Sound and vision blog

5 posts from May 2009

20 May 2009

Living out fiction with Huxley and Beethoven

An interesting anecdote came in from one of our users:

“I'm a DH Lawrence expert, and was fascinated to find that you had, on the site, the recording of Beethoven's Op. 132 quartet, in A minor, which Aldous Huxley uses and describes in detail towards the end of his 1928 novel Point Counter Point - in which an influential recreation of Lawrence appears.

"In the novel, the character Spandrell is excited to discover that there has been a release, for the first time, of the quartet in question, played by Hungarian musicians: he tells the Lawrence character about it.

"The recording must be that by the Lâener quartet, issued commercially in 1927 or 1928. Rampion listens to the quartet with him; and they discuss the music of the third movement after each side has been played.

"On commercial LP or CD releases of archive music material, of course, such side breaks are disguised as far as possible. But the Archival Sound Recordings version contains these breaks, making it possible to sit with a copy of the 1928 novel and read it in exactly the way described.

"I don't think Huxley actually plays quite fair, in fact, as there are breaks he does not allow for! But I have never been able to access the Lâener Quartet actually 'on' 78, as it were, and it was a joy to find it on your site.”

Ginevra House, ASR Engagement Officer

18 May 2009

Decca West Africa Recordings

900 recordings from the British Library’s holdings of the Decca West Africa yellow label series have recently been added to Archival Sound Recordings.  Issued on shellac disc between circa 1948 – 1961, the collection includes music recorded in Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and possibly Togo. It encompasses a wide range of popular genres of the time including Highlife, Rumba, Calypso and early Nigerian jùjú as well as some more traditional performances.

Recording African music for an African market had only really begun in the late 1920s and was dominated by the various labels of the Gramophone Company, later EMI. Output was greatly reduced during World War 2 staff and other resources were employed for the war effort. Just as African musicians were beginning to formulate new styles, many bringing influences gained in service abroad, and often using new technologies that allowed them to plug into mains supplies, recording activity dried up. Decca Records, having the technological edge as a result of their “Full Frequency Range Recording” system (FFRR) launched their activities in the African market and quickly gained the upper hand with this series of yellow label discs. The collection therefore documents a period of intense competition between music industry majors that only came to an end as countries in the region began to obtain independence and opportunities for musicians broadened beyond colonial hold.

While the collection features recordings by some more well known artists, such as Kwaa Mensah, Kwashi Gatse, Famous Scrubbs and Spike Anyankor, it importantly also includes many more obscure artists – many of whom have long since passed away - thus providing a detailed picture of the musical scene in West Africa in this post-war, “end of empire” period.

Ginevra House, ASR Engagement Officer

Early Spoken Word Recordings

The newest spoken word collection on Archival Sound Recordings provides a journey back through some of the oldest commercial recordings held in the Sound Archive.

The Early Spoken Word collection features literary readings digitised from 78 rpm Linguaphone discs. The Linguaphone company, which is still going strong today, was founded in 1901 by translator and language teacher Jacques Roston. He was quick to recognise the educational opportunities offered by the invention of sound recording, and pioneered the production of study materials that combined texts with sound recordings, initially on wax cylinders and later on flat discs.
Celebrity speakers include Bernard Shaw, whose two-disc set ‘Spoken English & Broken English’, issued in 1927, features the writer’s own signature reproduced in the run-out grooves of each side of each disc. This unusual feature can be seen in the image that accompanies the sound file.
There are also many well-known actors of the past reciting famous works.  These recordings, such as John Gielgud’s rendering of scenes from Richard II  recorded in 1931, highlight how declamatory theatrical styles have changed since the early 20th century.

Over the coming months, the Early Spoken Word collection will continue to grow as copyright is cleared for many more recordings.  Check back in the early summer for additional material drawn from the worlds of literature, politics, sport and the monarchy.

13 May 2009

Sound in Space

In a recent web usability test for Archival Sound Recordings, one of the participants – a soundscape artist – commented on the limitations of having to search through sounds using words.  Should an archive organise itself solely through the words used to describe audio (music, environmental sound, oral history etc.) or are there potentially other ways to discover and explore collections of sound?

Since a lot of audio collections are dependent on geographical location – e.g. wildlife, field recordings, accents and dialects – the Archival Sound Recordings service has recently added a map-searching function, providing a different way to explore such collections.

Based on the familiar Google map technology, users can see the distribution of recordings on either a road map or a satellite image where they are represented by ‘pins’.  Clicking on a pin opens a bubble listing all the recordings made in that location.

A map-based visualisation of recordings makes research into location-based change far easier.  For example Klaus Wachsmann’s Ugandan field recordings cover a range of different ethnic groups who live in the region.  By visualising where a recording was made, researchers can more easily analyse the effect these neighbouring tribes have had on each others’ music and identify the spread musical ideas and techniques across  cultural boundaries.

The mapping function is currently in its beta-testing phase.  Any feedback is gratefully received at

06 May 2009

Traditional music in England

The Archival Sound Recordings website has just added 3000 field recordings of traditional music from England

Recordings include:
• Ballades
• Childrens’ skipping songs
• Soldiers’ songs
• Music hall tunes
• Soldiers’ songs
• Instrumental jam sessions
• Folk tales
• Poetry
• Interviews

Ranging from slickly produced professional recordings to rowdy pub sessions to intimate settings in artists’ homes, the collection provides unique insight into the folk scene of England.