THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

4 posts from November 2007

28 November 2007

A Visit From A Playwright

The Archival Sound Recordings team was recently graced by a visit from Ismail Choonara, one of whose plays, ‘Cages’, is featured in the African Writers’ Club section of the site. Ismail didn’t know that a recording of the play even existed until his son pointed him to the site earlier this year.

Ismail was born in South Africa but left in the 1950s to study science at London University. After graduation, he lectured in science education and wrote poetry, plays and stories – many of which were published in the UK, America, South Africa and particularly India.

Asked about the Archival Sound Recordings project, Ismail said: “Immediately after something has happened people are not always interested in it. But after the passage of time, cultural work provides a useful historical recording of a particular period. I hope that new, young writers will use my piece when they are carrying out research.”

Now retired from lecturing, Ismail has recently staged a successful play in five Indian cities about the final incarceration in Agra Fort of the 17th-century Mughul emperor Shah Jahan – the man who built the Taj Mahal.  A second play, ‘Prashan Chinn?’, about the riots in Gujurat in 2002, recently opened in Kolkata. A third play is in pre-production in India.

Before leaving the Sound Archive, Ismail donated a recording of his play Incident at Okari-oba.

23 November 2007

Archival Sound Recordings in House of Lords exhibition

For the next two months, the Archival Sound Recording service will be on display in the House of Lords Library. In the first such exhibition to be held there, ASR is joined by two more of the British Library’s flagship digital projects, Turning the Pages™ and the new 19th Century Newspapers site.

The exhibition was opened on 16 November with speeches from Lord Avebury, Sir Colin Lucas, and the Lord Speaker, The Rt Hon the Baroness Hayman.  To mark the occasion, Archival Sound Recordings gave prominence to a 1971 St Mary-le-Bow debate involving Sir Peter Walker, Baron of Worcester (please click on this link to listen to the debate), who was then Secretary of State for the Environment.

The British Library’s Public Affairs Manager Victoria Carson, said:  "We are delighted to have this unique opportunity to host an exhibition in the House of Lords Library. It helps us communicate some of our key messages with regard to capturing and preserving material in the world of constantly changing technology."

14 November 2007

The Archival Sound Recordings2 User Panel

We are currently looking for academics and researchers to join the Archival Sound Recordings 2 User Panel. Panel members will have the opportunity to help influence the direction and development of the project, and will be invited to attend a number of meetings and workshop sessions during 2007 and 2008. If you are interested in contributing but can't spare the time for the panel, we are also setting up an online group so that contributions can be made from afar.  You will need to be active in higher or further education in the United Kingdom.

Please email asr@bl.uk and we will contact you to discuss your involvement with or use of audio in teaching, learning and research and how you may be able to contribute to the project.

Peter Findlay, ASR2 Project Manager

01 November 2007

Behind the Scenes: Digitisation

There are two main reasons for digitising analogue sound formats: ensuring long-term preservation of content held on unstable or obsolescent media and providing ease of access.

We are currently digitising the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) Talks collection, comprising nearly 1000 hour-long cassettes. The process takes considerable time and effort. A single engineer can process four cassettes in parallel, but this still adds up to 250 man-hours - the equivalent of seven working weeks.

To get the best quality digital transfer, we continuously analyse the signal extracted from the original carrier, set appropriate recording levels and convert the signal into an uncompressed WAV file - the digital archival standard. This file is sent to a computer server, where the engineer can correct for peaks or troughs in signal level, and apply noise-reduction where needed to produce an 'improved' playback WAV. The server automatically generates mp3 and Windows Media files for access on the Archival Sound Recordings website. All audio files are stored permanently in the British Library's new Digital Object Management System.

Digitisation is a key step in the process of making the recordings accessible. Documentation for ICA Talks is running in parallel with the digitisation process and this involves listening to the recordings, referring to documentary sources such as ICA event leaflets and online sources of information about those that contributed to the talks. We have identified approximately 5,000 contributors and we will be seeking to contact as many of them as we can to gain their permission to mount the recordings on the ASR service. This illustrates the complexity of the processes to make recordings accessible and most importantly discoverable.

For more information on transferring audio from analogue to digital formats, take a look at IASA's TC04 Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Objects.

Peter Findlay ASR Project Manager