Sound and vision blog

12 posts from May 2017

08 May 2017

Recording of the week: Parental warning

This week's selection comes from Andrea Zarza, Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Ethnomusicologist Bryony Harris (née Pearson) spent 2002 doing field work in Uganda to record the drumming styles of the Busoga and Buganda as part of research for her dissertation "Towards a notation for African dance drumming, focusing on the Baganda and Basoga of Uganda". The recording featured this week [collection C1079] was part of that research and in a recent e-mail exchange, she gave us some more insight into its making –

“This is such a rich layering of instruments and textures. It was a very humbling experience to attempt to learn something of the history, tradition and drumming technique in a snapshot of time. I arrived with my western preconceptions, a 20 year old English girl trained in western music, but completely out of my depth with the complexities of this traditional music.

Bryony Harris_Uganda

This recording is of the Kalalu village 'Balongo' group of musicians. Kalalu is a very rural village, a bumpy bicycle ride from Jinja in Busoga, where some of the children were fascinated / scared of my white skin. They were very welcoming but keen to be paid for their expertise – and rightly so, in hindsight. As it was something I hadn't really budgeted for however, we got the group to play together for my recording by arranging to produce a cassette for them. The market for cassettes was still going strong in 2002 Uganda as they were cheap to produce and buy. We took photographs of them in their blue t-shirt uniform and they decided on their best songs.”

According to the catalogue entry, based on the recordist’s notes, the song warns parents of the dangers of cursing their children stating they will be affected and face trouble in the future. For such a serious warning, it is a joyful song featuring the following instruments: endere (flutes), ndingidi (string fiddle), nkwanzi (panpipes), embaire (small xylophone), ensaasi (flat metal shaker), endumi (small drum), engabe (long drum), tamenaibuga / irongo drum.

Abazaire Abatukolima - 'Parents Cursing their Children'

Upon re-listening to the recording, Bryony reflected –

“The quality of the song is judged by the lyrics and the singer - the competence of the musicians is taken for granted. I think I did move around with my microphone a little during the recording, as you can hear different instruments stronger at different points. Thoughts that return to me on listening to it again: Firstly - where is the beat? The need to focus on the shaker to hear it - but then the drums always put me off when they enter! I was trying to focus my learning on the drums, but they were so different to any West African rhythms I'd played previously. Seeing the drums signal the dancers to change their amazing rapid hip movements. Where does the cycle of notes start? How do they know where to come in? The phenomenal speed of the interlocking xylophone, where different patterns spring out at you the more you listen. The cyclical nature of the melody and the variety in texture and colour. This music, which is made of fairly simple, repetitive parts is elusive. The more you listen the more there is to hear.”

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04 May 2017

Beecham in Hollywood

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Baja California and the West Postcard Collection. MSS 235. Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego

A few weeks ago I received a telephone call from John Lucas, author of Thomas Beecham: An Obsession with Music.  In the past John had donated some Armed Forces Radio Services discs of a Beecham concert broadcast on 21st April 1945 from the Ritz Theater in New York.  Now he had spotted some lacquer discs for sale on ebay of a Beecham concert in Hollywood and wondered if the British Library had the recording.  A quick search on our Sound and Vision catalogue showed that we appeared to have this recording on an Armed Forces Radio Service shellac disc but something was amiss: our single disc had 15 minutes of music on each side, labelled 1 and 3, but sides 2 and 4 were not in the collection.  The new discs comprised four sides and included Voices of Spring by Johann Strauss which did not appear on our catalogue entry. ‘I’ll bid on them, and if I get them, you can have them!’

A few days later an email told me that John’s bid was successful.  He kindly brought in and donated the four 14-inch discs to the Library which our engineer dubbed using a special sized turntable.

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Programme for 'Symphonies Under the Stars', 7th week (Courtesy of John Lucas)

The background to the concert was this.  Under the heading ‘Beecham will conduct here’, the Los Angeles Times informed the public on 11th August 1944 that ‘Sir Thomas Beecham will replace Artur Rodzinski as conductor of six concerts at Hollywood Bowl, beginning August 22nd, it was announced last night.  Illness in Mr Rodzinski’s family makes it impossible for him to travel west.  Beecham is now in Mexico City.’

Beecham was in Mexico City conducting a three-week festival of Mozart opera so was in an ideal location to act as a last minute substitute.  In the end he conducted four of the six concerts given by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, their summer home since 1922, in the 'Symphonies Under the Stars' series. The last minute change in conductor was made in time for the correct name to appear on the programme, but the actual works performed were changed. 

Programme-page-001

Programme for 'Symphonies Under the Stars', 7th week (Courtesy of John Lucas)

Beecham probably agreed to conduct without knowing the programme beforehand.  Changes were made so that on the programme of 27th August soloist Amparo Iturbi played the second and third movements from Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D major instead of her brother’s Fantasia for piano and orchestra while Handel and Delibes were dropped in favour of Johann Strauss and dances from Smetana’s Bartered Bride.  The only works retained on the printed programme were the Overture to Mignon by Thomas and the ballet music from Gounod’s Faust.  Because the Sunday Standard Hour was only on air for that limited time, the Grieg Piano Concerto was not broadcast, but a short review of 28th August proves that it was performed.

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Beecham in the US in 1948

Here is an extract from the Overture to the opera Mignon by Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896), a work Beecham never recorded commercially.

Mignon extract Beecham

The curious thing about the discs is that they turned up not in the United States, but in Devon.  Thanks to the eagle eye and generosity of John Lucas, they are now preserved for the nation.

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02 May 2017

Blair's Babes

Twenty years ago, Tony Blair was elected Prime Minister in a landslide general election for the Labour Party. Among the new government’s Members of Parliament were 101 women. A photograph taken on 2 May 1997 of 96 of the new Labour women MPs with Blair publicised the new cohort, but the image and the associated term 'Blair's Babes' were attacked as having a demeaning, sexist tone.

Mo Mowlam on Blair's Babes

In this extract from an interview Mo Mowlam (1949-2005) remembers inadvertently coining the phrase. Mowlam was not proud of the image, but she justified it by pointing out that it helped convey the message that such large numbers of women MPs had been elected, to a public largely unaware of what happens on Parliament. In any case, she comments, ‘A lot is demeaning in politics.’

Full transcription:

I have the unfortunate notoriety of having worked out Blair Babes, because somebody said something, and I said “Well, Blair Babes, that’s what we are”, which I don’t—I’m not proud of, and it’s been used against us. But I think we needed to do that. I think we needed to do other things to show that we were there in such large numbers, because you very rarely understand how little the public know about Parliament, how little they know about their MP, how little they know about what’s going on, and I think it’s very important to get whatever method you can to get that message across, and I think that was a good one.

I mean, some people felt it was sort of kind of demeaning.

A lot is demeaning in politics. You often get used, you write something, it gets rewritten; that’s demeaning. I think there are many more demeaning things than that picture. I can see that we were being herded together like animals, but it was for a function, for a purpose, to get a message across that women had arrived, and I think that was an important message.

Did you think then that big influx did actually change the atmosphere at all?

It did a little. I didn’t think it would, but I remember when I went in once and there were men talking to all the women, which wasn’t always the case, and I suddenly realised there was an election coming up and jobs in the Parliamentary Labour Party, and women had votes, and so they were being talked to in a way I hadn’t them seen before, and men took women’s issues into account.

This interview (C1182/64) was interviewed by Linda Fairbrother in July 2004 for the Harman-Shephard collection of interviews with women Members of Parliament. The Producer was Boni Sones. Find out more in our oral histories of politics and government collections guide. Follow @soundarchive for all the latest news.

01 May 2017

Recording of the week: the Woodlark

This week's selection comes from Richard Ranft, Head of Sound and Vision.

Between February to June on southern and south-eastern English heathlands you may be lucky enough to hear a Woodlark singing. The bird emits a cascade of sweet liquid warbles, often in a large circular display flight some 50-100 metres up in the air above its territory. On windy sunny days in early spring, as we have now, its beautiful notes come and go out of hearing range when heard from a distance, giving the heathland habitat an ethereal quality. 

Song of a Woodlark (Lullula arborea), recorded by Lawrence Shove in 1960s 

Nederlandsche_vogelen_(KB)_-_Lullula_arborea_(350b)

Woodlark and Crested lark (On top: Woodlark; below: Crested lark) from Nederlandsche vogelen (Dutch birds) by Nozeman and Sepp (1770-1829)

Many more recordings of British wildlife can be found on British Library Sounds. To learn more about how and why birds communicate, visit our recently revamped Language of Birds online resource.

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