Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

03 October 2022

Recording of the week: have you ever heard a Billy Hooter?

This week’s post comes from Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator.

Photo of a Tawny Owl

Above: Photo of a Tawny Owl by Jon Pauling. From Pixabay.

As autumn gets underway, the characteristic hoot of the Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) will soon be heard in woodlands across Britain. It is at this time that males use their voice to establish territories in readiness for the breeding season that begins in late winter. This instantly recognisable sound has sometimes been reflected in traditional folk names. In Shropshire the Tawny Owl was commonly known as a Billy Hooter while in Cheshire the species was referred to locally as a Hill Hooter. In the north of England, the name changed again to a Jenny Howlet.

Listen to the Tawny Owl

This recording of a Tawny Owl was made by Richard Margoschis in the grounds of Woodchester Mansion in Gloucestershire, a few hours before dawn on 16 October 1979. The strident hoots of our male are set against a drizzly woodland scene. A second male can be heard responding in the background.

The British Library ref. is WS5492 C8.

If you’d like to listen to more wildlife and environmental sounds recorded after dark, check out this 60-minute mix of recordings from the collection which can be found in the NTS Radio archive.

26 September 2022

Recording of the week: Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

This week’s post comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings.

Photo of Mahatma Gandhi in 1931

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma (‘Great-souled’) Gandhi, led India’s campaign to rid itself of British rule.

In October 1931, during his fifth and final visit to London, Gandhi was invited by the Columbia Gramophone Company to make a record.

Columbia LBE 50 disc label

He declined to speak about politics but offered instead to speak on spiritual matters, in particular Hinduism, which he said was ‘the religion of humanity and includes the best of all the religions known to me’.

Listen to the voice of Gandhi

Download Gandhi transcript

Gandhi’s talk had appeared previously in print, in slightly longer form, in his weekly journal Young India (Vol. X, No. 41, Thursday, 11 October 1928) under the title ‘God Is’.

20 September 2022

Recording of the week: The Rite of Spring

This week’s post comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist.

Photo of Columbia LX 119 disc label

The following post is inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s famous work, The Rite of Spring. The audio featured below is an excerpt from a 12” 78 rpm disc from our archive, released on Columbia Records in 1929. Stravinksy himself conducts the Symphonic Orchestra of Paris.

I was drawn to this recording after recently going to see a revival of Pina Bausch’s 1975 staging of The Rite of Spring at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. This was performed by a company of dancers from African countries.

Pina Bausch (1940-2009) was a German dancer and choreographer who was enormously influential in the fields of dance and performance. She worked in the tradition of ‘Tanztheater’ (literally ‘dance theatre’), which marries many different creative skills.

The performance was not very long; it ran for about 45 minutes with no interval. While I was watching it, I kept thinking about the meaning of the title, and its association with the spectacle I was seeing. I found I was often unsure of what exactly I was looking at or whether there was an explicit plotline to follow. It looked to me like a metaphor of seasons passing, of a romantic relationship, but mostly, of an emotional battle framed through an erotically charged dance performance.

The colour red was used throughout the production. Red is the colour of tension, of a bullfight, or, perhaps, of sensual attraction. The pure aesthetic of the movements, and their role in narrating the plot, are probably the things I remember the most. The whole performance revolves around the intrinsic, entangled relationship between two disciplines: theatre and dance.

Ultimately, Bausch’s choreography tells a story of sacrifice. The woman with the red dress is hunted to death by the other men and women on stage.

There is a pervasive emotional tension that is difficult to evade. Whilst the recording we are posting today is not the version used in the stage performance, it relays that said emotional tension, which connects the two works of Bausch and Stravinsky.

Listen to The Rite of Spring (excerpt)

Pina Bausch’s legacy resides in her conception of a new language of dance. She is remembered as one of the most innovative choreographers of all times. Since her death in 2009, her works continue to be performed around the world. It is a testament to Bausch’s interpretative abilities that her choreography for The Rite of Spring continues to reach new audiences, spanning several decades and several continents in the process.