THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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

14 January 2019

Recording of the week: starling mimicry

This week's selection comes from Greg Green, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Learning to identify bird song can be tricky at the best of times; to the untrained ear it can all sound remarkably similar. To add to the confusion, many birds like to show off by mimicking the songs of other species, and some are very good at it.

Starling

In the UK, our best copycat is the starling (Sturnus vulgaris). These incredible birds are like little avian hip hop artists. They take in ‘samples’ of the songs and calls around them and remix them! A typical starling song is very complex, consisting of multiple layers, and can incorporate song fragments from five or more species. Sometimes the song is reproduced faithfully, other times the rhythm is chopped up, repeated and mixed in with other sounds. It’s not just other birds they mimic too. They have been recorded mimicking mammals, car alarms, telephone ringtones, and even human speech.

This recording from Patrick Sellar showcases just some of the starling’s seemingly limitless repertoire. Patrick identifies the songs and calls of jackdaw, brambling, buzzard, blackbird, house sparrow, wren, arctic tern, northern bullfinch and willow tit.

WS5532 C10 - Common Starling mimicry recorded by Patrick Sellar on 1 st May 1978 (BL ref 07111) 

This spectrogram shows the similar harmonic content between the flight call of the buzzard and the starling’s mimicry.

Buzzard and starling mimicry

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This recording has been digitised as part of the library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

UOSH_Footer with HLF logo

07 January 2019

Recording of the week: sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi on post-war Britain

This week's selection comes from Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

Sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) describes how it felt to be an artist in the 1950s. Post-war Britain was changing but there was nonetheless a pervading sense of austerity. Paolozzi says, 'we were all grey'.

This sense of austerity was, for Paolozzi, coupled with a sense of apprehension towards foreign art and foreign food. Picasso was deemed 'interesting but foreign'. Spaghetti was unheard of!

He mentions the Festival of Britain, a national exhibition that took place on London's South Bank in 1951. The Festival attracted millions of visitors and was seen as a turning point in Britain, where minds were opened to new achievements in the arts and new developments in industry.

Eduardo Paolozzi was recorded by National Life Stories for Artists’ Lives in sessions between 1993-1995. The interviewer was Frank Whitford.

Eduardo Paolozzi on post-war Britain (C466/17)

PaolozziSir Eduardo Paolozzi with his sculpture of Newton at the British Library, photographed by Chris Lee. © British Library. Image not licensed for reuse.

This clip features on the Voices of art website. Voices of art is a new British Library resource that explores the art world from behind the scenes. Extracts from oral history recordings accompany a series of essays by writers who have been immersed in the art world of the 20th and 21st centuries. To hear Paolozzi's clip in context, see Duncan Robinson's article The London art world, 1950-1965.

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20 December 2018

A spirit of Christmas

Father Christmas resizedImage Credit: Susie2779 on Foter.com / CC BY-NC

In 1999 a fifteen year old girl was interviewed at her home in Shrewsbury for the enormous BBC/British Library oral history project ‘The Century Speaks’. In a bedroom decorated with X-Files posters – partly reflecting her belief in government conspiracies – she spoke with considerable charm about other beliefs, including the belief in ‘a spirit of Christmas’:

"It's like a Father Christmas thing... something friendly" (C900/15116) 

An infectiously cheerful account of a world view in which forms of belief and doubt, unbelief and hope mingle. Another example, in other words, of what the Understanding Unbelief programme calls ‘hybrid configurations’ of belief and unbelief. For other configurations see a previous post, and another in the LSE’s Religion and Global Society series.

This blog is by Dr Paul Merchant, Oral History Interviewer, National Life Stories, The British Library. More information on Millennium Memory Bank can be found in our collection guide to Major national oral history projects and surveys.