Sound and vision blog

3 posts from June 2012

25 June 2012

Recording of the week: Murray Melvin on the Theatre Workshop

Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings, writes:

Actor Murray Melvin has worked as volunteer archivist for the past 22 years at the Theatre Royal in Stratford East, where he began his acting career with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in 1957. It was at the Theatre Royal in May 1958 that Murray Melvin first played the role of Geoffrey in Shelagh Delaney’s play, and later film, A Taste of Honey.

In this interview Murray introduces the cultural and historical background of the Theatre Workshop with a detailed account of Joan Littlewood's directorship. Also mentioned are the principles and practices of the company's actor training, which was highly physical in essence, favouring direct interaction between actors and the audiences. This was a theatre of action and of the imagination, a theatre of the people and for the people which aimed, above all, to be political.

Murray Melvin as The Professor in short comedy, The Grey Mile, July 2011. Photo: Jonathan Parramint

Murray Melvin provides a personal perspective of one of the turning points in the history of British theatre, examining his experience with Theatre Workshop in contrast with other contemporary theatre productions, such as the Royal Court’s Look Back in Anger and commenting on the company’s difficulties under the Lord Chamberlain's censorship.

Listen to Murray Melvin's interview:

Recorded in a noisy lecture theatre in December 2006, for the Theatre Archive Project

21 June 2012

To a Skylark

Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife Sounds Curator, writes:

The song of the Skylark, Alauda arvensis, is an acoustic gem in the crown of the natural world. Armed with a repertoire brimming with beauty, complexity and seemingly endless variety, this rather plain looking passerine comes into its own when taking to the sky.

In his poem ‘To a Skylark’, the Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, described the Skylark’s song as “a rain of melody” whose notes flowed in “such a crystal stream.” Looking back, human appreciation for this song is clearly evident in various works of poetry and music. It comes as no surprise therefore, that the Skylark was a prominent figure on wishlists in the early days of wildlife sound recording.

Pioneer wildlife sound recordist, Ludwig Koch, spent several days in June 1938 trying to capture the Skylark’s song for his publication ’The Singing Birds of Laeken’. After several failed attempts, Koch and his engineers were able to successfully record a Skylark in full song. Koch wrote of this experience in his autobiography ‘Memoirs of a Birdman’:

“The next morning at 2 a.m. we were in position for the Sky-lark, and at 2.15 the bird was rising over one of my microphones. The village noises were not too disturbing, and after rising for a minute and a half over one microphone it dropped over another one several hundred yards away. Thus I got a recording of the Sky-lark’s full song. It is always a treat for me to listen to it, and I never cease to wonder how such a small bird can rise in the sky and descend again without the slightest break in its singing.”

The publication in question was originally intended as a private project between Koch and the Queen Mother of the Belgians, Queen Elisabeth. During one of many recording trips with the Queen however, Koch suggested collating the fruits of their efforts into a single sound-book. Foundations for the production of the book were soon laid but, due to the Second World War and its repercussions, it was over fifteen years before the book appeared.

Additional recordings from ‘The Singing Birds of Laeken’ are included in the Early Wildlife Recordings collection and are available for worldwide listening.

11 June 2012

Recording of the week: Cry of the Wild

Mark Peter Wright, supported by the Wildlife Sound Trust, writes:

The howl of a wolf is one of the most evocative animal sounds in nature. Even though wolves bark, whine, whimper and growl, it is the howl that defines this nomadic species. Practically, howling is a common method for keeping the wolf pack together; something crucial to the survival of this animal when hunting across the vast forest tundra of a country such as Canada. When a wolf becomes separated from its pack it will inevitably begin to howl; the long duration and modulating pitch help to identify itself and therefore its location in relation to the all-important pack.


The howl recorded here in 1995 by Canadian field recordist Tom Cosburn is the archetypal call of a lone Grey Wolf sounding its environment. Like an auditory flare, it is a call of contact and reunion. Wolves are not the only animal Cosburn has recorded. For more than 3 decades he has steadily amassed a huge catalogue of wildlife sounds, all of which can be accessed here at the British Library.

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