Sound and vision blog

04 October 2013

The Listening Project

Holly Gilbert, Social Sciences, writes:

This week we’re uploading the first 355 Listening Project conversations to the British Library Sounds website. It’s an exciting moment because it means that for the first time these recordings will be available in their entirety for anyone to listen to from anywhere in the world.

The Listening Project is a collaborative project between the BBC and the British Library. Producers from regional and national BBC radio stations have, since the beginning of 2012, been recording people talking to each other about a topic of their choice, often something that they have been wanting to discuss but never found the time to sit down and really talk about. The conversations are around 40 minutes long and are usually between people who are members of the same family, friends or have a romantic or professional relationship. All of the conversations are then permanently archived in the British Library.

There is a great variety in participants and topics of conversation. For example friends Thea and Brigitte talk about how their friendship has helped them deal with their different experiences of the Holocaust, mother and son Monica and Rikki compare their experiences of coming out and being gay, colleagues Camila and Karl discuss their experiences of street violence and gangs in Britain and friends Hannah and Lizzie talk about Hannah’s life as a polar explorer and adventurer.

The oldest speaker is Anne Howie, aged 95, who talks to her grandson Andrew about her memories of growing up in Glasgow during the Second World War. One of the youngest speakers is Alice Tyson, aged 8, who talks to her mother, Tracey, about Alice’s rare skin condition that means she is allergic to sunlight.

The conversations span the length and breadth of the country, from friends John and Jimmy talking about their jobs as a fishmonger and a fisherman in Hastings, to husband and wife Andrew and Fran discussing family relationships, national identity and adoption on Orkney, to grandmother and grandson Marlene and Christopher talking in Belfast about life in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

It’s interesting to hear an intimate conversation between friends, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett and Claire Martin, who discuss their careers as internationally renowned jazz musicians but also describe their close friendship, providing a very different experience than hearing them being interviewed by a journalist.

As a result of this ongoing project there now exists in the British Library a treasure trove of stories and personal reflections that describe the many different experiences of life and relationships found in the UK today. They are stored here permanently for contemporary researchers and future generations to discover and are now available to listen to worldwide on British Library Sounds.

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