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

20 March 2019

“The Acorn System One can be used to control a 22nd Century intergalactic spaceship”

It's been 40 years since the release of the Acorn System 1. One of the earliest British personal computers, it was not much to look at, just a circuit board studded with electronic components, a keypad, and a digital display. Largely developed by Sophie Wilson, with contributions from Steve Furber, the System 1 was typically sold as £65 kit that had to be soldered together by the buyer themselves. The little machine couldn't do very much, but gave electronic enthusiasts the chance to play around with a personal computer of their own, a concept that was little more than science fiction a few years previously. Before the 1970s computers were large and expensive machines, electronic brains for scientists, number crunchers for corporations or Big Brother. It was thanks to affordable machines like the System 1 that computing began to come to the masses.

021I-C1379X0078XX-0001A0Steve Furber at work around the time of the BBC Micro development in the early 1980s
Photo courtesy of Chris Turner

Fittingly enough for such a futuristic idea, the System 1 would itself feature in science fiction a few years later, with an appearance as a spaceship's computer in the BBC television series Blake's 7. This was somewhat to the surprise of its developers at Acorn, as Steve Furber recalled in an interview for An Oral History of British Science.

Steve Furber on Blake's 7 and the Acorn System 1 (C1379/78)

After the System 1, Acorn's designers, led by Wilson and Furber, went on to develop a series of popular personal computers, including the Acorn BBC Micro, which introduced millions of school children to computing for the first time. In the mid 1980s they also developed the first ARM chips, a revolutionary family of computer processors. There have been over a hundred billion ARM chips manufactured since and this distant, but direct descendant of the System 1 can be found inside electronic devices the world over; there's probably one inside your smartphone. However, as Furber recalled, back in 1979 “I don’t think anybody really saw the consumer boom and the sort of computer in every house scenario.”

Steve Furber on the future of computing in 1979 (C1379/78)

This blog is by Tom Lean, National Life Stories Project Interviewer and the author of a book on the history of British home computing. Tom interviewed Steve Furber for An Oral History of British Science (reference C1379/78) in 2012 and he is featured on the Voices of Science website.

18 March 2019

Recording of the week: Will Montgomery - Submarine

This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

Camberwell Submarine_ Eva del Rey

You may have seen this extraordinary ventilation shaft known as the Camberwell Submarine on Akerman Rd. London SW9.

It was built in the 1970s as part of an underground boiler room and heating system for Myatt’s Field estates. It is regarded as one of a kind due to its dimensions and design. See urban 75 for more images.

The boiler room and heating system is no longer in use. The room is closed but there is a memento of its sound kept forever in the archives.

‘Let us cross a large modern capital with our ears more sensitive than our eyes’ wrote futurist maverick Luigi Russolo in The Art of Noises (1913).

Artist Will Montgomery made recordings of the machinery of the boiler room in action. He assembled them into a short piece and published it on Touch Radio website, 8th November 2008. He called it ‘Submarine’.

Touch Radio 036: Will Montgomery - Submarine

I went on location on a Friday afternoon last February and strolled along the site listening to Montgomery’s composition on my phone. White noise, a harmony of hissing sounds exhaling through the boiler's steel valves. It felt both eerie and calming as if the Camberwell Submarine had gradually come back to life.

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news. Visit British Library Sounds to listen to more pieces from Touch Radio.

11 March 2019

Recording of the week: Sora song

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This week's selection comes from Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World and Traditional Music.

The Sora people, are one of the oldest communities known in India. They are mainly situated in the hilly border area of the east Indian states Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The Sora live on the hill slopes just below the remaining forests and in the valleys relatively isolated from the surrounding communities. The Sora habitats are mainly surrounded by Hindu Telugu (south Indian) and Oriya (north Indian) communities. The language of the Sora belongs to the Austro-Asiatic (Mundabranch) language group. The centre of the Sora life within the traditional groups is their traditional belief system of ancestor worship.

Christianity, especially in the form of Baptism (brought in by North American missionaries) made a big impact on Sora villages in Orissa. Less than fifty percent of Sora describe themselves as Hindu, which means they regard their traditional belief system – ancestor worship – as being part of Hinduism. The most important spiritual experts are kudan (mainly women), kudan-boi (women) and kudan-mar (men). Using elaborate rituals, dance and music performances, these experts are able to communicate with the deceased.

All Sora traditional music forms are more or less related to the religious rituals as performed individually or at festivals. Ancestor festivals are celebrated either immediately after the death of one person or after a longer time for several people. Therefore the intricate ritualistic festival Gu-ahr, consisting mainly of funeral stone planting and buffalo sacrifices, is usually performed for all ancestors who died in the previous 13 years.

Vocal music is mainly unaccompanied and the majority of performers are women. For each song one singer leads and the other singers follow with a slight delay. The women sing in a guttural raspy voice and use slight melismatic effects. Sometimes singers are accompanied by the gogoray fiddle, the two-string lute jenjurangrai, or the tiriduy flute. All ancestor rituals require certain lengthy mantras to be performed before the medium falls into trance and is able to hold a dialogue with the deceased.

Sora singers
Lakamma and Masalamma, two Sora priestesses and singers by Rolf Killius. © Rolf Killius. Image not licensed for reuse.

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Ethnomusicologist Rolf Killius made this recording of two Sora priestesses in January 2001, inside the mud-thatched house of Mr. Jageya in the village Soyala Guda in the Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh state, India. In the following paragraph, Killius provides us with some contextual information about this mesmerising recording –

Lakkama from the indigenous Sora community first sings solo. Later her co-priestess, Masalamma joins in. Joining means she follows her slightly delayed, just for a fraction of a second. This exciting style of vocal music is - to my knowledge - unique in Indian Music. Indeed the Sora community are unique. They live along the border of the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and the North Indian state Odisha. This is also the border where the south Indian meet the north Indian language speakers. More peculiar is the fact that these two women speak and sing in Sora, a language belonging to the Austro-Asiatic language group. The style remotely reminds oneself of the way in which in Karnatic Music, the art music of South India, the instrumentalist, usually the violin player, follows the singer. When I asked the two Sora priestesses to elaborate on their style, they couldn’t understand my question. For them this is the ‘typical’ Sora music style, practised since the time immemorial. This piece celebrates the green (unripe) mango festival. Similar songs trigger these priestesses to fall into trance and in this condition are able to speak with their long-gone ancestors.

You can listen to more recordings of the Sora in the Music in India collection on British Library Sounds.

Follow @BL_WorldTrad and @soundarchive for all the latest news.