Sound and vision blog

4 posts from December 2014

18 December 2014

Inspired by Flickr: a year in review

Early in 2014, we put out a call to sound artists, designers, composers and recordists to create a short sound piece inspired by digitised images from the British Library's collection of 17th, 18th and 19th century books. These images, comprising over 1 million illustrations, maps, paintings, diagrams and photographs, were released by the British Library onto Flickr Commons at the end of 2013, for anyone to use, remix or repurpose, and presented an absolute treasure trove of items just waiting to be brought to life through the medium of sound.

The challenge was taken up by a number of artists, who found inspiration in images related to subjects as diverse as geology, science fiction, exploration, mechanics, history and murder mysteries. Here we look back at the wonderful submissions that have come our way:

Babylon Electrified: Jay-Dea Lopez

Babylon Electrified_ the history of an expedition to restore ancient Babylon

Babylon Electrified

Their Sitting At Meate: Chris Lynn


Their Sitting at Meate

Northern Pacific Railroad Yards: Chris Lynn


Northern Pacific Railroad Yards

Hardness A Level Can Be Driven Nearly Twice As Fast As By Hand: Daniel Barbiero


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

Lantern Room: Mark Lyken


Lantern Room

 (Coombe) Chalk Dissolve: Jez riley French


(coombe) chalk dissolve

Air: Espaces Sonores


Matin d'Ariege

Earth: Espaces Sonores


The Quaker

Water: Espaces Sonores

Shan Village lake

Inle Lake Insomnia

Fire: Espaces Sonores


Brule La Nuit

We bring the series to a close with this imaginative piece from Australian field recordist Jeremy Hegge who found inspiration, not in an illustration or a photograph, but in the decorative paper sitting behind the front and back covers of the eleventh edition of William Robertson's 'The History of America'. 

The swirling pattern immediately resonated with Hegge, reminding him of underwater recordings that exist in his growing, personal archive:

I like the abstract quality of listening to aquatic life. When you listen, it's sometimes like you are entering another world, another state of consciousness, an entirely different way of being and seeing and hearing. Most of the time when I put my hydrophones in the water I have no clue about where the sounds are coming from or what is making them.

Fishes, crustaceans, insects, amphibians, plants, something I don't even know about? So much is hidden.

The image reminded me of this abstract quality of the sounds underneath water; to me it's like looking into space, or watching microscopic life, it has this otherworldly beauty to it, something ineffable, even if that was not intended when it was created.


Another State Of Consciousness

We would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the Inspired by Flickr project. What started out as a bit of a whim has developed into a fascinating series that has seen little known images, hidden in the pages of books that have all but disappeared from popular knowledge, brought back to life for a 21st Century audience in a completely new and engaging way. 


Jeremy Hegge (1992, Sydney, NSW, Australia) is a filmmaker, field recordist and musician from Sydney, Australia. He is interested in long duration recordings, meditative listening and the way sounds change in a place over time. 


15 December 2014

Oral History Curator's Choice

Curators_choiceThe Oral History Curator's Choice collection on the British Library Sounds website was created earlier in 2014 to provide access to some of the CD publications edited and produced by the Oral History section and National Life Stories between 1990 and 2011 (and all expertly edited by the British Library's Sound & Moving Image Audio Engineers). So far publications concentrating on the Post Office, the British food industry, British fashion, the steel industry, the visual arts, theatre design, and writing are available via BL Sounds. Many of the life story interviews from which the extracts were edited are available in their entirety via the Oral History packages on British Library Sounds, but the aim with this Curator's Choice collection is to provide a curated entry point into the collections, and to make these now out-of-print CDs available.

In the following extract from 'Speeding the mail: an oral history of the Post Office', Seumas McSporran talks about the parcel post on the Isle of Gigha, Scotland, in the 1960s, and unusual deliveries, particularly around Christmas:

Seumas McSporran talks about the parcel post on the Isle of Gigha, Scotland, in the 1960s

The extracts in Curator's Choice can be browsed by subject, by interviewee, and by the original CD on which they were published. As some of the publications were narrated the original extracts have been grouped together into clustered themes, such as for 'Connecting Lines' and 'The Writing Life'. In the following screen grab you can see how the notes feature on British Library Sounds can be used to add information about the content of the extract at a specific point in the recording.

Sounds CC

The British Library Sounds website ( now has 60,000 sound tracks, all freely available for listening online. It represents the most diverse online collection of scholarly sounds anywhere, and also has other interactive features, such as the option to tag and 'favourite' tracks, and to create personalised playlists. These features can be enabled by registering at  Please do register and add your notes to other Curator's Choice tracks.

11 December 2014

Inspired by Flickr: Fire

Air, earth and water have all been the subject of a special quadrilogy of sound pieces conceived by sound artist Stéphane Marin in response to selected images from the Library's 1 million digitised items released onto Flickr Commons at the start of the year.

The overarching theme of this series has been the four classical elements of air, earth, water and fire, whose origins lie in ancient philosophy and religion. These historial concepts have been shaped further by Marin through the words of the 20th Century French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard.

Our final classical element in this series is fire and was inspired by an image from Sir Max Pemberton's novel of 1894, 'Jewel Mysteries that I have Known'. Primarily a novelist, and a prolific one at that, with over sixty novels to his name, Pemberton specialised in adventure and mystery, publishing countless tales of murder, piracy and intrigue.

Part 4 - Inspired by Fire

"I believe I would prefer to miss a lesson of philosophy

that to miss my morning light."

"Psychoanalysis of fire"

G. Bachelard

Just this once, Gaston Bachelard does not make us "hear" the fire as he does with the other elements…

He applies his methods of analysis to the existence of fire, both as a real presence throughout the history of  mankind and as a literary, symbolic presence. Fire doesn't seem to sound at his ears…

ok ! 

It does for us !



I warmly dedicate this sound work to my Grandmother Odette, faded then cremated last June, just before the summer's flames.

"fire suggests the desire to change, to rush the time, to bring all the life to its end, its beyond

(…)  For him, the destruction is a change, it is a renewal."

"Psychoanalysis of fire"

G. Bachelard

This fiery end brings to a close a fascinating series of intertwined pieces from Marin that bring together elements of philosophy, ancient concepts, field recording, composition and artistic interpretation. Each offering uses sound to connect the past with the present and brings new life to images that have all but faded into obscurity.


Following many collaborations with street art companies (Allegro Barbaro / Le Phun / Osmosis Cie / 2ème Groupe d'Intervention / Décor Sonore) on projects performed in the six corners of the French hexagon, and in international festivals held in cities such as Suwon, Beirut, Poznan, Grätz, Valladolid, Manchester and Saarbrüken, Stéphane Marin created Espaces Sonores in 2008, a company dedicated to contextual sound creation and sound art. His work includes An Umbrella for 2 - audio walks to be shared by two people under an umbrella which was created for the Saint Charles train station in Marseille (Lieux Publics - Street Arts Creation National Center) and the streets and underpasses of Singapore (Singapore Arts Festival - National Arts Council), Elementaire - an ecological soundscape for relaxing sound naps ; ÉcoutesS d'EspaceS / EspaceS D'écouteS sound walks, sessions of yoga for your ears and finally contributions to events that help others rediscover the pleasures of phonography  (Mingalabar ! - Arte Radio - Paris / L'Oreille Nomade #1 - Myanmar - Kinokophonography @ New York Public Library for Performing Arts)

08 December 2014

How to run a power station

Have you ever wondered where the electricity from your plug sockets actually comes from? Electricity shortages were a fact of life in postwar Britain, with power cuts and voltage reductions a regular occurrence. The hodgepodge collection of existing power stations couldn't keep up with the fast rising demand for electricity and the British Electricity Authority and its successor, the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB), embarked on a massive programme of power station construction. Between 1948 and 1988 over 100 power stations were built in Britain, the large majority of them coal fired. As equipment became more capable, the stations became larger, turning  into immensely powerful castles of generation that still provide a large proportion of Britain’s electricity needs today.

  Matt filming crop for blog

Image: Matt Casswell filming Granville Camsey at Rugeley B, Staffordshire (© British Library)

Amongst these stations is Rugeley B, a 1000 megaWatt station built on the River Trent in Staffordshire in the 1960s and 1970s. Last year a few of us from National Life Stories got to spend the day at Rugeley to do an interview with Granville Camsey, the station's manager in the 1970s, and his modern day equivalent, David Leich, as part of An Oral History of the Electricity Supply Industry. As you can see from this video, making electricity on a large scale relies on a mix of people and big technology - it's absolutely vast inside and an incredible place to visit. 


Clip: Granville Camsey compares running a power station in the 1970s and today. (© British Library)

To listen to more interviews from An Oral History of the Electricity Supply in the UK, please visit British Library Sounds

Tom Lean