Sound and vision blog

4 posts from February 2014

28 February 2014

Europeana Sounds gets underway!

Organisations from across Europe visited the British Library on 17 - 18 February to mark the launch of the Europeana Sounds project (more information about the project). The three-year project is being coordinated by the British Library, and we were delighted to be able to welcome all the delegates who made the journey to London, braving the typically wet February weather.

Europeana_Sounds_KickOff_British Library_Elizabeth_Hunter_CCBYSA30pc
image: British Library/Elizabeth Hunter CC-BY-SA

Europeana Sounds will use innovative digital technology to improve access to some of Europe’s leading collections of sounds and related material. The event was therefore an opportunity to meet face-to-face to discuss just what sort of inventive strategies will be adopted in order to enrich the audiences’ experience of the wealth of recordings that will be made available through the project’s life-span and beyond.

Many fruitful discussions occurred over the two days. Of particular interest was the issue of licensing material in order to provide as much access as possible, whilst ensuring that content providing institutions feel that the material in their custody is sufficiently protected. Indeed, in the case of recordings of ‘traditional’ or ‘ceremonial’ music that may contain culturally sensitive material, this will need to be taken into account in the same way that legal consideration must be adhered to.

Whilst there is a great deal of expertise amongst the project partners, this sense of balance could not be achieved without an engaged and enthusiastic audience. Fortunately, we will be working with the Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision and Historypin to engage different communities and to enrich the project’s metadata through crowdsourcing and edit-a-thons. In turn, this will make it easier for end-users to find what they are looking for. This focus on usability will be augmented by the development of thematic channels on the Europeana portal, and through other digital sound sharing platforms, Spotify and SoundCloud.

Those attending the meeting were reminded of the joy of listening and of discovering new sounds by the two ‘concert’ sessions, where selected partners presented recordings from their archives.

Janet Topp Fargion of the British Library selected this recording of a Sora ancestor song to illustrate the fact that although Europeana aggregates digital objects held in European institutions, the subjects may be international, reflecting the research interests of scholars and users based in Europe.

Sora ancestor song

(Recorded by Rolf Killius, Orissa, India, 2001. Source: The British Library)

Mairead Dhòmhnallach of Tobar an Dulchais presented 'Latha Dhomh ’s mi Buain a’ Choirce' as sung by Kate MacMillan. It is a recording of a traditional Gaelic, one of thousands that will be made available through Europeana thanks to the project.

Latha Dhomh ’s mi Buain a’ Choirce

(Recorded by John Lorne Campbell, Scotland, 1949. Source: The National Trust for Scotland)

Zane Grosa from the National Library of Latvia shared this recording, the only surviving work of orchestral music by Latvian composer Emils Dārziņš. He destroyed his other symphonic works after being accused of plagiarism, and ended his life when he was just 34, apparently throwing himself under the train.

Melanholiskais valsis

(Source: National Library of Latvia)

Alexander König of the Max Planck Institute for Pyscholinguistics gave us this field recording, made in the village of Tauwema in the Trobriand Islands as part of a project to document the Kilivila language. This example serves to highlight that Europeana Sounds will work with environmental and linguistic, as well as musical, material.

Tauwema Village

(Recorded by Gunter Senft, Tauwema, Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea, 2003. Source: Max Planck Institute for Pyscholinguistics)

Picture1Europeana Sounds is funded by the European Union under its ICT Policy Support Programme as part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programm.

27 February 2014

London Calling

The sounds of London will soon be playing a key role in the second year of the EU funded project, Europeana Creative. The project itself seeks to encourage people working in the creative industries to re-use digitised content from some of Europe's most revered cultural institutions. The online discovery platform Europeana is at the heart of the project and features millions of items, from paintings and manuscripts to sounds and sheet music.

Panorama of the River Thames, 1730, The Wellcome Library (via Europeana)

One of the main aims of Europeana Creative is to create 5 prototypes, from educational games to teaching apps, which will demonstrate ways in which Europeana content can be transformed. The British Library and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision have delved into their respective archives and pulled out thousands of recordings for the project's Social Networks enrichment prototype. In the coming months members of the public will be invited to enhance these sounds by adding images, text and links from Europeana and beyond. One of the themes, Cityscapes, will present a selection of recordings from two crowdsourcing projects; The UK Soundmap and Sound of the Netherlands.  The cities of London and Amsterdam are the focus of the theme, partly because they received the most contributions but also because the potential for enrichment is greater - a few of the British examples include:

Spinning Wheel in Yarn Shop, Bethnal Green

Speakers Corner, Hyde Park

The Wallace Collection, Manchester Square

Tate Modern Turbine Hall, Bankside

The enrichment process will not only give added depth to the sounds but will allow the formation of mini "exhibitions", each one dedicated to a particular recording and sculpted into shape by the public.

Original sound recordings, like those featured in the prototype can offer creative minds unlimited inspiration. Field recordist and sound artist, Yiorgis Sakellariou recently created an audio montage from recordings he made across London. This piece, complete with photographs and text, demonstrates just one way in which sounds can form the basis of a creative piece of work.


Since late 2012 I am residing in London. The city is loud and almost every day my ears are exposed to high decibel levels and a cacophony of incoming sonic information. However, the more I listen to these common sounds, the more I discover the extraordinary within the ordinary, the exquisite in the everyday.

The piece consists of recordings that took place throughout 2013 on several locations in London. The urban soundscape can provide a great variety of textures, sometimes hollow, others powerful. The calm atmosphere at Tottenham Marshes, the poly-rhythmic patterns of the escalators at London Bridge tube station, ventilation drones at Chinatown, bird songs mixed with distant traffic hiss at Dulwich Park...

Listening to the city's soundscape can become a submerging experience which helps me rejoice my daily routines and discover a new and profound sonic world.

Yiorgis Sakellariou January 2014

London - Yiorgis Sakellariou (5'06")




It will be interesting to see how Europeana Creative is able to inspire new ideas, new products and new ways of approaching and re-using Europe's collective cultural heritage. Stay tuned for more news on the enrichment prototype and how you can help us build this exciting new product.


21 February 2014

Observing dialect shift in Berkshire

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Bradfield, Purley on Thames and three recordings in Reading (one with work colleagues, one with young British Asians and one with a Bajan family). Together they constitute the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Radio Berkshire. The descriptions list the participants' responses to  a set of prompt words and, in the case of the Bajan family and Purley on Thames also include detailed descriptions of the grammar and phonology of the speakers.

It's fascinating to see how these two apparently unrelated recordings illustrate the same linguistic process: dialect shift. Not surprisingly, the Caribbean heritage of speakers born in Barbados, but now living in Reading, is reflected in their accent. They all use several pronunciations here that are typical of Bajan English, such as the so-called GOAT vowel in words like stone, road and know. The younger generation - born and brought up in Reading - vary between this pronunciation and a more obviously southern British variant. Listen, for instance, to Kevin fluctuate between the two variants in the same utterance:

1:18:46 yeah, you call him a  'poser', "he's a poser, man, look at he posing with cheap gold and fake gold and designer clothes"

His initial pronunciation of the word poser contains a typical southern English vowel sound, but he subsequently uses a Bajan-like vowel on the second instance of poser, posing, gold and on the word clothes. This illustrates perfectly how dialect contact produces incremental change within a single family - one pronunciation is used consistently by older speakers, but competes in the next generation with a more dominant and/or socially prestigious variety in the community.

The recording in Purley allows us to observe the same process of dialect shift over three generations, albeit in the context of a well-established local family and on a  different linguistic variable: rhoticity - i.e. the presence or absence of a <r> sound after a vowel in words like start, letter and nurse. The oldest speaker (b.1928) invariably pronounces this <r> sound here, while his son (b.1947) varies between including and omitting <r> in this environment.  In contrast the two younger speakers (both born in the 1970s) consistently omit this <r> sound, showing that the loss of postvocalic <r> is completed over two generations in this family.

Although this process of change occurs on different pronunciation variables in each recording (and is presumably prompted by different reasons), it nevertheless shows how a linguistic feature gradually 'shifts' in prominence across successive generations of the same speech community. For speakers like the Bajan family who have relocated to a completely different country, the older speakers are outnumbered by speakers of the local dialect so the younger generation naturally accommodates towards their local peers. The loss of rhoticity in the Purley family, however, reflects a trend that has been noted across southern England over the last century, and can be attributed to continuous waves of migration of non-rhotic speakers, especially from London, out into the surrounding Home Counties like Berkshire.

01 February 2014

Building a jukebox for Europe

We’re thrilled to announce the start this month of a new project: Europeana Sounds. This project will bring together online, for public access, over a million sound and associated digitised items from leading audio archives and libraries across Europe.

We shall double the number of sound tracks that can be discovered through Europeana, improve descriptions for two million sounds, music scores and associated items to make them easier to find, and we’ll create new thematic ‘channels’ on Europeana that bring related objects together in a coordinated way. The sounds will encompass not just musics of different genres – classical, pop and rock, traditional and folk - but also languages and dialects, oral memories, nature and environmental sounds.

Europeana Sounds will be accessed through Europeana, the portal to Europe’s digitised heritage. Through a multi-lingual interface supporting 31 languages, Europeana already connects a mind-boggling 30 million books, paintings, photographs, sounds, films, museum and archival objects from collections held by 2,200 source institutions. Sound recordings are one of the most popular media types, although representing just 2% of Europeana’s content. And while many of Europe’s leading cultural heritage institutions have large, high-quality audio collections that have great public appeal and are valued for research and for creative use, access to them is fragmented and constrained. Europeana Sounds will make audio content from memory institutions easily accessible - a much-needed gateway to Europe’s incomparably rich sound and music collections.

Coordinated by the British Library, this three-year project is led by a network of 24 European organisations: innovative digital technology organisations and leading library and archive collections of sounds and related materials. We will also collaborate with three digital distribution platforms, Historypin, Spotify and SoundCloud and their existing global online communities, to extend the public reach of Europeana’s sound recordings.

The project will additionally test innovative ways to enrich metadata by crowdsourcing and by using automated machine-driven categorisation and cross-media linking. It will align different kinds of objects from different collections:


Blackbird (Turdus merula) singing (painting by Stephanus Hendrik Willem van Trigt. Source: Teylers Museum, Netherlands, via Europeana)

Blackbird singing

Blackbird (Turdus merula) singing (recorded by Eric & May Noble, Wales, March 1991. Source: The British Library)


We’ll also experiment with ‘score following’, so you will be able to scroll music scores from collections contributed by one institution while listening to recorded performances of the same compositions from another source, as illustrated below with extracts from Johan Sebastian Bach's Wohltemperierte Clavier.


Score of Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 870 from JS Bach’s manuscript of Wohltemperierte Clavier ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’, book 2. (Source: The British Library. Add.MS 35021).


Audio recording of Prelude and fugue in C major, BWV 870
recorded example from Europeana via Helsinki City Library).


More details about the Europeana Sounds project:

Picture1Europeana Sounds is funded by the European Union under its ICT Policy Support Programme as part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programm.