THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

78 posts categorized "Soundscapes"

14 August 2017

Recording of the week: the seabirds of Bempton Cliffs

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

If you find yourself in East Yorkshire during the summer holidays, be sure to pay a visit to the stunning seabird colonies at Bempton Cliffs. Every year nearly half a million seabirds congregate on the hard chalk cliff faces in order to breed. Numbers are at their highest between April and August, when Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, Puffins and gulls jostle for the best positions along the precipitous ledges. This recording, made by Richard Margoschis in 1990, captures all the excitement of this busy community.

You can listen to more wildlife and environmental recordings in the Environment and Nature section of British Library Sounds.

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

10 April 2017

Recording of the week: the waves of Freshwater Bay

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

The Isle of Wight is a small island situated in the English Channel whose coastline is peppered with small coves and secluded bays. One such bay can be found in Freshwater, a small village to the west of the island which became popular as a coastal resort in the 19th century. Well known Victorians such as the Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson and the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron both settled in Freshwater and may well have strolled along the promenade overlooking the bay, listening to the gentle roll of waves as heard in this contemporary recording from 2006. 

Waves at Freshwater Bay, Isle of Wight recorded on 26 March 2006 by Richard Beard

Freshwater BayFreshwater Bay, Isle of Wight (unknown artist after William Daniell). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

More recordings of waves can be found in the Water collection on British Library Sounds.

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

16 February 2017

Leafscape: an exhibition

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Botanical artist Jess Shepherd has spent the past few years immersed in the world of leaves, both from a visual and sonic point of view. In this special guest post, Jess writes about how field recording became an intrinsic part of her creative process.

As a botanical painter, I specialise in painting very large watercolours of plants and am always working to surprise the viewer. Between 16th and 25th February, I will be holding my first solo exhibition of over 30 new watercolour paintings in Bloomsbury, London. For this exhibition, I explore my vision of a botanical dystopia, challenging our own sense of scale, its value and how we measure it.

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The story began when I picked up a leaf from a London pavement in July 2014. At the time I was moving house and felt that the condition of the leaf told my own story. It had been scuffed by the streets of the city and was no longer attached to the tree, but blowing across the floor in the wind. Like me, it was on the move.

After carefully painting this leaf larger than life size I was drawn to paint another and another. Eventually, after months of painting these leaf portraits, all from different moments in time and place, I have created a visual story. Some of these leaves measure over a meter in length.

041120151210Leaf 041120151210, Cercis siliquastrum, Watercolour on paper, 760 x 560mm

For the past two years I have also collected the environmental sounds from where each leaf was growing using an Olympus LS-14 recorder. These sounds document a journey from the East End of London, through the avenues of Hyde Park and streets of Chelsea into the deep rural countryside of Granada in Spain where I now have a second studio. I started collecting these sounds because I became interested in documenting the elements of our existence that I could not capture with paint. I also began to wonder how leaves would interpret their spaces if trees could hear. By recording the sounds from the precise locations of my source material, I feel I have been able to add a new dimension to botanical art; that I am able to communicate the importance of plants and our environment more poignantly. It is my way of catapulting botanical art into the 21st Century whilst also looking at topics close to my heart such as what is reality and what it means to exist.

Spain_birds and rain

Spain_goat bells

All of these environmental sounds have been skilfully arranged by musician Derek Thompson (Hoodlum Priest) who, through a process of both precise and random digital manipulation, has created a composition where place, time and space become intertwined. This multimedia journey is our vision of a botanical dystopia; the natural world in a state of decay through interaction with the encroaching urban environment.

Leafscape extract

The idea of recording sound introduces a completely new element to botanical art and I hope that this interpretation of both the natural and human worlds will encourage listeners to be as aware of the diversity and beauty of sound in the city as much as that of the countryside.

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Leafscape will be on show at Abbott and Holder from 16th-25th February 2017.

A copy of the accompanying book & soundtrack has been donated by the artist to the British Library and will soon be available in our Reading Rooms.

Audio clips and images courtesy of Jess Shepherd.

30 January 2017

Recording of the week: let it snow!

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

There's nothing quite like the sound of walking through freshly fallen snow. This particular recording was made in the Kentish village of Knockholt, just after midnight on the 3rd February 2009. This signalled the start of a prolonged period of heavy snowfall that was to see most of the British Isles grind to a halt, forcing schools, railway lines and even airports to close because of the treacherous conditions.

Footsteps in the snow, 3 Feb 2009, Kent, United Kingdom, Phil Riddett

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Visit British Library Sounds to listen to more recordings of weather from around the world.

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

09 December 2016

British Composer Awards 2016

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On Tuesday 6th December the 2016 British Composer Awards ceremony took place at the British Film Institute in London. This annual event recognises the achievements of composers working in musical fields as diverse as jazz, choral and orchestral composition.

Though each area is fascinating in itself, our eyes were firmly fixed on the category of Sonic Art where composer and artist Claudia Molitor was nominated for her major audio work, Sonorama. Conceived as an audio companion for the train journey between London St Pancras and Margate, Molitor drew extensively on the resources of the British Library's sound archive during both the research and composition process. From cheeky music hall songs to tranquil woodland soundscapes, Molitor skillfully combined archival sound recordings with interviews, readings and original compositions to create a rich  soundtrack that vividly brought to life the social history of the otherwise silent landscape experienced by passengers from the train window.

All Aboard for Margate_Florrie Forde

Sonorama opens with 'All Aboard for Margate' sung by Florrie Forde and published c.1905 by the Sterling Record Company

Each track related to a specific  point or area along the train line and covered topics including visio-centricity, Roman history and hop-picking. The historian David Hendy  helped inform the project and artists such as flautist Jan Hendrickse, poet Lemn Sissay, Saxophonist Evan Parker and writer Charlotte Higgins lent their talents to the mix. 

Sonorama was an enjoyable and highly rewarding project to work on. It is a brilliant example of the creative reuse of archival sound recordings by contemporary composers and so we send a huge congratulations to Claudia for this fantastic achievement!

Claudia Molitor

Claudia Molitor, British Composer Awards 2016 Sonic Art winner for Sonorama (photo by Mark Allan)

Visit Sonorama.org.uk for more information about the project, including information on how you can access the audio work.

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Sonorama was curated and produced by Electra in partnership with Turner Contemporary and the British Library, with funding and support from Arts Council England, Southeastern Rail, Kent County Council Arts Investment Fund, Hornby, University of Kent. The Sonorama catalogue is published by Uniformbooks.

11 November 2016

'Honk, Conk and Squacket'... anyone?

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Honk Conk and Squacket. Fabulous and Forgotten Sound-words from a Vanished Age of Listening is a compilation of sound-related words by researcher and sound recordist I. M. Rawes.

Honk Conk and Squacket

I. M. Rawes, aka Ian Rawes, is a former British Library Sound Archive colleague. He worked at the Library for years while building The London Sound Survey on the side. This is a unique online sound map documenting the sounds of everyday life in London. It includes urban field recordings made by the author, archival materials, photographs, illustrations and a related blog.

Honk Conk and Squacket  explores the sounds of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and their surrounding socio-cultural context through what is often - notably in regard to the Victorian, pre-recording, era - the only evidence remaining: written documentation.

For this the author has investigated a myriad of sources including patents, dictionaries, glossaries and out-of-copyright period illustrations from the British Library collections.

The book works as a virtual audio nostalgia trip, laced with charm, humour and insight. On a more melancholy note, it touches on the ephemeral nature of everyday sounds and their eventual disappearance. I would recommend it as playful shared reading for the inevitable procrastination of Christmas and a must-reference volume for accurate historical sound writing.

Some sample entries:

Honk: was naval slang meaning to drink in an impressive way, echoic of the noise that eventually results. Early 20C.

Conk: is a large conch-shell of the genus Strombus, imported and then fitted with a mouth-piece. In former times it was used by fishermen as a fog-horn, producing as it did a loud and distinctive note on being blown. Late 19C. Cornwall.

Squacket: to quack as a duck; to make any disagreeable sound with the mouth. Late 19C. Surrey, Sussex and Somerset.

Laist

 Laist: to listen. Late 19C. Suffolk

Talking trumpet

Talking-trumpet. Late 19C.

If you are interested in sound and would like to know more about the Library’s sound preservation programme to digitise the nation's rare and unique sound recordings check out our Save Our Sounds programme and #SaveOurSounds.

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

03 November 2016

Environments: Irv Teibel and the psychoacoustic record

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Earlier in the year the Irv Teibel Archive generously donated a complete set of the hugely influential environments LP series to the British Library. This collection of environmental field recordings, released over a 10 year period from 1969 - 1979, represents the work of Irv Teibel, the ambient and new age music pioneer whose record label Syntonic Research Inc brought the sounds of nature to a public that was becoming increasingly interested in the natural world. In this special post, Creative Director of Syntonic Research and the Irv Teibel Archive, Jonathan Een Newton, writes about the work and legacy of one of the leading figures from the environmental sound movement.

If you’ve ever drowned out your co-workers’ chatter with rainy sounds, or fallen asleep to a loop of the ocean, you owe your peace of mind, in large part, to field recordist Irv Teibel. His environments series, released on eleven albums from 1969 to 1979, helped introduce popular culture to the utility of natural sound.

Gentle Rain in a Pine Forest

Irv was born in 1938 in Buffalo, New York and studied art in New York and California before becoming a public information specialist for the US Army. While stationed in Germany in the early 1960s, he began experimenting with electronic music at a local radio station. After his service, he found his way to New York City where he photographed and designed layouts for magazines Popular Photographer and Car and Driver

His fascination with natural sound was piqued while on a field recording trip for Tony Conrad and Beverly Grant’s film Coming Attractions. Playing back his ocean recordings the next day, Irv became excited by their potential to mask noise and positively affect mood. He soon threw his creative energy into producing a record designed to be "useful.” In late 1969, he released environments 1, which he assembled with his friend Lou Gerstman, a Bell Labs neuropsychologist.

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Cover image of environments 1 (courtesy of the Irv Teibel Archive)

Over the next decade, the series found surprising mainstream success and was even licensed to Atlantic Records for distribution. The thought of a major label releasing a record with just a single 30 minute track per side and without the involvement of a known artist is unimaginable today. Irv eventually released most of the series on cassette and some on CD while he experimented with other projects like video environments, and continued to run a mail order business from his house until his death in 2010.

Environments has often been lumped together with the new age music genre it helped inspire, most likely because of the way it was marketed. But talk to almost any sound artist of a certain age and they’ll tell you that these recordings were hugely influential and helped pave the way for the flood of environmental releases that proliferated in the 1980s and 90s and continues today as Spotify playlists and white noise apps. Like me, many younger listeners have picked up an environments LP in a local record store bin precisely because of the colourful quotes and distinctive Bauhaus-inspired design. But in the end, it is the meticulously constructed soundscapes, which include everything from the classic “Psychologically Ultimate Seashore” to the porto-ambient “Tintinnabulation,” that keep us loyal fans of Irv’s work. 

Teibel-Photo 001

In the Syntonic Research office at the top of the Flatiron Building, Manhattan, NY (courtesy of the Irv Teibel Archive)

What continues to surprise me as I've worked on this project over the past two years is environments' diverse admirers. I’ve connected with musicians working in metal (Earth), noise (Prurient), and electronic music (Matmos) who all cite Irv Teibel and the environments series as an influence. Even pop musician Henry Gross told me he used environments to help write his hit single “Shannon.” There are also pages of comments I'm still sorting throughfrom students and teachers to army captains and correctional officers of every age—collected via the feedback cards inserted into each record sleeve.

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Snowman in the field, a self-portrait that Irv often included on stationary and feedback cards (courtesy of the Irv Teibel Archive) 

We’re excited to be working on a number of projects to showcase Irv's work including a recently-launched website featuring his writing, photography, and of course, recordings. We're also in the early stages of creating a mobile app to re-imagine environments for the twenty-first century.

Wind in the Trees

We’re thrilled that the British Library’s exceptional sound archive now has a full set of environments. I hope you’ll take some time to listen to this seminal series of creative field recordings and discover your own favourite (mine is "Dusk in the Okefenokee Swamp"). Thanks for caring and keep in touch.

Jonathan Een Newton

08 July 2016

Hidden Traces. A sound walk

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Opening this Saturday 9 July, Hidden Traces is a new sound installation by Gabriele Reuter and Mattef Kuhlmey. It takes the listener through a promenade of voices on the streets around The Place, the dance venue just off Euston Road, London.

A combination of sound choreography, urban history and oral reminiscences of childhood and everyday life in the local area, was used to create a series of short audio plays, which have been placed on listening points on and around the buildings and streets surrounding The Place.

For Gabriele Reuter, understanding city planning and the way the cities are constructed is very much related to understanding space and choreography. In this context there is no dance; here, choreography is about arranging memories in time and space.

Gabriele ReuterGabriele Reuter (on the right) with interviewee Emma Coates from Wallace Space. 

Gabriele is a choreographer, dancer and urban historian. She works in Berlin and Nottingham and trained at The Place where she has presented many of her works over the past ten years. She collaborates regularly with sound designer, artist and composer Mattef Kuhlmey.

Hidden Traces has been commissioned by The Place and supported by the British Library. The sound journey has been inspired by interviews with local residents made for the project, and archival recordings from King’s Cross Voices interviews, courtesy of Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre.

Experiencing Hidden Traces is free but booking is essential through The Place box office. On collection of your ticket you will be given a map showing the different listening stations, a pair of headphones and a mp3 player. The order of the listening journey is up to each individual listener.

The project has amassed a legacy of audio interviews with local residents, plus sound pieces composed from the fieldwork materials, and a short video interview with Gabrielle talking about the connections between choreography, urban history, memories and the use of dance as a discipline to engage with communities. All the recordings will be archived and eventually made available to listen to at the British Library.

Hidden Traces runs from Sat 9 - Sat 16 July, 10am - 5pm. Please come along for a unique experience.