Sound and vision blog

11 posts from August 2010

25 August 2010

The Lindgren manifesto

Yesterday evening the BFI Southbank hosted the Ernest Lindgren Memorial Lecture. Ernest Lindgren was the founding curator of what in 1935 was named the National Film Library and which is now known as the BFI National Archive. The lecture was an important annual event in the film archiving calendar until it was discontinued in the late 1990s, seemingly for good. Happily the BFI has decided to revive it in this its 75th anniversary year. It certainly will be worthwhile if the lecture continues to be as provocative and stimulating as that delivered by Paolo Cherchi Usai.

Cherchi Usai has been Senior Curator of the Motion Picture Department at George Eastman House, Director of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, co-founder and co-director of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, and is now director of the Haghefilm Foundation in the Netherlands. His topic was 'The Film Curator of the Future', and its centrepiece was a manifesto, named after Lindgren, the stubborn realist upon whose sound preservation principles the BFI National Archive has been built.

Here is the manifesto:


The Film Curator of the Future

1. Restoration is not possible and it is not desirable, regardless of its object or purpose. Obedience to this principle is the most responsible approach to film preservation.

2. Preserve everything is a curse to posterity. Posterity won’t be grateful for sheer accumulation. Posterity wants us to make choices. It is therefore immoral to preserve everything; selecting is a virtue.

3. If film had been treated properly from the very beginning, there would be less of a need for film preservation today and citizens would have had access to a history of cinema of their choice.

4. The end of film is a good thing for cinema, both as an art and as an artifact. Stop whining.

5. If you work for a cultural institution, make knowledge with money. If you work for an industry, make money with knowledge. If you work for yourself, make both, in the order that’s right for you. Decide what you want, and then say it. But don’t lie.

6. A good curator will never claim to be a curator. Curatorship is not about the curator. It is about the others.

7. Turning silver grains into pixels is not right or wrong per se; the real problem with digital restoration is its false message that moving images have no history, its delusion of eternity.

8. Digital is an endangered medium, and migration its terminal disease. Digital needs to be preserved before its demise.


9. We are constantly making images; we are constantly losing images, like any human body generating and destroying cells in the course of its biological life. We are not conscious of this, which is as good as it is inevitable.

10. Knowing that a cause is lost is not a good enough reason not to fight for it.

11. A film curator must look for necessary choices, with the ultimate goal of becoming unnecessary.

12. Governments want to save, not give, money. Offer them economical solutions; therefore, explain to them why the money they give to massive digitization is wasted. Give them better options. Treating with the utmost care what has survived. Better yet, doing nothing. Let moving images live and die on their own terms.

13. Honor your visual experience and reject the notion of “content”.Protect your freedom of sight. Exercise civil disobedience.

14. Be aware that the world is not interested in film preservation. Peoplecan and should be able to live without cinema.

There is a lot there that is contentious, and some of it seemingly contradictory. The myth of restoration is certainly worth challenging (we will never get those films to become once again what they were, and there is no end to restoration, as constantly announced new restorations of familiar titles should make clear). But Cherchi Usai is torn between analogue and digital, calling for realism and an end to sentimentality, while still harking back to the supposed pure experience of celluloid. And what does it mean to 'reject the notion of "content"' (point 13)? 'Content' is a lot of what moving images are about, unless one is wedded solely to the idea of film as art and film archives as being wholly dedicated to preserving that art. But film archives must be as versatile as the medium that they care for, and must consider first what those who use them require. As point 6 asserts, 'curatorship is not about the curator. It is about the others.'

But for the most part the manifesto is rich in good sense and rewarding ideas. Posterity will very probably want us to make choices, though just as equally it may curse us for having made them contrary to its own expectations. Selection should be a virtue. Above all, the manifesto is a call for honesty as well as good practice, and as such is not only strongly grounded in Lindgrenite principles but has ideas of value to curators and collections beyond the moving image.

Voices of the UK - I like a Geordie accent

As soon as a person opens their mouth and speaks it’s difficult to avoid noticing the way they pronounce their words. On first meeting someone it’s easy to quickly form opinions about where they come from and what kind of person they are based largely on their accent. Whether these turn out to be true or not it another matter. This can have an impact on the way we interact with a person, depending on how their accent makes us feel and the associations it causes us to make.

This speaker describes how people reacted to the way he spoke when he moved to Glynneath in the south of Pembrokeshire, a part of South West Wales popularly known as ‘Little England beyond Wales’ because it is predominantly populated by English speakers.

His strong Welsh accent marked him out as being different which provoked negative responses from both school teachers and children. He adapted by consciously changing his speech to sound more English in order to fit in and avert the attention drawn to him.

One of the other speakers in the extract mentions the more positive reactions her Welsh accent provokes when talking on the telephone to people in call centres. She also comments on how she feels about hearing people talk with Birmingham or Geordie accents.

It’s clear that our accent can provoke strong emotional responses in other people which in some circumstances actually have an impact on the way we speak. It’s clear too that these responses are subjective, we all have our own preferences for particular accents and others that we can’t stand to hear. So however you feel about the way you speak there are, refreshingly, always going to be people out there who think something entirely different.

Women's voices call the shots in recorded announcements

In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, controlling unrest is very different to the ‘With a loud voice command’ of the 1714 Riot Act:

Suddenly, from out of the Synthetic Music Box a Voice began to speak. The Voice of Reason, the Voice of Good Feeling. The sound-track roll was unwinding itself in Synthetic Anti-Riot Speech Number Two (Medium Strength). Straight from the depths of a non-existent heart, “My friends, my friends!” said the Voice so pathetically, with a note of such infinitely tender reproach that, behind their gas masks, even the policemen’s eyes were momentarily dimmed with tears, “what is the meaning of this? Why aren’t you all being happy and good together? Happy and good,” the Voice repeated. “At peace, at peace.”

The Voice is a sexless ‘it’, but in the 1930s when Brave New World was published, nearly all voices ordering or informing adults were those of men. As described in Anne Karpf’s book The Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent, women’s voices were judged to be too ‘shrill’ and lacking in gravitas for public announcement.

By the 1970s, however, women announcers had become common in supermarkets and department stores. Actress Stephanie Gathercole provided the efficient-sounding lift voice for the opening credits of the BBC sitcom Are You Being Served?:

Ground floor perfumery, stationery and leather goods, wigs and haberdashery, kitchenware and food. Going up. First floor telephones, gents’ ready-made suits, shirts, socks, ties, hats, underwear and shoes. Going up. Second floor carpets, travel goods and bedding, material, soft furnishings, restaurant and teas.

Lift voices informing you of what's on each floor are one of those features which no longer seem to exist in department stores, although one survives at the British Library.

Going by recordings on the UK SoundMap, women’s voices are now the preferred option for recorded announcements. They outnumber male voices 5 to 1 in settings as diverse as buses, train stations and supermarkets. It’s a significant change in the public sound environment compared to just a few decades ago.

Ian Rawes

Editor, UK SoundMap

hashtag: uksm

18 August 2010

Voices of the UK - put a couple of effs in it

This is the third of our posts about Welsh recordings from the BBC Voices collection. The interview took place with a farming family in Builth Wells in Powys (formerly Brecknockshire).

In the clip below, older and younger generations talk about swearing. They have a relatively relaxed attitude to swearing  certainly more relaxed than many of the other interviews we've catalogued so far, in which we've noticed that the received idea that swearing has got worse over the generations and other variations on the theme are very common. The family point out that in the hard-working environment on the farm, a bit of effing and blinding is permitted. Have a listen to parents and son talking about it here (there is no language that would be considered offensive in the clip).

This part of Wales is quite close (about 10 miles) to the border with England, and although the speakers do "sound Welsh", their accents share some characteristics with the accents of the West of England.

If you listened to the clip above of James, the son, you may have heard an instance of 'yod drop'. This is the omission of a [j] sound that many speakers would have after the initial [f] in 'fuse', heard at 01:01 on the clip: "gramps has just got a bit of a short fuse hasn't he...".

Many British speakers would associate this pronunciation with East Anglia, and other rural areas to the north east of London. In fact, yod drop used to be a prevalent feature in many accents of British English until only a few (or a "foo") generations ago.

11 August 2010

Recording of the Week: Chris Burden at the ICA in 1990

Stephen Cleary, Curator of Drama & Literature recordings at the British Library Sound Archive, writes:

In this ICA talk from 1990, American performance artist Chris Burden discusses his famous Shoot piece of 1971, in which he was shot in the arm – not merely grazed, as intended:

ICA-talks Recording of the Week highlights gems from the Archival Sound Recordings website, chosen by British Library experts or recommended by listeners. This week's item was selected from the Institute of Contemporary Arts talks collection: 1,000 hours of recordings of events held at the ICA, in the Mall, London, recorded between 1981-1994.

Voices of the UK - A cwtch on the couch

Following on from the last Voices of the UK post about code-switching in Northwest Wales, this week we have speakers from the south of Wales, from Treorchy in the Rhondda. This is an area not so often perceived as bilingual: according to the Welsh Language Board’s 2004 survey, 12.9% of the population of Rhondda Cynon Taf (the local authority area) identify as able to speak Welsh compared to 71.9% in Gwynedd (where last week’s post about Bethesda referred to). To access the WLB report click here (p.48).

However in the south of the country there is much talk of “Wenglish”. This doesn't really imply full code-switching between the two languages, but it is often informally used to express certain aspects of pronunciation or regional vocab that are found in English spoken in “the Valleys”. Globally, speaker communities seem to have become quite fond of blending the ‘-nglish’ part of the word (a sub-morpheme – morphologists take note!) with the name of other languages: there is Hinglish (for the code-switched Hindi-English spoken by an estimated third of a billion people in urban India) and Singlish, the name given to the creolised English spoken in Singapore. But we're getting off the point!

The Wenglish that our Treorchy group are addressing refers to those words that (probably) come from Welsh and that are used in their community. Have a listen to their discussion about the word cwtch here  (note: Blaencwm is a village a couple of miles up the road from Treorchy).

Cwtch is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) with the particular spelling <cwtch> from 1983 onwards. It's also in Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary (EDD) as <cooch> (1898-1905), although Wright notes that no one surveyed for the compilation of the EDD knew the word. So the earliest known written form <cooch> is from  J.D. Robertson’s "Gloss. Words County of Gloucester" published in 1890. The OED suggests that it derives from Welsh cwts, meaning resting place, and that this most likely was a borrowing/adaptation of English couch.

As our speakers say, the word now has both its noun meaning, that of ‘cubby hole’, and verb meaning, that of ‘to cuddle’, plus other related forms such as ‘coal store’ and as a dog command. It is possibly more familiar to non-Wenglish British speakers over the last couple of years because it featured in the BBC drama Gavin and Stacey, set in Barry, South Wales. The scene where Stacey asks Gavin to “give us a cwtch” isn’t available online but here is a token scene starring Stacey’s best friend Nessa – note the all-purpose Wenglish response tidy.

04 August 2010

Sound categories and finding subjects to record

The British Library's UK SoundMap offers some suggestions to help contributors get started, and these are couched in general terms because the choices people make will be informative.

Even so, someone setting out for the first time to record environmental sounds faces problems of choice more daunting than those confronting the novice photographer.

The photographer can look for ideas from the vast and unavoidable body of work compiled by other photographers, and in which popular themes can easily be detected. The most common tags on Flickr include staples such as 'sunset', 'winter', 'cat', 'flowers' and 'beach'.

In urban environments especially, visual means are used to broadcast information much more commonly than auditory ones. This discrepancy has likely increased over time as literacy has become more widespread and the background noise level of traffic has risen. Photographers have architecture, industrial design, fashion and advertising to draw upon.

Fortunately, a good stock of mental categories for sounds can make the recordist's life easier. Jean-Francois Augoyard's 2006 book Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds provides descriptions of over eighty everyday acoustic phenomena, including echo, vibrato and anticipation.

R. Murray Schafer's influential 1977 book The Tuning of the World contains a classification of 'sound objects' which is worth reproducing:

Natural sounds: creation; destruction; water; air; earth; fire; birds; mammals; insects; and the seasons.

Human sounds:
the voice; the body; and clothing.

Sounds and Society: rural soundscapes; town soundscapes; city soundscapes; maritime soundscapes; domestic soundscapes; sounds of trades; professions and livelihoods; sounds of factories and offices; sounds of entertainment; music; ceremonies and festivals; parks and gardens; and religious festivals.

Mechanical sounds: industrial and factory equipment; vehicles; aircraft; construction and demolition equipment; mechanical tools; ventilation and air-conditioning; and farm machinery.

Quiet and Silence

Sounds as Indicators:
bells and gongs; horns and whistles; sounds of time; telephones; warning systems; signals of pleasure; and indicators of future occurrences.

These categories are worth considering as a catalyst for the recordist's local knowledge and experience of sound, for which there is no substitute.


Ian Rawes

Editor, UK SoundMap


hashtag: #uksm

Voices of the UK - We call it a ‘to bach’

I was excited and delighted to spend some time analysing the recording from Bethesda in Northwest Wales, because it is the village I was living in before I moved to London last year (to come and work for the Voices of the UK project). Proust wrote of scents evoking hidden memories, and I believe that there can also be something about a certain pronunciation of a vowel or the almost unconscious recognition of previously unnoticed intonation that, if you haven't heard it for a while, brings back memories of other times and places.

The recording is of a group of sixth formers at the main school in my old town. Unlike most of the recordings made by Radio Wales, the students give their responses to the stimulus words in the survey ("what's your word for 'unattractive?'"; "what's your word for when it rains lightly?") in Welsh rather than in English. In fact there are a set of BBC Voices recordings made by Radio Wales's sister station, Radio Cymru, which took place "yn gymraeg" (in Welsh). The insistence of the students in providing their words in Welsh chimed with my experience of living in the town. I understand quite a lot of the language, attended Welsh classes all the time that I lived and worked there and could chat, shakily, with the staff in the local supermarket. Bethesda is, along with Caernarfon and Blaenau, a real stronghold of Welsh language speaking. One of the students says: "but um… we’re one of the like ... the little communities that actually are pure Welsh".

However one of the striking features of Bethesda (and Bangor and Caernarfon - I'm not sure about Blaenau) Welsh is the amount of code-switching going on in natural speech. The same student says: "uh they [the teachers at school] don’t think I speak um very good Welsh because I do it [codeswitch]". She is referring to the habit of inserting English words into Welsh clauses. It's a shame that we don't have any examples of this in the recording. The oral historian conducting the interview was from the South and a monolingual English speaker, so there aren't any Welsh sentences with English words switched into them.

What we do have are a few instances of the reverse situation: inserting the odd Welsh word into an English sentence. The title of this post refers to the circumflex accent used to mark vowel length in Welsh, as in gêm the word for "game". To means "roof" in Welsh, so when Jenna says, "we call it a ‘to bach’ I don’t know… it’s like a little triangle on top of the word," she means that the Welsh word links the shape of the circumflex to the shape of a little (triangular) roof.

Perhaps the most discussed aspect of mixing Welsh and English by this group is the tendency in their language community to create verbs by adding a Welsh suffix onto a borrowed English word. For example, they talk about how in Welsh there is a word lluchio which means "fling" or "throw" but which they use for "hitting someone hard". Then another speaker comments that he'd say slapio when talking about hitting someone. This shows the practice of taking an English word and adding the "verbal suffix" -io (analagous to, say, the infinitive ending -er in French). Jenna again comments: "but then I say ‘climbio’ instead of ‘dringo’ which means um climbing a mountain really". When asked why she says, "it’s just we have so many like English influences around us [...] we do know the Welsh… correct Welsh word for the words, just we use them [the English ones] because it sounds more cool". Have a listen to their discussion about other -io words on the BBC Voices site here.

There has been a lot of great research into Welsh-English code-switching over the past 10 years at Bangor University. My friend and colleague Jonathan Stammers did his PhD there (2009) on "The Integration of English-Origin Verbs in Welsh" (see LinguistList announcement at and links there to conference presentations and an abstract of Jon's thesis).