Sound and vision blog

157 posts categorized "Sound and vision"

19 January 2018

Mary Lee Berners-Lee: the joy of programming and equal pay

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This blog is by Tom Lean, National Life Stories Project Interviewer. Tom interviewed Mary Lee Berners-Lee and her husband Conway for An Oral History of British Science (reference C1379/23) in 2010-2011.

Mary Lee Berners-Lee, originally Mary Lee Woods, is probably best known as the mother of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, but she had a considerable career in science and technology in her own right. After studying mathematics at the University of Birmingham, she spent the latter part of the Second World War working at the Telecommunications Research Establish (TRE), the secret centre of Britain’s radar development effort. With the war over she returned to her studies, before leaving Britain for the Mount Stromlo observatory in Australia in 1947, where she worked classifying the spectra of stars. In 1951 she returned to Britain and chanced across an advert for a job at Ferranti in Manchester that would change her life: “I was reading Nature and saw an advertisement one day for – saying, ‘Mathematicians wanted to work on a digital computer.’”

021I-C1379X0023XX-0001A1Mary Lee and Conway Berners-Lee in 1954

Mary Lee spent three days in a reference library learning what a computer was, “the most profitable three days I think I’ve ever had because when I went for the interview for the job I could ask intelligent questions and nobody else they’d interviewed had, so it put up my salary quite a bit!” Subsequently she joined the team working on the Ferranti Mark 1, the world’s first general purpose electronic computer to be commercially available – the first machine built to be sold to customers not just an experimental electronic brain developed by scientists. At Ferranti she discovered not only her future husband, Conway Berners-Lee, but also the joy of programming, as she recounts in this extract from her interview for An Oral History of British Science.

Mary Lee Berners-Lee on the joy of programming

Mary Lee left Ferranti to raise a family, but later worked in various computing related jobs. She was not only a pioneer of computer programming, but also for women in science and technology. Mary  fought against Ferranti’s concerns that it would be improper of women programmers to work on the computer overnight with male engineers, and demanded equal pay for women programmers.

Mary Lee Berners-Lee on equal pay for women programmers

You can read more about Mary Lee and listen to more extracts at Voices of Science; parts of her life story interview are available in the Library Reading Rooms.

15 January 2018

Recording of the week: Anglo-Romani and dialect

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

It was great to see Peaky Blinders back for a fourth series as, among its many delights, it offers a rare glimpse in the mainstream media of Anglo-Romani. Given the presence of traveller communities across the UK it’s perhaps not surprising that Romani has influenced local dialect in many parts of the country. Speakers either side of the English-Scottish border, for instance, will be familiar with terms like gadgie [from gaujo = ‘(non-gypsy) man’], mort [= ‘girl, woman’], mooey [from mui = ‘mouth, face’], radgie [from radge = ‘mad, angry’] and scran [= ‘food’]. A small set of Romani words are used more widely, including cushty [from kushti = ‘good’], mullered [= ‘dead, killed’] and mush [= ‘man (esp. as form of address’] and a recent collaboration between the British Library and Guardian newspaper to document regional words confirmed the relationship between Anglo-Romani & dialect as contributors supplied numerous expressions including chore [= ‘to steal’ (Poole)], dinilo [= ‘fool, Idiot’ (Portsmouth)], jukkel [= ‘dog’ (Carlisle)], ladging [= ‘embarrassing’ (York)] and tuvli [= ‘cigarette’ (Newark)].


Probably the most unfortunate contribution of Anglo-Romani to English is the word chav, which in recent years has been adopted by young speakers all over the country to refer negatively to a stereotypical young ne’er-do-well characterised by cheap designer clothes, anti-social behaviour and low social status. The word derives from the much more endearing Anglo-Romani word chavvi [= ‘boy, son’] and illustrates how certain social groups have unfortunately always attracted suspicion and condemnation. A WordBank contributor from the Medway, Kent who can pukker [= ‘to speak’] Romani explains, for instance, how he will often jel down the tober to see my little chavvis in my vardo [‘go down the road to see my children in my caravan’], while another contributor submitted an expression assumed to be local to Newark, seemingly unaware of its Romani origins. The book Romani Rokkeripen To-Divvus (Thomas Acton and Donald Kenrick, 1984) records mandi [= ‘I’], buer [= ‘woman’] and rokker [= ‘to talk, speak’].

Jel down the tober to see my little chavvis in my vardo  (BL shelfmark C1442/2355) 

Mandi don't know what the buer is rokkering (BL shelfmark C1442/1079)

Over 400 recordings capturing English dialect and slang worldwide can be found in the Evolving English Wordbank collection on British Library Sounds.  

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

08 January 2018

Recording of the week: Trisha Brown in conversation with Richard Alston

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This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

American dancer and choreographer Trisha Brown talks to British choreographer Richard Alston at the ICA, London, 15 November 1991 (duration: 59 min 43 sec).

At the time of the discussion there were three works by Trisha Brown programmed at the Sadler’s Wells theatre in London:  Opal Loop (1980), Lateral Pass (1985) and For M.G.: The Movie (1991). Most of the discussion is centred on these three works.

In 1989, Opal Loop was added to Rambert’s repertory under the artistic direction of Richard Alston. This was the first time Trisha Brown had ever agreed to stage it for a company other than her own.  Alston was the artistic director of Rambert from 1986 till 1992.

Brown also talks about her explorations of gravity and perspective for her 'walking on the walls' pieces; how she works with dancers; character and gender in dance; and Set and Reset (1983), a dance work made in collaboration with Robert Rauschenberg and Laurie Anderson.

Trisha Brown – Walking on the Wall.  Photo by Sascha Pohflepp  CC BY_L

Trisha Brown – Walking on the Wall. Photo by Sascha Pohflepp / CC BY. The Barbican Gallery, London, 5 May 2011. First performed in 1971 at the Whitney Museum, New York.

This recording comes from a collection of 889 talks and discussions held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London between 1982-1993. 

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

01 January 2018

Recording of the week: Ethiopian Michael Jackson?

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This week's selection comes from Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Lead Curator of World and Traditional Music.

This song was recorded in 1991 by ethnomusicologist Lesley Larkum at the Green Hotel, Mek'ele (Mekelle) in the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia. It represents one of those wonderful moments of ethnographic fieldwork when you come across something, not necessarily related to the focus of your work, but nevertheless captivating. It's times like those you are thankful for a sound recording device! Lesley was conducting research on Tigrinyan music during revolution. She had heard these two children singing in a bar a couple of nights beforehand and had asked them to return so she could record them. Sadly there's no photograph of them but as I listen, in my mind's eye I see a couple of youngsters with the voices, rhythm and exuberance of a young Michael Jackson.

Children singing at the Green Hotel (C600/15)

Green hotel 2nd

The Lesley Larkum collection of Ethiopian field recordings can be consulted at the British Library.

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

25 December 2017

Recording of the week: a Christmas story

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

This seasonal offering comes from our African Writers Club collection and was recorded on 7 November 1966 in London on a Revox F36 tape machine. 'No Room at Solitaire' is a dramatization by Cosmo Pieterse of a short story by Richard Rive. It updates the nativity tale to Christmas Eve in northern Transvaal (now Limpopo), South Africa, in the era of apartheid. Contains strong language.

A Christmas story (C134/98)


Entabeni - Limpopo, South Africa by FyreMael via / CC BY

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

22 December 2017

National Life Stories Podcast 4: Christmas Podding

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Cathy Courtney, Project Director on the National Life Stories oral history projects Artists’ Lives and Architects’ Lives, chatted to David Govier for our fourth National Life Stories podcast. The conversation starts with why Cathy got into oral history, and moves on to discuss why oral historians ask about Christmas.

Along the way you will hear extracts from the following interviews:

Neil Hufton interviewed by Cos Michael, Food: From Source to Salespoint, 2006 (C821/195)

George Messenger interviewed by George Ewart Evans, 1956 (T1419W)

Bill Adcocks interviewed by Rachel Cutler, An Oral History of British Athletics, 2010 (C790/48)

Christopher Butler interviewed by Andrea Hertz, History of Parliament Oral History Project, 2016 (C1503/142)

Michael Rothenstein interviewed by Mel Gooding, Artists’ Lives, 1990 (C466/02)

John Watts interviewed by Cos Michael, Food: From Source to Salespoint, 2006 (C821/190)

Nigel Bell interviewed by Paul Merchant, An Oral History of British Science (C1379/91)

Eric Ash interviewed by Tom Lean, An Oral History of British Science (C1379/92)

Cedric Battye interviewed by Jan Sanderson, Unheard Voices: Interviews with Deafened People, 2008 (C1345/12)

Eva Jiricna interviewed by Niamh Dillon, Architects’ Lives, 2015 (C467/127)

National Life Stories Podcast 4 - Christmas

You can find out more about National Life Stories at our website. Search for 'Christmas' at British Library Sounds  to find over 1,350 Christmas memories, songs and broadcasts!

21 December 2017

Fabulous Flutes

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When a collector’s interest covers a very specific area of recording they often amass something valuable and comprehensive over a lifetime of acquisition.  One such collector is Christopher Steward whose collection of recordings on shellac discs of flute and piccolo recordings seems second to none.  I am delighted to have negotiated for this important and large collection to come to the British Library, even more so as Mr Steward generously decided to donate it.  It is a veritable history of the flute on record.

Christopher Steward studied at Trinity College completing his studies with William Bennett.  A former member of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and BBC Northern Orchestra, he also taught at the Birmingham Conservatoire.

The treasures of the collection include many very early discs by artists born in the middle of the nineteenth century – Léon Fontbonne (1859-1940), Albert Fransella (1865-1935), Adolphe Hennebains (1862-1914) and Edward de Jong born in 1837 when Brahms was only four years old.  Not only are there representations of the great flautists of the past, but Mr Steward also collected recordings by uncredited flute and piccolo players, many from the first two decades of the twentieth century.

A small representation of discs from Mr Steward’s collection have been posted online here on Robert Bigio’s Flute Pages.  I have chosen to present some below that do not appear on these pages.

Because it is Christmas and we are gearing up for the holiday mood we start with Léon Jacquemont, a flautist with the Garde Républicaine.  This is a recording of him playing a delightful showpiece for piccolo, La Tourterelle (The Turtle Dove) Op. 119 by Eugène Damaré recorded around 1909 for the rarely seen Aérophone label.

Jacquemont Aérophone 1047

In the Menuet from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne suite No. 2, the harp accompaniment had to be played on the piano in order for it to register through the acoustic horn, but the Lamoureux Orchestra join in on this disc from 1st March 1910 to support their principal flautist Pierre Deschamps (1874-1922).

Deschamps 030540


Léon Fontbonne (1859-1940) became first flautist and piccolo player with the Garde Républicaine, a position he held for twenty five years.  Here he is with a great virtuoso showpiece recorded 116 years ago in 1901, Carnaval de Venise Op. 2 by Matheus André Reichert, a work published in 1872.

Fontbonne 39151

HennebainsAdolphe Hennebains (Pierre Petit [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Another fine French flautist, Adolphe Hennebains (1862-1914) can be heard in early recordings of chamber music on BL Sounds.  Here he plays a Chopin Nocturne arranged for flute by Paul Taffanel (1844-1908) – not the famous one in E flat Op. 9 No. 2 as one may suppose, but the beautiful F sharp major Nocturne Op. 15 No. 2.  The recording was made in the year of Taffanel’s death, 1908, and it is remarkable that even in this primitive acoustic recording with orchestral accompaniment Hennebains’ intake of breath can be heard during the opening phrases.

Hennebains 39200

A surprising disc from the collection appears on the Odeon label.  The flutist is George Ackroyd (1880-1960) who was principal flute with the Covent Garden Orchestra, but it was the violinist’s name that caught my eye – Albert Sammons (1886-1957), one of England’s greatest violinists, who went on to make the first recording of the Elgar Violin Concerto in October 1916 for Columbia.  Here they play an arrangement of Mendelssohn’s immortal Spring Song recorded around 1915 with W. Barker on harp.

Ackroyd Odeon 0788

BoehmTheobald Boehm (WikiCommons)

Edith Penville was an impressive player who died as recently as 1981, at the age of nearly one hundred.  This Homochord disc is a conflation of two works - part of the Variations sur un air Allemand Op. 22 by Theobald Boehm (1794-1881) preceded by part of a Faust Fantasie by Edward de Jong (1837-1920) who became the first flute with the original Hallé Orchestra in 1858.  Penville could have studied with him as she was born in the North of England and he worked in the Manchester and Derbyshire area.  De Jong himself recorded in 1907 and these recordings and more details about him can be found on this excellent blog. Penville’s impressive recording was made on 11th December 1923.

Penville H544

We end with an electrical recording.  Jacques van Lier (1881-1934) (not to be confused with the Dutch cellist of the same name) was principal flautist with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra from 1907 to his death in 1934.  He made two sides for HMV on 18th June 1931 in Czechoslovakia with accompanist Otto Schulhof who had accompanied many great soloists including Heifetz as a child prodigy, Pablo Casals, Fritz Kreisler, Bronislaw Huberman and Jan Kubelik.  Van Lier plays the flute solo from Gluck’s opera Alceste.

Van Lier AM3673

For all the latest Classical news follow @BL_Classical

20 December 2017

Two very small records

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At the Wembley Empire Exhibition of 1924, one exhibit that caught the public eye was a dolls’ house, specially created for Queen Mary, which contained a fully-working miniature gramophone complete with six tiny records made by His Master's Voice.

Around 35,000 miniature discs were produced for sale as souvenirs, at sixpence each. Despite this far-from-limited edition, copies are hard to come by now, perhaps because they could so easily be lost or mislaid. The souvenir discs featured a 22-second rendering of ‘God Save the King’ by the popular Australian singer Peter Dawson. At just 34 mm (1 and 5/16th of an inch) in diameter, this is the smallest 78 rpm disc ever made.

A copy is currently on display in the British Library's free Entrance Hall exhibition LISTEN: 140 Years of Recorded Sound.

This is not the world's smallest playable record however. A contender for this coveted title arrived at the Library just a few weeks ago, courtesy of Michael Ridge.


This 1" diameter 33 rpm lathe-cut disc by GX Jupitter-Larsen and Zebra Mu (each contributes an 8-second piece) is cautiously described by issuing label Quagga Curious Sounds as 'likely to be one of the smallest lathe cut records ever released'! Sadly, the limited edition of 110 copies is already sold out.