THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

16 posts categorized "Television"

28 February 2017

Moomins music

Add comment

Readers of a certain age may recall from 1980s tea-time TV the children's series The Moomins, a stop-motion animation treatment of the stories of the Moomintrolls, the family of small woodland beings created by Finnish writer-illustrator Tove Jansson. The original stories and picture-books were written and published in Swedish, and spanned the period 1945-1970. 

Moomins-first-edition-cover

Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (The Little Trolls and the Great Flood) - the first Moomins book, from 1945.

The TV series shown in Britain was a Polish-Austrian-German production, made at the Se-ma-for studio in Łódź. For UK audiences, episodes were edited from their original longer format into five-minute chunks and given an English-language narration by veteran actor Richard Murdoch.

Another UK addition was a new theme tune and soundtrack, created by Graeme Miller and Steve Shill, who were, at the time, members of Impact Theatre Co-operative, a Leeds-based experimental theatre company whose influence on the contemporary performance scene is still felt today. Perhaps their best-known work is The Carrier Frequency from 1986, a collaboration with novelist Russell Hoban set in a post-nuclear world, and performed on a structure designed by Simon Vincenzi that rose from a two-foot deep pool of water. 

Moomins-music-products

The Moomins' music, a mixture of organic instruments and new electronic sounds, was issued this year in its most complete edition yet by Finders Keepers Records. Formats include cassette, CD and vinyl, plus two de luxe limited edition LPs. Examples of each have been acquired by the British Library for its sound archive (see image above).

Simon Sheridan, in his A-Z of Classic Children's Television, describes this music as 'some of the saddest ever to make its way onto kids' TV'.

In the same book Graeme Miller cites the mournful theme tune from The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (the 1960s French import that was a staple of BBC children's programming for three decades) and the electronic sound of Kraftwerk as primary musical influences.

The Finders Keepers editions are beautifully presented, with the CD and LP editions featuring the bonus of a long and detailed essay by Andy Votel on the history of the series as broadcast, the creation of the music, and the 10-year effort to make the complete soundtrack available for the first time.

30 September 2016

Dialects not only connect, they sometimes divide

Add comment

Towards the end of the 1980s a close northern friend once confided in me his disappointment at being consistently overlooked for international honours in cricket and rugby due to perceived selectorial bias towards players based in the south of England. The fact he hadn’t played either sport for a recognised club since leaving school seemed irrelevant: there was a principle at stake. There are constant debates in sport about the relative likelihood of selection for national squads depending on which school or club a player represents, but until this week I hadn’t considered the possibility that quizzes might be anything other than geographically impartial.

As a fan of Only Connect I was intrigued this week to see a question which required contestants to predict the final element of a sequence given the following stimulus:

Only Connect Clue
The sequence required contestants to solve a mathematical and linguistic puzzle by recognising that a descending mathematical sequence of 2 to the power of the given number produced an answer supposedly homophonous with a synonym of the corresponding word or phrase:

23 = consumed (i.e. ‘eight = ate’)

22 = in favour of (i.e. ‘four = for’)

21 = also (i.e. ‘two = too’)

20 = was victorious in a quiz (i.e. ‘one = won’)

Only Connect Solution

The first problem here is that, for many speakers, eight and ate are not homophones. For most speakers in the UK eight rhymes with ‘gate’, but for many ate rhymes with ‘get’. Both words were included in the questionnaire of the Survey of English Dialects – a nationwide study of regional speech in England carried out in the 1950s and 1960s. For the vast majority of informants the simple past tense of the verb ‘to eat’ rhymed with ‘get’ and there are very few unambiguous examples of rhymes with ‘gate’. The only examples of an apparent past form rhyming with ‘gate’ were in places like Yorkshire, Lancashire, Devon and Cornwall where, historically, the local dialect makes no distinction between present and past tense – i.e. eat is unmarked for tense but is pronounced to rhyme with ‘gate’ regardless. This reflects a middle English vowel sound that survives in a small set of similar words – meat still occasionally sounds like an RP pronunciation of ‘mate’ in these dialects. Interestingly, despite only fleeting glimpses in this survey of ate rhyming with ‘gate’, we increasingly hear this pronunciation nowadays, presumably as a result of a pronunciation falling in line with spelling – a trend confirmed by data published in the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (Wells, 2008:54). A similar process is happening with says so that, as with your pronunciation of ate, whether you pronounce says to rhyme with ‘fez’ or with ‘phase’ may reveal a good deal about your age.

Four and for and two and too indisputably rhyme in most varieties of British English (if we exclude for convenience the Scots preference for twa), but one and won present a similar problem. If you speak RP – the regionally neutral middle-class accent of England – you probably rhyme one with won and chances are if you’re from the south of England you will, too. If, like my sister-in-law, you come from Leeds you might also do so, but with a completely different vowel to the one used by RP speakers and southerners. For many speakers in the UK, however, one rhymes with ‘gone’ while won rhymes with ‘gun’. Data from the Survey of English Dialects suggests that one was almost universally rhymed with ‘gone’ in the north and Midlands, apart from a small pocket of West Yorkshire (cf. my sister-in-law’s pronunciation in Leeds) and the far north, where the dialect form yan competed with one.  In contrast, speakers in the south of England varied between a rhyme with ‘gone’ and a rhyme with ‘gun’ with the latter more common. According to a survey conducted for the Longman Pronunciation Dictionary roughly 70% of British English speakers favour a rhyme with ‘gone’ meaning that one and won are homophonous for a minority of speakers (Wells, 2008:563). Thankfully the captain of the team presented with this clue was a young RP speaker, but I wonder if contestants from the north (or older speakers) subconsciously struggled to make the connection between the mathematical and linguistic clues, as for them the link may not be immediately apparent for either the first or fourth item in the sequence (or both).

So my friend may have been deluded all those years ago about his chances of ever playing for England, but he might genuinely have a case to argue about his relative chances of winning TV quiz shows.  The British Library holds the entire set of recordings made for the Survey of English Dialects thus allowing researchers to explore and enjoy these fine distinctions between dialects.

Only Connect Series 12 Episode 12, Genealogists v Surrealists. 2016. BBC2. 26 September, 20.30.

17 June 2016

Galton and Simpson: earliest recordings of BAFTA Fellowship writers discovered

Add comment

Tristan Brittain-Dissont writes:

As the newly appointed Archivist of the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society, I recently decided to search for material relevant to ‘the Lad’ within the British Library’s Sound & Moving Image catalogue.

To my surprise, within just a few minutes I had made one of the most extraordinary discoveries in the history of radio comedy. Hidden in plain sight were details of numerous recordings of a BBC radio series from 1951 which historians have to date assumed to be lost – a show which would not only transform Hancock’s career, but also change the course of British comedy.

Happy-Go-Lucky (HGL) was a one-hour variety show broadcast on the Light Programme, commencing in August 1951. It was a vehicle for Derek Roy, a significant star of the time, but now largely forgotten. Conceived as a ‘light-hearted blend’ of comedy and music, it turned out to be a low-brow mess. By October, the writers had been fired; the producer had suffered a nervous

Derek Roy (courtesy of the Galton and Simpson Archive, by kind permission)
Derek Roy (1922-1981), star of Happy-Go-Lucky. Courtesy of the Galton and Simpson Archive

breakdown; and one of the regular sketches was so poor that the up-and-coming comic leading it was begging for his performances to be excised from broadcast. In desperation, the new producer – BBC legend Dennis Main Wilson – called a meeting of cast and crew. He turned to two young men, who were there only because they had recently started selling jokes to Roy for a few shillings a time. He asked them if they could write the last few shows of the series so it could limp to completion before Christmas; and they agreed.

Those two young men – who, at this stage, could in no way be considered scriptwriters – were Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, not long out of a TB hospital where they had first met. In taking on HGL, they began one of the most significant comedy writing collaborations we have ever seen. And if this was not significant enough, consider the following. On November 11th 1951, as Galton and Simpson sat in the stalls watching their first scripts being rehearsed at the Paris Cinema, the young comic who was so unhappy with his role in the show walked past them. ‘Did you write that?’ he said. ‘Very funny.’ It was Tony Hancock. This was the first time the three men had met. Between them, they would go on to create arguably the greatest radio and television sitcom of all time - Hancock’s Half Hour - and a comic character - Anthony Aloysius St. John Hancock – that has achieved immortality. 

Simpson, Hancock and Galton (Courtesy of the Galton and Simpson Archive)
Alan Simpson (left), Tony Hancock (centre) and Ray Galton in the 1950s.

For decades, every authority on Tony, Galton, Simpson and, indeed, British comedy has insisted that no recordings of HGL had survived. Only a small proportion of BBC radio's comedy output could be archived at that time, but it has now transpired that Derek Roy wisely had many recordings of his broadcasts made privately. Following Roy's death they were deposited with the British Library in the 1990s, their full significance not initially recognised.

How, therefore, to describe the feeling I had when I started scrolling through the details of these lost shows (and, a little later, listening to them)? I can only do this best, I feel by comparison. Imagine finding a copy of The Madhouse on Castle Street, a BBC teleplay featuring a then unknown Bob Dylan. Or Humourisk, the first Marx Brothers film. Or Pilgrim on the Hill, one of three early novels by Philip K. Dick. All are considered lost and constitute the earliest known works of the artists in question. Finding the HGL recordings means we can hear, for the first time in 65 years, the first ever work written by Galton and Simpson and broadcast on the national airwaves.

Script from the Galton and Simpson Archive used by kind permission
Original script for 'Current Affairs' sketch. Courtesy of the Galton and Simpson Archive

This sketch, called Current Affairs in the Galton and Simpson Archive, formed the opening monologue of the show broadcast on 6 September 1951:

Happy-Go-Lucky - 6 September 1951

Here is an excerpt from Galton and Simpson's American Crime sketch from the episode of the following week:

Happy-Go-Lucky - 13 September 1951 

The episode of 26 November 1951 featured the scriptwriting duo's sketch Captain Henry Morgan which ends in this extract with a self-deprecating G&S joke in response to some barbs about their youthful inexperience, the pair barely in their 20s at this time:

Happy-Go-Lucky - 26 November 1951

An equally extraordinary find was an excerpt from a BBC radio series called Variety Ahoy!, broadcast in early 1952, a few weeks after the demise of HGL. Roy was the guest star and in the course of a monologue called Naval Story he tells the 'Jane Russell pontoon' gag . Incredibly, this was the first joke that Galton and Simpson ever wrote and sold. It featured in a short handwritten sketch that they had submitted to the BBC in mid-1951 to tout for work. Roy was the only performer to take interest which led to them providing jokes for 5 shillings each for his HGL appearances:

Variety Ahoy! - 22 January 1952

Sadly, Roy’s understandable concern with preserving his own performances, and the prohibitive cost of recording complete shows on acetate disc (tape recording was just emerging as a domestic medium at this time), has come at a cost to comedy historians. Since he and Tony did not perform together in the show the recordings contain nothing of the Lad other than a few mentions in the closing credits. Any disappointment in this regard, however, must be outweighed by the sheer

Happy-Go-Lucky, BBC Light Programme, 6th September 1951
Derek Roy's recording of the first recorded work of Galton and Simpson

delight in finding recordings that played such an integral part in the history of post-war British comedy and popular culture. Reflecting upon this experience, I would strongly urge people to check those long-neglected boxes in their lofts, garages and basements. For although the Library continues to discover and rescue early radio recordings today, curators nevertheless believe that a portion of the UK´s radio history is probably being discarded each week by people who have inherited collections, are unaware of their importance and do not know what to do with them. I have only recently discovered the soundtracks of two lost episodes of the televised version of Hancock’s Half Hour in such a collection. I am convinced that still more will come to light if collection owners take the trouble to contact local or national archives, libraries or subject specialists such as me for advice.

The Library´s Save Our Sounds project intends to make this process easier by establishing a network of ten regional archival hubs around the UK, each equipped and staffed to make many of these assessment, acquisition and preservation decisions locally. This will also reduce the need to transport fragile media, such as ‘acetate’ discs, over long distances. Whilst Hancock, Galton and Simpson´s work had nationwide impact and therefore rightly belongs within the collections of the national library, much regionally or locally produced content may be better understood, interpreted and contextualised within regional archives, at least until such times as its copyright status permits it to be made more widely accessible online.

News and further reading:

BBC News: Ray Galton and Alan Simpson to get Bafta Fellowship

British Library's Sound and Moving Image catalogue

Tony Hancock Appreciation Society

British Library on Twitter @soundarchive and @BLSoundHeritage

Tony Hancock Archive on Twitter: @HancockArchive

29 January 2016

Audiovisual archives and the Web

Add comment Comments (1)

This is the text of a talk I gave on 29 January 2016 at the Institute of Historical Research's 'The Production of the Archive' conference. The conference sought to "bring together historians, archivists and scholars from other cognate disciplines to explore shared understandings of the nature of the archive, which is highly topical as archives shift from the traditional fixity of text to the fluidity of multi-faceted digital objects."

Websites

Good afternoon. My name is Luke McKernan, and I am Lead Curator for News & Moving Image at the British Library. I’m going to talk about something that has interested me for some while, which is the changing scale of audiovisual archiving. I'm going to do so by looking at two things: YouTube, and web archiving. I'll conclude by considering how historical enquiry and archival care may combine to understand the audiovisual archives we are building for ourselves now.

Film archiving traditionally has been a painstaking business. When films were produced on film, then the objective was to acquire adequate materials to enable the archivist to reproduce the film as closely as possible to the form in which it was originally produced, ideally from an original negative. There were many challenges for the film archivist. National film archives did not really get underway until the 1930s, meaning that much of the first 40 years of cinema was destined to be lost. In the United Kingdom, there is no legal deposit legislation in place for film, so film archivists have had to go out to producers, distributors and collectors to obtain suitable film copies, and not everything has been collected. This is also a costly business, since filmstock is expensive, and bulky, requiring specialist storage conditions as well as specialist equipment to ensure its long-term survival.

The situation, from a statutory point of view, is a little better for television, since a national television archive was enshrined in the 1990 Broadcasting Act. Videotape is also cheaper than film. The expense of film, combined with the distribution models to cinemas, constrained what could be produced, and consequently what could be archived. Television had a different distribution model, one which allowed it to broadcast content non-stop across multiple channels, but the medium for capturing this - tape – was adequate to the task. Very broadly speaking, our moving image archives were able to meet the challenge of archiving much of what was produced, assuming that they were resourced properly to do so.

Over the past ten years, the picture has changed utterly. What has changed it is YouTube, founded in April 2005, and what it has changed relates to scale, content, description, discovery and expectations of access.

Firstly scale. There are just under one million films and television programmes held by the BFI National Archive, the UK’s national moving image collection, collected over eight decades.. By wild contrast, I estimate that there have been 2.7 billion videos uploaded to YouTube since 2005. 400 hours of video are added to the site every minute. There are some film collections out there who haven’t managed to collect more than 400 hours of content in years. In one year in the UK, there are approximately 700 films given a cinema release, 6,000 physical videos published, and about 600,000 television programmes broadcast (excluding repeats). It is not known what proportion of YouTube’s possible 2.7 billion is British in origin, but the number is certain to dwarf that produced by traditional means. Does this render the traditional film archive meaningless, or reductively niche?

Kanefinger

Citizen Kane vs Charlie Bit My Finger

So, secondly, content. Vast amounts of this online content is what might be termed trivia: ephemeral videos of skateboarding pets of the kind that would never have been acquired by a film archive, nor even conceived of as a type of film production before the YouTube era. But is it trivia? How are we to judge what a moving image should be? Is the understanding of it as an art medium, of the kind best revered in a cinematheque, now something absurdly narrow? What, intrinsically, is the difference between, say Citizen Kane and Charlie Bit My Finger? Perhaps we should only look at the numbers – unless it is the numbers that are scaring us, and we prefer to cling to old certainties.

When it comes to description, things become problematic. The metadata for videos on YouTube and other video platforms is generally very poor. What metadata there is relates chiefly to when and in what form the video was uploaded to the site, with additional, often entirely random classification terms added by the uploader. The traditional archive puts far greater value on the specificity of the objects in its care.

Discovery and expectations of access are where the deep change lies. YouTube gives you everything, or at least it appears to do so. Access to moving images traditionally has been exclusive, even challenging. The films have been hard to track down, expensive to access, difficult to share. Now anything you can think of is there instantly, arranged in channels or discoverable individually. If a video is not there, it is effectively invisible, not worthy of consideration. A false sense of permanence has been inculcated - that every video is there, and that every video will always be there, with the concomitant reaction by many scholars that if a video is not on YouTube then it is not worth bothering, or necessary, to seek it elsewhere.

But not only is YouTube not infinite, but it is also shedding content on a massive scale. An unknown number of videos is taken down from the site every day, because of copyright infringement, or changing priorities of some publishers, or the embarrassment of those who have decided to hide away some of their youthful indiscretions.

 No figure has ever been supplied by YouTube on just how much disappears from the site, but I can give a personal example. I manage a website, called BardBox, which curates original Shakespeare videos to be found on YouTube, Vimeo and other platforms. They are videos of all kinds: original creations, mashups, fan videos, animations, actualities - representative of the broad mix of YouTube genres.  Recently I had a spring-clean of the site to check out how many of the videos were still active, and a quarter was no longer there. Has 25% of YouTube disappeared?

Is YouTube an archive? It is and it isn't. It is a repository for cultural content, which it maintains even if the videos are subsequently withdrawn, and although the files it holds are of a lower resolution than the original videos. It provides access. The scale of what is maintains is unprecedented, utterly dwarfing all that preceded it. It seems to be there for the long term. What it fails to provide is certainty. If it is an archive, it is a new kind of archive, one with built-in impermanence, a vast repository for uncertain times.

Legaldeposit

Legal Deposit UK Web Archive

Now let us turn to web archives, which is where the British Library’s interest comes in. In 2013 non-print Legal Deposit legislation was passed which enabled the British Library, working with the other legal deposit libraries in the UK and Ireland, to begin archiving the UK web. There are around 4 million websites in the UK, and most of these we take an archival snapshot of once a year. The result is some 2.5 billion web pages in the Legal Deposit Web Archive. The British Library promotes itself as having some 150 million objects in its collection, but that refers to physical objects and is of increasing irrelevance in a digital age. Numerically speaking, it might be more sensible to describe the British Library as a large digital archive, with a few books on the side.

The 2013 Legal Deposit act excluded video and sound, for a variety of reasons. In practice this means that we do not archive websites which are predominantly video and audio-based, such as YouTube, or iPlayer. But if an audio or video file is incidental to the purpose of a website or webpage, then it can be collected. The result of this can be seen in the figures for the moving image collection that I manage. The conventional collection – which is a mixture of news and sound-based videos – numbers around 100,000 titles. If I add videos gathered incidentally through web archiving, the number rises to half a million. A further 40,000 videos is added every month, so that by this time this year we will have a collection of a million videos.

The situation is similar for sound. The Library holds the national sound archive, a collection of some 6.5 million recordings. In probably no more than four years time, there will be more sounds in the web archive than there are in the traditional sound archive.

What then is an audiovisual archive? Is it the archive gathered by traditional means, in which the best-quality material is selected through curatorial guidelines, to ensure a representative collection of optimum preservation quality? Or is it the random vastness of the web archive, in which videos of low image quality, minimal metadata and frequently spurious significance, are contained within a larger archive of web texts? Should we sacrifice quality of image for quantity of content, or should we maintain principles of selectivity, so that the best content is preserved in its optimum form? Should the traditional archive and the web archive be developed separately, or should they be managed collectively, and if so what does this mean for curation, collecting policies and the scholars who use such resources?

Thatcher

An archived web page with missing video element

These are largely theoretical questions at present. The Legal Deposit Web Archive is in its infancy. Discovery of the archives, which is restricted to terminals in the reading rooms of the various legal deposit libraries, is in need of considerable improvement before the archive can be properly used for research, and resource limitations mean that we’re not even able to playback those audio and video files as yet. Moreover, most researchers aren’t interested in web archives as yet because they have the real web that they can use.

But gradually the realisation will sink in that websites do not last (the average lifespan of a web page has been estimated at around 70 days), and that what was present has become the past, when historical enquiry of the web archives will begin in earnest.

When that point comes, we will have a new kind of audiovisual archive. It will be one that puts audio and video in their contexts. The great limitation of audiovisual archives has been is that is all that they are. They are dedicated to their medium alone. This is fine when the interest is only in the medium, which means chiefly when it is viewed as an art form. But film is equally important for its subject matter, and for that it requires context. Film of itself is meaningless - we have to describe it, to put words to it, for its images to signify something. This is why video has come into its own in the web era - not simply because of the volume of content, but because of the contextualisation. Videos have to be embedded somewhere, and in the embedding they find their meaning. Traditional film archives take the medium out of its original exhibition context; web archives preserve that context.

At present we have film and sound archives that stand alone. They represent their particular medium; they defend its special identity. Some film and sound archive have been absorbed within larger archives, as happened when the British Library took over the National Sound Archive in the 1980s. The sound archive ever since has played a balancing act between integration within the Library's systems and maintaining its separate identity. The national film archives of Wales and Scotland have been incorporated within their respective national libraries, and have faced a similar challenge.

But this slow process of change is going to be rapidly overtaken by the growth in web archiving. In one year's time web video at the British Library will outnumber the remaining moving image collection by ten to one. It will be 15 to one the year after that, and so on, exponentially. I can ignore this upstart archive, or I can engage with it, and to do so I need to learn from researchers of every kind, but particularly historical researchers, how to understand what we are inheriting, how to manage it, how to explain it, how to make it discoverable and most useful. The British Library is engaging with scholars on how to use the web archive now, ranging from subject specialists to big data analysts. But I am interested - and I hope others will be interested - in what the future web archive will look like, and especially how it will operate as a repository of rich media.

As a society we are generating videos at a colossal rate, and look likely to do so at an ever increasing-rate in the future. Archives built on the traditional model cannot cope with the scale of this. The web's video platforms, such as YouTube, offer the illusion of the optimum archive, but they fail to offer adequate descriptions, context or permanence. As scholars we must be wary of them; we certainly must not rely on them.

The web archive, however, promises to be transformative in how video (and audio) contribute to future understanding, because they will be wholly embedded in the archive. The numbers will be vast, but the numbers for every kind of archival digital object we are now generating will be vast. We'll just have to deal with it. What web archiving may promise, though, is the end of audiovisual archives as we know them. Once text, image, audio and video are all preserved as one, why should we specialise? That's the question that lies at the heart of the future management of digital archives. Hopefully it will take just a little longer than the end of my professional life before we decide on the answer.

11 December 2015

Audio-Visual Resources and The Academic Book of the Future

Add comment Comments (0)

In early 2015 I was fortunate enough to catch Bex Lyons giving a presentation on The Academic Book of the Future. This is a research project sponsored by the British Library and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and delivered by a research team led by Dr Samantha Rayner at UCL. The project seeks to explore the future of academic books in the context of open access publishing and digital change.

ABF

Aside from the fascinating debates about what constitutes ‘academic’, what constitutes a ‘book’, and what an ‘academic book’ might be in the current research landscape – I was struck by the potential applications of the project to the collection I am vested in at The British Library: sound.

12255828365_f7b75ce6f9_z
The British Library sound archive is an extraordinary collection of over 6.5 million recordings dating back to the birth of recorded sound in the early 19th century. If you were to listen to our entire collection back to back, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no holidays or breaks, it would take you over 140 years – plus the collection is growing daily! It is a unique research resource, comparable only to the Library of Congress sound collections in the USA. Find out more about our collection here 

Sound recordings are the closest thing to time travel that we have as a research tool. Take for instance this audio clip of JRR Tolkien visiting a tobacco shop. We are instantly transported to 1929 when the recording was made, and it is easy to feel that you are being addressed directly. The time that has passed between then and now seems to vanish. (image: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/12255828365)

The Save Our Sounds project

Professional reel-to-reel player being maintainedMany of the British Library’s recordings are under threat of disappearing as technologies change and some formats begin to naturally decay, and in response to this challenge the Library has launched a major campaign to digitise our historic sound collections.

As well as enabling us to future-proof our collections, the Save Our Sounds campaign is a unique opportunity for us to take stock of our role as audio heritage archivists, cataloguers, librarians, and collectors. Part of this includes considering access and the ways in which our collections are used by researchers. It is here, at the crossroads of research and engagement, that linking up with The Academic Book of the Future project becomes very exciting.

At the moment, if an ‘academic text’ includes audio or visual resources these tend to be included as DVDs, CDs, and perhaps even CD-ROMs (yes, they are still floating around out there!). As the technological landscape of the world changes, the ability to access and play CDs, DVDs and most definitely CD-ROMs will become increasingly limited. From the initial survey work that has been done for the Save Our Sounds project, the main preservation concern is not that the recordings themselves are at risk of disappearing, but the obsolescence of the playback equipment.

So, how will audio-visual resources be included in academic books of the future?

In current and emerging contexts in which content is increasingly digitised and media-rich, how will the ability to incorporate audio-visual research directly into research outputs change the way in which these outputs are created, accessed, and referenced?

We hope that working with The Academic Book of the Future project to address some of these questions will offer important insights into how researchers are using sound and moving image resources, and highlight common issues and concerns across disciplines.

If you are or have used sound and/or audio-visual materials for research do please complete our short survey. The closing date is Friday 1st April.

A symposium has been arranged to discuss the findings of the survey & hear presentations by publishing houses, app developers, and researchers. The symposium will address and encourage discussing ways of working together to fully explore the potential of audio-visual components in the academic book of the future. Save the date – 23rd May 2016 at The British Library, London.

Find out more about Save our Sounds at www.bl.uk/saveoursounds, 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.

Steven Dryden - Sound & Vision Reference Specialist 

01 October 2013

Semantic Media

Add comment Comments (0)

On 23 September the British Library played host to the Semantic Media Network for a one-day worksop, snappily entitled Semantic Media @ British Library. The Network has been established by Queen Mary University of London to "address the challenge of time-based navigation in large collections of media documents". Digital and digitised media archives have grown vast, and finding what they actually contain has become a huge challenges for broadcasters, archivists, researchers and some bright developers who are interested in a challenge.

It was those developers who were the main target of the workshop, which was based around the sound and moving image collections of the British Library. After an opening address by Mark Sandler (Head of School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at Queen Mary) we had four short presentation from projects which have received funding support from the Network.

Michael Bell (Newcastle University) introduced the Tawny Overtone music synthesis project; Tim Crawford (Goldsmiths University of London) spoke on semantic linking and early lute music, which made for a delighful combination of  the ancient and modern; Ryan Stables (Birmingham City University) discussed 'Large-scale Capture of Producer-Defined Musical Semantics' (defining music recordings by subjective terms such as humans like to use but machines struggle to comprehend); and David Newman (University of Southampton) on enriching news stories by semantic means, specifically enriching episodes of Question Time with contextual information taken from Twitter, Wikipedia etc (so themes raised in the programme are connected to online resources).

Next up came three speakers from the British Library, describing our audiovisual collections, the potential for opening up their research value by extracting meaningful information (which is what semantic media is all about), and describing some of the challenges involved. Richard Ranft (Head of Sound and Vision) describe the British Library Sound Archive collection, with its 8 million tracks requiring 66 years were you to listen to it all - by which time rather more than an additional 8 million tracks will have been acquired. How to manage and make available such information, let alone listen to it all? Of course there is a catalogue to guide you to the Library's sound holdings, but some much information that the audio files contain lies buried because so much of the media is not yet in digital form, or if it is then barriers such as copyright and limited catalogue records mean that too much of the collection remains largely undiscovered. Automated indexing and enrichment through such tools as melody matching,  score matching, speaker identification and speech-to-text have the potential radically to transform how researchers engage with such archives. But demand needs to come before tools. Ranft was disarmingly frank about the need for users to demand more. From demand will come new services - people just need to raise their expectations and think not simply of what can be found now, but what ought to be found.

Paul Wilson (Radio Curator) described a collection of over 200,000 hours of radio, access to which would be radically transformed by the application of searching tools such as speaker identification and speech recognition. He described the national radio archiving picture overall, revealing the alarming fact that of the 3 million of hours of radio broadcast in the UK each year, only 3% can be said to be archived properly in a form that will ensure its long-term preservation. There is so much in radio content that can benefit a huge range of research enquiries, yet before we devise ingenious means of discovering such archives, we have to ensure that we have the archives to discover in the first place.

I then spoke on the News collection at the British Library, by which is meant newspapers, television, radio and web. We are at different stages of development for each. We house the British Newspaper Library, with some 750 million pages from the 17th century to today. Our television and radio news service, Broadcast News, began recording programmes in May 2010 and has now passed the figure of 30,000 titles, with some 60 hours of new content added every day. Web news sites are to be a special focus of our UK web archiving activities, now that the non-print legal deposit legislation and regulations are in place, but we are still in the process of determining which sites to harvest on a daily or weekly basis. The great challenge for the British Library will be to start forging meaningful links between these different news media, because ultimately the news does not exist in any one medium, rather it is we who seek out the news from the multiplicity of news forms available who create what news actually is, in our heads. Thinking semantically will help bring the news media together to create a more meaningful and potentially very exciting future for researchers.

A panel session then followed, for which Mahendra Mahey of the BL Labs initiaitive joined us, a project similar to the Semantic Media Network in encouraging the development of new ides with small amounts of project funding. The debate turned away from the practicalities of semantic linking to the angst of archivists. There is so much to be discovered, so much that can be done, but is the demand always there? Do you wait for demand, or hope to encourage it through new tools and services? Do we capture everything, even if we can? Where is the place of audiovisual in a Library which still - for the most part - puts print first and foremost?

The day finished with a lively 'speed-dating' session, in which we sat opposite another delegate, exchanged ideas for three minutes, then a bell rang and we all moved chairs to sit opposite someone else and started up the conversation once again. I came away with three business cards, so I can't have done too badly. The ultimate aim of the Network is just that - to be a network, because it is from casual meetings that ideas start to grow (Silicon Valley is built on that very principle).

The slides from most of the talks given on the day are available from the Semantic Media Network site. There will be a funding call from the Network before the end of this year, and hopefully some of the issues raised during the workshop will help inform the nature of that call or the responses that are made to it.

Many thanks are due to Sebastian Ewert and the team at Queen Mary for having put together such a productive and interesting event. If we put on another event like it, we'll want to bring in users and potential users to meet up with the developers. Combining need and opportunity so each feeds off the other - that's the way forward.

02 October 2012

New broadcast media resources at the British Library

Add comment Comments (2)

 

Bbcpilot_frontpage

The British Library is piloting three major new television and radio resources within its St Pancras, Colindale and Boston Spa reading rooms. Together with our existing sound collections the Library is now providing instant onsite access to nearly a million sound and moving image items. Additionally, we are now giving access to programme and transmission data for a further 20 million recordings, a proportion of which can also be made available for onsite listening - with advance notice - on request.

The three services are:

BBC Pilot Service

This is a trial service produced by the BBC in collaboration with the British Library. It brings together the BBC's programme catalogue, Radio Times data and BBC television and radio programmes recorded off-air from mid-2007 to the end of 2011. There are currently approximately 2.2 million catalogue records and 190,000 playable programmes, both television and radio. The Pilot Service is being made available in the Library's Reading Rooms on a trial basis between October 2012 and March 2013 but we hope to extend and augment the service in the future.

Broadcast News

This service provides access to daily television and radio news and current affairs programmes from seventeen channels (fifteen TV, two radio) broadcast in the UK since May 2010, recorded off-air by the British Library. The programmes will be almost instantly available, with new programmes available in our Reading Rooms within hours of broadcast. We currently record forty-six hours per day, including television services of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky News, Al-Jazeera English, NHK World, CNN, France 24, Bloomberg, Russia Today and China's CCTV News, plus key news and current affairs programmes from BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service. Many of the television programmes come with subtitles, which we have made word-searchable, greatly enhancing Broadcast News as a research resource.

TRILT (Television & Radio Index for Learning & Teaching)

TRILT is a database of all UK television and radio broadcasts since 2001 (and selectively back to 1995). It covers every channel, every broadcast and every repeat, some 15 million records so far and growing by a million per year. Produced by the British Universities Film & Video Council (BUFVC) it is regularly used by many universities but has never before been available to general users.

Broadcast News - Front page

 

For reasons of copyright and licence, the three services can only be made available in our Reading Rooms for registered British Library users. The sound and moving image items can be accessed at any of the dedicated multimedia terminals within each Reading Room. There are currently twenty-five terminals, at least one per Room, but this will soon be increased to sixty. Eventually we aim to equip every Reading Room terminal for multimedia access.

To access the new services just follow the link to Sound and Moving Image services from the front page of any Reading Room terminal equipped with headphones (you can't use your own headphones, please note).

We are keen to have feedback from users, and you will find a link to a survey at each of the multimedia terminals. Do fill it in and let us know your thoughts on the services and how you think we can develop things further.

Additional information on our moving image holdings and services is available on the Library's Help for Researchers pages.

01 October 2012

New moving image service at the British Library

Add comment Comments (2)

Bbcpilot_frontpage

Today, 1 October 2012, sees the piloting of the British Library's moving image services. We've provided access to our specialist moving image collections as an appointment service before now, but from today we are offering two new, instant access services for anyone researching in one of our Reading Rooms (at St Pancras, Colindale or Boston Spa) and special access to a huge television and radio database. In combination with our existing sound collections we can provide instant access to nearly a million sound and moving image items onsite, supported by data for over 20 million sound and moving image recordings.

The three services are:

BBC Pilot Service

This is a trial service produced by the BBC in collaboration with the British Library. It brings together the BBC's programme catalogue, Radio Times data and BBC television and radio programmes recorded off-air from mid-2007 to the end of 2011. There are approximately 2.2 million catalogue records and 190,000 playable programmes, both television and radio. The Pilot Service is being made available in the Library's Reading Rooms on a trial basis between October 2012 and March 2013, and users should look on the catalogue as a platform on which we hope to build further services in the future.

Broadcast News

This service provides access to daily television and radio news programmes from seventeen channels (fifteen TV, two radio) broadcast in the UK since May 2010, recorded off-air by the British Library. The programmes will be almost instantly available, with new programmes available in our Reading Rooms within hours of broadcast. We currently record forty-six hours per day, including BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky News, Al-Jazeera English, NHK World, CNN, France 24, Bloomberg, Russia Today and China's CCTV News. Many of the programmes come with subtitles, which we have made word-searchable, greatly enhancing Broadcast News as a research resource.

TRILT (Television & Radio Index for Learning & Teaching)

TRILT is a database of all UK television and radio broadcasts since 2001 (and selectively back to 1995). It covers every channel, every broadcast and every repeat, some 15 million records so far and growing by a million per year. Produced by the British Universities Film & Video Council (BUFVC) it is regularly used by many universities but has never before been available to general users.

Broadcast News - Front page

 

For reasons of copyright and licence, the three services can only be made available in our Reading Rooms for registered British Library users. The sound and moving image items can be accessed at dedicated multimedia terminals (equipped with non-sound leakage headphones) of which there will be at least one in every Reading Room. We're starting with twenty-five terminals and will soon raise this to sixty. Eventually - if things develop as we hope they will - every terminal that we provide for users in our Reading Rooms should be equipped for multimedia access.

To find the services, just follow the link to Sound and Moving services from the front page of any Reading Room terminal - but remember you'll need to pick one equipped with headphones to hear any of it (you can't plug in your own headphones, please note).

We are keen to have feedback from users, and you will find a link to a survey at each of the multimedia terminals. Do fill it in and let us know your thoughts on the services and how you think we can be developing things further.

We have more in the pipeline, not least the first fruits of our film and video digitisation projects, but that you'll be seing in the new year, when we will formally launch the new sound and moving image services. For now we're putting them out for a test drive - and we'd love to know what you think.

There's more information on all our moving image holdings and services on the Library's Help for Researchers pages.