English and Drama blog

27 posts categorized "Sound recordings"

16 August 2012

Brighton Rock

The image above shows the first American edition of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, as displayed in the 'Waterlands' section of the British Library's summer exhibition, Writing Britain. The dynamic cover design is the work of the celebrated book designer George Salter. Greene's novel forms part of a modest display devoted to the south coast seaside resort of Brighton. First published in 1938, Brighton Rock lifts the curtain on the Brighton of day-trippers, ice cream and donkey rides on the beach, to reveal a landscape of decrepit boarding-houses roamed by razor-wielding spivs. The civic-minded Brighton Gazette was moved to declare the book a 'gross libel' on the town, and it may have had a point. Though the Brighton of the period was indeed afflicted with areas of poverty and slum housing, its level of violent crime was no worse than that of any other comparably-sized town. Greene's fictional Brighton was, as he has admitted in print, a considerable transformation of the reality. In the autobiographical work Ways of Escape, Greene reflected on his artistic treatment of the town he in fact loved more than any other ('No city before the war, not London, Paris or Oxford, had such a hold on my affections.'): 

        I must plead guilty to manufacturing this Brighton of mine as I never manufactured Mexico or Indo-China. There were no living models for these gangsters, nor for the barmaid who so obstinately refused to come alive. [...] Why did I exclude so much of the Brighton I really knew from this imaginary Brighton? I had every intention of describing it, but it was as though my characters had taken the Brighton I knew into their own consciousness and transformed the whole picture. I have never again felt so much the victim of my inventions.

If Brighton Rock presents a one-sided picture of the Brighton of the 1930s, it is nonetheless a gripping one, and one that has endured in the public consciousness - thanks also in no small part to the Boulting Brothers classic 1947 film version and in particular Richard Attenborough's chilling portrayal of the psychotic teenage gangster Pinkie, a role he had previously played in a 1943 stage adaptation of the book.

In the exhibition Greene's novel is displayed alongside a handwritten manuscript page from Terence Rattigan's 'outline treatment' for the film - one of many Rattigan drafts in the British Library's collection - and a vintage copy of The West Pier, the 1951 novel by Patrick Hamilton considered by Greene to be 'the best book written about Brighton', superior even to his own. 

A CD anthology of Graham Greene's talks, readings and interviews, in which he discusses Brighton Rock, the films that have been made of his books, and his own career as a film critic, among other subjects, was issued by the British Library in collaboration with the BBC in 2007. It is available to buy from the British Library online shop

13 July 2012

Sound-making as place-making: Mark Peter Wright’s sound installations for Writing Britain

Two sound installations commissioned for the Writing Britain exhibition from award-winning composer and sound artist Mark Peter Wright have been playing since its opening last May.

The first of Mark’s pieces cuts gently through the serenity of the gallery space in the Dark Satanic Mills section, which is dedicated to the literary responses to the changes brought to the country by the Industrial Revolution. It offers a refined continuous sequence of original sounds from fully operational cotton-making machines of the industrial era. Mark makes extensive use of field recordings in his practice and for this particular piece he recorded at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Although Mark says that nothing has actually been done to the recordings, ‘other than layering some on top of one another and long fades’, the ability to arrange invisible machine sounds in a rhythmical composition for a social and intimate appreciation is, in my opinion, an undeniable achievement.

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The second installation plays in the Waterlands section, which focuses on the lakes, waterways and seas of the British Isles. Sourced from recordings of the rivers Rye and Swale, and at various points on the northeast coast, towards the North Sea, this composition cradles the visitor on a navigational experience of the manifold sonic qualities of water, from the soothing sound of flowing streams to the rumbling waves of the sea.

Each piece is intended as an ambient soundtrack, a diaphanous flow of sound which leaves the exhibition goers at leisure to their readings of the many physical displays. Nonetheless the installations have at times brought out unexpected reactions, like that of a particular visitor, who having been captivated by the literary works on display, mistook the industrial sound installation for a malfunctioning ventilator.

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The exhibition is on until 25 September 2012. Please come along and do prick up your ears!

Listen to excerpts from Mark Peter Wright's installations

07 June 2012

'A Grim Sort of Beauty'


First published in 1979, Remains of Elmet was a collaboration between photographer Fay Godwin and poet Ted Hughes. The photograph above by Fay Godwin shows the ruins of Staups Mill, which is situated at the top of Jumble Hole Clough, near Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. In the book it was paired with the Ted Hughes poem 'Mill Ruins'. Hughes grew up in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire and was fascinated by the way in which the region's wilderness had reclaimed the remnants of the early industrial revolution.

Visitors to the Library's Writing Britain exhibition can view original photographs used in the book together with original letters and manuscripts from the Ted Hughes archive, including letters to Fay Godwin. There are also audio recordings of Hughes talking about the book and reading from it.

Here is an excerpt from a long oral history interview with Fay Godwin conducted by the British Library in 1993, in which she recalls working with Hughes. 

Listen to Fay Godwin

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