Music blog

15 posts categorized "Projects"

31 July 2014

Recordings from the Skamba Skamba Kankliai music festival, Lithuania

The British Library has recently acquired  a collection of field recordings made at the Skamba Skamba Kankliai Festival in Vilnius, Lithuania. The recordings were made by field recordist and composer Yiorgis Sakellariou with support from World & Traditional Music at the British Library and the generous guidance of Dr. Austė Nakienė at the Lithuanian Institute of Folklore and Literature in Vilnius. The following text, written by Yiorgis Sakellariou himself, details his experience at the festival and features audio excerpts from the collection:   

The Skamba Skamba Kankliai recording project is more so the documentation of an intense listening experience rather than the result of thorough ethnomusicological research. When I arrived in Vilnius I was mainly motivated by the curiosity to see how traditional Lithuanian music is presented and staged at a large-scale festival. My previous knowledge on the subject was fragmentary. I had recently lived in Lithuania for about a year and during that time I became interested in the country's folk music, however I never developed an organized method of collecting or documenting it. Nonetheless, it was easy to discover that there is a big variety of songs and dances and, furthermore, a long history of recording and archiving Lithuanian music.

Since 1973, Skamba Skamba Kankliai has been held annually in Vilnius, Lithuania and currrently it is organized by the Vilnius Ethnic Culture Centre. Every year the festival welcomes a large number of folk ensembles that present a wide and diverse range of traditional music. The festival also hosts international ensembles. In 2014, ensembles from Azerbaijan, Italy, Iran and Georgia assisted and performed folk music from their countries.

Skamba Skamba

The concerts took place in several locations of the old town of Vilnius and many times they overlapped which made it impossible to record every single one. I tried to record music that was as diverse and representative as possible, documenting material on the basis of style, place of origin, instrumentation or age and gender of singers. Often the decision was purely practical (distance between stages, exhaustion, weather conditions etc.). The recordings attempt to capture not only the performed music but also the sonic atmosphere of the festival. The concerts took place in squares, parks, streets, alleys, theatres and churches and on several occasions the purely musical sounds are mixed with street and crowd noise or simply the recording location’s ambiance.

This collection can only document a small sample of Lithuania’s long musical tradition but hopefully the recordings will stimulate curiosity of listeners who are interested in world and traditional music. I do not consider the recorded material as a relic of a past that desperately tries to catch up with the present and secure a place in the future. These songs, which mostly originated in late 19th century’s rural life, are filtered through the new ideas and experiences of the people that currently perform them and afterwards through me, an observer/recordist of the performances. The recordings themselves act as another filter, substituting the physical experience of actually being present at the performance. Yet, despite the multiple layers of filters, the core of the music remains intact. My impression, or perhaps even wish, is that its truthfulness can still deeply affect the listener of the 21st century. 


Here are a few highlights from the festival selected and commented by Yiorgis Sakellariou.

Sasutalas folk ensemble performs Kas tar teka par dvarelį 

Listen here

The most significant form of Lithuanian singing is the polyphonic sutartinės (from the word sutarti meaning 'to be in agreement'). Each song includes short melodic patterns with few notes, which are sung independently following the polyphonic vocal music rules of heterophony, canon and counterpoint. On 1 June, the last day of the festival, Sasutalas folk ensemble performed a set of sutartinės at Adomas Mickevičius yard. A few children were playing games around the yard shortly before it started to rain.  

Toma Grašytė, Adelė Vaiginytė and Ieva Kisieliūtė perform Lioj saudailio, vokaro (sutartinė) 

Listen here

This sutartinė was performed by three singers at the opening of Nakties muzika (Night Music), a concert that was set in the atmospheric Lėlė theatre late on the evening of 30 May. A mesmerized audience of around forty people was in attendance.

Liucija Vaicenavičiūtė perform Vaikščiojo motulė po dvarų

Listen here

Earlier that day at the Lėlė theatre, Čiulba Čiulbutis (Little Bird Warbles), an event focusing on solos, duets and trios, took place. Liucija Vaicenavičiūtė is a member of the ensemble Vaicenavičių šeima (Vaicenavičius family). She sings a song about a mother who wakes her sweetest young daughter up and encourages her to go to the garden and look after their male guests.

Tatato folk ensemble performs Ar aušta rytas, ar diena?

Listen here

Tatato is the ensemble of the studio of the Ethnomusicology Department of Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy. The ensemble director, Daiva Vyčinienė, has been devoted to the spreading and teaching of Lithuanian folk music for the past twenty years. 

You can listen to more recordings from the Skamba Skamba Kankliai Recording Project in British Library Reading Rooms by searching for C1661 on our catalogue. The British Library also has several CD publications documenting Lithuanian songs and music from 1908-1941 which were kindly donated by the Lithuanian Institute of Folklore and Literature. In addition, Yiorgis Sakellariou has also deposited environmental field recordings made in Lithuania at the British Library which you can find on our catalogue under collection number WA 2014/019.

Listen online to more collections from World & Traditional music!

01 July 2014

Songs of the Dinka of South Sudan

The British Library has recently acquired  a collection of field recordings made in South Sudan which document Dinka song culture. Songs of the Dinka of South Sudan - Diɛt ke Jiëëŋ ne Cuëny Thudän - can now be accessed via our catalogueby searching for C1580, and listened to online.  Dr. Angela Impey, one of the researchers on the project, has written the following text which contextualizes the research project and gives some general information on Dinka culture:

The songs in this collection were recorded for a project entitled Metre and Melody in Dinka Speech and Song, which was conducted between 2009 and 2012 by researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, in collaboration with Dinka researchers in South Sudan. The academic aims of the project were, first, to understand the interplay between Dinka song structures and the Dinka language (which distinguishes words not just by different consonants and vowels but also by means of vowel duration, pitch and voice quality), and, second, to learn more about the song tradition and the ways it has responded to the intense disruptions caused by protracted civil war.  

Funding for the project was provided by the ‘Beyond Text’ programme of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. Project participants included Bob Ladd, Angela Impey, Bert Remijsen, Elizabeth Achol Ajuet Deng, Peter Malek, Miriam Meyerhoff and Simon Yak Deng Yak.

Dinka Songs_image.docx
Photo credit: Robin Denselow


Almost everyone in Dinka society will accumulate a repertoire of personal songs during their lifetime, and most dialect groups follow a similar compositional process. Individuals who lack the ability to compose good songs will approach a talented composer in the community and commission a composition in exchange for a cow or an agreed sum of money. Occasionally a composer will be considered a talented lyricist only, in which case a second individual, who has an aptitude for good melody making, will be brought into the process. Upon completion, the song will either be taught directly to the ‘owner’, or if the owner is not a good memoriser, via a group of relatives or age-mates, who will gradually pass it on to the owner.


[In this ox song (C1580/59), Deng Jok Ajuoong, praises his ox, Mading, which he compares with an elephant. He sings about how he acquired his ox through hard work.]

Most musical structures in sub-Saharan Africa are based on highly repetitive, multi-part vocal and rhythmic interactions, and melodies are typically based on the hexatonic (six tones per octave) or equi-heptatonic scales (seven tones equally distributed across the octave). In contrast, Dinka tuning systems follow a standard pentatonic scale (five tones) and songs are composed in an extended series of linear, interconnected song-segments that follow a simple, regular or semi-regular pulse. Certain song types are accompanied by clapping, clapping sticks or a small double-sided drum (loor), and are performed either solo, in unison or in simple call-response format. The only melodic instrument played by the Dinka (apart from more recently introduced western instruments) is a 5-stringed lyre referred to as rababa. Marked aesthetic variations do occur across the dialect groups, which are likely to be the result of different social, economic, environmental and political circumstances.


[This song (C1580/6) is performed by a women's group during the war in South Sudan. It is an encouraging song about Dr. John Garang and Koryom, a battalion of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The women start the song by singing “The Arabs said we are afraid, how can we be afraid while John Garang is strong?”]

Apart from one book (available in British Library Reading Rooms) published on song lyrics by Francis Mading Deng in 1973, no formal research has been conducted on Dinka music. Yet songs play a fundamental role in the lives of all Dinka people, functioning as individual and social chronicles of relationships, experiences and historical events. In fact, the Dinka boast an usually complex taxonomy of songs – praise songs, war songs, songs of initiation, cathartic songs, religious songs, to name a few – each of which is defined by discernible melodic, rhythmic and performative features. Woven through all song types, however, is the poetic allusion to the interconnection between self, cattle and land or locality. As one musician explained: If you know our Dinka songs, you will know the Dinka people.

07 April 2014

A Big Data History of Music

We are delighted to announce that the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has awarded Royal Holloway, University of London and the British Library just over £79,000 towards a research project exploring centuries' worth of documentation of printed and manuscript music.  This collaboration between Royal Holloway and the British Library is bringing together for the first time the world's biggest datasets about published sheet music, music manuscripts and classical concerts (in excess of 5 million records) for statistical analysis, manipulation and visualisation and will, it is to be hoped, provide a paradigm shift in how music history is researched.

Sacred music Wordle

Data from seven existing databases and catalogues is being used as the basis of this project. These datasets (two of which are not currently available online) include: the British Library's catalogues of printed and manuscript music; the bibliographies created by Répertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM) that list European music printed 1500-1800 and music manuscripts in European libraries; and the RISM UK Music Manuscripts Database and the Concert Programmes Project database. These catalogues and databases are already essential finding tools for researchers of music history and musicology, plus many scholars of performance studies and cultural history. However, until now it has not been possible to analyse these rich collections of data for large-scale trends in the dissemination of music, the popularity of specific composers, or the development of musical taste.

Our project will align and combine the seven datasets so that they can be analysed as big data. Key areas of the British Library data are being enriched and cleaned in order that they can be successfully aligned with the other datasets. The project team will then pilot ways in which the combined dataset can be analysed with approaches taken from the study of big data. By analysing the frequency, spread and distribution of specific compositions and composers' outputs, the project will challenge current thinking about how music was transmitted across borders, how musical taste developed, and how certain composers or repertories were canonised as carrying aesthetic value. The results of this research will be disseminated via a symposium held at the British Library, to which academics and non-academics will be invited. Finally, the data will be made available as an open dataset for researchers to undertake big data research across multiple disciplines.

The project is being funded under the £4 million ‘Digital Transformations in the Arts and Humanities: Big Data Research’ funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council with support from the Economic and Social Research Council.  It is being led by Dr Stephen Rose, Senior Lecturer in Music at Royal Holloway, with Dr Sandra Tuppen, Curator of Music Manuscripts at the British Library, as Co-Investigator, and is due to be completed by the end of March 2015.  For further information, please contact [email protected].

03 April 2014

Keeping Tracks - a one day symposium on music and archives in the digital age

Since October 2013 the British Library has been engaged in a six-month project investigating ways in which we can work with the fast-moving digital music supply chain, improve its relationship with the music industry and to help develop a Library-wide transition to acquisition of digital materials as part of its long-term Content Strategy. As part of this work a one-day symposium took place.

Keeping Tracks Poster

Keeping Tracks was devised as an opportunity for the British Library to talk about its collections and how we collect, preserve, conserve and give access to them, be they a 100-year-old wax cylinder or a newly minted digital file. It was also a great chance to gather different sectors of the industry – tech, labels, metadata, and archives – in one room to talk about an area that usually gets overlooked in traditional music industry conferences.

In the early spring sunshine of Friday 21 March delegates gathered from all corners of the globe and descended into the Conference Centre auditorium to be greeted by Curator of Popular Music, Andy Linehan. Andy set the scene and offered some historical context about where the British Library’s archives of recorded material had come from and handed over to colleagues Adam Tovell and Alex Wilson to talk about where they are going.

Andy Linehan - Introduction


AV scoping analyst Adam Tovell proceeded to discuss the study he has been engaged with for the last 12 months. Tovell and his team have been counting, quantifying and assessing the collections, analysing international standards and devising schedules to define best practice in the long-term audio-visual preservation of the Library’s 1.5 million recordings – before it’s too late.  The recording of his fascinating address can be found below

Adam Tovell - On shelves and clouds


Alex Wilson - Download into the BL


From the preservation of acetate and shellac, CDR and cassette to the collecting of digital sound and music Alex Wilson, Curator of Digital Music Recordings soon took to the lectern amidst a riot of noise and national anthems. This cacophonic audio clip was designed to illustrate the uphill challenge the British Library faces in 2014. Online sound and music is everywhere. It is the Library’s job as guardians of the nation’s audio memory to make sense of this. Wilson proceeded to show the first stages of a new collaboration that will improve the way we collect born-digital music and highlight other projects being investigated. The Q&A included some interesting questions surrounding Legal Deposit for recorded music and concerns of metadata ownership. Views from the floor regretted that this valuable material was without the benefits of statutory archiving and preservation that other material enjoyed.


Beggars Group

Keeping Tracks then opened its doors to the working music industry during a perceptive Q&A with Lesley Bleakley of the Beggars Group and Rory Gibb of music magazine, The Quietus. With over twenty years of experience in the music industry and representing a record label that is regarded as a leading light in digital delivery and archiving, Lesley Bleakley was perfectly placed to offer a fascinating insight. Moreover, she touched on the burgeoning relationship between Beggars and British Library Sound and Vision itself; the last year for instance has witnessed a mutual sharing of advice and guidance and music culminating in the delivery of the entire Beggars digital back catalogue in early 2014.

Lesley Bleakley and Rory Gibb - Beggars Archive


Post-lunch the discussion became truly international in scope as we invited representatives from peer organisation the National Library of Norway to take the stage. Whilst Norway shares many of the same archiving principles with British Library Sound and Vision it is differentiated in one crucial respect. Norway’s legalisation declares that all music recordings must be legally deposited at its National Library. Lars Gaustad and Trond Valberg discussed this and showed the auditorium their innovative new donation portal allowing users to deposit recordings online.

Trond Valberg and Lars Gaustad - Norway


Keeping Tracks then hosted a dynamic presentation from another peer institution. Creative Director at BBC Future Media, Sacha Sedriks shared his understanding of the guiding principles around music and metadata, the semantic web and the ecosystem that underlies their nascent BBC Playlister service. Through absorbing statistics and images Sedriks shone light on a pioneering new platform that only hints at how the truly immersive and interactive BBC Radio and Television offering of tomorrow will look like. 

Sacha Sedriks - BBC Playlister

Metadata underpins much of what we do here at British Library Sound and Vision and was a recurrent theme across the Keeping Tracks day. Hence it seemed only right to ask a leading music metadata supplier to the stand. Decibel Music Systems served up a talk in three parts: metadata from a market, data and technical perspective. Metadata is the glue that binds many systems together across the industry. As a result the Decibel presentation was followed by a lively and passionate Q&A which showed how important data is to making things (and people) click.

Decibel Music Systems - Dataphile


Whilst refreshments were guzzled, the auditorium was being tuned to a trans-Atlantic frequency. For the most ambitious strand of the Keeping Tracks we had invited UK based Music Tech Fest to share their keynote panel live via Skype from Microsoft Research Labs in Cambridge, MA, USA. The subject: developers, APIs and the music archive. Watched through the Skype-fuzz an energetic session ensued, moderated by Music Tech Fest head Andrew Dubber in the States and former Soundcloud man Dave Haynes here in the UK. Particular note should go to Microsoft researcher Jonathan Sterne who delivered an impassioned reflection on the nature of archiving and the internet which drew a round of applause in the London space.

Posterity Hacking

Music Tech Fest - Posterity Hacking


Lost Records

The end was nearly upon us. The final official session of Keeping Tracks was a panel chaired by Jennifer Lucy Allan of the WIRE magazine, stimulating discussion amongst a trio of label owners who specialise in lost music, records and reissues. Jonny Trunk (Trunk Records), Roger Armstrong (Ace Records) and Spencer Hickman (Death Waltz Recordings) proceeded to entertain the delegates with an informal, humorous, inspiring and sobering account in the wonderful art of releasing beautiful old music. Anecdotes, asides, controversies and reflections filled the hour and one suspects we could have talked well into the night.

Panel Discussion - Archives and music

Before the close of the day we invited respected author, journalist and Goldsmiths lecturer Mark Fisher to deliver his own personal take on what had gone before. Whilst it may have polarised some of the audience, Fisher’s lucid account of the 2014 digital space, music, memory, innovation and consumption sounded a stark clarion call to ring us toward the close.

Mark Fisher - Closing Words


The British Library would like to thank all those who presented, spoke, attended and asked questions at this inaugural Keeping Tracks symposium. We have been delighted with the feedback so far and would welcome any further suggestions, recommendations and donations for the future. If nothing else Keeping Tracks felt like a genuinely unique event (up) lifting the lid on a usually ignored, diverse set of issues and investigations about music and archiving in the 21st century. Long may these discussions continue...


All full presentations streaming here

All presentation slides displayed here

A follow up interview by Digital Music Trends is here

04 November 2013

Thea Musgrave, Christopher Raeburn, and 16th-Century Music Printing: New Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships at the British Library

The British Library invites applications from UK Higher Education Institutions to participate in three collaborative doctoral awards in music, as part of its Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) award from the AHRC. The areas of study for which expressions of interest are invited from HEIs are as follows:





Each studentship will be jointly supervised by a member of the British Library curatorial staff and an academic from a Higher Education Institution. The HEI will administer the studentship, receiving funds from the AHRC for fees and to cover the student’s maintenance. The British Library will provide additional financial support to cover travel and related costs in carrying out research of up to £1,000 a year.


We would now like to invite applications from HEIs to work with us on one or more of these proposed topics. The deadline for receiving applications will be Friday 13 December 2013. From the eight topics identified across the Library we will then select the six proposals with the strongest HEI applications to start in the next academic year, commencing October 2014. HEI applications will be assessed according to the following criteria: development of the research theme; the proposed academic supervisor’s research interests and expertise; the ability of the proposed Department to support the student; and evidence of previous successful collaboration with non-HEI partners.


The studentships will then be further developed in collaboration with the successful academic partner in each case before being advertised to prospective students. The successful student will contribute to the final agreed research topic.


Further information on the proposed subjects and an application form are available on the BL website: Please send any queries to [email protected]



25 July 2012

Unlocking historical musical resources

Sixteenth-century musicians
As part of the Electronic Corpus of Lute Music project, 'ECOLM III: Opening historical music resources to the world's online researchers', funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, we shall be holding a free one-day workshop at the British Library on Friday, 7th September 2012, 10.30-17.30, in the Foyle Suite, Centre for Conservation.

The ECOLM project, a partnership between Goldsmiths, University of London, the British Library and the UK Lute Society, aims to transform digital images from 300 of the British Library's 16th-century music books in the Early Music Online resource ( into encodings which can be viewed on-screen or printed out in a variety of formats including modern score notation, listened to, transposed, analysed, searched and compared with other music.

To do this, it uses the latest techniques in optical music recognition adapted to the demands of 16th-century music printing. While most of the repertory in Early Music Online is vocal music such as masses, motets, chansons and madrigals, about 10% of the collection is printed in tablature for various instruments, mainly the lute, but also for keyboard and the diminutive renaissance guitar; this specialised and arcane notation demands a somewhat different, instrument-oriented approach for automatic recognition.

In this workshop you can learn more about the British Library's holdings of early printed music and their historical background, about the optical music recognition methods and the challenges presented by this material, about the musical repertory and how ECOLM could enable a deeper understanding of the musical relationships and influences within it, about the all-important online involvement of non-professional musicians in the process of correcting errors, as well as the potential impact of the approach on musicology and the early music scene in general.

Update, 5 Sept: This is the full programme for the workshop:

10:30  Doors open for coffee

11:00  Welcome (Richard Chesser, British Library & Tim Crawford, Goldsmiths)

11:15  Historical background to the Early Music Online (EMO) collections (Sandra Tuppen, British Library)

11:45  'Für die Jugend und anfahende dieser Kunst': the repertory of German printed tablatures (Stephen Rose, Royal Holloway)

12:15  What is Digital Musicology and what can be expected from it? (Frans Wiering, Utrecht)

12:45  Lunch break

14:00  The Electronic Corpus of Lute Music (ECOLM) and EMO (Tim Crawford & David Lewis, Goldsmiths)

14:30  Recognition of EMO vocal music with Aruspix (Laurent Pugin, Swiss RISM Office)

15:00  Automatic polyphonic transcription of lute tablature: A  machine learning approach (Reinier de Valk, City University)

15:30  Tea

16:00  Optical recognition of lute tablature (Christoph Dalitz)

16:30  The online lute community, amateur & professional (Chris Goodwin & John Robinson, UK Lute Society)

17:00  Discussion

17:30  Close

The workshop is free, but booking is essential. Please email Sandra Tuppen if you would like to attend, at [email protected]

The workshop will be followed at 20:00 by a special evening concert, 'La Fleur des Chansons', at King's Place, London N1 9AG, conveniently close to the British Library, to be given by the Brabant Ensemble with a distinguished group of instrumentalists and showcasing musical highlights from the repertory under discussion at the workshop. Tickets for the concert can be purchased from the King's Place Box Office.

10 July 2012

Endangered dongjing archives

The following is a guest post by Lynda Barraclough, Endangered Archives Programme Curator.

In 2007 the Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library received digital copies of music scores, lyrics and sutras documenting the Chinese ritual music known as dongjing. We also received audio and video recordings of recitals and interviews with performers and material relating to dongjing societies themselves, including correspondence, research notes and newsletters. The archives were copied from eight separate collections held by dongjing societies and private individuals in North Yunnan, China. In 2010 we received further dongjing scores and related material, this time copied from two privately owned collections in South Yunnan.

The original composers, authors and scribes of this material are largely unknown. Exact dates for most of the compositions are also unknown. The original documents and volumes date to the 20th and 21st centuries, but they contain copies of pieces that may be much older. For example, some of the texts recorded in volumes belonging to EAP209/1 Li Chun Collection on Dongjing Manuscripts are attributed to the Ming dynasty (14th century). The image below comes from EAP209/1/3 San yi za yue shang, thought to have been written by Li Hao during the reign of Emperor Hongwu in the early Ming dynasty.


Most of the scores are written in the jianpu notation, although other notations such as guche and gugin are also present. The image below shows a music score in jianpu notation. It comes from EAP012/8/1/30 Heqing ding jing yin yue. This script includes an introductory explanation to the piece, and comes from Heqing county.


The Endangered Archives Programme is funded by Arcadia. More information on the projects responsible for digitally preserving this material can be found on the EAP webpages:

EAP012 Salvage and preservation of dongjing archives in Yunnan, China: transcript, score, ritual and performance

EAP209 Survey on surviving dongjing archives in Jianshui, Tonghai and Mengzi 

Copies of these archives were also deposited with the Institute of Historical Anthropology and the University Library at Sun Yat-sen University. The images received by the British Library are available via the Endangered Archives Programme webpages. Four complete manuscripts are also available on the Library’s Digitised Manuscripts pages (just type in “dongjing”). For information on how to access the audio and video material please email the EAP.


You can read more about the Endangered Archives Programme on Lynda's Endangered Archives blog.