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

16 July 2019

Magnetic Tape Alert Project

The Magnetic Tape Alert Project is an initiative of the Information for All Programme (IFAP) Working Group on Information Preservation.

News_150719_magnetic_tape
Photo: Bernhard Graf, Vienna Phonogrammarchiv

 

Today’s knowledge of the linguistic and cultural diversity of humanity is widely based on magnetic tape recordings produced over the past 60 years. Magnetic audio and video tape formats are now obsolete, replay equipment in working condition is disappearing rapidly and the supply and service of spare parts is fading. As a result, the routine transfer of magnetic tape recordings is likely to cease around 2025. The only way to preserve these sounds and images in the long term, and to keep them accessible for future generations, is to digitize them and transfer to them to safe digital repositories.

While many professional memory institutions have already secured their audiovisual holdings, or have plans to do so in time, a great number of audio and video recordings are still in their original state, kept in small academic or cultural institutions, or in private hands.

With the Magnetic Tape Alert Project, the Information for All Programme (IFAP) of UNESCO, in cooperation with the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA), aims to alert stakeholders to the imminent risk of losing access to their audiovisual documents.

Part of this is to conduct a survey, focusing on unique recordings, to assess the scale of the risk. The information obtained through the survey will serve as a basis for future planning for the safeguarding of these irreplaceable original documents in the long-term. Information gathered will be used to compile a report that will be made publicly available.

For further information and to respond to the questionnaire, please go to the project website.

Deadline for completion: 30 September 2019

The project coordinator, Andrew Pace, can be contacted at: MTAP@iasa-web.org

IFAP logo IASA logo

Alan Turing on the £50 note

One of the computers used by Alan Turing during his time at Manchester. Courtesy of Ferranti/Computer Conservation Society.One of the computers used by Alan Turing during his time at Manchester. Courtesy of Ferranti/Computer Conservation Society.

This week mathematician Alan Turing was announced as the new face of the £50 bank note. Turing’s impact on the modern world is astonishing: In the 1930s his mathematical theories about an abstract “universal machine” presaged the general purpose computer; he played a key role in ultra secret wartime code breaking at Bletchley Park, contributing to work that probably saved millions of lives. In the postwar years he designed one of the earliest modern computers, the Automatic Computing Engine, and pondered if machines could think, helping to lay the foundations for the study of artificial intelligence. At the University of Manchester he was one of the earliest users of the pioneering Manchester Baby, the world’s first modern computer. A gay man at a time when such relations were illegal, he was prosecuted for homosexual acts in 1952, and died at his own hand in 1954 after consuming a cyanide laced apple. His eventual pardon in 2013 after a popular campaign was followed by ‘Turing’s Law’ in 2017, which granted a pardon to tens of thousands of gay and bisexual men previously convicted under laws that have now been repealed.

Several of those who worked with Turing in his time at Manchester were interviewed for An Oral History of British Science, recording unique personal reflections on a man who was far less well known at the time. For example, electronics engineer Geoff Tootill was one of the team who build the Manchester Baby, and found himself in the unique position of debugging Turing’s first computer program:

Geoff Tootill on working with Alan Turing (C1379/02/02) 

Research student Dai Edwards, was another who helped Turing use the Manchester computer:

Dai Edwards on helping Alan Turing use the Manchester Mark 1 (C1379/11/03)

Mathematical prodigy, heroic wartime codebreaker, tragic LGBT icon, a father of computing, now the subject of a Hollywood film; as time passes it gets increasingly difficult to separate the man from the legend, which makes the memories of those who knew him invaluable for helping to understand the real Alan Turing.

15 July 2019

Recording of the week: Rinding gumbeng from Central Java

This week's selection comes from Michele Banal, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Rinding gumbeng is a style of Central Javanese folk music that, although not widespread, is still common in the rural Gunungkidul area, about 50 km east of Yogyakarta, where it is performed at harvest rituals and other festivals. Both the name of the style and the music itself result from the combination of two main ingredients: the rinding and the gumbeng.

Rinding gumbeng framed horizontalRinding photo (left) by DAN MOI, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 / cropped from original. Gumbeng photo (right) by Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The rinding is a mouth harp built from a single piece of bamboo, often with a piece of string attached to one end of the instrument’s frame. It is an idioglot instrument, meaning that both the vibrating reed and the main body of the instrument are carved from a single piece of bamboo (mouth harps made of metal, more common in Europe, are generally heteroglot, because the vibrating tongue and the frame of the instrument are two separate pieces that have been joined together). As with all mouth harps, the mouth cavity acts as the main resonator but, unlike heteroglot mouth harps where the musician plucks the vibrating tongue directly, the rinding is played by plucking the frame of the instrument instead (or, where present, a piece of string attached to it). Because the instrument is made of a single piece of bamboo, the resulting vibration is directly transmitted from the frame to the inner reed. The sound-producing vibration is then caused by the very flexible reed as it catches up with the frame, which, being more rigid, stops vibrating much earlier than the reed.

The gumbeng is a tube zither made from a single piece of bamboo (which also makes it an idioglot instrument). A small number of strings (normally three) are carved from the outer layer of the bamboo, and raised from the body of the instrument by means of small bridges. The strings are then struck with a thin bamboo stick and, depending on the placement of the bridges, a limited number of different tones can be produced.

A rinding gumbeng ensemble normally comprises several rinding and at least a few gumbeng, and it can also include bamboo scrapers, large bamboo slit drums and an end-blown bamboo gong (thus called not because of its physical characteristics, but due to its function of signalling the beginning of a music cycle). In most cases, the ensemble is then fronted by a small number of singers.

This week’s recording was made by David Hughes in 1995 at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (Institut Seni Indonesia) of Yogyakarta, and features a rinding gumbeng ensemble from Duren in the Gunungkidul region. It is an instrumental version of rinding gumbeng, to better showcase its sound, and, judging from the audio, this specific ensemble may also include one or two slit drums carved out of bigger bamboo tubes.

Rinding gumbeng (C1450/27 S2 C1)

The David Hughes Collection holds other performances from the same group, including examples of rinding gumbeng with singing and solo performances on the rinding (see shelfmark C1450/27).

The David Hughes Collection has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. The digitisation of this and many other recordings in this collection was sponsored by Eddie and Chris Dapré in memory of Eddie’s father Patrick Alfons Dapré, as a reminder of his love for all kinds of music and particularly the zither - an instrument that he played.

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