Sound and vision blog

13 posts categorized "Resources"

06 May 2016

The Audio and Audio-Visual Academic Book of the Future - A Symposium

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In 2015 the British Library Sound Archive began working in collaboration with Academic Book of the Future to ascertain the current landscape of research utilising audio and audio-visual content. Forty-two researchers responded to our audio-visual academic book survey (you can see that initial call out here.) Logo

From the respondents it’s been interesting to note that most researchers only utilise audio in a transcribed or written format. Thirty-eight of the researchers that completed our survey (90% of respondents) transcribed the audio that they were using. This is a colossal amount of work in some cases, and perhaps highlights some of the issues raised in Raphael Samuel’s seminal essay ‘Perils of the Transcript’* from 1972. In ‘Perils of the Transcript’, Samuel explored issues that arise when oral history interviews are transcribed and how meaning and emotion become subverted by the need to make the oral testimony readable - namely the use of punctuation. In what way can digital technologies help the researcher (from all disciplines of audio visual research) escape this peril which Samuels articulated 44 years ago? How does publishing need to evolve to best serve the audio visual researcher both now and in the future? Are we ready to give up the beloved CD, DVD or cassette?


As the technological landscape of the world changes, the ability to access and play analogue sound carriers becomes increasingly limited. It is important to also consider the rate of decay for websites and digital links which is astoundingly high and not up to short-term (let alone long-term) archival preservation. From the initial survey work that has been done for the Save Our Sounds project, the main preservation concern for our audio collections is not that the recordings themselves are at immediate risk of disappearing, but the obsolescence of the playback equipment and digital operating platforms.

A symposium has been arranged on 23rd May 2016 to discuss the findings of the survey and hear presentations by publishing houses, app developers, and researchers. The symposium will be a forum to discuss the potential of the audio and audio-visual academic book of the future and ways of working together to fully explore that potential. 

Book to attend the Symposium here.

Find out more about Save our Sounds here, 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.

The symposium is generously supported by the British Library Labs project –

* Samuel, Raphael. Perils of the Transcript. Oral History. Vol. 1, No. 2 (1972), pp. 19-22

Steven Dryden - Sound & Vision Reference Specialist

04 March 2016

What does 'place poetry' look and sound like in the 21st century?

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Last Friday the British Library hosted 'Beyond Bounds: Britain Re-Presented in Poetry', a performance of poetry readings by Anthony Joseph, Kayo Chingonyi, Jay Bernard and Vahni Capildeo.

The reading was followed by a discussion about the idea of place poetry in the 21st century.

None of the poets settled for a particular meaning of place. Perhaps because they are all well-travelled and have lived in a myriad of locations.  At one point in the discussion Anthony Joseph said 'place is in the mind’ and ‘home is where you want to be’. Vahni Capildeo told us that her heart belongs to Glasgow. Kayo Chingonyi talked about how London is a place that sucks you into itself. And Jay Bernard made it clear in her reading that place can be a whole made up thing which doesn’t even have to exist.

Anthony Joseph and Vahni CapildeoAnthony Joseph reading from the anthology Out of Bounds / Vahni Capildeo reading from Measures of Expatriation

Kayo Chingonyi and Jay BernardKayo Chingonyi reading from The Color of James Brown's Scream / Jay Bernard reading from The Red and Yellow Nothing.

The event marked the beginning of a 10-month series of complementary poetry events/activities which will take place all over the British Isles. It launched the Out of Bounds Poetry Project, which is administered by the Universities of Stirling and Newcastle and funded by the AHRC. The project is a follow-up from the poetry anthology Out of Bounds. British Black and Asian Poets (2012), edited by Jackie Kay, James Procter and Gemma Robinson, who is also one of the project leaders.

The Out of Bounds Poetry Project will generate online digital resources which will allow both poets and public to have a say on place poetry. More about this in a future post. All the audio material generated by the project will be archived by the British Library.

Overall the event was injected with humour and provocation. You can listen to the audio recording of the event in the Library’s reading rooms (BL reference C1717/1).

Listen to Anthony Joseph_The Ark [excerpt]

The British Library's sound collection is growing by 4000 recordings every month.  Access to collection items is either by appointment through the Listening and Viewing Service, or through the Sound & Moving Image Catalogue (at the Library premises only). Selected recordings are available to listen to online.

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

Read about the British Library's Sound Archive preservation programme to digitise the nation's rare and unique sound recordings at Save Our Sounds programme and #SaveOurSounds.

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.

11 August 2015

Conference Report: Performing the Archive, Galway, 2015

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Galway blog3re

I have just returned from the ‘Performing the Archive’ conference at the National University of Ireland in Galway, 22-24 July.  

This was an international conference on performance archives attended by delegates from European countries and the United States: most of them archivists, academics, artists and/or PhD students working with archives.

The three-day programme contained six plenary panels and six concurrent sessions with papers on 25 different topics, which, multiplied by three speakers per session, made a total of 75 papers presented. See programme.

The venue was the Arts Millennium Building, with the evening receptions held at the James Hardiman Library, both modern spaces conveniently close to our student accommodation campus in Corrib Village.

I only have space to mention just a few highlights:

Lost Theatres and their Digital Remains

Various discussions were dedicated to two of the most prominent theatres in the history of Dublin: the Abbey Theatre, considered to be Ireland’s national theatre; and the (fourth) Theatre Royal, which had a capacity of 4000 seats and was reputedly the biggest theatre in Europe.

The Abbey Theatre has an ongoing archive online digitisation project consisting  so far of over a million items of audio, video, photographs, scripts, set designs, posters, documents, and oral history interviews with actors, writers, directors and staff from the Abbey.

In addition, both theatres are being digitally reconstructed with the use of 3D digital technologies by Hugh Denard and his team of Trinity College, Dublin.  Read more.

Complementing these two online resources is the ‘Playography Ireland’ site, which combines two comprehensive databases of new Irish plays produced professionally since 1904.

Holding a Mirror Up to Nature and Society

Next year Ireland celebrates the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising which has been described as ‘the foundational myth of the modern Irish state’ in ‘the war of independence against Britain (1919 - 1921) and the creation of the Irish Free State'. See, for example, Professor David Reynolds's recent article in New Statesman.

Much questioning has gone into the sources for building memory and historiography and in anticipation of the coming commemorations, part of the conference focused on voices absent from the archives, with an emphasis on women and queer histories.

Particularly relevant were two papers: one by Ciara Conway and the other by Miriam Haughton, both of National University of Ireland, Galway.

Professor Tracy Davis of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois  presented a paper on the manuscript diaries of Frederick Chesson, in her words ‘a diary of nobody’, to bring attention to ‘the matrix’ of Victorian diaries and their importance for the writing of history. 

Considering theatre as a mirror and microcosm of society, Professor Patrick Lonergan of National University of Ireland, Galway, presented a paper on gender and how theatres perform in society based on his research at the Abbey Theatre archives, including an interesting example of the imbalance in the number of toilets provided for men and women!

Creativity and Archives

There was also a focus on creative ways of seeing archived materials and conceiving dynamic alternatives of engagement.

For example Blake Morris spoke of The Walk Exchange a collaborative project which develops public educational and creative walks, in which the participants are invited to think about the urban as a text.

Theatre practitioners using archives who spoke included playwright and researcher Jenny Roggers; playwright and journalist Colin Murphy, who spoke about his 2010 play Guarantee; theatre director Louise Lowe of ANU Productions, who talked about PALS: The Irish at Gallipoli; Paula McFetridge, Artistic Director of Kabosh Productions, who has worked on several projects in Belfast; and Joan Sheehy of Limerick City of Culture, who talked about The Colleen Bawn Trials.

Tanya Dean of National University of Ireland, Galway, presented a paper on positive ways of seeing theatre which is not live but yet exclusive as ‘something other than performance', such as the NT Live initiative of London’s National Theatre.

Overall this was a very stimulating three days, efficiently organized by Charlotte McIvor and her colleagues. Conferences like this always give me lots of food for thought for many months to come. A big thank you to everybody who made this conference possible.

21 January 2015

Documenting the Fringe

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A guest post by John Park, Editor of Fringe Report.

The first volume of Fringe Report, covering the years 2002-2003, is now available exclusively for consultation by readers at the British Library.

Fringe Report was a website based in London which reviewed fringe theatre, arts, independent and arthouse film, dance, performance, poetry, music - anything that fell off the edge of the mainstream - though it often covered that too. There were no rigid lines.

It published two or three items a week all year round, was an accredited reviewer to Internet Movie Database and did in-depth interviews, features, gossip, and reports on parties. 

Over the coming years, the whole content of Fringe Report 2002-2012 is being put into book form and donated to the British Library as a historical archive, a snapshot of the off-mainstream arts at the start of the twenty-first century.

The next volume, currently in preparation, will cover all the Fringe Report Awards - there are 250 of them - from 2003 to 2012, with the award certificates reproduced in colour.  It is due for presentation in spring 2015. 


The cast and company of Yard Gal (Oval House Theatre, London, 2008), including actors Stefanie Di Rubbo and Monsay Whitney, and director Stef O'Driscoll, accept the Fringe Report Award 2009 for Best Production. Fringe Report Awards 9 February 2009, Leicester Square Theatre. Photo © Stefan Lubomirski De Vaux, 2009.

Fringe Report started in July 2002 and ran until 2012. It covered 50 shows each year and reviewed at the London Film Festival, the Dublin and Brighton Fringe Festivals, with reports over the years from other locations including Camden, Bath, Newbury, Reading and Montreal.

It had permanent writers in London, New York, Dublin, Denver, Edinburgh, Dallas, North-east England, St Petersburg and Hawaii; with up to 12,000 regular readers spread across the globe.  Most of them were in mainland Europe, England, Canada, United States, Republic of Ireland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, with others in the Middle East, across Asia, in Vietnam, China and Australia.

There was a monthly newsletter in English and Spanish as a briefing and gossip loop to PRs, actors, producers, directors, composers, performers, the public, theatregoers, arts enthusiasts, venue managers, promoters, impresarios, journalists, and other industry and showbiz professionals.

Each year there were 25 awards - the Fringe Report Awards - announced in January and presented on any day mid-February that wasn't Valentine's Day.

The first volume of Fringe Report, covering its first two years 2002-2003, was delivered to the Library on 18 December 2014, where it is now uniquely available.  It contains 478 pages of reviews of over 250 shows, plus interviews and articles.  A feature of the book - and of forthcoming volumes - is a comprehensive index of over 4,000 entries including shows, venues, companies and people.  Fringe Report always where possible contained full credits for the shows and events it reviewed or reported, and the index includes the names of 3,000 people involved.

When the whole archive is complete it will comprise 12 books including all published and previously unpublished material, 750 photographs, audio soundtracks of award acceptance speeches (including Sir Arnold Wesker, John Antrobus, Kevin Sampson, Dr Elliot Grove, Kiki Kendrick, Abi Titmuss, Holly Penfield) and film of the several years of the awards.

27 October 2014

Qatar Digital Library portal launched

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A new online portal in English and Arabic which provides access to previously undigitised British Library archive materials relating to Persian Gulf history and Arabic science, was launched by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership last week on 22 October.

The new portal, Qatar Digital Libraryhosted by the Qatar National Library, provides contextual material to help make the best use of the 500,000 digitised pages available. This includes 475,000 pages from the India Office Records and 25,000 pages of medieval  Arabic manuscripts.

Sowt Musicians
Photo credit: Rolf Kilius

Available on this portal are around 200 titles of traditional music from the Gulf region. These are from The British Library's Middle Eastern music collection and consist mainly of 78 rpm shellac discs from the 1930s to 1960s. The vast majority of these discs are from labels such as Gramophone/HMV (UK), Columbia (USA), Baidaphon (Lebanon) and Odeon (Germany). Many discs were recorded by agents from the recording companies in the fast-developing urban areas of the Gulf region. Thus these recordings mainly represent a (then) new urban culture, which was important in nation-building, cultural exchange and in crossing of social and tribal borders.

Rural musical genres were also recorded, though to a much lesser degree. The following articles explain the circumstances around these recordings:

Dusty Streets and Hot Music in Baghdad: Iraqi Maqam Music and Chalgi Ensembles

Sing, Play and Be Merry: The Unique Ṣawt Music of the Arabian Peninsula

To complement these historical, commercial recordings (mainly shellac discs and older fieldwork recordings from the Gulf region) traditional music performances were filmed in Oman, Qatar and Kuwait during field work trips as part of the partnership programme. These videos are also available on the Qatar Digital Library Portal. You can read more about this research in the following article:

Modernity meets Tradition: Reflections on Traditional Music in Qatar

For updates on the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership and the Qatar National Library, follow us @BLQatar!

Article written by Rolf Killius, Curator of Oral and Musical Cultures, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership.

01 February 2014

Building a jukebox for Europe

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We’re thrilled to announce the start this month of a new project: Europeana Sounds. This project will bring together online, for public access, over a million sound and associated digitised items from leading audio archives and libraries across Europe.

We shall double the number of sound tracks that can be discovered through Europeana, improve descriptions for two million sounds, music scores and associated items to make them easier to find, and we’ll create new thematic ‘channels’ on Europeana that bring related objects together in a coordinated way. The sounds will encompass not just musics of different genres – classical, pop and rock, traditional and folk - but also languages and dialects, oral memories, nature and environmental sounds.

Europeana Sounds will be accessed through Europeana, the portal to Europe’s digitised heritage. Through a multi-lingual interface supporting 31 languages, Europeana already connects a mind-boggling 30 million books, paintings, photographs, sounds, films, museum and archival objects from collections held by 2,200 source institutions. Sound recordings are one of the most popular media types, although representing just 2% of Europeana’s content. And while many of Europe’s leading cultural heritage institutions have large, high-quality audio collections that have great public appeal and are valued for research and for creative use, access to them is fragmented and constrained. Europeana Sounds will make audio content from memory institutions easily accessible - a much-needed gateway to Europe’s incomparably rich sound and music collections.

Coordinated by the British Library, this three-year project is led by a network of 24 European organisations: innovative digital technology organisations and leading library and archive collections of sounds and related materials. We will also collaborate with three digital distribution platforms, Historypin, Spotify and SoundCloud and their existing global online communities, to extend the public reach of Europeana’s sound recordings.

The project will additionally test innovative ways to enrich metadata by crowdsourcing and by using automated machine-driven categorisation and cross-media linking. It will align different kinds of objects from different collections:


Blackbird (Turdus merula) singing (painting by Stephanus Hendrik Willem van Trigt. Source: Teylers Museum, Netherlands, via Europeana)

Blackbird singing

Blackbird (Turdus merula) singing (recorded by Eric & May Noble, Wales, March 1991. Source: The British Library)


We’ll also experiment with ‘score following’, so you will be able to scroll music scores from collections contributed by one institution while listening to recorded performances of the same compositions from another source, as illustrated below with extracts from Johan Sebastian Bach's Wohltemperierte Clavier.


Score of Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 870 from JS Bach’s manuscript of Wohltemperierte Clavier ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’, book 2. (Source: The British Library. Add.MS 35021).


Audio recording of Prelude and fugue in C major, BWV 870
recorded example from Europeana via Helsinki City Library).


More details about the Europeana Sounds project:

Picture1Europeana Sounds is funded by the European Union under its ICT Policy Support Programme as part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programm.

11 October 2013

World Newsreels Online

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Sampler video for World Newsreels Online

I'm delighted to be able to report that the British Library is now offering access in its Reading Rooms to World Newsreels Online 1929-1966.

This is a collection from Alexander Street Press of 500 hours (8,000 individual items) of newsreels (filmed news for cinema release) from Japan, France, the Netherlands and the USA, including wartime propaganda newsreels and a complete run of the important The March of Time series in its American edition (the British release version was slightly different). Most of the films have been fully transcribed, with transcriptions available in synchronisation presentation alongside the video. The contents include:

Nippon News—36 hours of Japanese newsreels from 1940-48 with English transcripts.

Four French newsreels, 75 hours of fully translated and transcribed news items from:

  • Les Actualités Mondiales—Selections 15-20 minutes in length, adapted from the German series that ran from 1940 to 1946.
  • France Actualités—A coproduction of the Vichy regime and the Germans from 1942 to 1944.
  • France Libre Actualités—1944–1945 segments from an offshoot of the French Resistance.
  • Les Actualités Francaise—selections from the 1945–1969 series in which the French state discussed war topics, consequences, and reconstruction

The March of Time—Full run of this American series, 115 hours of fully transcribed content, 1935-51.

United Newsreel—More than 35 hours of 1942-46 American weekly newsreel produced by the US Office of War Information, complete with transcripts.

Universal Newsreel—More than 200 hours of content with full transcripts from Universal Studios’s bi-weekly series that ran 1929-46.

Polygoon Profliti—87 hours of Dutch newsreel 1939-45.

The March of Time is of huge importance for the history of news on film. It was founded by Louis de Rochment in 1935 as an offshoot of Time magazine and as a follow on to a CBS radio series of the same name which started in 1931. It immediately made its mark with its dynamic presentation of the stories behind the news. It courted controversy in its outspokeness, in its occasional use of dramatised recreations, and in its choice of controversial themes at a time when newsreels (the form of news shown regularly in all cinemas) were looked upon more as part of the entertainment industry than as hard news offerings. Its distinctive bold style with booming commentary was artfully pastiched by Orson Welles for the News on the March sequence in Citizen Kane (1941).

The series ran in cinemas until 1951. Notable stories include Leadbelly (vol. 1 issue 2, 1935), Huey Long (vol. 1, issue 3, 1935), Father Divine (vol. 2 issue 2, 1936), League of Nations Union (vol. 2, issue 5, 1936), An Uncle Sam Production (vol. 3 issue 4, 1936), Conquering Cancer (vol. 3, issue 6, 1937) and the issue-length Inside Nazi Germany (vol. 6 issue 6, 1938) and Norway in Revolt (vol. 8 issue 2, 1941)

The key publication on The March of Time is Raymond Fielding's book The March of Time 1936-1951 (1978) and he provides a handy overview of the series on the HBO Archives site.

World Newsreels Online is available now in the British Library Reading Rooms and adds to our growing number of onsite audiovisual resources, including the Library's own television and radio news service, Broadcast News, which has a collection of over 30,000 UK TV and radio news programmes recorded since May 2010, to which over 60 hours of new content is added daily.

British Library onsite users can access World Newsreels Online via our Electronic Databases pages. Sadly access is not possible outside our Reading Rooms.