THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

12 posts from April 2014

29 April 2014

New oral history collection: architecture

The King’s Library is a magnificent sight familiar to the thousands of people who visit the British Library each day.  Whilst many know its purpose – to house the 65,000 printed books collected by George III – most are unaware of how the King’s Library came into existence. 

Kings Library - courtesy clive sherlock

The King's Library Tower at the British Library's St Pancras site, Photo Clive Sherlock

In the following clip, Sir Colin St John Wilson, ‘Sandy Wilson’, the Library’s architect, explores the evolution of the design and construction of the spectacular six floor, glass fronted bookcase that now sits at the heart of the British Library.  

Colin St. John Wilson - The King's Library (03:46)

This clip is taken from an oral history interview with Sir Colin St John Wilson, now available to listen to in full on Architecture, a brand new resource on British Library Sounds. Launched in April 2014, Architecture provides online worldwide access to 84 oral history interviews from the National Life Stories’ collection Architects’ Lives.

The collection contains recordings of key figures working and teaching in Britain in the 20th and 21st centuries. Open recordings include Hugh Casson’s account of his role as Director of Architecture for the Festival of Britain in London in 1951; Michael Wilford recalls starting work as a young architect with James Stirling on the Leicester Engineering Building – a project which was to have an impact on a generation of architects. Edward Cullinan describes form and shadow in drawing and his work with green timber on the Downland Gridshell; and Edward Jones discusses the design and construction of Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.

Said Business school

Amphitheatre, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, 2012

Modernist architect Ernö Goldfinger, whose buildings include Trellick Tower and 2 Willow Road, had died before Architects’ Lives was initiated but, in collaboration with the National Trust, NLS has been able to include life stories with family members and several of those who knew and worked with him.

We were delighted Gabi Epstein agreed to make a recording, aged 91, revisiting his early years in Germany when his family commissioned Erich Mendelsohn to design their department store in Duisberg. Epstein came to study at the Architectural Association and later designed Lancaster University, one of the post-war campus universities.

The archive also includes an interview with Denys Lasdun, best known for designing the Royal National Theatre. In the following clip Lasdun describes his response to the critics of the design of the National Theatre.

Denys Lasdun - Answering the critics of the design for the National Theatre, London (03:22)

We are grateful to the Monument Trust for their continued support of Architects’ Lives.

Visit http://sounds.bl.uk/Oral-history/Architects-Lives to listen to the full oral history recordings from the Architects’ Lives collection.

 

28 April 2014

Inspired by Flickr: Daniel Barbiero

Submissions for our Inspired by Flickr series are coming in thick and fast, with artists, musicians and designers from around the world picking up the gauntlet and getting stuck into creating a sound piece inspired by one of the million images released by the British Library onto Flickr Commons.

Our third contribution comes from composer Daniel Barbiero who selected a technical illustration from 'A Text-book of Ore and Stone Mining', written by the English geologist and mineralogist Sir Clement le Neve Foster FRS and published by London publishers Charles Griffin & Co. in 1894. Barbiero writes:

The illustration calls for a sound suggestive of drilling, of course, but also of hard surfaces broken up and coming in contact with each other. In an odd bit of convergence a recording I’d recently made of a brush against a ceramic plate, when run through a granular synthesizer, produced a drill-like buzz. That provided a kind of continuo for my piece. The letters labeling the different parts of the apparatus I read as a tone row (using the German names of the notes), which I played on prepared double bass. Each note was bowed with a technique unique to it, creating an overall texture in which pitches were subsumed into abstract sounds. The title was taken from the fragment of text visible with the image.

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Hardness a level can be driven nearly twice as fast as by hand

Sir Clement, when working on his textbook in the late 19th century, could never have dreamed that one of his drawings would have been brought to life, over a century later, through the creative endeavours of a double bassist. This series, and other imaginative projects encouraged by our Digital Research Team, are breathing new life into these fantastic images and, in doing so, are bringing them to the attention of a completely new generation.

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Daniel Barbiero (1958, New Haven CT) is a double bassist, sound artist and composer in the Washington DC area. He has released work under his own name and with Ictus Records percussionist Andrea Centazzo, Blue Note recording artist Greg Osby, and electronic sound artist Steve Hilmy, among others. In addition to his solo work, he is founder and composer/member of The Subtle Body Transmission Orchestra and a member of the free improvisation trio Colla Parte. He writes frequently on music and is a regular contributor to Avant Music News and Percorsi Musicali.
 

24 April 2014

Inspired by Flickr: Chris Lynn

Next up in our Inspired by Flickr series are two compositions from filmaker and sound artist Chris Lynn. The brief was to create a short sound piece inspired by one of the fabulous 1 million images released by the British Library last year onto Flickr Commons. The first image to catch Lynn's eye (and inspire his ears) was a 17th painting of Native Americans taken from William Strachey's 'Travels through Virginia'. The coloured engraving, entitled 'Their Sitting at Meate', called for a more faithful approach when creating the aural setting. Lynn wrote:

I felt the Native American scene required just a simple field recording of waves gently breaking on the shore. I wanted to keep the recording  authentic as possible because the sound and the image are embedded with multiple meanings concerning the history of Native Americans in North America.

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Their Sitting at Meate

We skip forward a couple of centuries with the second image, a 19th Century photograph of the Northern Pacific Railroad yards of Tacoma, Washington. The photograph comes from a much larger collection of landscapes presented in the book 'Atlantis Arisen; or, talk of a tourist about Oregon and Washington..illustrated'.

The Tacoma train photo required something more industrial and slightly dramatic. The expansion of the West was already well on its way, but the photograph has a slightly haunting and modern sensibility. For this I chose a heavily processed field recording. My objective was to highlight the contrast in the composition. We see the trains of Tacoma, but also the great northwest landscape in the background.

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Northern Pacific Railroad Yards

The two compositions perfectly demonstrate different ways in which composers can respond to a visual stimulus, whether the approach is one of authentic recreation or experimental interpretation. It will be fascinating to hear the different responses as this series continues to evolve. With each composition being influenced by both the image itself and the creative style of the composer, a collection of completely unique works will begin to emerge, inspired by images that are being seen by 21st Century eyes for the very first time.

If you would like to take part, please visit our Inspired by Flickr post.

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Chris H. Lynn is a filmmaker, sound artist, educator, and curator. His digital images and super 8 films capture the subtle rhythms of light, movement, and sound in urban and rural landscapes. His work has been screened in a variety of venues, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C, the BFI in London (UK), and the Anthology Film Archives in New York City. His sound work- consisting of field recordings, minimal compositions, and audio from his films- has been released on various net labels and compilations.

16 April 2014

Inspired by Flickr: Jay-Dea Lopez

Last month we issued a challenge to musicians, sonic artists and sound designers around the world: to create a short composition inspired by one of the fabulous 1 million images released by the British Library last year onto Flickr Commons. Submissions have begun to come in and we're delighted to kick off this series with a contribution from Australian sound artist and field recordist Jay-Dea Lopez.

As he explains below, Jay-Dea was inspired by an image from the 1890 publication Babylon Electrified: the history of an expedition undertaken to restore ancient Babylon by the power of electricity and how it resulted, from French author Albert Bleunard. Though largely occupied with non-fiction writings on science, Bleunard did dabble with fiction. Babylon Electrified was his only novel and demonstrated a vivid, Vernean style enhanced by scientific accuracy.

Looking at this illustration I imagine the long lineage of people who, throughout the history of human existence, have looked towards the night sky and wondered if there is something more. Gazing upwards our imagination runs free; the darkness becomes a blank slate into which we project our fears and desires.

Babylon Electrified_ the history of an expedition to restore ancient Babylon

Babylon Electrified

Babylon Electrified is the first in what we hope will be an ongoing series of "inspired by" posts that showcase some of the creative responses to our 1 million images. It's certainly got off to a good start.

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Jay-Dea Lopez is an Australian sound artist and field recordist whose work reflects the social and environmental anxieties of the early 21st century. Jay-Dea’s field recordings and compositions have been used in film, radio, theatre, festivals and gallery installations overseas and in Australia. A Q&A with Jay-Dea can be found here.

15 April 2014

Sound & Vision: What Sounds Will You See?

Over the past couple of months Graphic Media Design students from the London College of Communication have been producing coursework inspired by sounds from the British Library collection. The students were given their pick of recordings from the http://sounds.bl.uk site, and asked to produce graphical works in whatever form inspired them, for a project we called (logically enough) 'Sound & Vision'. 

Six of the students' work has been featured on this blog over the past week, and this post rounds things up by reproducing one example of their work from each of the six. The overriding theme is nealty summed up by the slogan devised by one of the students, Natasha Smith, for her project: "What sounds will you see?"

Sanaz

Sanaz Movahedi was inspired sounds of polar exploration, particularly the 1909/10 recordings  â€˜The Discovery of the North Pole by Commander Robert E Peary’ and  â€˜Adrift on an Ice Floe in the Arctic Ocean by Sir Wilfred Grenfell’, combined with images of ice from the British Library's Flickr pages. She says, "What drew me was the sense of nostalgia these thin black discs clearly held. A grandeur and romanticised past time of men being adventurous, courageous and fearless when the northern hemisphere was still generally unknown." The results are otherworldly, surreal lands calling out to be explored.

See more: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/sound-and-vision/2014/04/sound-vision-1-sanaz-movahedi.html or visit her project web pages at http://savglaciers.tumblr.com.

Natasha

Natasha Smith was drawn to the interviews with molecular biologist and Nobel Prize winner Max Perutz. The themes of his interviews, and the tone of his voice, took her visual imagination in all sorts of interesting directions, the experience of which she can see having wider potential. She says she can "see the British Library holding creative workshops to encourage visitors to listen to and visualise sound for themselves". Her imaginary posters weren't actually hung outside the Library, as the picture above might suggest, but how good it would be if they could be.

See more: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/sound-and-vision/2014/04/sound-vision-2-natasha-smith.html and see more of her work at http://cargocollective.com/natashasmith.

 

Marika Samek's piece entitled 'Awaken' was inspired by wildlife sound recordings of her native Poland. Her response to these is expressed through an installation which, in her words, transforms "the organic, clear form of wood and translucent film applied on acrylic into a shimmering world of light, shadow, and brilliant colour. It is a metaphor for how Sound - something assumedly invisible - can integrate with other senses and create beautiful Vision in the form of a vibrant picture." The video highlights the art work, accompanied by the sounds that inspired it.

See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/sound-and-vision/2014/04/sound-vision-3-marika-samek.html or see more of her work at http://www.marikasamek.eu.

Zack

Zongkai Wang took the imaginative step of not being inspired by specific sounds, but by the expression of the sound collection in catalogue form. His visual solution to representing the variety of the sound collection was to express its contents in the form of a grid. As he argues, "Similar to the role of vibration plays in sound generation, a grid system could be a significant aspect in graphic design. Rhythm and tension are produced by arranging the two dimensional spaces in the form of a grid." The striking results, so very different from the traditional look of online catalogues, suggests that graphic designers know more about how to visualise knowledge than librarians may do.

See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/sound-and-vision/2014/04/sound-vision-4-zongkai-wang.html or see more of his work at http://cargocollective.com/zackwang.

Amine

Amine Gebrehawariat was inspired by the World & Traditional Music section of the Sounds website to produce a series of posters that both express and promote the different musical sounds of Acfrican nations, including Uganda, Botswana, Benin and Kenya. He says of his work: "I wanted to show the distinction between sounds from the different countries. Using the patterns, I manipulated them to visualise the beat and rhythm." Amine is interested in working in campaign advertising and he says he can "strongly visualize the posters being placed in public spaces, for example public transportation where they’re accessible to a mass audience."

See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/sound-and-vision/2014/04/sound-vision-5-amine-gebrehawariat.html

Waihonchan

Wai Hon Chan was inspired by the many sounds of water to be found on the Sounds website. He devised ideas for a water soundscape, based on the Tao concept, through which people in urban spaces might be able to programme the sounds of nature via a system of 'water movement cards' to create an harmonious environment. The images depict the stages of how such a 'Waterscape' might be produced while being visually harmonious in themselves. As with some of the others, he is interested in a practical outcome to his graphical interpretations. The British Library could be doing much more to make its sounds heard in public spaces, we are being told.

See more at http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/sound-and-vision/2014/04/sound-vision-6-wai-hon-chan.html or find more of his work at http://cargocollective.com/chanwaihon.

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It has been really enjoyable working on Sound & Vision. The directions in which the students took the simple brief of creating graphical expressions of whatever inspired them on the Sounds website have surprised, intrigued and indeed inspired us. Around forty students from the course chose to work on the Sounds website idea, and it is particularly pleasing that this is part of their coursework and will help contribute towards their final degree.

The most gratifying aspect has been how each of the students took on the idea of visualising sound with such enthusiasm, and with such a variety of interpretations. We do not have to visualise sounds to appreciate them, but the visuals that sounds inspire can lead us to appreciate them in new ways.

What sounds will you see?

14 April 2014

Sound & Vision # 6: Wai Hon Chan

Over the past couple of months Graphic Media Design students from the London College of Communication have been producing coursework inspired by sounds from the British Library collection. The students were given their pick of recordings from the http://sounds.bl.uk site, and asked to produce graphical works in whatever form inspired them, for a project we called (logically enough) 'Sound & Vision'. Some of the students' work has been featured on this blog over two weeks.

Our sixth student is Wai Hon Chan, who writes about his Waterscape idea for a water soundscape in a public area.

Waterscape

All images by Vaughn Chan

A soundscape is an environment which is created by sound. According to research, sounds have a healing quality for humans in the natural environment (such as forests, villages, beaches etc.). In the urban environment (London, Hong Kong, Paris etc.), people are made stressful by noise.

Waterscape2

The soundscape in urban areas I call the Lofi system, in which we are confused by sound. My idea is to implant the Hifi system (from the natural environment) into the urban. Citizens should be able to enjoy natural sounds in the urban environment. The British Library contains a huge collection of the sounds of water. These collections would be beneficial to the urban citizen with their qualities and varieties.

Waterscape3

Waves: Medium Waves (recorded Isle of Wight, Freshwater, Totland Bay, 4/7/2012)

Waterfall: medium waterfall (recorded Ennderdale, Cumbria, 3/6/2006)

What is the connection between the human senses of vision and hearing? In Asian culture, people love to put the natural environment into their daily lives. From patterns on a bowl to sculptures made of stone, people love to imitate the natural environment with daily objects. This leads them to feel more comfortable and closer to the natural life. Tao is an important Chinese concept. The rules of nature guide human life and we live within these natural rules.

Waterscape6

 

Water is formless, shapeless. Because of these natures, particular sounds are created by movement of water. The Waterscape is a graphical installation which helps to present the movement of water. With the Waterscape, people can touch the sound randomly. The installation is also a lake, a waterfall, a river which is implanted in the public space.

Waterscape8

 

People can selected water movement cards such as rain, waves and waterfalls and have they played through the speakers. The cards are designed with a circuit board and connected to the pool. The frequencies of the water are represented on the cards. The height of cards will affect the speed of the water sound. People can combine different cards, and create their own Waterscape.

Waterscape9

See more of my work at http://cargocollective.com/chanwaihon

Wai Hon, Chan

10 April 2014

Sound & Vision # 5: Amine Gebrehawariat

Over the past couple of months Graphic Media Design students from the London College of Communication have been producing coursework inspired by sounds from the British Library collection. The students were given their pick of recordings from the http://sounds.bl.uk site, and asked to produce graphical works in whatever form inspired them, for a project we called (logically enough) 'Sound & Vision'. Some of the students' work is being featured on this blog over two weeks.

Our fifth student is Amine  Gebrehawariat. The African sounds that have inspired his poster designs can be found on the World and Traditional Music section of the Sounds website.

Ghana

My name is Amine Gebrehawariat, and I am a third year student at London College of Communication studying Graphic and Media Design. I’m very interested in campaign advertising and it's the area I hope to get into after my degree.

Benin

For my project, I decided to visualize the sounds from the African archives using the different textile patterns from these different countries. I’ve worked with more than one sound. I’ve worked with sounds from eight African countries; Kenya, Nigeria, Botswana, South Africa, Togo, Uganda, Benin, and Sierra Leone. After hearing the different sounds, I felt that they sounded similar.

Uganda

Through my visuals, I wanted to show the distinction between sounds from the different countries. Using the patterns, I manipulated them to visuals the beat and rhythm. I felt that this gave the sounds identity, and it made it easier for people to recognize and identify where they’re from. Also, African textiles are commonly stereotyped as being the same, so this fact also inspired me to use the patterns and to show the distinction between both elements.

Kenya

I really like the idea of visualizing the sounds without using the actual sounds themselves. I felt the illustration of the sounds was just as good, and it also gave the sounds their own characteristics and made them visually interesting. As well as visualizing the sounds, I went down the original route of the brief, which was to promote the sounds to a new audience. This was my initial reason to have a series of posters format as my final outcome for this project.

Botswana

I can strongly visualize the posters being placed in public spaces, for example public transportation where they’re accessible to a mass audience. I also included the BL sounds website, so that people can know where to go to find the sounds.

Amine Gebrehawariat

09 April 2014

Sound & Vision # 4: Zongkai Wang

Over the past couple of months Graphic Media Design students from the London College of Communication have been producing coursework inspired by sounds from the British Library collection. The students were given their pick of recordings from the http://sounds.bl.uk site, and asked to produce graphical works in whatever form inspired them, for a project we called (logically enough) 'Sound & Vision'. Some of the students' work is being featured on this blog over two weeks.

Our fourth student, Zongkai ('Zack') Wang is a graphic designer interested in illustration and editorial work. He took the imaginative step of being inspired not by specific sounds but by the Sounds website itself. You can find more of his work here: http://cargocollective.com/zackwang.

Zack1

All images by Zongkai Wang

From the thunderstorm in Zambia, to the coal mine in the steam age, or an oral history of jazz in Britain, these all could be listened to in the British Library Sounds collection. That’s why I decided to propose a visual solution to represent the variety of this sound collection. 

Zack2

Is there any graphic design methods that could match the very essential core of sound? Sound is a vibration. By changing the frequency range, dynamic range,
space and time of the vibration, different sound effects are created. 

Zack3

Similar to the role of vibration plays in sound generation, a grid system could be a significant aspect in graphic design. Rhythm and tension are produced by arranging the two dimensional spaces in the form of a grid. 

Zack4

Meanwhile, the grid system has long been proved to be an efficient and effective way to organise mass information. This method has been used in this project to present British Library Sounds catalogue in a range of A2 size posters.

Zongkai Wang