conversations which have emerged from The Listening Project, a collaboration between the BBC and the British Library in which family members or friends are invited to share their stories, private thoughts and feelings with an unseen radio audience.  

BBC Philharmonic at Salford Quays  2012
The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra at Salford Quays, 2012. Photo courtesy of the BBC

In this extract we briefly hear voices from three separate conversations, each poignant or moving in its own way even in this edited form. The third - part of a conversation between a young British Muslim woman of Indian/Pakistani descent and her India-born mother - will hold a particular resonance for some. The daughter begins by gauging her mother's response to a hypothetical question about marriage: how would you feel if I were to marry a man of a different religion? She then takes the hypothetical situation a step further - how would you feel if my partner were another woman?

The Listening Project Symphony (excerpt) 

The complete Listening Project Symphony can be heard on the BBC iPlayer here and the Listening Project’s BBC homepage is here. The complete collection of unedited Listening Project conversations can be explored at the British Library’s Sounds website.

09 February 2018

Linguistics at the Library - Episode 2

PhD placement students, Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell, write:

In the second episode of Linguistics at the Library, Andrew and Rowan discuss some of the differences between regional accents and ‘RP’ (Received Pronunciation), and why people might feel that they have to change the way they speak to work in certain jobs. Using clips from the British Library’s Evolving English Collection, we look at the concepts of stigma and prestige, and how social factors can influence the way we perceive accents.

Tweet us your questions! @VoicesofEnglish

This week’s ‘What’s the feature?’ used a clip from: BBC Voices Recording in Driffield. BBC, UK, rec. 2004 [digital audio file]. British Library, C1190/16/02. Available:

Interesting links:

Have you experienced discrimination due to your accent? Submit your story to the Accentism Project:

Peter Trudgill’s piece on modern RP:

Social Mobility Commission report:

Prejudice against English teachers with Northern accents:

Overt and covert prestige:

Linguistics at the Library Episode 2


05 February 2018

Recording of the week: Dongo lamellophone and fireside chatting

This week's selection comes from Isobel Clouter, Curator of World & Traditional Music.

Here is an intimate recording made by one of our long time field recordists John Brearley. Travelling with his own violin to encourage a two-way flow of ideas, as suggested by anthropologist Alan Barnard, John Brearley sought out players of musical instruments and people who could perform healing dances and songs throughout Botswana, with positive results. John amassed a large and varied collection of music and interviews which illustrate the relationships he formed with the musicians that he recorded. The sound of the dongo (lamellophone) is but one part of a beautiful recording of the musician G/ashe G/ishe and his family chatting by the fireside.

Dongo (lamellophone) and fireside chatting (BL reference C65/60)

Dongo_lamellophone of Gashe Gishe (Photo by John Brearley)

Dongo (lamellophone) of G/ashe G/ishe

John Brearley continues to record in Botswana. His collection is an ongoing work that began with his first trip to Botswana in July 1982 to investigate and record traditional music, and to observe to what extent the influence of radio and recorded music had interrupted the use of traditional instruments. In particular he wanted to hear the music of the Basarwa. (The countries in southern Africa use different names to refer to Bushmen populations. In Botswana the term employed most often is Basarwa). Over 1000 recordings from John Brearley's collection can be explored on British Library Sounds.

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

02 February 2018

Partition Voices wins Public History Prize

August 2017 saw the 70th anniversary of the Partition of India. The ground-breaking BBC Radio 4 series Partition Voices documented this traumatic time through first-hand testimony, which were then crafted into three 40 minute programmes broadcast on 31 July, 7 and 14 August 2017. All three are available on the BBC iPlayer.

The series has had a legacy of its own as Kavita Puri (presenter) and Ant Adeane (one of the producers) then completed the additional work on the permissions forms, transcripts and content summaries necessary to archive 32 of the audio interviews into the oral history collections here at the British Library. The full interviews are available for researchers in the Library Reading Rooms, and will be launched for online access in 2019.

The Partition Voices collection (reference C1790) sits alongside many existing oral history collections which contain powerful testimonies of migration and the impact of the colonial British past. In what might be one of the last opportunities to gather these testimonies, Partition Voices recounted the first-hand testimonies from British Asians and Colonial British who lived through the partition of India 70 years ago.

The programmes documented the years leading up to the division and the bloody aftermath which saw up to 12 million people displaced and up to one million people killed. The final programme told of the legacy in Britain today, not only for those who lived through it, but for the second and third generations.

In my view the programmes managed the challenging task of reflecting the complexity of experiences: geographically within British India; reflections from women; as well as gathering testimony from many of the communities who lived through it, not only Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, but also Anglo-Indians, Parsees and Colonial British. I was impressed by the use of personal testimony to weave a compelling narrative which did not shy away from difficult subjects. Here is a glimpse of stories from just four of the narrators.

The series had a wide impact as it brought to the fore this seldom-told but shared history between South Asia and Britain, which provoked reflection on the role and legacy of the British Empire. In reaction to the series many British people spoke of how they did not know about this part of their history, and British Asians – many thousands of whom are descended from families affected by partition – said how the programmes made them think in-depth about the events and legacy of 1947 in their own families and communities.

I’m delighted to announce that Partition Voices has now been recognised by Royal Historical Society, as winner of the both the radio/podcast category and overall Public History Prize 2018. The oral history team have had previous success in the Public History Prize, winning the web category for Voices of Science in 2015.

Part crop
Back row: Ant Adeane (producer), Tim Smith (producer), Hugh Levinson (Head, BBC Radio Current Affairs) Front Row: Mary Stewart (British Library Oral History Curator), Kavita Puri (presenter) and Mohit Bakaya (Radio 4 commissioning editor, factual) Not pictured: Mike Gallagher (producer), David Govier (British Library Oral History Archivist)

It was a privilege to attend the award ceremony last Friday to see this series recognised, and hear about so many other admirable and powerful public history projects commended by the RHS.

Mary Stewart, Curator of Oral History February 2018

30 January 2018

Mr Tickle in Connected Speech

PhD placement student Andrew Booth writes:

At the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library (2010-11), we asked visitors to submit recordings of their voices in specially designed telephone booths. Around 15,000 speakers took part, and the outcome is the Evolving English VoiceBank and WordBank – a collection of accents and dialect words from over the UK, and all around the world. Using the recordings can help linguists or language learners and language teachers in a variety of ways.

Connected speech is an umbrella term, which is used to describe the different processes of change words experience when spoken in natural and uninterrupted speech. It is easier to read a sentence with the words spaced evenly, thanitiswhentherearenospacesinbetween. In speech we do not have the luxury of set boundaries, and when natural speech occurs, some sounds are lost or changed to enable speed and fluency. The rhythmic organisation of English can cause letters to be inserted, changed or deleted. Here are some examples –

  • ‘ten minutes’ said quickly in the middle of a sentence may become /teminits/
  • ‘in bed’ in the middle of the sentence ‘sat up in bed’ could become /imbed/
  • ‘to a’ may become /towa/ in the sentence ‘came to a school’
  • ‘raw egg’ may become /ro:r eg/ when said quickly
  • ‘must have’ isn’t usually /must hav/, but pronounced /mustuv/

Teaching connected speech to learners of English can be an immensely complicated procedure if you are determined to spell out the rules and terminology that unveil the secrets to connected speech. Within connected speech we have the terminology of progressive assimilation which covers the first two examples above and linking or intrusive /r/ or /w/ explains the second two and weak forms which can explain the final one. Any or all of the terms are enough to put an English language learner (or anybody) off learning languages forever. However, by showing the features of connected speech the fluency and understanding of English can be improved rapidly.

As a rule, when teaching English, I will stay as far away from the terms above as possible. They only deter learners and do not help when pupils are already learning in a language that isn’t their mother tongue. However, I will not skirt the subject and have found a few rules that may help my teaching. Examples of a few of these are below:

Rule 1 - When a word ends in a consonant and the next begins with a vowel, the consonant may move to the other word or straddle between the two words: fast asleep sounds like fas•tasleep or back upstairs sounds like back ͜   upstairs

Rule 2 - If the consonant at the end of one word is the same as the start of another, the end consonant is not finished and merges with the beginning of the following word- thought ͜   to himself, less ͜   strict

Rule 3 - If a word ends in a single /n/ and the next begins with a /b/, /m/ or /p/ - the /n/ disappears and becomes a /m/ (see examples above)

Rule 4 - With non-stressed words of only one syllable that are not central to the context, compare the sentences – yes, we can! to we can do it! – the word can is much stronger in the first than the second

The examples above may seem to be imperceptible to a native speaker of English, they may even seem impossible when you try and say them in isolation. However, after listening to Mr Tickle time after time, I found that we really are chained to the conventions of connected speech, even though we do not know them.

Listen to the first minute and a half of the following excerpts from Mr Tickle read by native English speakers; see if you notice any of the rules in these sentences: (The first voice is someone from the South East of England, the second is from Manchester and the third is a Spanish speaker)

C1442X1339X1655X3044 extract 1

He was having a dream.  It must have been a very funny dream because it made him laugh out loud, and that woke him up.

C1442X1339X1655X3044 extract 2

He sat up in bed, stretched his extraordinary long arms, and yawned an enormous yawn.

C1442X1339X1655X3044 extract 3

Today looks very much like a tickling day,” he thought to himself.

Note that the Manchester speaker is also using connecting speech for /g/ in words ending ng. This could be another blog post in itself!

If we compare the same passage to a speaker whose first language generally does not use these connected speech features, you may be able to hear a difference. The Spanish speaker in the extracts above puts the same emphasis and length on each syllable:

In English we love to assimilate and compress words together or even delete letters from their original place when we speak naturally. There are many more examples of connected speech in the excerpt above that I have not included. Awareness of some of these features can help a learner not only to sound like a native speaker but also help them to understand these weird and interesting variations of our speech.

29 January 2018

Recording of the week: echolocating birds

This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds.

Echolocation is a handy tool used by several groups of animals to understand the world around them. The major players are bats and cetaceans, who use the echoes of specialist calls to locate prey and navigate in conditions where visibility is poor, however a few other animals also possess their own biosonar systems.

Oilbirds (Steatornis caripensis) are one of only a handful of birds with the ability to echolocate. These nocturnal birds roost in caves across the tropical forests of northwestern South America and spend a considerable amount of their time in the dark. In conditions where eyesight is irrelevant, individuals use sequences of clicks to build up a 3D image of their surroundings. The rapid fire and variable nature of these sequences is captured in the following recording made in the Colombian Andes by wildlife sound recordist Ian Todd. Calls from nearby birds can also be heard, especially in the first half of the recording.

Echolocating oilbirds recorded by Ian Todd in the Colombian Andes on 9 Feb 2009 (BL ref 110359)


An Oilbird in the Asa Wright Nature Centre caves, Trinidad (courtesy of Alastair Rae)

As Ian explained in his accompanying notes, obtaining this recording was by no means a walk in the park.

"To gain access to the mouth of the cave we had to wade across the fast-flowing upland Rio Alicante, and then clamber up a series of huge boulders. The colony of Oilbirds was localised just within the cave entrance."

Hats off to you, sir.

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

27 January 2018

'I Got Away'

On Holocaust Memorial Day, Charlie Morgan (Archive and Administrative Assistant for National Life Stories) writes about a recent addition to the Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust collection.

“You who have forgotten to kill me
You dark and silent street
Deep doorway in the gathering dusk
The soldier who did turn away –
Dark night you hid me in your arms
You houses with your shutters down
Night rain and mist
You all, you all
And you as well, you men, you men
Who have forgotten to kill me."

In November of last year I was contacted by Annabel Simms and Kate Turner, the daughters of Elizabeth Simms, one of the interviewees in the Holocaust Survivors' Centre Interviews project. Elizabeth was a keen poet and after her death in 2015 Annabel and Kate had rediscovered what she always described as her best piece of work.

The poem, titled ‘I Got Away’, was written in 1946 and describes events that took place in November and December 1944 when Elizabeth escaped not just once but twice from Nazi death marches. Annabel and Kate asked if we would like to add it to our collections alongside the 2005 interview with Elizabeth. We said yes.

Poem Budapest 1946

In March of 1944 the German army marched into Budapest where 21 year old Elizabeth was living with her family. The family were taken to a concentration camp and spent six months imprisoned, before being released in September. Their release was to be a temporary reprieve and in October the fascist Arrow Cross Party took control of the government.

Prior to 1944 Hungary had passed anti-Semitic laws, deported thousands of Jews, and been an active ally of the Third Reich, but it was after the German invasion, and especially under the six month rule of the Arrow Cross, that a concerted attempt was made to implement a ‘Final Solution’. By the end of 1944 the Holocaust, previously centred on the Hungarian countryside, was fully extended to the Jews of Budapest

‘I Got Away’ relates Elizabeth’s two escapes from Nazi death marches and is a composite of events from both. Elizabeth was captured in October 1944 and following two weeks of forced labour was put on a march towards a train station.

After witnessing a bystander shot for saying “poor things” she decided to escape. Aware that any quick movement would alert the Arrow Cross guards, she stepped out the line, walked at a normal pace in the other direction, tore off her yellow star, and hid in a cellar (“Dark night you hid me in your arms”). She boarded a tram back to Budapest where she was spotted by a Hungarian officer who for unknown reasons said nothing (“The soldier who did turn away”).

After her safe house was raided in December 1944 Elizabeth was again marched out of the city but again escaped, this time going to an address she had been given by her father. But the people at the address would only let her stay until 10.30 at night when they turned her out on the streets. This was a Jewish Quarter, it was dark, past curfew and the Arrow Cross were out looking for Jews (“Night rain and mist”).

Elizabeth knocked at ten doors that night (“You houses with your shutters down”), before someone let her in. The man behind the tenth door was a Protestant of German descent and a member of the dissolved Social Democratic Party. Over the course of the Holocaust he saved over 300 Jews.

When I spoke to Annabel she mentioned that he was motivated by the experience of having lived as a religious minority in Catholic Hungary and she compared him to Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, the French village where residents saved thousands of Jews. She said he explained simply that “it was my duty as a human being”.

Elizabeth describes her first escape (C830/151/02)

Elizabeth spent the rest of the war in hiding until Hungary was liberated by the Soviet forces in March 1945, although even then she had to protect herself from Soviet soldiers who would regularly rape local women. Her father had died in December 1944 but Elizabeth’s mother was able to send a telegram to her son (Elizabeth’s brother) in Leeds to say the two of them had survived. He managed to get them travel papers and in 1947 they arrived in the UK.

Elizabeth aged about 15Elizabeth Simms aged 15, courtesy of Annabel Simms

Elizabeth was interviewed in 2005 for the Holocaust Survivors' Centre Interviews project and the project, alongside Living Memory of the Jewish Community, makes up the online oral history resource Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust. Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust is one of the most used oral history resources at the British Library and, with over 1,000 hours of recordings, is one of the largest online collections of Holocaust testimonies in Europe.

The interviews were conducted between the late 1980s and the early 2000s and for many survivors it was the first time they had spoken openly about their experiences. For Elizabeth, the interview took place nearly six decades after she had written the poem ‘I Got Away’ and there is marked difference between the two. Her poem is immediate and visceral; the interview more reflective. Taken together the two documents provide a powerful window into her life and her struggle for survival.

Elizabeth on why she decided to be interviewed (C830/141/04)

‘I Got Away’ ends defiantly, a pointed finger at “you all, you all… who have forgotten to kill me”. Unlike so many others, Elizabeth lived and the responsibility and privilege of preserving her life story and making it publicly accessible is now with us at the British Library. We hope that many people will listen to her story and those of countless others, at the same time reflecting upon those who never go the chance to tell their own.

On Holocaust Memorial Day we remember the atrocities of the past, but remembering is an active and not a passive process. Oral histories like those of Elizabeth are just one part of this process but they enable us to directly grapple with history. Her story is a reminder that behind every number and every headline there were human beings who lived, died, resisted and persevered.

The Holocaust Survivors' Centre Interviews was a National Life Stories collaborative project with the Jewish Care Holocaust Survivors' Centre, a Jewish social centre in north London for survivors who were in Europe during the Second World War or who came to the UK as refugees. The project ran between 1993 and 1998 and gathered a total of 154 audio life story testimonies. You can listen to the full interview with Elizabeth Simms at British Library Sounds.

With thanks to Annabel Simms and Kate Turner for their help with this blog.

26 January 2018

Linguistics at the Library - Episode 1

PhD placements students Andrew Booth and Sarah Rowan write:

Episode 1
The first episode of Linguistics at the Library introduces the British Library’s Evolving English Collection, which is a sound archive capturing the diversity of English accents and dialects. Podcast hosts Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell are working with this archive as part of a PhD placement, and every few weeks will be bringing you a fresh discussion about linguistics and how to identify different accents.

This week’s ‘What’s the feature?’ used a clip from:

BBC Voices Recording in Newcastle. BBC, UK, rec. 2005 [digital audio file]. British Library, C1190/32/01. Available:…1190X0023XX-0101V0

Interesting links: 
The glottal stop in Glasgow:…ogenised-london 
The Bristol ‘l’:…n-idea-dialect.html 
An in-depth look at the Newcastle accent:…ase-studies/geordie/

Follow Rowan and Andrew on Twitter on @VoicesofEnglish

Linguistics at the Library Episode 1

Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell