Sound and vision blog

6 posts from June 2011

30 June 2011

Christopher Raeburn Memorial Concert

Elspeth Millar, Oral History Archive Assistant, writes:

Recordedsound Christopher Raeburn (1928-2009) was an esteemed record producer (specialising in opera) who worked for the Decca Record Company between 1954 and 1991.  Christopher was interviewed for the Oral History of Recorded Sound project (catalogue reference C90/89/01) in 1987.

BBC Radio 3 broadcast a ‘Christopher Raeburn Memorial Concert’ live from Wigmore Hall in London on 29th June 2011, featuring some of Christopher's favourite music by Brahms, Schumann, Mozart and Bach.  The interval featured extracts from the Oral History of Recorded Sound interview, in which he discussed his early career at Decca, his desire to work with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and his favourites of the recordings that he produced. The programme will be accessible via the BBC’s iplayer until 8th July 2011.

The entire interview is accessible onsite at the British Library and a section of the recording is available to those in UK Higher and Further Education via the Archival Sound Recordings website.  The British Library has also recently acquired tapes from Christopher Raeburn’s collection, which are catalogued under the reference C1403.

27 June 2011

Recording of the Week: OPIE Huddersfield

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator, Education and Sociolinguistics writes:

Opie-collection-of-children-s-games-and-songs- Barley, fainites, cross keys or pax? What would you say to avoid being caught during a game of tig, it or tag? Listen to these schoolchildren demonstrating playground games in Huddersfield in 1978.

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

24 June 2011

Listening to Britain

THE UK SOUNDMAP has now reached the end of its intended one-year gathering period. This post describes some of the patterns of time, place and subject which have emerged from among all the recordings we've received.

Everyday sounds from around the country

The UK Soundmap was launched in July 2010, asking people to record the sounds of their environment, be it at home, work or play. Since then, over 2,000 recordings have been uploaded by some 350 contributors.

Final_mapRecording locations on the UK Soundmap

The map above shows a good distribution of coverage from the Shetlands to the Channel Isles. Changes in recording density generally reflect differences in population density, which are also correlated with mobile phone signal coverage.

Around 80% of the UK Soundmap's recordings have been made using mobile phones. The other 20% involve a range of devices with handheld digital audio recorders being the most popular. Some others consist of very realistic-sounding binaural stereo recordings made with tiny microphones that fit inside the ears, a few have used industry-standard equipment, and there's one recording made with the help of an ultrasonic bat detector.

Yearlong Number of UK Soundmap recordings added each month

The number of successful uploads for each month, as shown in the graph above, suggests a possible cycle of seasonal variation. Fewer recordings were received when the weather was poor and the days short. Around 90% of the UK Soundmap's recordings were made during daylight hours.

If there are such things as successful uploads, then it's reasonable to wonder about the unsuccessful ones and how they came to be so. Around 7% of all uploads failed to make it onto the UK Soundmap. The most common reason was because a recording location hadn't been set by the contributor. Instances of deliberate exclusion on my part as editor included recordings which may have raised copyright issues, for example by having lengthy excerpts from pop songs in the recording's foreground.

Others were ruled out because of very poor audio quality, with excessive wind noise being the most common problem. A handful had strong swearing on them. This might seem fussy and decorous, since swearing is part of everyday speech, but we had no way of forewarning listeners of any particular recording that contained strong language.

But, overall, the low rejection rate underlines the great effort and goodwill shown by the contributors towards the project.

Where you recorded

An important part of the job of UK Soundmap editor has involved listening to every recording from start to finish and keeping detailed records for where and when each recording was made, the recording device used, and what the recording is of. Doing so has made it possible to compile descriptive statistics summarising the contents of the UK Soundmap.

Pie_general UK Soundmap recordings categorised by geographical setting

The pie chart above shows how built-up urban areas have been the most common geographical setting, followed by a category combining residential suburbs and villages. Recordings came from seaside towns and more remote parts of the coastline nearly as often as they did from inland rural areas.This partly reflects how much coast Britain has relative to its area. More significantly, it shows how many of our contributors simply like the sounds of the sea or have wanted to share the sounds they've enjoyed hearing while on holiday.

Pie_detailed UK Soundmap recordings categorised by location type

This pie chart shows a more detailed summary of the kinds of settings our contributors were recording in. The category of 'street' conceals some interesting variation within it, with a disproportionate number of urban recordings made in pedestrianised streets, plazas and squares. That is, places where road vehicles can't go and traffic noise doesn't overwhelm every other sound. Here buskers can be heard playing their instruments with varying degrees of skill, proselytisers hold forth for religious or political causes, charity tins are rattled, and snippets of conservation pass by to dissolve within the universal hubbub of voices.

The popularity of the 'transport hub' category, which mostly consists of train stations, and that of 'libraries, museums and colleges' (this also includes art galleries), may partly reflect an attraction towards the particular sound qualities of echoes and reverberation. When there's been nothing happening to evoke them, some recordists have, fortunately, given in to the urge to call out or knock something to hear the resulting echo.

Slightly surprising was the comparative rarity of recordings made in the workplace. Most of these feature office environments. Few recordings were made in industrial workplaces and, partly due to limits on mobile phone coverage, few also came from moorland, forests or mountainous areas.

What you recorded

The human voice is the most common sound type, appearing in around half of all recordings. It does so in forms ranging from normal conservation, through cheering and singing, to amplified announcements over PA systems, and in radio and TV broadcasts heard in the background. Traffic noise appears in a fifth of the recordings. Birdsong is heard in 16%, footsteps in 15%, sirens, beeps and bells in 11%, and live music in 8%.

Of the four elements, water exerted the greatest fascination for contributors, and is represented on the UK Soundmap in all its common states. On the map you can hear the sounds of ice cracking on frozen ponds and people trudging through snow. Water can be heard sloshing about in sinks, rushing in fountains, canal locks and streams, falling as rain onto canopies and pavements, and crashing onto sand and shingle beaches. As steam it shrieks from coffee machines, sounds the whistle on singing kettles and pushes steam engines into motion. Fire meets water when a barbecue sputters beneath a bank holiday downpour, and the sounds of bonfires and fireplaces were added in the autumn and winter months.

Investigating all possible pair-wise correlations might sound intriguing, but for the most part it only yields some rather obvious findings, such as birdsong being heard in rural locations or how the cries of children and zoo animals usually go together. However, there is a slight increase in the likelihood that the recordist will speak whilst in what many might consider a pleasant or tranquil setting, and it is nearly always to express pleasure at what he or she can hear. The racket of machinery is also quite often recorded from people's gardens. Sometimes this seems to be a veiled complaint against a neighbour wielding a power-tool on what ought to be a peaceful afternoon.

Stored for the future

As I write, the process of storing all the recordings for posterity in the British Library is well underway. Soon they will form a permanent and accessible collection giving an idea not just of how Britain sounded in 2010 and 2011, but also of how its contributors wanted it to sound.

It has been a great pleasure working on the UK Soundmap. Many thanks to all of you who have added to the Soundmap and so made it possible.

Ian Rawes

 hashtag: uksm

16 June 2011

Crafts Lives

Frances Cornford, Project Interviewer for the National Life Stories project Crafts Lives, writes:

I recently went to interview basketmaker Lois Walpole at her home in France as part of the National Life Stories Crafts Lives project, collecting the life stories of eminent craftspeople. Most interviews are conducted over weeks or months, but because Lois was in France I travelled there and interviewed her over three days. We ask interviewees what being interviewed is like during the interview but Lois has also written about the experience on her blog

As a project interviewer on Crafts Lives, I’ve interviewed potters and glass artists about their lives and their careers, covering everything from creative inspiration, to making processes to the challenges of earning a living through crafts. However Lois is the first basketmaker I have interviewed. It was fascinating to see and talk about Lois’s ‘urban’ baskets which use recycled materials and to learn more about basketmaking as a craft practised by societies all over the world. The interview has made me look at baskets with new appreciation and I hope Lois gets her idea for a TV series on basketmaking off the ground, so that more people can learn about it. In the meantime, I am completing the interview summary, which will appear on the Sound Archive catalogue, and then Lois’s interview will be made available at the British Library.

13 June 2011

Recording of the week: Wind in the Willows?

Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife Sounds Curator, writes:

SoundscapesWind noise is so often the ruin of an otherwise excellent recording. In some cases however, recordists will deliberately try to capture the sound of wind, or at least the effects of this natural force. This example demonstrates how, with the right equipment and good field technique, wind can become an evocative and effective recording subject. This recording was made by Phil Riddett in Kent, England at the beginning of March 2003.

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

03 June 2011

National Life Stories Review 2010/2011

Elspeth Millar, Oral History Archive Assistant, writes:

National Life Stories Review and Accounts 2010/2011 has now been published online.  The Review provides information on all current NLS projects and activities over the past year and also includes reflections from interviewees who have taken part in NLS projects as well as updates on our new adventures in video interviewing.  This year we have also included a few 'user case studies' - if you have used the collections, either at the Library in St Pancras or Boston Spa, or remotely via the Archival Sound Recordings website, let us know ( and perhaps you will feature next year!