Sound and vision blog

6 posts from May 2016

19 May 2016

Punk before punk: 'You're gonna wake up one morning...'

The British Library's free punk exhibition is now open in the Entrance Hall. As well as books, journals, punk fanzines, and vinyl records from the collections of the British Library, we have borrowed a number of key items from the counterculture archive collections at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), as well as selected rare items from individuals.

Colin Fallows,  Professor of Sound and Visual Arts at LJMU, was part of a curatorial team of three that also included British Library Curator of Popular Music, Andy Linehan, and me.


The T-shirt pictured above is a key exhibit. It was created by Bernard Rhodes, Malcolm McLaren, Vivienne Westwood and Gerry Goldstein circa 1974 and sold from the shop SEX, at 430 King's Road, Chelsea.

This example is on loan from a collection at LJMU called 'The Situationist International: John McCready Archive'.

Bernard Rhodes came up with the concept, which may have taken it's cue from painter and writer Wyndham Lewis's Blast manifestos of 60 years earlier.

In the left hand column we find listed those cultural figures and phenomena not considered relevant or culturally vital (we are invited to assume):


and on the right-hand side, the good guys, like musicians Archie Shepp and John Coltrane:


This was also possibly the earliest mention of the band then known (briefly) as Kutie Jones and his Sex Pistols.

Bernard Rhodes went on to manage the Clash and was also involved at various times with Subway Sect, the Specials and Dexy's Midnight Runners.

As one of the prime instigators of the punk rock revolution of the 70s it is only fitting that Bernard should be the opening speaker for our summer of punk-related events.

If you are in London on Friday 27 May, come along and hear from the man who started it all. 

Images courtesy Liverpool John Moores University Special Collections and Archives.

Item ref.: JMS/O/000008 'The Situationist International: John McCready Archive'.

With thanks to Professor Colin Fallows.

13 May 2016

"It's easy old boy, it just sucks itself along like a vacuum cleaner." 75 years of British jet flight

May 15th marks the 75th anniversary of the first flight of the Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 , Britain's first jet plane.  At its heart was a revolutionary turbo-jet engine invented by Frank Whittle.  An RAF pilot turned engineer, Whittle had patented a jet engine design in 1930, but it took years of difficult development work, in the face of official disinterest, to bring his ideas to fulfillment. As Whittle recounts in this interview clip from 1953, the first flight was a great success, even if some of the watching RAF officers had problems understanding how this newfangled jet engine thing worked…

Frank Whittle describes the first flight of the Gloster-Whittle E.28 - 39


Frank Whittle adjusts a slide rule while seated at his desk at the Ministry of Aircraft Production

Image: Frank Whittle adjusts a slide rule while seated at his desk at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, 1943.  Credit: Imperial War Museums.

The E.28/39 was moved to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough for an extensive series of scientific tests to see how the aircraft performed in flight.  Amongst those involved was Dennis Higton, the technician for the high speed flight testing group, whose practical ingenuity proved vital.  As Dennis recalls in this clip from An Oral History of British Science, fitting scientific instrumentation into the small E.28/39 proved quite a challenge.



Image: Interviewee Dennis Higton (right) and colleagues with a Gloster E.28/39, Britain's first jet aircraft, in the 1940s.  Credit: Dennis Higton.

Also in the high speed flight testing group was aeronautical engineer John Charnley, who in this video recalls his first impressions of seeing the E.28/39 in 1943 and the close relationship that built up between test pilots and aeronautical researchers as they sought to understand the mysteries of flying faster than ever before.

Dr Tom Lean, Project Interviewer
An Oral History of British Science

10 May 2016

Marconi and the Lizard

During the summer of 2015, the British Library, the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland invited members of the public to record and share their favourite coastal sounds. Sounds of our Shores focused on the entire coastline of the United Kingdom, from the Isles of Scilly to Orkney, and received more than 650 submissions over 3 months covering natural history, entertainment, transport and industry.

As part of the project, the National Trust commissioned musician and producer Joe Acheson to create a composition inspired by the history and nature of Cornwall's Lizard Peninsula and Guglielmo Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Station. Here Joe writes about the experience.

Lizard Point is the most southerly point of the UK mainland. In 1900 radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi built a hut there to experiment with sending radio signals over long distances. Marconi’s hut received the first ever ship-to-shore SOS signal.

Last summer I spent a week on the Lizard as part of the National Trust’s first ever sound artist residency. My new EP, Marconi and the Lizard, was the product of that summer residency.

Marconi and the Lizard

I spent a sunny day on The Lizard in June 2015, and luckily recorded a nice dawn chorus in the best season. The week when I returned in August saw almost constant heavy rain, high winds, and regular storms, with foghorns and big waves; all great sounds but they make recording outdoors difficult. Whenever there was a break in the weather I set off on a bike with a bag of microphones to find sheltered coves and fields, ducking behind stone walls and boulders to record crickets in the long grass away from the strong wind, and clambering around slippery cliffs and rocky shorelines trying to get clean recordings of birds, streams and waterfalls.

The EP features the natural sounds of the Cornish coastline - wind, sea, grass, insects, birds, rain and waves. They’re combined with man-made sounds, like the sculpting of the rare local Serpentine stone on a lathe, launching the RNLI lifeboat, weaving lobster pots, lighthouse and ship foghorns, stacking empty 'bongos' (large plastic containers for storing fish on a boat) and fishermen chatting over radio out in the bay.

Joe Acheson Credit National Trust Steven Haywood

© Steven Haywood, the National Trust.

The rest of the sounds come from inside Marconi's hut or over the airwaves - vintage spark transmitters and morse code receivers, lots of radio noises picked up through aerials on his historic sites at Lizard Point and Poldhu, and a few archive recordings from local sound and radio enthusiasts such as a radio transmission from an amateur satellite in orbit, reporting back its temperature and battery status in a robotic voice.

I have taken all these recordings and sifted through them, like searching through old records looking for a sample, waiting to hear a pitched sound I can use for harmonies and basslines, and rhythmic fragments that can be extrapolated into pulsing layers of textures and beats.

Some of the sounds on the album have recently disappeared from the Lizard, like the old lighthouse foghorn that has been replaced by a long electronic beep that bounces around the cliff-faces. I was the last to record the now-decommissioned spark transmitter in the Marconi museum.

The sounds have been minimally treated so that they mostly remain identifiable as a raven, a cricket, a spark or a gust of wind. Some sounds only reveal their musical qualities when slowed down - like the meadow stream which at half speed unveils melodic patterns of tiny pitched droplets. Despite the fact that there are no sounds created by synthesisers or computers, the music sounds quite electronic - probably because I didn't set out to make abstract soundscapes; I like finding patterns and rhythms and combining them to create music with pulse and energy.

On the Lizard I discovered that most of the natural sounds have complementary tempos and pitches, which fit together naturally at their original speed. It’s similar to how birds have evolved their unique calls to remain distinctive in the cacophony of a dawn chorus, with each species taking up their own tiny bandwidth of the frequency spectrum and using complex rhythms to further stand out in the soundscape.

Like the food philosophy 'what grows together goes together', nature has evolved its own sound mix.

Marconi and the Lizard (TruThoughts) can be downloaded in full at

06 May 2016

The Audio and Audio-Visual Academic Book of the Future - A Symposium

In 2015 the British Library Sound Archive began working in collaboration with Academic Book of the Future to ascertain the current landscape of research utilising audio and audio-visual content. Forty-two researchers responded to our audio-visual academic book survey (you can see that initial call out here.) Logo

From the respondents it’s been interesting to note that most researchers only utilise audio in a transcribed or written format. Thirty-eight of the researchers that completed our survey (90% of respondents) transcribed the audio that they were using. This is a colossal amount of work in some cases, and perhaps highlights some of the issues raised in Raphael Samuel’s seminal essay ‘Perils of the Transcript’* from 1972. In ‘Perils of the Transcript’, Samuel explored issues that arise when oral history interviews are transcribed and how meaning and emotion become subverted by the need to make the oral testimony readable - namely the use of punctuation. In what way can digital technologies help the researcher (from all disciplines of audio visual research) escape this peril which Samuels articulated 44 years ago? How does publishing need to evolve to best serve the audio visual researcher both now and in the future? Are we ready to give up the beloved CD, DVD or cassette?


As the technological landscape of the world changes, the ability to access and play analogue sound carriers becomes increasingly limited. It is important to also consider the rate of decay for websites and digital links which is astoundingly high and not up to short-term (let alone long-term) archival preservation. From the initial survey work that has been done for the Save Our Sounds project, the main preservation concern for our audio collections is not that the recordings themselves are at immediate risk of disappearing, but the obsolescence of the playback equipment and digital operating platforms.

A symposium has been arranged on 23rd May 2016 to discuss the findings of the survey and hear presentations by publishing houses, app developers, and researchers. The symposium will be a forum to discuss the potential of the audio and audio-visual academic book of the future and ways of working together to fully explore that potential. 

Book to attend the Symposium here.

Find out more about Save our Sounds here, follow @SoundHeritage for live updates from our digitisation studio, @SoundArchive for tweets from the sound team, and use #SaveOurSounds to join the conversation on Twitter.

The symposium is generously supported by the British Library Labs project –

* Samuel, Raphael. Perils of the Transcript. Oral History. Vol. 1, No. 2 (1972), pp. 19-22

Steven Dryden - Sound & Vision Reference Specialist

05 May 2016

"Ils sont arrivés!" Francis Chagrin and Allied Propaganda at the BBC French Service 1939-45

 Alexis Bennett is an Edison Fellow at the British Library Sound Archive, and is currently completing his PhD in music at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is an Associate Lecturer. He is also a composer and performer.  Here he writes about his research on the work of composer Francis Chagrin at the BBC French Service.


Chagrin edit

Francis Chagrin pursued several musical careers simultaneously. The Romanian-born composer, who eventually settled in Britain after formative years in France, was something of a musical chameleon. Much of his work is preserved in the British Library Sound Archive, alongside his papers and manuscripts held in the BL’s Music Collections. In a previous post I discussed the history of the fascinating archive of Chagrin discs that were donated to the Sound Archive in 2006, and explored the process of cross-referencing the audio archive with the manuscripts, especially in relation to the film music and concert works. In this post I take a look at some of the slogans he set to music for the BBC French Service.



During the Second World War, priorities changed in most sectors of British culture. Film production was halted in most studios, and the musical establishment found itself having to walk a tightrope between continuing the work of simply making great music on the one hand, and serving the interests of a nation at war on the other. So Chagrin, who had already started working in film alongside composing concert works, spent the years of the Second World War working for the French branch of the BBC Overseas Service, setting Allied propaganda slogans to his distinctively witty and colourful music.

The BBC French Service (also known as Radio Londres) broadcast to occupied France between 1940 and 1945. Following the Armistice of June 1940, which effectively began the occupation, the station was fighting a war of ideas with the official radio stations of the Vichy regime. The famous words “Radio Paris ment, Radio Paris ment, Radio Paris est allemand” (“Radio Paris lies, Radio Paris lies, Radio Paris is German”), a plea to the French not to listen to the Vichy-controlled station based in France, originated on the BBC’s French Service. Those who tuned in to the BBC in France and its flagship programme Les Français parlent aux Français  would have come to know Chagrin’s music extremely well, alongside the voices of certain presenters and singers, among them the journalist Pierre Bourdan and the actor and director Jacques Brunius. Another regular was Jean Oberlé, a painter and illustrator-turned radio personality, whose name is mentioned alongside that of other presenters in the Chagrin autograph manuscripts; the composer wanted to note in the scores which of the presenters were to speak or sing a given section.

One representative recording in the Sound Archive concerns the arrival of American troops in Britain. The music that opens the item contains a quote from ‘Yankee Doodle’, a clear nod to the subject. In an exchange typical of the French Service items, two male voices speak – or rather, declaim - to each other:

“Ils sont arrivés! Ils sont arrivés!”

“Qui ça?”

“Les Américains, les premiers soldats américains, viennent d’arrivés dans les iles Britanniques.”

There follows a description of the American troops’ arrival at St Nazaire in June 1917 (many listeners will have had vivid memories of that war), a short fanfare which is once more based on ‘Yankee Doodle’, and then a song about the current embarkation based on the well known chanson ‘À la Martinique’ (Cohan/Christiné).

Play the recording here:

Ils sont arrives

The archive contains discs that were held by Chagrin privately until their donation to the Sound Archive, which often feature two attempts to record the same slogan, with occasional discussion and other extraneous noise between takes.

Another typical song broadcast to France via the BBC French Service, is ‘La Chanson du Maquis’ (with words by Maurice van Moppès). It concerns the French resistance fighters, or maquisards. The autograph score of the song notes that it was recorded on 17th November, 1943. The lyrics describe the heroism of the young maquisards, who left their family and friends to fight in the wilderness of the mountains (their name derives from a word meaning ‘jungle’ or ‘scrubland’). As the fighters faced hunger and cold, the song calls out to rouse the listeners’ sympathy and to elicit help. It describes how the maquisards defy “slavery” and maintain hope, without losing courage:

Ce sont ceux du maquis

Ceux de la Résistance,

Ce sont ceux du maquis

Qui gardent l’espérance

Bravant le froid [,] bravant la faim

Défiant l’horrible esclavage

Bravant Laval, bravant ses chiens,

Sans jamais perdre courage,

Ce sont ceux du maquis

Ceux de la résistance

Ce sont ceux du maquis

Jeunesse du pays.

Elsewhere in the archive Chagrin arranges existing music to accompany slogans for broadcast, including the famous opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Indeed one of the strange paradoxes about British broadcasting during the war was that music from the Austro-German tradition was used widely and freely. As the historian John Morris has noted, Beethoven in particular remained a composer who represented liberty and common humanity. This was a far cry from the growing catalogue of forbidden entartete musik as compiled by the Nazi regime. The opening four-note motif from Beethoven’s Fifth was used as a musical sign for ‘Victory’ during many of the French Service’s slogans, usually played on the timpani. A powerful musical sign of fortitude amid great struggle, it also happens to be a musical rendering of the Morse code for the letter V (dot-dot-dot-dash). Chagrin was one of the radio practitioners who developed the extensive use of this motif, and wrote and recorded an extended adaptation of the opening of the symphony, which he named ‘Chanson de V’



CHADWICK, KAY. ‘Our Enemy’s Enemy: Selling Britain to Occupied France on the BBC French Service’, Media History, Vol. 21, No. 4. pp. 426-442

LAUNCHBURY, CLAIRE. Constructing French Cultural Soundscapes at the BBC during the Second World War (Bern: Peter Lang, 2012)

LUNEAU, AURÉLIE. Je vous écris de France: Lettres inédites à la BBC 1940-1944. (Paris: L’Iconoclaste, 2014)

LUNEAU, AURÉLIE, ‘Des anonymes dans la guerre des ondes’, Le Temps des médias  2005/1, No. 4  p. 78-89.

MORRIS, JOHN. Culture and Propaganda in World War II: Music, Film and the Battle for National Identity. (London & New York: I.B.Tauris, 2014)

Jamie Vardy: I bet he ain't mardy ... dilly dong dilly dong

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

In the immediate aftermath of Leicester City's incredible achievement in securing their first Premier League title, I thought of this BBC Voices Recording with Foxes fans in 2004. This conversation will underline to all football fans quite what Leicester City have achieved, but equally importantly it celebrates another previously underestimated East Midland cultural phenomenon: the Leicester dialect. In what has been rightly acknowledged as a concerted team effort, Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kanté have nonetheless been singled out for special praise. By way of tribute I'd like to select 3 items of Leicester dialect from this recording for the British Library's dialect team of the season:

  1. the word mardy [= 'moody, sullen, grumpy, spoilt, esp. of  child']
  2. the local pronunciation of the word Leicester (and other words ending in <-er>)
  3. the bare infinitive (e.g. do you want  _ play football)

The sheer number of contributors who wanted to ensure mardy was included in the British Library's WordBank - a user generated audio archive of vernacular English - testifies to the continued vitality of this much-loved dialect term. Recorded in the OED from 1874 and categorised as 'regional, chiefly north', several contributors claimed it is exclusively a Leicester word, but it actually occurs over a wide area of the North and Midlands. As a Sheffield lad I suspect it will be extremely familiar to Jamie Vardy and, as you now hear youngsters all over the world singing along to Arctic Monkeys’ 2004 single ‘Mardy Bum’, this nineteenth-century dialect word now probably enjoys international currency. Nonetheless its heartland is the East Midlands as confirmed by this WordBank contributor, who describes wonderfully how much the word epitomises her Leicester identity:

C1442X2502 MARDY

An instantly recognisable feature of the Leicester accent is the tendency to use a much stronger vowel - almost like the <o> sound in the word lot - on words that end in <-a> such as comma or <-er> such as letter. This is a highly distinctive pronunciation that provides a clear contrast with broad local speech in the West Midlands where such words are typically realised with a final <a> sound – thus better ('betta') in Birmingham but better ('betto') in Leicester. Indeed locals are often caricatured as referring to their home town as e.g. Loughborough ('lufbro') or Leicester ('lesto') as demonstrated convincingly by a contributor to the British Library's VoiceBank - a collection of recordings created by visitors to the Library’s ‘Evolving English’ exhibition in 2010/11. Prompted to provide detailed information about where his accent came from one contributor simply supplied the response Leicester:

C1442Xuncatalogued Leicester

Finally, in Standard English modal verbs combine with a bare infinitive to create an infinitive phrase – e.g. I can read and we might come. This also applies to a small set of verbs (e.g. feel, hear, help, let, make, see and watch) when combined with a direct object – she watched him fall or we heard them shout, but other verbs and adjectives require a to-infinitive – e.g. she decided to drive or we are happy to help. In East Midlands English bare infinitives extend to all environments and are especially common with use [= ‘be accustomed’] and want, as in I used _ think we'd lose. By extension many speakers also favour zero habitual to - i.e. the preposition to is deleted with common destinations such as I'm gonna go _ King Power. There are numerous examples in this BBC Voices Recording with Leicester fans, including:

they kept us inside for fifteen minutes after the game and all we want _ do was go to the coaches which were right over the road

there’s a lot more women who go _ football now I mean I think women know more about football than men anyway

As a Sky Blues fan this is something I never thought I'd hear myself saying, but hats off to Leicester City and, more especially, to Leicester English: dilly dong dilly dong, as they may well say in Leicester for many years to come.