THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

13 posts from July 2019

31 July 2019

Celebrating 100,000 digitised recordings with Nigerian hammer and anvil music

Two years into an ambitious, nationwide project, the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team recently celebrated reaching the milestone of 100,000 digitised sound recordings. Supported by funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is a major British Library project focused on identifying, cataloguing and digitally preserving half a million of the nation’s most rare and at-risk sounds.

After establishing a network of ten audio preservation centres across the UK, project staff at the Library and its partner institutions have been digitising thousands of sound items, before they physically degrade or the means for playing them disappear from production. The UK-wide project aims to provide public access to these sounds, through outreach events and a new sounds website launching next year.

Digitising 100,000 items is a fantastic achievement and goes some way to realising the project’s goal of safeguarding the nation’s audio heritage for future generations. As a celebration of the hard work that has gone in to the project so far and the rare sounds discovered along the way, we are sharing a unique recording to mark reaching 100,000 digitised recordings.

This noteworthy recording captures the remarkable hammer and anvil music of the Yoruba blacksmiths of Nigeria. I say ‘played’; ‘spoken’ might be a more fitting word, as the tonality of the hammer and anvil instruments actually resembles patterns of Yoruba speech. Held in the C1074 Peggy Harper Africa Collection, this intriguing recording demonstrates how these unusual instruments are used not only make music, but to speak expressive sentences in the Yoruba language.

Anvil and Hammer Music Extract

Blacksmithing_In_Nigeria3
Photo of a blacksmith from Upo village, Otukpo town in Benue State, Nigeria working with iron. Image courtesy of Chrisnike. Click here to view image license.

Catherine Smith, World and Traditional Music Volunteer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, has been working closely with the Africa Collection, classifying musical instruments featured in several of the recordings using the Hornbostel–Sachs classification system.

Volunteering with the project has introduced her to a fascinating collection of Nigerian ensembles and traditional music, including music performed with drum and percussive instruments. Catherine was intrigued to discover several unusual objects used to play music while listening to the collection, including the hammers and anvils that she classified as ‘Idiophones – Metal’.

After sharing the recording with the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Team during one of their regular listening sessions, Catherine described what she found fascinating about the music: ‘I enjoyed this use of practical tools to communicate the Yoruba language though music and the way in which it develops into expressive tonal and rhythmic patterns’.

On Uncommon Instrument Awareness Day, a day on which we are encouraged to broaden our ideas of what instruments are, listen to an extract of Peggy Harper’s recording of this fascinating hammer and anvil music and read Catherine’s commentary below:

This is an extract of Peggy Harper’s recording of the anvil and hammer music of the Yoruba blacksmiths in Nigeria. Here the players are giving a demonstration of how the hammer and anvil can 'speak' sentences in Yoruba language. The music is named after ‘Ogun’, ‘the God of Iron’. A man introduces the music with this explanation: 

“Whenever someone is passing near a smithery, the blacksmiths will greet him by beating the anvil and hammer to talk. The tonality of Yoruba language is so great that whenever the anvil and hammer is used to talk, passers-by clearly understand what the anvil and hammer are saying…"

In this recording, the anvil and hammer players perform the music whilst somebody in the group recites in words what the anvil and hammer are saying.

 

Follow Unlocking Our Sound Heritage updates @BLSoundHeritage

Following The British Library’s World and Traditional Music team @BL_WorldTrad

29 July 2019

Recording of the week: kids say the funniest things

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

Watching a child acquire its first language is a fascinating process. At a certain age, children naturally apply rules drawn from their exposure to their mother tongue to create forms which ‘seem’ right. The most obvious example is how some young children initially form past tenses such as drinked and falled. The fact that children don’t hear these forms from adults around them proves that they are not just ‘learning’ language and copying others, rather that they have an in-built language faculty and can intuitively apply rules to words, albeit in some cases not producing conventional forms.   

As children begin to experiment creatively with language, they often produce the kind of innovative construction discussed here. As their ability to express themselves grows they sometimes invent original expressions, such as the phrase fully-handed [= ‘overladen/carrying too much’].

In the following clip, Terri Bond speaks about an original expression invented by her son:

FULLY-HANDED (C1190/39/02

'If a child has used a word wrongly that makes everyone laugh, it then becomes part of your family’s vocabulary. We have loads of them, we’ve got one of them where I once asked Jonathan to pick up his coat as he was getting out of the car and he’d got a book, a cuddly, and he was about four, he said 'I can’t mummy I’m fully-handed', so now if you’ve got too much to carry in our house you’re now fully-handed and you don’t realise that other people don’t know what you’re talking about and think you’re a bit odd.'
BBC Voices Recording in Jersey © BBC 2005 C1190/39/02

Photograph of Terri BondPhotograph of Terri Bond who speaks about original expressions and family vocabulary.

This word captures the concept perfectly and is in fact grammatically acceptable, but does not reflect idiomatic usage. The effect is often comical to adults and most families can list numerous examples of the wonderful expressions invented by young children that become part of their ‘kitchen table lingo’. One of several such expressions that have stuck in our family is the tendency to describe fresh food as on, since all three of our children when younger made a point of enquiring before pouring milk on to their cereals first thing in a morning: is this milk off or on?

We’d be delighted to hear examples of your kitchen table lingo, so do tweet us at @VoicesofEnglish.

Follow @soundarchive for all the latest news.                                           

21 July 2019

Recording of the week: Nelson Mandela in the UK

This week's selection comes from Adonis Leboho, Communications Intern for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Last Thursday, people all over the world marked Mandela Day through commemorative events celebrating the legacy of the heroic anti-apartheid revolutionary.

Nelson Mandela fought against institutionalised racial segregation in South Africa for decades, enduring twenty-seven years of imprisonment until the ruling regime finally gave in to domestic and international pressure and released him. Eventually succeeding in the fight against apartheid, Mandela went on to lead South Africa as its president, setting about the difficult task of healing the nation’s deep wounds after years of division.

In a recording digitised through the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, Mandela addresses gathered journalists at a press conference during his visit to the UK following his release, likely at the International Tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in 1990.

Photograph of Nelson MandelaNelson Mandela photographed smiling in Johannesburg, Gauteng, May 2008 (courtesy of South Africa The Good News / www.sagoodnews.co.za via Wikimedia Commons)

Still full of energy and resolve, Mandela uses this platform to draw attention to the continuing struggle to dismantle apartheid. In his clear and considered way, Mandela also responds to difficult questions about the state of his political party, the ANC, and the struggle for human rights around the world.

In the clip I have selected, Mandela discusses the role of artists in successfully communicating political messages, especially in ways politicians just aren’t able to manage. Though he admits he didn’t have much time to keep up with the latest musical trends because of the demands on his time and lack of access to music, Mandela talks about how he came to develop an appreciation of the work of musicians, as they used their art to campaign for his freedom.

Nelson Mandela (C1132/148)

Found in the Rob Waldron Radio Broadcasts collection, this recording captures Mandela’s integrity, dedication and compassion right at the moment when he is forging South Africa’s democratic future.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage for regular updates on the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

19 July 2019

‘My Other Piano’ – the classical side of Winifred Atwell

Winifred Atwell in the late 1950s

Winifred Atwell in the late 1950s  (1LP0248992 BL collections)

Guest blog by Edison Fellow Uchenna Ngwe who is studying Black classical musicians in Britain before 1960

Little is known about the early years of Winifred Atwell but she is thought to have been born in either 1910 or 1914. By the 1950s the Trinidad-born pianist had become a household name in Britain and Australia but has become a forgotten figure today.

Although various sources claim that Atwell arrived in London in 1946, BBC documents show that she actually appeared on at least two episodes of the radio programme Calling The West Indies in 1945, and was already living in London by this time. Her first appearance was as piano accompanist to a fellow Trinidadian, renowned singer and actor Edric Connor. In 1993, his widow, Pearl Connor, spoke to Stephen Bourne in this unedited interview about Atwell for the BBC Radio 2 programme Salutations.

Pearl Connor C1019/16

Following the 1945 broadcasts, Atwell was asked to perform on the radio on a number of occasions over the next year before her inaugural TV appearance on the BBC’s Stars in Your Eyes on the afternoon of 21st October 1946.

Radio Times 21st October 1946

Winifred Atwell made her name mainly from popular music but, as she continued to show in her stage act, she was also well-versed in standard classical repertoire. Soon after her arrival in Britain, she began taking piano lessons with Harold Craxton (1885 – 1971), a well-respected teacher at the Royal Academy of Music and sought-after accompanist. In another unedited interview for Salutations, Michael Craxton, Harold’s son, described Atwell’s visits to the family home to study with his father.

Michael Craxton C1019/16

After working with a variety of agents from early on in her career, Atwell was represented by Bernard Delfont Ltd from July 1948. Delfont was a former music-hall dancer and theatrical agent before embarking on a career as a successful theatre and leisure impresario – his brothers Lew and Leslie Grade were also theatrical agents before both becoming television executives. This collaboration proved to be very successful and Atwell was in huge demand for her TV, radio and live theatre performances. By the late 1950s she was earning the equivalent of around £4,000 per TV appearance.

Michael Craxton also refers to Atwell's work with his father on Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. On the 28th November 1954, Atwell made her classical debut at the Royal Albert Hall performing this piece with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Stanford Robinson (1904 – 1984). A few days later on the 1st and 2nd of December, Atwell recorded the work for the Decca label with the same ensemble and conductor. These sessions were Decca’s first ever UK stereo recordings but sadly this experiment remains unpublished and the concerto was only issued in mono.

Grieg Piano Concerto

Despite her abilities and considerable public draw, assumptions made due to her race and success outside of the classical genre meant that Atwell was not taken seriously as a classical musician. However, her work mainly with pop and jazz-influenced music led to the achievement of a remarkable amount of success during her career, including two British no. 1 singles – Let’s Have Another Party (1954) and Poor People of Paris (1956). Her highest-ranking classical recording was of the 18th variation from Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsodie on a theme of Paganini, which was performed on the soundtrack of the film The Story of Three Loves by Jakob Gimpel. Atwell’s version, with Wally Stott and his Orchestra, peaked at no. 9 in the UK charts in 1954.

Atwell Rachmaninoff

Winifred Atwell LP

1LP0239366 (BL collections)

I was pleased to correct details of Atwell’s early career through my Edison Fellowship research at the BBC archives at Caversham and to be able to put this into context with the rest of my work on Black music in Britain before 1960.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

Memories of the Moon Landing

50 years ago, on 20th July 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on its surface. Live television pictures broadcast from the Moon turned this into a global event, memories of which are captured in numerous interviews held in the British Library Oral History collections. This blog explores just a few of the diverse perspectives on this event that these interviews reveal.

Earth Rising over the Moon's Horizon, Credit: NASA

Earth Rising over the Moon's Horizon, Credit: NASA

Gerald Myers (b. 1934) was interviewed by Jill Wormsley for the Millennium Memory Bank. He recalls that for those of his generation who grew up rarely travelling far from home, the idea of people visiting the Moon seemed ‘incredible’. This was certainly not something he expected to happen in his lifetime. For others such as Paul Ward (b. 1962), interviewed by Wendy Rickard in 2007 for the HIV/AIDS Testimonies project, watching the Moon landing was integral to his recollections of family life in the late 1960s alongside memories of family meals and birthdays.

Materials scientist Julia King (b. 1954) interviewed by Thomas Lean for An Oral History of British Science, recalled the Moon landings as part of a wider focus on the latest achievements in science and technology that permeated her childhood:

Julia King on the Moon landing in 1969 (C1379/43) [Track 1, 01:24:14 – 01:85:05]

‘Well I remember being taken to meet Valentina Tereshkova, who was the first woman in space, a Russian cosmonaut, and getting her autograph. She must have been speaking at Wigmore Hall or something like that. And of course there was, when I was at school, when I was at Godolphin, where we all sat in the hall to watch the Moon landings. So there was all that going on as well. It was a time of, of real, really intense time for discovery in science, and new, new things happening. And the papers were, were absolutely full of it. They weren’t full of footballers and, and, TV shows, talent shows on television and things; they were, they were full of, a lot of achievements in science.’

Julia King

Julia King, interviewed for An Oral History of British Science

One of the people behind this press coverage was Dennis Griffiths (1933-2015). Griffiths was the driving force behind An Oral History of the British Press, and was interviewed for the project by Louise Brodie in 2006. In 1969 he was a member of The Evening Standard production department. At a time when a lengthy setting up process was required to generate colour copy, the paper’s managing director Jocelyn Stevens took a gamble that the landing would be successful. The production team raced into action to pre-print a facsimile colour picture of Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon ahead of the event itself so that the paper’s front page was already in place before any official pictures were released. As Griffiths recalled:

Dennis Griffiths on the Evening Standard front page (C638/06) [Track 6, 00:10:42 – 00:11:20]

‘I mean the adrenaline was flowing and when I’ve given talks on newspapers all over the world when I come to the Moon landing and I show them the paper how it was actually done and they disbelieve that anybody would produce a national newspaper days before it happened and gamble and then absolutely slay the opposition. Yes, that was without doubt the highlight.’

Dennis Griffiths describes working on that day (C638/06) [Track 1, 02:28:53 – -2:29:10]

‘You would have paid to have worked on that day. It was the most exciting day of my career. And at the end of the day when they blasted back off, the editor Charles Wintour threw a champagne party in his office to celebrate.’

For his efforts Griffiths received a bonus cheque which he used to buy a pearl ring for his wife, Liz.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, Credit: NASA

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, Credit: NASA

A sense of how the Moon landings continued to resonate many years later emerges from furniture designer Tom Dixon’s (b. 1959) interview with Frances Cornford, part of Crafts Lives. In 2004, as Creative Director of Habitat he developed a line of products in collaboration with celebrities. Most of them were prominent individuals from the creative industries or sport, but one of the more successful products in the range was ‘a moon lamp with Buzz Aldrin, you know, for kids’. Sold as the ‘Moonbuzz’, Dixon saw a clear story behind this product which strengthened its appeal with the public. It also suggests just how firmly embedded in popular culture the events of July 1969 remain.

Extracts from interviews with British Space Scientists can be found on our Voices of Science Rockets and Satellites theme page with full interviews on British Library Sounds under the subject heading space science and engineering.

Blogpost by Dr Sally Horrocks, Senior Academic Advisor, National Life Stories, British Library

16 July 2019

Magnetic Tape Alert Project

The Magnetic Tape Alert Project is an initiative of the Information for All Programme (IFAP) Working Group on Information Preservation.

News_150719_magnetic_tape
Photo: Bernhard Graf, Vienna Phonogrammarchiv

 

Today’s knowledge of the linguistic and cultural diversity of humanity is widely based on magnetic tape recordings produced over the past 60 years. Magnetic audio and video tape formats are now obsolete, replay equipment in working condition is disappearing rapidly and the supply and service of spare parts is fading. As a result, the routine transfer of magnetic tape recordings is likely to cease around 2025. The only way to preserve these sounds and images in the long term, and to keep them accessible for future generations, is to digitize them and transfer to them to safe digital repositories.

While many professional memory institutions have already secured their audiovisual holdings, or have plans to do so in time, a great number of audio and video recordings are still in their original state, kept in small academic or cultural institutions, or in private hands.

With the Magnetic Tape Alert Project, the Information for All Programme (IFAP) of UNESCO, in cooperation with the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA), aims to alert stakeholders to the imminent risk of losing access to their audiovisual documents.

Part of this is to conduct a survey, focusing on unique recordings, to assess the scale of the risk. The information obtained through the survey will serve as a basis for future planning for the safeguarding of these irreplaceable original documents in the long-term. Information gathered will be used to compile a report that will be made publicly available.

For further information and to respond to the questionnaire, please go to the project website.

Deadline for completion: 30 September 2019

The project coordinator, Andrew Pace, can be contacted at: MTAP@iasa-web.org

IFAP logo IASA logo

Alan Turing on the £50 note

One of the computers used by Alan Turing during his time at Manchester. Courtesy of Ferranti/Computer Conservation Society.One of the computers used by Alan Turing during his time at Manchester. Courtesy of Ferranti/Computer Conservation Society.

This week mathematician Alan Turing was announced as the new face of the £50 bank note. Turing’s impact on the modern world is astonishing: In the 1930s his mathematical theories about an abstract “universal machine” presaged the general purpose computer; he played a key role in ultra secret wartime code breaking at Bletchley Park, contributing to work that probably saved millions of lives. In the postwar years he designed one of the earliest modern computers, the Automatic Computing Engine, and pondered if machines could think, helping to lay the foundations for the study of artificial intelligence. At the University of Manchester he was one of the earliest users of the pioneering Manchester Baby, the world’s first modern computer. A gay man at a time when such relations were illegal, he was prosecuted for homosexual acts in 1952, and died at his own hand in 1954 after consuming a cyanide laced apple. His eventual pardon in 2013 after a popular campaign was followed by ‘Turing’s Law’ in 2017, which granted a pardon to tens of thousands of gay and bisexual men previously convicted under laws that have now been repealed.

Several of those who worked with Turing in his time at Manchester were interviewed for An Oral History of British Science, recording unique personal reflections on a man who was far less well known at the time. For example, electronics engineer Geoff Tootill was one of the team who build the Manchester Baby, and found himself in the unique position of debugging Turing’s first computer program:

Geoff Tootill on working with Alan Turing (C1379/02/02) 

Research student Dai Edwards, was another who helped Turing use the Manchester computer:

Dai Edwards on helping Alan Turing use the Manchester Mark 1 (C1379/11/03)

Mathematical prodigy, heroic wartime codebreaker, tragic LGBT icon, a father of computing, now the subject of a Hollywood film; as time passes it gets increasingly difficult to separate the man from the legend, which makes the memories of those who knew him invaluable for helping to understand the real Alan Turing.

15 July 2019

Recording of the week: Rinding gumbeng from Central Java

This week's selection comes from Michele Banal, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Rinding gumbeng is a style of Central Javanese folk music that, although not widespread, is still common in the rural Gunungkidul area, about 50 km east of Yogyakarta, where it is performed at harvest rituals and other festivals. Both the name of the style and the music itself result from the combination of two main ingredients: the rinding and the gumbeng.

Photograph of a rinding and a gumbengRinding photo (left) by DAN MOI, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 / cropped from original. Gumbeng photo (right) by Tropenmuseum, part of the National Museum of World Cultures, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The rinding is a mouth harp built from a single piece of bamboo, often with a piece of string attached to one end of the instrument’s frame. It is an idioglot instrument, meaning that both the vibrating reed and the main body of the instrument are carved from a single piece of bamboo (mouth harps made of metal, more common in Europe, are generally heteroglot, because the vibrating tongue and the frame of the instrument are two separate pieces that have been joined together). As with all mouth harps, the mouth cavity acts as the main resonator but, unlike heteroglot mouth harps where the musician plucks the vibrating tongue directly, the rinding is played by plucking the frame of the instrument instead (or, where present, a piece of string attached to it). Because the instrument is made of a single piece of bamboo, the resulting vibration is directly transmitted from the frame to the inner reed. The sound-producing vibration is then caused by the very flexible reed as it catches up with the frame, which, being more rigid, stops vibrating much earlier than the reed.

The gumbeng is a tube zither made from a single piece of bamboo (which also makes it an idioglot instrument). A small number of strings (normally three) are carved from the outer layer of the bamboo, and raised from the body of the instrument by means of small bridges. The strings are then struck with a thin bamboo stick and, depending on the placement of the bridges, a limited number of different tones can be produced.

A rinding gumbeng ensemble normally comprises several rinding and at least a few gumbeng, and it can also include bamboo scrapers, large bamboo slit drums and an end-blown bamboo gong (thus called not because of its physical characteristics, but due to its function of signalling the beginning of a music cycle). In most cases, the ensemble is then fronted by a small number of singers.

This week’s recording was made by David Hughes in 1995 at the Indonesian Institute of the Arts (Institut Seni Indonesia) of Yogyakarta, and features a rinding gumbeng ensemble from Duren in the Gunungkidul region. It is an instrumental version of rinding gumbeng, to better showcase its sound, and, judging from the audio, this specific ensemble may also include one or two slit drums carved out of bigger bamboo tubes.

Rinding gumbeng (C1450/27 S2 C1)

The David Hughes Collection holds other performances from the same group, including examples of rinding gumbeng with singing and solo performances on the rinding (see shelfmark C1450/27).

The David Hughes Collection has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. The digitisation of this and many other recordings in this collection was sponsored by Eddie and Chris Dapré in memory of Eddie’s father Patrick Alfons Dapré, as a reminder of his love for all kinds of music and particularly the zither - an instrument that he played.

Follow @BL_WorldTrad and @soundarchive for all the latest news.