Sound and vision blog

3 posts from February 2011

21 February 2011

Recording of the week: Professor David Jenkinson FRS

Eminent-scientistsThe Oral History of British Science team were saddened to hear the announcement last week that one of our interviewees, Professor David Jenkinson FRS, had passed away on 16th February.

Professor Jenkinson was a soil scientist and a long-serving member of Rothamsted staff, starting as a Scientific Officer in the then Pedology Department in 1957 and retiring from the Soil Science Department in 1988.  He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1991.

In part 2 of his life-story interview Professor Jenkinson discusses his secondary education at the Royal School Armagh, building radios with his brother, and memories of home-made gunpowder:

'Recording of the Week' highlights gems from the Archival Sound Recordings website, chosen by British Library experts or recommended by listeners.

16 February 2011

An Oral History of the Water Industry

Alison Gilmour, project interviewer for An Oral History of the Water Industry, writes:

At the end of last year I completed the mid-project report for An Oral History of the Water Industry and this has given me the opportunity to reflect on the thematic contribution of the collection. Naturally, the collection will be of interest to researchers with an interest in the history of the water industry or of key events such as the formation of Water Authorities following the 1973 Water Act or of the process of privatisation. Equally, researchers of the future with an interest in processes, methods and technology used in the industry will find much use in this archive.

Yet, due to the life story interview method used within National Life Stories, these recordings also serve a wider social history purpose due to the exploration during interviews of childhood, hobbies, mealtimes, holidays, family relationships, education, and previous employment prior to working in the industry. Furthermore, Rob Perks’ recent article in Oral History has led me to recognise the contribution to be made to business history and organisational studies through narratives on ongoing post-war structural and organisational development within water companies. 

Last year I wrote an article for the National Life Stories 2009/10 Annual Review in which I focused on the life story of Sue Onslow who worked for Wessex Water as a chemist [catalogue ref. C1364/03].  Sue’s life story interview enabled exploration of major developments in the post-war industry including technical, organisational and regulatory changes and the direct impact on her job. Furthermore, in the interview she also spoke about the taken for granted attitude commonly held towards water provision and waste-water treatment in part related to much of the work in this industry being out of sight and therefore out of mind. This is a rich, multi-layered interview highlighting the hidden depths of the little-documented history of this industry. 

02 February 2011

Sound recording beyond the smartphone

The UK Soundmap currently displays over 1,300 recordings from all over the country. Of these, some 80% have been made with smartphones. The rest have been produced using a wide range of purpose-built sound recording equipment.

This post outlines some ways in which you can make the transition from mono smartphone sound to high-quality stereo, with reference to what UK Soundmap contributors themselves have been doing.

Between smartphones and pocket-sized digital sound recorders lies the half-way house of the stereo mic which can be attached directly to an iPhone or iPod. They range in price from around £30 to £70 depending on their make and model. It's worth checking first to see if they're compatible with your phone. A small number of recordings on the UK Soundmap have been made this way, and they sound pretty good.

A digital sound recorder, however, offers greater versatility and quality. With one you'll be able to make recordings and then transfer them to your computer for editing. Intense competition among manufacturers in recent years has produced a slew of reasonably-priced and capable machines starting from as low as £120. The majority of the UK Soundmap's non-smartphone recordings have been made with such machines.

As the prices rise, so too does the quality of the machine's construction, on-board microphones, and internal electronics. More expensive recorders produce less hissy and more full-sounding results, and this becomes noticeable with recordings made in quiet settings.

The recorder's specifications should include the ability to record in WAV and MP3 formats, and an external mic socket which can supply plug-in power of 5-9 volts for driving small external condenser microphones, should you wish to follow that route.

Many digital recorders are also supplied with open-cell foam windshields to fit over the on-board mics. These are fine for dealing with indoor draughts or preventing ugly wind noise that may arise from you waving the recorder around, but they aren't much use outdoors except on fairly still days. A windjammer can be fashioned from fake fur if you're a dab hand with the sewing machine, or you can buy ready-made ones to fit your particular make of recorder at around £25. Either way, it's worth having one.

Sound-editing programs, also known as 'wave editors', begin with freeware that offers basic feature sets. These are worth trying out since all wave editors work in fundamentally similar ways. What you learn with the freeware can be transferred to a £50 program offering more functions and a slick user interface.

Making good-quality stereo recordings is an easy hobby to begin, and it can start at a cost comparable to that of a digital compact camera.

Ian Rawes
Editor, UK Soundmap
British Library

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