Sound and vision blog

4 posts from August 2016

25 August 2016

The Great British Bread-Cake Debate

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

As a Castleford fan and dialectologist I was doubly excited this week to see a tweet by Mike McMeeken prompted a heated debate among his fellow Cas players and fans about the 'correct' word for a bread roll. As with many professional team sports these days the mixture of languages, dialects and accents must prompt similar discussions on a regular basis. The issue here revolves around bread-cake - regularly elicited in dialect surveys in West Yorkshire - and the more mainstream bread roll - as advocated by Basingstoke-born, Mike McMeeken, and Aussie, Luke Dorn. The third variant suggested - barm - also crops up in dialect surveys in the north of England, especially in Lancashire in the form barm cake.

It's perhaps not surprising that Luke Dorn objects to the word cake in reference to bread as we tend to use cake nowadays to refer to 'sweet baked goods' in contrast to bread for a 'savoury baked item'. However, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) notes that bread (recorded from c.950) was historically a generic term for any baked item, while cake (first recorded in 1230) and loaf (recorded from c.950) originally referred to the shape of 'bread' - with cake usually being smaller and loaf larger.  Crucially cake only acquired the sense of sweet ingredients relatively recently. The Survey of English Dialects (SED), conducted by the University of Leeds in the 1950s, elicited numerous examples of this earlier sense of loaf meaning 'large bread' and cake meaning 'small bread' - e.g. spice loaf was (possibly still is) widely used in the north for what we know call 'Christmas cake', while conversely haver-bread and riddle-bread commonly referred to 'oat-cake'. This suggests the continued use in Castleford of bread-cake reflects a useful historic distinction and also explains why teacake often causes confusion as in some parts of the country (and in most supermarkets) it now refers to a sweet bread with e.g. currants, but in Yorkshire and elsewhere in the north it's a savoury bake. Other terms like barm cake (North West) and lardy cake (South West) also become clearer and simply refer to 'small bread' baked with barm or lard. The SED established a north-south divide in the use of barm (north) and yeast (south) to refer to the same vital ingredient used in baking bread. Lardy cakes are still popular in the South West and West Country and the English Dialect Dictionary (1898-1905) confirms lardy cake was known in Oxfordshire and Berkshire in the 19th century.

We can observe a present-day parallel in this gradual change of meaning of the word cake with other contemporary baking terms: in the UK muffin (first recorded by OED in 1703) has traditionally been used to refer to a small flat bread usually served toasted with butter and/or jam, but in the USA it has for some time referred to what we in the UK more commonly call a cup-cake. Ask someone in the UK now to describe a muffin and it can reveal a great deal about their age and/or geographic location. A similar test could be applied to biscuit (OED definition: 'kind of crisp dry bread more or less hard, prepared generally in thin flat cakes' first recorded in 1330), which now competes in the UK, particularly among younger speakers, with cookie (OED definition: 'in U.S. usually a small flat sweet cake [a biscuit in U.K.], but locally a name for small cakes of various form with or without sweetening' first recorded in 1754).

The British Library has some wonderful examples of dialect speakers describing traditional ways of baking bread, including Miss Dibnah, recorded in 1955 in Welwick in the East Riding and recent surveys confirm several regional variants for 'small bread', many of which are captured in the Library's dialect recordings including:

batch in Coventry

C1442 uncatalogued [Coventry] BATCH

cob in the East Midlands

C1442X2810 [Midlands] COB

rowie (i.e. Scots diminutive for 'roll') in Aberdeen

C1442X448 [Aberdeen] ROWIE

stotty in the North East

C1442X83 [Teesside] STOTTY

and my own personal favourite, also not known much beyond Castleford: scuffler - a triangular bread-cake that even merits its own twitter hashtag and is discussed by a family from Castleford:

C1190X19X01 [Castleford] SCUFFLER

Congratulations to Mike McMeeken, Ben Crooks, Luke Dorn et al for their perfect timing - surely it's no coincidence this debate erupted just in time for the return of The Great British Bake Off?

23 August 2016

Passionate music from a hot country: a musical visit to Iraq-Kurdistan

The British Library's World and Traditional Music section supported ethnomusicologist, Rolf Killius, on a field trip to record music in Iraq-Kurdistan over June/July 2016. This is his report.


Rugged Mountains in Kurdistan Photo Rolf Killius
Rugged Mountains in Kurdistan. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016

It is hot. No, it is extremely hot. Today the temperature is 45° Celsius; the air is bone-dry, no trace of wind. I am in Sulaimani, the second urban centre in Iraq-Kurdistan. This part of Iraq belongs to the Kurds and is de-facto an independent state run by a Kurdish government.

Traditional singers and musicians have gathered in the Zardosht Café. Zardosht is the Kurdish term for Zoroastrianism, an age-old religion known in the wider region. Since the coming of the Islamic period, it has become a minority religion, often frowned upon. These days the Zardosht belief is making a kind of come-back. Here in Kurdistan the faith is essentially Kurdish and promotes traditional folk music.

Listen Zardosht Cafe Group

The group starts to play: The zarab (goblet drum) player provides rhythm while the Korg keyboardist adds harmonies and melodic phrases. Occasionally the saz (plucked lute) virtuoso contributes drone and melodic sounds. But the musical highlight is the charismatic lead-singer Ata Azizy; he alternates – or even competes – with the balaban player, Jowanro, in expressing intricate melodic lines. A balaban is a traditional single-reed wood instrument; it is very similar to the Armenian duduk. Its sound is soothing and exciting at the same time. Their way of singing and playing, including the guttural stops, is possibly what makes the music “typically” Kurdish.

The singer Ata Azizy Photo Rolf Killius
The singer Ata Azizy. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016


The balaban player Jowanro accompanied with zarab drum, keyboard and saz Photo Rolf Killius
The balaban player Jowanro accompanied with zarab drum, keyboard and saz. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016

With the support of the British Library's World and Traditional Music section, I was able to visit Iraq-Kurdistan and record traditional music during live events and in pre-arranged recording sessions. I was curious: how does a new country treats its rich traditional music culture?

I stay for the ‘after-party’ at the Zorgasth Café. Here the singer, Rafat Germiany, and the same balaban player perform howrama. Though this musical genre is remotely connected to Zoroastrianism, it is known as a typical Kurdish vocal style. The voice and the wind-instrument alternate again.

 Listen Zardosht Cafe Howrama group


 The singer Rafat Germiany (second left) and the balaban player Jowanro (second right) Photo Rolf Killius

The singer Rafat Germiany (second left) and the balaban player Jowanro (second right). Photo Rolf Killius, 2016

For me the most remarkable thing is the large, mainly young crowd (only men). They watch the performance with increasing anticipation. It shows that the music is still meaningful to a younger audience and therefore has a future. One participant told me that this café was the only public space where a female singer was allowed to perform these days.

Everybody mentions the traditional vocal style called heiran from the Erbil region, Erbil being the country’s capital and the other urban centre. Mr Delzar, a friend, invites me to his home village far from Erbil, just below the Qarachokh mountain range. Today his ‘village’ consists of several farm-houses managed on a part-time basis and re-created only recently. The original Kurdish villages of this region were destroyed by Iraqi troops, the last time by Saddam Hussain in 1988. Only in the last few years – the region was only recently secured by the Peshmerga (Kurdish liberation army) – have some of the original villagers and their descendants come back to farm again.

A seasoned Kurd arrives at Mr Delzar’s farm-house and immediately starts singing. Mr Mahyadin Sherwani is a farmer and self-taught heiran singer. He explains to me that the songs of the heiran genre describe the rugged countryside of Kurdistan and its people.

I first experienced traditional Kurdish vocal music many years back in the Kurdish region of eastern Turkey. I listened to the always slightly over-amplified and highly reverberated recordings from cassettes played on the crackling PA-system of a local bus. There, listening to this music and viewing the hills flying past, I imagined how this music was born in the Kurdish countryside.  I have the same feeling today, listening to this talented singer in this Iraq-Kurdistan village.


The Heiran singer Mahyadin Sherwani Photo Parwez Zabihi
The Heiran singer Mahyadin Sherwani. Photo Parwez Zabihi, 2016

Listen The Heiran singer Mahyadin Sherwani


I have already mentioned the saz. During my last week in Iraq-Kurdistan I was invited to a performance in the heart of Erbil of the saz player and musical instrument shop owner, Bakr Sazvan. He has his shop just below the ancient citadel set on a mound towering over the city. He played a number of electrifying pieces, setting his business aside for a full hour.

The saz is a pear-shaped plucked instrument, with five or six strings organised in three courses. For the Kurds the saz is an essentially Kurdish instrument though it is also used by Turkish and Iranian musicians.

Especially intriguing is how Bakr Sazvan plays, combining melodic phrases played on the higher pitched strings, and striking the lower pitched strings in order to create the accompanying drone sound.

The Saz player Bakr Savan in his workshop Photo Rolf Killius
The Saz player Bakr Savan in his workshop. Photo Rolf Killius, 2016

Listen The Saz player Bakr Savan in his workshop


As I pack my bags for the return journey to London I ponder about Kurdish traditional music: in comparison with many other regions of the world I’ve visited, the music of the Kurds is still alive and kicking! As these people are very keen to demonstrate traditional music and to preserve their culture, they invited me to come again for a much longer stay. I happily accepted.

Rolf Killius ( and 09/08/2016 

(with thanks to the musicians, interpreters, fixers and friends who assisted on the trip)


The recordings made during this project will be added to the Rolf Killius Collection (C815). Some of Rolf's recordings from rural India are online on BL Sounds.

Find out more about the work of the British Library's Sound Archive and the new Save our Sounds programme online.

Follow the British Library Sound Archive @soundarchive and the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities @BL_WorldTrad on Twitter.




18 August 2016

From bronze to basalt: Jane McAdam Freud's life in sculpture

This month National Life Stories interviewer, Liz Wright, completed an oral history recording with the artist Jane McAdam Freud. The chronological structure of the life story approach to interviewing means that the progression of an artist’s practice can be allowed to gradually unfold during the interview. Liz has gained Jane’s kind permission to share a few excerpts from the recording, selected because they represent important moments or turning points in Jane’s work.

Jane McAdam Freud was interviewed for the NLS Artists’ Lives collection, although she was originally recommended as an interviewee for NLS’ Crafts Lives project by one of the project’s funders, The Goldsmiths’ Company, because of her work in art medals.  In 1981, whilst studying at the Central School of Art and Design, Jane won a Royal Society of Arts Bursary for her medal featuring a portrait of Picasso:

“[The Picasso medal] affirmed for me that I was right in my instinct to make sculpture, to work with relief, particularly the idea of duality – two sides of things – and to introduce that conceptual element into the work gave me so much to hang my feelings and thoughts on.”



Cast bronze medal commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Picasso, 1981.

Jane’s work in medals led to employment at the Royal Mint and Perth Mint, Australia but she soon chose to pursue her own multi-disciplinary practice, encompassing drawing, digital media and sculpture using traditional materials such as clay, but also wire mesh, metal fragments and found objects:

“I just so wanted to find reliefs, I didn’t want to make them… That’s why I started working with found objects, doing what I call conceptual sculpture… because medals don’t make any sense in the twenty first century in art terms, there were other objects that had taken over, that corresponded to the criteria for describing such a form, but they were more like things that had been run over by passing traffic than things you could carve or model”

She began to work with wire mesh, first drawing with it: “I just crossed [the wire] over and built up the light and shade so it was between drawing and sculpture” and then using it as “modelling pixels” to create sculpture that would often include found objects, such as at the centre of the giant mesh sycamore seeds of Seed Symphony.

  Seed symphy

‘Seed Symphony’ installation at the Wooyang Museum of Contemporary Art, South Korea, 2016

An invitation to exhibit in the Down to Earth exhibition at Gazelli Art House in 2011 came at a time when Jane had been creating large fired clay works, including Four Leaf Clover, a clay relief sculpture of a crushed Coke can found on the road. Because there was not time to complete one of these large pieces in time for the exhibition, Jane began to consider alternative materials:

“I started looking at different granular textures and found this beautiful black stuff called basalt rock grit. I saw it on the side of the road actually – some men were digging in the road, they had a pile of it and it was sparkling in the sun and I said “can I have a little bag of that?”

For the Down to Earth exhibition, she created the installations Earth and Own Art by spelling out large letters from that title on the floor in basalt grit and salt:

“I thought I wonder if I’d be brave enough to work with these words… and so I walked around my studio and the grit was sparkling and the words were in my head and I thought “I’m going to use that grit.”


‘Earth’ and ‘Own Art’ installation, in the ‘Down to Earth’ exhibition, Paddington Studios, London,  2001

This year, a mid-career retrospective of Jane’s work was held at the Wooyang Museum of Contemporary Art, South Korea, where she recreated Earth in situ, along with several other installations including Tower of Disapproval, built from dowel and copper fittings:

“… It’s made of wooden dowels, which come in eight-foot lengths… In the centre it’s got a focal point of mesh like black smoke… [with] a big ball that looks like a lead weight… but it was light as a feather, just above the floor, suspended and the idea was about… suspended belief or knowledge.”


‘Tower of Disapproval’ installation, C2 Contemporary, Florence, 2014.

Jane is currently Artist in Residence at Harrow School, and the interview concludes with a tour of Jane’s studio there, full of works made from found objects, often including chairs, sometimes carved with words, many of them responding to the school environment. Within her descriptions of this recent work, it is possible to hear the beginnings of a new theme emerging within Jane’s work: the increasing use of colour.

Liz would like to thank Jane for agreeing to make a life story recording for NLS and for committing herself so fully to the project. These excerpts represent only tiny fragments of the interview and we hope that you will listen to the full recording when it is made available.

Jane McAdam Freud is the daughter of Lucian Freud and great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud. Her work can be seen in the collections of the British Museum, the V&A,  the National Gallery Archives, the Ashmolean Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Freud Museum.

04 August 2016

Theatre of Sound. An interview with Aleks Kolkowski

Theatre of Sound is a nine-minute video which highlights the creative re-use of archival sound recordings in the field of sound art and music composition. It also touches on the use of early audio recording technologies in contemporary performance. These topics are illustrated with video documentation of two projects developed by composer/musician and sound artist Aleks Kolkowski.


Sound and Music

With Larry Achiampong, Aleks Kolkowski is one of two Sound and Music-Embedded Programme composers-in-residence at the British Library Sound Archive. This is a twelve-month residency for composers and creative artists, sponsored by Sound and Music, a national charity for musicians, and funded by The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Besides being a composer and a musician, Aleks Kolkowski is an expert on historical recording techniques. He makes audio recordings on wax cylinders and on acetate discs, and creates public performances using these techniques, in collaboration with poets, musicians and artists. Many of the recordings are available to listen to online through his website Phonographies.

Save Our Sounds

The Library has embarked on a preservation programme: Save our Sounds, which is a 15 year project to digitize and preserve as much as possible of the nation's rare and unique sound recordings, not just from the Library’s collections but also from partner collections across the UK.

It is an aim of the programme to raise understanding, usage and public enjoyment of audio heritage more generally. And in this respect, the work of Aleks Kolkowski at the British Library Sound Archive supports the programme, by exposing the history of sound recording in a performative way.

Aleks's work is helping to create awareness and interest among different generations of new audiences. He has also contributed to the Sound Archive by adding his own collection of recordings made at the Library's studio, which will eventually be available online through the British Library Sounds website.

Performance Documentation

I have been documenting the performances and other creative outputs of Aleks at the Library since February to produce this video which I presented in Copenhagen at the performance archives conference SIBMAS 2016.

In addition the video features archival recordings and documentation from the Bishop Sound Company collection of sound effects for theatre, which dates from the early 1940s till the end of 1960s. The sound effects were recorded direct onto lacquer discs and then pressed to 78 rpm shellac for hire or sale. There are more than 3000 discs and hundreds of open-reel tapes in the collection. Aleks will be re-using this material in one of his future projects.

It has been very positive and enjoyable for me and other Sound Archive colleagues to work with our two composers-in-residence Aleks and Larry. Artists challenge people to see collections differently. They revive interest in collections and create awareness in ways that can't be done from inside the archive. They also contribute to reaching new audiences, who perhaps would not have come into contact with the collections otherwise.

Find more about the British Library's Drama and Literature Recordings and keep up with our activities on @BL_DramaSound.