Sound and vision blog

4 posts from March 2009

23 March 2009

Music from India – new online resource at the British Library

A new online resource has been added to the ever growing Archival Sound Recordings website at the British Library.

The recordings featured in Music from India were all recorded by the recordist and ethnomusicologist, Rolf Killius, as part of a collaborative project between Rolf, The British Library and the Horniman Museum. The aim of the project – entitled Traditional Music in India and set up in 2000 – has been to record, document and research folk, devotional and ritual music of India, and to collect and document relevant musical instruments. A number of these instruments were specially commissioned for the Horniman Museum and were displayed in their recent Utsavam – Music from India exhibition. The instruments now form part of theHorniman Museum’s permanent collection. All the recordings are deposited at the British Library and can be accessed via the Listening & Viewing Service.

Historically, little work has been done to document and research performance traditions in the remote rural areas of India. In many of these communities, music and dance could be regarded as ‘endangered’, the main reasons being the extremely fast changing socio-economic fabric and the traditionally high stratification in Indian society. This collection and documentation project has, thus, concentrated on the oral culture of distinct communities living in some of these more remote rural areas, where music and dance still play an important part in everyday life. Recordings have been made among a range of communities mainly within the Indian states of Kerala, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Assam (Majuli Island), Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat (Kachchh) and Mizoram.

Rolf Killius is a consultant (museums, exhibitions, and media), ethnomusicologist (MMus SOAS, London University), sound recordist, film producer/editor and radio journalist whose work appears in a variety of contexts. He works in academic research, music and sound production, film editing, exhibition curating and the delivery of music and arts events especially related to the Indian subcontinent.   
Janet Topp Fargion, Curator World and Traditional Music, the British Library 

16 March 2009

New Classical Music section!

Learn from the interpretations of the great performers of the past and explore how performance styles evolved through the early twentieth century with the new Classical Music section. You can now explore 1,200 historical performances of works by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms dating from 1915 to 1958. A further collection of Chopin piano works is due to be launched shortly.

The vast majority of these recordings are now out of print, making this a vital resource for understanding Western classical music heritage. Today orchestras are made up of personnel from all over the world, but in the first half of the twentieth century they were made up of local musicians and certain orchestras and associated conductors had their own recognisable sound and identity.  The broad scope of recordings in the Classical Music section allows listeners to compare performance styles from the USA to Denmark to Russia. 

The collection also highlights how musical tastes have changed over the years.  With 2009 marking Haydn’s 200th anniversary, the massive output this composer generated is being celebrated with countless performances on radio and in concert halls.  But Haydn recordings held in the Sound Archive show that until around 55 years ago, the majority of his works were unknown or neglected. Less than 30% of recordings available on Archival Sound Recordings were recorded before 1950.  The sudden upsurge in Haydn’s popularity was thanks to American conductor Jonathan Sternberg, the Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon, and a body of very hungry musicians in post-war Vienna. 

Sternberg, who came to Vienna in 1947 as conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, worked with Landon, scouring the libraries, monasteries and churches for ‘lost’ Haydn manuscripts.  Together they established the Haydn Society, for which Sternberg made a series of pioneering Haydn recordings. Most of Haydn’s works, beyond a handful of late symphonies, would at that time have been considered ‘obscure’. The Haydn Society ensured that as many of his works were recorded, paving the way for subsequent complete recorded editions.

Ginevra House, ASR2 Engagement Officer

11 March 2009

The British Library publishes audio metadata profile

Chris Clark is Head of Selection and Documentation in the British Library Sound Archive. Chris reports:

As the ASR Board member responsible for overseeing the project’s metadata component I am delighted to report that the British L has now published the Metadata Encoding and Transmission Standard (METS) profile that was developed during the project and subsequently refined by Markus Enders. Markus is a METS Board member, so his involvement lends this profile a high degree of conformance and authority.

It would be fair to say that METS has presented the steepest learning curve for everyone in this project connected with documentation and resource discovery. Some were convinced it was the perfect solution to the requirement to have all the intelligence about an item held together in a single instance, while others regarded it as unnecessarily complex. But it was a requirement of the JISC to use common, interoperable standards and although one could rightly question the standard’s life expectancy and applicability in 2004 when the project began, five years later METS has been widely implemented in libraries and archives and has proved adaptable to a wide range of digital objects.

In devising a METS schema for sound the intention was not to establish a  ‘discographic’ metadata standard: domain-specific solutions are an unworkable constraint where systems need to address many kinds of information. One of the key requirements for any metadata infrastructure is versatility: that there are a number of core components shared with other domains, each of which may allow local variations (e.g. in the form of extension schema) that are applicable to the object and its life-cycle.  Another requirement, of particular relevance to multi-media objects like sound recordings, can be described as ‘relational’. This involves the correct expression of hierarchy, sequence and provenance. METS was found to be very good at expressing parent-child relationships (carriers and sides, sides and tracks, etc), pre-determined orderings (the scenes of a dramatic performance) and intelligence about the original source materials.

The essential thing that METS does is to faithfully represent physical, atomic reality in logical, virtual terms and in so doing reinforces the authenticity of any archived object.

Lorca Dempsey has defined metadata as ‘intelligence in support of more efficient operations’. METS is often described as a ‘wrapper’, a container of different kinds of information, each of which has its own prescribed place in the METS structure. This structure can be unwrapped, so it will be possible to filter out data from the descriptive metadata section and expose it to harvesting applications or re-use it in other display contexts, such as an exhibition or on-line publication. When you are looking for something within the ASR site you find neat arrangements of essential information concerning titles, performers and dates. All of this has been derived from the METS record that remains in the background unless deliberately brought to the browser.

All current BL metadata profiles are available under The sound archive profile is available under It is not the end of the story. The xml version of the profile is awaited and born-digital acquisitions and acquisitions held and preserved as collections are expected to require small adjustments as variant profiles.

02 March 2009

I Hear a New World

As part of his work with the University of York Sound Archive’s digitisation project, PhD student Ewan Gordon has been developing a thesis on sound recording history and the development of stereo. 

“The Oral History of Recorded Sound collection provides valuable interviews with those directly involved in the development of stereo recording technique and commercial decision making, says Ewan.  “As periods of technical experimentation, the processes are often poorly documented and these first hand accounts provide an invaluable insight into the methods employed,” says Ewan.

The recordings document a swathe of developments across the 20th Century, from early experiments by Arthur C. Keller and Alan Blumlein in the 1920s and 30s, to the possibilities for multi-track magnetic tape explored  by The Beatles.

Ewan has been exploring  a range of interviews to piece together the story of stereo.  “Since Alan Blumlein died during the war, interviews with his son Simon and personal friend  J.B. Kaye have complemented written sources regarding the Blumlein's audio patents,  whereas interviews with Arthur Haddy provide valuable information about the recordings made with Sir Thomas Beecham at Abbey Road Studios. Together these recordings detail  a fast moving period of development within the British recording industry and bring the story to life.”

He has also discovered valuable insights into the commercial exploitation of new audio technologies, through interviews with Sir Joseph Lockwood (former Chairman of EMI), Kenneth Townsend MBE (former sound engineer at Abbey Road) and iconic record producer George Martin.

Ewan is currently in the second year of his PhD, and the Oral History of Recorded Sound has helped shape the direction of his thesis.  “The collection allowed me to make valuable connections between the often lesser documented technical staff and place their roles in context. This has opened  new avenues for investigation and has guided and prioritized my research planning at other British archives.”

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