Sound and vision blog

8 posts from December 2019

30 December 2019

Recording of the week: Wax cylinder recordings of Nigerian music

This week's selection comes from Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Lead Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Northcote Whitridge Thomas
Northcote Whitridge Thomas

The Library’s World and Traditional Music collections include some of the world’s earliest ethnographic recordings, made on wax cylinders. Amongst these is a collection of recordings made between 1909 and 1915 by the colonial anthropologist, Northcote Whitridge Thomas, during his work in Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone. To learn more about the recordings and to engage researchers and original community members with the sounds, the Library has partnered with the ‘Museum Affordances’ project, funded by the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council and led by Paul Basu at SOAS University of London.

As part of the project, Samson Uchenna Eze, musicologist and lecturer in the Department of Music at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, chose some of Thomas' recordings to explore through transcription of the lyrics and music, and through engaging musicians in Nigeria to re-record them.

The song Igbo bu Igbo (Great Igbo) [NWT 417; C51/2277], is a call to Igbo people to remember their identity and ‘return to [their] truthful ways’. Prof. Eze writes: ‘In this song the female singer repeats the phrase [Great Igbo (all Igbo), come and hear the truth] several times and improvises in the internal variation section, calling on neighbouring villages to come and hear the truth’.

Listen to Igbo by Igbo (BL shelfmark C51/2277)

[Re:]Entanglements is the website of the Museum Affordances project. Prof. Eze has written a blog showcasing some of his work with the recordings.

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

23 December 2019

Recording of the week: Painting Winston Churchill

This week's selection comes from Cathy Courtney, Project Director for Artists’ Lives, and Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

Elsbeth Juda (1911-2014), was born in Germany. She and her husband Hans Juda (referred to as ‘Hansie’ in this audio extract) settled in England as the threat of Nazism grew in Europe. Elsbeth became a respected photographer, under the name ‘Jay’, mainly known for her fashion images, many of them taken for Ambassador magazine. She and Hans were at the centre of a closely knit group of international friends and her Artists’ Lives recording is full of lively glimpses of many of these figures. Among them are the painters Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and Graham Sutherland (1903-1880).

At Lord Beverbrook’s suggestion Graham Sutherland was commissioned to paint the portrait of Sir Winston Churchill in 1954, to celebrate the former prime minister’s 80th birthday. Churchill was by this time in poor health and Sutherland’s sittings with him at his home, Chartwell in Kent, were difficult. In desperation the artist asked Elsbeth Juda to accompany him on one occasion, to help cheer Churchill and also to photograph him so that Sutherland had reference material to use back in his studio. When the portrait was ready Sutherland took the precaution of inviting the art historian Kenneth Clark and Churchill’s wife, Clementine, to view it at his home, Trottiscliffe in Kent. Both visitors were happy with what they saw.

Winston Churchill
         British Government [Public domain]

The portrait was unveiled at Westminster Hall in front of a large audience. Churchill hated it and it was later destroyed by Clementine. Along with Juda’s photographs, her account in her Artists’ Lives recording is also of special value as evidence of a vanished work of art. Tantalisingly, her account tells how she and Hans tried to save the portrait by buying it themselves and for a short time it seemed they had rescued it. There are varying accounts of how the painting was destroyed and whether Clementine did it herself or asked an employee to carry out the act.

Juda refers to Churchill wearing a ‘zoot’ suit for his sittings. The National Portrait Gallery information clarifies this was a siren suit, a deluxe peacetime version of his war outfit. Also mentioned in the extract is the Churchill's London home at 28 Hyde Park Gate, where they were neighbours of the Judas.

Elsbeth Juda on Churchill

Elsbeth Juda was recorded by National Life Stories for Artists’ Lives in sessions between 2001-2003. The interviewer was Cathy Courtney. For more information about this recording see the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue. This clip features on the British Library website Voices of art, as part of an article by Helena Cuss that explores the links between Artists’ Lives oral history recordings and the collection at the National Portrait Gallery.

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

20 December 2019

British Library Sports Word Of The Year 2019

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

This year marks the sixth annual British Library Sports Word of the Year (SWOTY) review. While I can’t claim it’s a major fixture on the annual awards circuit, six does, at least, have some sporting significance: six games in a tennis set; six pockets on a snooker table; and six cricket balls in an over (well until next year’s Hundred, that is). This annual review takes its inspiration from the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) and various Word of the Year nominations. Firstly, then, congratulations to Ben Stokes for winning SPOTY 2019, and to the equally magnificent Dina Asher-Smith for running him close (actually if they’d had to race there might well have been a different outcome!); and to they and climate emergency for emerging as Word(s) of the Year according to Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries respectively.

And so to the ten candidates for SWOTY 2019, selected from a personal scrapbook of words and phrases that caught my attention on broadcast and social media platforms and in the mainstream press during the last twelve months:

January (Marina Hyde reflecting on the European PGA decision to stage a prestigious golf tournament in Saudi Arabia, Guardian Sport): Understanding the wider issue of sportswashing ought not be beyond your ken, either.

ScrapbookApril (Tanya Aldred previewing the 2019 county cricket season, Guardian Sport): If you thought the tension of Dom Bess’s heave at Ciderabad last September couldn’t be beaten, just watch and wait.

May (Richard Barnes reviewing Tottenham Hotspur’s 2018-19 season, Guardian Sport): Biggest surprise: our ability to find a way in the Champions League against the odds. Very unSpursy.

June (Vic Marks reporting on England versus Afghanistan at ICC Cricket World Cup, Guardian Sport): This made it the six-iest match in World Cup history.

July (Athar Ali Khan analysing bar chart of England’s runs per over versus Bangladesh at ICC Cricket World Cup, Sky Sports): Look at those big overs in the middle Manhattans.

August (Phil Tufnell reflecting on fading light during England versus Australia Lord’s Test, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra): It’s getting a bit Noah’s out here.

September (Paul Farbrace describing outgoing England coach Trevor Bayliss, BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra): He absolutely loves the game ... he's a cricket nuffy.

September (Jamie Jackson describing James Maddison’s performance for Leicester City against Manchester United, Guardian Sport): Maddison could be spied in the classic trequartista position.

October (Sean Ingle quoting Daryll Neita’s assessment of World Athletics 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith, Guardian Sport): She’s a G. You are doing bits, darling.

November (Gerard Meagher quoting Siya Kolisi’s comments on the impact of South Africa’s triumph at IRB Rugby World Cup, Guardian Sport): We appreciate all the support – people in the taverns, in the shebeens, farms, homeless people and people in the rural areas.

This year’s list namechecks five sports with one entry each for golf, athletics and rugby union; two for football; and five for cricket. The dominance of cricket can probably be attributed to England’s triumphant World Cup on home soil and to the fact it represents an extremely rich source of innovative and specialist terminology. As ever, the selection illustrates a range of linguistic phenomena and encompasses dialect, slang and jargon; it includes a loan word; and, for the first time, examples of the potential of morphological creativity. Of the ten nominations, seven straddle the blurred lines between sporting jargon (i.e. specialised vocabulary), dialect (i.e. localised variants) and slang (i.e. informal forms): sportswashing, Ciderabad, unSpursy, six-iest, Manhattan, nuffy and trequartista. The other three occupy a similarly undefined position on the dialect-slang continuum but are not restricted to sporting contexts: Noah’s, do bits and shebeen; they qualify, however, as they demonstrate how sporting discourse in the press and on broadcast and social media – especially interviews with athletes, live commentaries etc. – gives vernacular English a mainstream platform.

In the light of increased corporate sponsorship of sport and the expansion to new territories of prestigious international sporting events it’s not surprising that sportswashing [= ‘a strategy whereby a nation or corporation leverages sport to enhance its reputation’] has made the headlines this year. Sport frequently serves as a legitimate tool for soft diplomacy, but sportswashing – recorded in the MacMillan Dictionary from 2018 – describes a deliberate policy of harnessing sport’s popular appeal and wholesome image to deflect criticism from a regime or company’s corrupt or unethical behaviour.

From a British point of view we might justifiably consider nuffy [= ‘person with particular passion/obsession’] Australian dialect, but the Macquarie Dictionary categorises it as ‘colloquial’ and even includes cricket nuffy as one of its examples of typical usage. Likewise, shebeen [= ‘illicit drinking den (esp. in South African townships)’] is classified as South African English in the OED. Both forms demonstrate the ‘World Englishes’ dimension of cricket and rugby as sports predominantly played in Commonwealth countries, as does the initially puzzling Ciderabad [= ‘Somerset County Cricket ground, Taunton’]. This is a wonderful example of wordplay containing multiple layers of cultural reference and requires considerable knowledge of cricket to deconstruct and interpret. Firstly, one needs to know that Taunton and Somerset, in the heart of England’s West Country, are synonymous with cider production and consumption and, secondly, that cricket pitches there have recently been unusually receptive to spin bowling. Finally, one needs to be familiar with cricket in the subcontinent, where pitches – such as the Test ground at Hyderabad in India – are traditionally associated with dry, dusty conditions ideally suited to spin bowling. To capture all that implicit knowledge in a single word is pure genius.

Two entries reveal a similar kind of linguistic playfulness, but rather than exploiting a phonological association, unSpursy and six-iest require imaginative grammatical manipulation. For many years, Tottenham Hotspur – nicknamed Spurs – have played attractive football but ultimately failed to win trophies, despite frequently coming agonisingly close. As a result many football fans, including Tottenham’s own supporters, have adopted the word Spursy [= ‘the tendency to falter when within reach of success’], such that it has attracted the attention of Collins Dictionary. As an adjective, Spursy adheres to normal English rules of derivation so additional forms can be generated. In this year’s Guardian I’ve spotted the noun Spursiness – note the adherence to English orthography in the substitution of a medial <i> for the adjectival suffix <y> – and, here, unSpursy, with its cheeky nod to the non-conformist conventions of e-publishing whereby a capital letter (denoting the underlying proper noun, Spurs) appears word-medially. On the other hand, six-iest [= ‘match with the highest total number of boundary sixes’] is a nonce-formation based on the number six with an unconventional superlative suffix added. The inspiration here is, I suspect, similar idiosyncratic sporting superlatives – to British English speakers anyway – such as US English winningest [= ‘individual athlete/team with the most victories’], but with the additional appeal of a phonological similarity with sexiest, capturing the notion that a game featuring such a high number of risky shots must be the most exciting and glamorous.

The term Manhattan appears to be widely used among cricket statisticians and commentators, and thus probably constitutes cricketing jargon. Modern sports analysis relishes a data visualisation tool and cricket has embraced this technological development enthusiastically. The wagon wheel [= ‘visual representation of direction of batsman’s run-scoring shots’] has been around for some time, but until this year’s ICC World Cup I was completely unaware of the Manhattan [= ‘bar chart showing rate of progress by runs per over’] and its counterpart, the worm [= ‘line chart showing rate of progress by runs per over’]. I’d be intrigued to know if either term is used by mathematicians more broadly.

Due to the prominent role played by the British in codifying football, English dominates much of its associated specialist terminology so it’s rare for non-English words to enter football jargon, hence the inclusion here of the Italian loan word trequartista [= ‘attacking midfielder, playmaker’]. The greater presence in recent years of European footballers and coaches in the UK has meant an increased appetite for European tactics and, hence, the vocabulary to describe these innovations. In addition to trequartista, Guardian articles have this year featured the words rondo [= ‘training drill in which players seek to keep possession of the ball in an enclosed space’], regista [= ‘deep-lying midfield playmaker’] and raumdeuter [= ‘player who reads (and exploits) tight spaces’], from Spanish, Italian and German respectively. All three appear in numerous online glossaries of football and – more importantly – in spontaneous conversations about the game among English fans.

Finally, we turn to two slang terms: Noah’s and do bits. The former confirms our enduring enthusiasm for rhyming slang – Noah’s is, underlyingly, Noah’s ark [= ‘dark’], but the conventions of rhyming slang dictate that the rhyming element (ark) is omitted. Green's Dictionary of Slang records Noah’s [= ‘lark, prank’] from 1891; [= ‘park’] from 1924; and (in Australian English) [= ‘shark’] from 1963, but has no record in this sense, while the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2006) records Noah’s ark [= ‘dark’] from 1934 – coincidentally including a citation from 1992 in a cricketing context. The endlessly productive and light-hearted nature of rhyming slang explains its continued appeal. The quote from Daryll Neita, by contrast, is a fantastic example of current British urban slang: do bits [= ‘to do well, to succeed’] is first recorded by Green in 2017 – Dary’lls use of G [= ‘term of praise’] in the same breath, by the way, is also cited from 1991.

All of this year’s entries are captured in The British Library’s Contemporary British collections, making the Library an incomparable resource for anyone interested in monitoring vernacular language. And so to the winner: well … my head tells me it should be sportswashing as I sense sports governing bodies should respond to calls for greater social responsibility, but hey – it’s Christmas – so I’m going with Ciderabad. Because it’s brilliant.

CIDERABADFollow Spoken English collections at


19 December 2019

AWATE: Finding Gems and Sharing Them

AWATE joined the British Library this summer as Artist-in-Residence for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, the British Library’s major project to digitally preserve and widely share the nation’s rare and at-risk sounds. During his five-month residency, AWATE will use the extensive sound archive to weave together a long-form genre-bending musical piece exploring the subject of diaspora and human migration. In this blog, AWATE writes about a live sampling event he participated in at the Library in November.

AWATE (left), WondRWomN (centre), and The Last Skeptik (right) photographed together during the live sampling event on 22 November.
AWATE (left), WondRWomN (centre), and The Last Skeptik (right) photographed together during the live sampling event on 22 November.

There is just so much to listen to. So many amazing stories, pieces of music and other recordings that the British Library sound archive has in its possession. When I find something based on keywords, location, date or category, it’s not enough to simply listen. With access to the rest of the Library and the internet at my fingertips, the fascinating tales that form the context for each of these recordings are added to, thread by thread.

When I was invited to present a Late as part of the Library’s Season of Sound, I had an idea for the format - a taster session displaying some hip-hop production skills - but I needed a recording to centre it around. Wanting to salute the working class arts spaces that were so prevalent in British cities during the first half of the twentieth century, I spent some time researching local music halls. Just in north London, they were seemingly on every high street, many of them having now been converted into pubs, churches, offices or demolished and replaced with luxury apartments that our communities so desperately need.

After searching through the Sound and Moving image catalogue ( and listening to dozens of music hall songs from roughly a century ago (the earliest from 1898), I stumbled upon one that stood out. Many of the songs were witty, comedic, well-orchestrated and thematically strong but this one in particular seemed to be extremely topical and featured a striking vocal performance.

Screenshot of the British Library's internal catalogue search tool.
Screenshot of the British Library's Sound and Moving Image Catalogue

The song, ‘Everybody Loves Me’ by Ellaline Terriss was composed by Guy Jones for a 1907 musical comedy play called ‘The Gay Gordons’. The play was based on a book written by Ms. Terriss’ husband, the notable writer, actor and producer, Seymour Hicks. They were basically the turn of the century version of Jay-Z and Beyonce, in terms of fame. Ellaline Terriss even had an episode of This Is Your Life about her in 1962 and her father, William, was a famous actor in the late 1800s. He was infamously murdered by an envious colleague outside the Adelphi Theatre in 1897 and William Terriss’ ghost has supposedly haunted the Adelphi, as well as Covent Garden tube station, ever since. This is just one example of the kind of magic that is conjured by each item in the sound archive.

After a whimsical instrumental version of the chorus and a militaristic fanfare, Ms. Terriss introduces herself in an assertive falsetto, singing, “I’m a popular chap in London, and I’m always in request”. The songs paints the picture of an adored and rich fellow without a care in the world, attending various social events and receiving praise from every stranger that passes. The chorus, which is in an even higher register, is sung in a tip-toeing delivery for the first two bars, starts off with, “Everybody loves me up in London. Everybody’s very fond of me”. When heard, you have to laugh.

Picture of Ellaline Terriss, the voice of the event and well known artist of her day. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Picture of Ellaline Terriss, the voice of the event and well known artist of her day. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

For the event, titled ‘Everybody Loves Me: A Live Hip-Hop Sampling’, I invited fellow rapper/producers, WondRWomN and The Last Skeptik to make a backing track, using elements from the 1908 recording. In the entrance hall of the British Library, we used music production software on our laptops to chop the sample and find ways to incorporate it into a beat. As Skeptik noted, “It’s like ‘’Ready Steady Cook’ with music.”

A photograph featuring The Last Skeptik explaining what he did with the sample.
A photograph featuring The Last Skeptik explaining what he did with the sample.

After an introduction that told the brief story of Ellaline Terriss and the song, the audience was treated to the full song, which is not available online or in the public sound archive. WondRWomN, The Last Skeptik and I proceeded to compose our beats, identifying sections to lift, such as the fanfare or vocals from the chorus. The fact that we were making such a racket in the foyer of one of the most famous national libraries in the world – usually a quiet space – was slightly strange, but the audience watched on as the sound switched from laptop to laptop every few minutes as we made progress.

Having different skill sets, the beats that we made were distinctly varied, with a difference in beats per minute (tempo) and feel despite the common main ingredient of the sample. WondRWomN created an early 2000s, Heatmakerz sounding piece that would have suited Cam’ron and The Diplomats perfectly. The Last Skeptik crafted an up-tempo, melodic, house style Kaytranada-ish beat that had everyone moving. I ended up making a mid-90s throwback New York boom-bap beat that I could hear M.O.P. rhyming over.

At the end of our forty minutes, we showcased the final results with explanations of our process and methodology. Before saying farewell, I made sure to plug Skeptik’s new album, ‘See You in the Next Life’ and the fantastic work WondRWomN does at her studio for young people, The Record Shop in Tottenham.

The entire event was fantastic, and the staff and Events team made our role as creatives much easier. Being known mostly as a rapper, it was great to test my production skills live and also bring to life something from 111 years ago that was hiding in the sound archive. My final piece, due to launch in March, will incorporate some of the techniques we displayed at the event and with time quickly running out, I must now return to making that!

AWATE using Logic Pro with an Akai MIDI controller.
AWATE using Logic Pro with an Akai MIDI controller.

More info

Learn more about AWATE and his residency at the Library

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is the British Library’s major National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project to catalogue, digitally preserve and share the nation’s rare and unique sounds.

Find out more about Unlocking Our Sound Heritage

16 December 2019

Recording of the week: PTOOFF!

This week's selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary and Creative Recordings.

Apologies, this may be our shortest ever 'Recording of the Week'. It does however provide an excuse to highlight a colourful product of the late 1960s countercultural arts scene centred in and around Ladbroke Grove, London.

PTOOFF! was the debut album by The Deviants, a bluesy psychedelic rock band led by singer Mick Farren (1943-2013). Our copy of the LP came to the Library in 2013, as part of the Barry Miles collection. Miles, as he was usually known, helped found the influential underground newspaper International Times, to which Farren also contributed. In the 1970s, Farren became a regular staff writer for the weekly New Musical Express, and then a novelist and also non-fiction writer. He continued to pursue music on the side throughout his life.

The LP was released independently on the band's own label, Underground Impresarios. It was distributed by mail order through adverts in International Times, and by underground retail outlets.

PTOOFF! album cover art

The vividly coloured cartoon sleeve (by ‘Kipps’, aka Pete Broxton) unfolds to become a six-panel poster. Our copy is the original issue, with brown ink used for the inside print (subsequent issues used blue ink). Reissues of the album shouldn't be hard to find but for copyright reasons we can provide only a short audio excerpt here.

So please enjoy the first five (sardonic) seconds of a true underground classic.

Listen to the first few seconds of the LP

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

10 December 2019

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage hubs digitise 10,000 recordings

BBC Radio Leicester broadcasts fronted by archaeologist Alan McWhirr, a ground-breaking oral history archive of the lives of ordinary Mancunians, historical recordings relating to the countries of the British Empire and Commonwealth; these are just a few of the rich audio collections being digitally preserved through Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’s (UOSH) ten regional hubs.

Covering the length and breadth of the UK, UOSH’s ten partner organisations have been digitising and providing access to rare and unique recordings from their regions. The sound carriers holding these recordings are under increasing threat, both from physical degradation and as the means of playing them disappear from production. Responding to this threat, the British Library has been working with hubs to save as many of our audio collections as possible before they become unreadable and are effectively lost.

This week, project staff celebrated the news that UOSH hubs have successfully digitally preserved their 10,000th recording. This milestone means that 10,000 recordings have been digitised, catalogued and deposited into the British Library’s long-term digital repository, safe for listeners to enjoy in the future.

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage group photo
‘Working with the ten hub partners is one of the best things about this project and I am delighted to be celebrating this milestone’. Sue Davies, Project Manager for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

With most hubs only just marking their first year of being fully up and running, reaching this milestone shows positive progress towards UOSH’s ambitious goals. Hubs are a key part of the project’s efforts to expand the audio heritage sector’s capacity to care for and use audio archives. By the end of the five-year National Lottery Heritage Fund supported project, they’ll contribute 50,000 digitised recordings to UOSH’s overall target of nearly half a million sounds.

As well as preserving remarkable sounds from their regions, the hubs having been making great strides in other areas. In this blog, we’ll take a whistle-stop tour of all the hubs, sharing some of the discoveries recently unearthed in their collections. We’ll also highlight the activities taking place across the nation in digitisation studios, at public events and through social media. 

National Library of Wales
First stop, Wales. As part of the wider project of protecting the story of Wales, a country rich in customs and traditions, the National Library of Wales hub is preserving local oral history recordings, dialect surveys, Welsh pop and folk music, and more. Together with their partners in Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Swansea and Tredegar, the team in Wales is working to ensure precious audio collections, some of which date back to the late 1800s and 1900s, are conserved as part of the country’s cultural heritage.

One of the remarkable recordings recently catalogued and digitised by the Wales hub happens to be the 10,000th preserved overall by the hubs. The recording is of a piece of music called Gobaith yfory (Hope for Tomorrow) written in 1983 for A Song for Wales, a Welsh television broadcast competition that has been running since 1969.

National Museums Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland hub has had a refresh with new faces taking up the team’s enthusiastic outreach work. In the last few months, hub staff have been donning their UOSH t-shirts, taking sounds into the community and informing the public about digital preservation.

Recent events include workshops delivered to Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies Masters students at the University of Ulster's Belfast campus and listening sessions with the public at a ‘Mummers and Drummers’ event held at Ulster Museum.

Recordings from the Northern Ireland hub have also been inspiring new creative endeavours, including Spinning in Her Grave, a short film produced by a young people from the Reimagine Remake Replay project. Taking inspiration from recordings digitised as part of UOSH, the film reinterprets an old folk tale with new creative twists.

Aileen and Victoria from the National Museum's Northern Ireland team deliver a workshop
Setting up shop at McCusker's Pub, project staff from National Museums Northern Ireland played a selection of traditional music recordings that had been made in pubs in the 1970s and 1980s.

National Library of Scotland
Bolstered by the healthy preservation community organised under the Scotland’s Sounds network, the hub based at the National Library of Scotland was the first of UOSH’s partnership of ten, fully kitted audio preservation centres to be established.

Material recently digitised at the Scotland hub has started to surface online, including sounds of puffins on Fair Isle, Scottish ballads and oral history interviews. In one oral history clip, Isabella Porte shares her thoughts on feminism and what it meant to be ‘a feminist before the word was invented’.

University of Leicester
Based at the University of Leicester, the hub of the Midlands recently celebrated its first anniversary. Starting with recordings from the BBC Radio Leicester Archive, the Leicester hub is working on digitally preserving collections from Worcestershire, Coventry, Derbyshire, and Nottingham.

Recent blogs from hub Project Manager, Colin Hyde, delve into material from BBC Radio Leicester, which was the first BBC regional radio station in 1967. One blog features archaeologist Alan McWhirr whose radio programme, ‘Digging into the Past’, did much to promote awareness of historical and cultural landscapes.

The Keep in Brighton
The Keep, an archive centre in Brighton based at the University of Sussex, welcomed a famous visitor recently. Norman Cook, better known as Fat Boy Slim, met with the team in their digitisation studio and received a primer on the hub’s digital preservation activities.

As well as inviting people into The Keep, project staff have been heading out into the community and organising listening walks. On a recent amble on a wet Brighton day, intrepid walkers listened to natural and humanmade sounds in the open air. Returning to The Keep’s studios, the group then heard selected sounds from the UOSH archive, with the afternoon ending with a showcase of clips from the Radio Brighton collection.

This substantial collection chronicles Brighton’s broadcast and social history in the period 1968-1983. Esther Gill, Project Manager at The Keep, writes in a recent blog, ‘The recordings form a fascinating and extensive resource on life in Brighton in the period 1968-1983, and how it was reflected by a locally based radio station, with a strong sense of identity and a range of recognisable jingles’.

Bristol Culture
The team at Bristol Culture, tasked with preserving the sounds of the South West, recently published their first UOSH blog. In it, they introduce their team and cast an eye on several of the sound treasures that will be made available to the public throughout the project. These include music performances from St Pauls Carnival, jingles from the Bristol Channel TV station, and a wealth of oral history recordings from the British Empire and Commonwealth Collection.

As part of their learning and engagement activities, the Bristol hub has been reaching out to audiences through social media campaigns, including World Digital Preservation Day last month. To mark the occasion, the Bristol team walked audiences through the process of cataloguing and digitising a collection, educating audiences on how magnetic tapes degrade, how technical metadata is recorded and where digitised recordings ultimately end up.

Photo of Bristol Culture's Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team
Photo of Bristol Culture's Unlocking Our Sound Heritage team.

Archives+ in Manchester
The team based at Archives+ in Manchester have been working with the wide-ranging Manchester Studies Oral History Collection. The Manchester Studies group, then based at Manchester Polytechnic, sought to ‘record, in detail, the lives and experiences of the ordinary people who lived and worked in the area’.

Hub staff have been sharing sounds and stories from this collection, including a series of interviews with women who worked in domestic service. ‘These interviews’, writes Vicki Caren, Hub Cataloguing Manager, ‘were carried out in the mid-1970s and gave the women an opportunity to look back at their lives during a period of great social change and to reflect on attitudes towards domestic service’.

Archives+ regularly open up and share treasures from their collections for audiences to enjoy; recent blogs feature riveting oral history accounts on the North West’s cinema history, Whit Friday celebrations, and protest and activism in the early twentieth century.

Image of munitions workers clocking off work
Munitions workers clocking off work, dated 1917. Image from Manchester Libraries. Reference (m08143).

London Metropolitan Archives
The London Metropolitan Archives hub has been collaborating with institutions in and around London to deliver engaging public programmes. Recent events have included Sounds and the City: The Late Sessions, a panel discussion inspired by oral histories digitised as part of UOSH. This event explored ‘how London-based oral history projects have recorded stories of people otherwise “hidden from history”’.

LMA also recently supported The Memory Archives: Windrush event, which used different creative approaches such as food, drink and music to inspire memory among people living with dementia.

Other exciting collaborations are in the offing; in project’s final year, LMA will work together with the British Library to deliver school workshops focused on sound heritage. These sessions will seek to encourage and support young people to create their own sounds.

Norfolk Record Office
The hub responsible for collecting and digitising recordings of the East of England is based at the Norfolk Record Office. Their team recently led a walking tour of King Street, Norwich, with participants from the local area. Similar to the walking tour held at The Keep, this event encouraged audiences to engage with recorded sound in the outside environment and featured early twentieth century records of Patricia Daniels.

As well as sharing sounds outside, the Norfolk hub has been opening its doors to the public and hosting lunchtime talks. At the recent King Street Sounds event, the public was able to listen to historical recordings about life on King Street and learn about the wider work of digitally preserving the nation’s sounds.

Image of audience members at a Norfolk Record Office event
A rapt audience listens to a talk on digitised collections at Norfolk Record Office.

Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
The team based at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums have been busy preserving the sound heritage of the North East and Yorkshire with the help of a wonderful group of placement students. Volunteers and placement students are a huge and valuable part of the project. Our wonderful team of volunteers invest their time, talent and energy with us, helping us to make the most of our collections, developing their skills and enjoying a rewarding experience along the way.

At the North East and Yorkshire hub, three students recently completed their placements, working closely with the rich oral history collections digitised through UOSH. The blogs they’ve written as part of their placements tell the story of their adventures in the archives and share personal reflections on the archival memories of the places they call home. These stories are available to read over at the TWAM blog, along with complementary images from the collections giving colour to their words.

Find out more about Unlocking Our Sound Heritage
Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is funded by a £9.3 million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, as well as generous funding from charities and individuals, including the Foyle and Garfield Weston Foundations.

Unlocking our Sound Heritage forms part of a core British Library programme Save Our Sounds, which pledges to preserve and represent the nation’s sound heritage. 

Follow project updates at @BLSoundHeritage

09 December 2019

Recording of the week: Sheep gathering in Wales

This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds.

Most of the library's wildlife recordings focus on the sounds of wild animals, whether that be singing birds in the Australian outback, echolocating dolphins in the Caribbean Sea or stridulating insects in the English countryside.

It's not all about wildlife though; a little corner of the collection is dedicated to the sounds of domesticated animals.

The following excerpt belongs to a series of recordings made by Richard Margoschis in the summer of 1994 near the Welsh village of Pontrhydfendigaid. Over the course of 3 days, a staggering 3000 sheep were rounded up by farmers and brought down from the mountains for shearing. Margoschis used sound to document each stage of the process and the result is a sequence of sonic snapshots that take the listener from the open countryside right into the shearing shed.

Two sheep

This particular example, recorded as the sheep were being gathered, throws us right into the middle of an energetic soundscape; the sounds of bleating sheep are joined by the excited barks of sheepdogs, as well as the shouts and whistles from farmers on horseback as they work together to round up the flock.

Sheep gathering recorded by Richard Margoschis (BL shelfmark 43558)

This recording, together with its counterparts, presents an evocative and alternative glimpse into the working life of farmers during this busy period in the agricultural calendar. The entire series can be listened to onsite at the British Library.

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02 December 2019

Recording of the week: Kagura - dancing for the Gods

This week's selection comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Reference Specialist.

The origin of dance in Japan can be traced back to the age of the gods and the Japanese kagura can be considered a prototype of all Japanese rituals. 

Kagura combines dance with music and theatrical elements; it is both a ritual and an artistic expression for the kami (Japanese Gods) within the mythical narrative. [1]

Dance was a central element in many Japanese rituals and ceremonies, both within the courts and rural areas; especially in the latter, dance was the predominant element of folk religious festivals.

The heavenly kagura originated in northeastern Japan, in Iwate prefecture, and represents the origin of most genres of dance. Kagura is a collective term which refers to different schools of performing arts; it embodies a shamanic tradition in which the gods come dancing to infuse divine energy on people. The group figure of 12 performers also embodies a symbolic significance:

Thus, the kagura group of 12, with all these layers of meanings so typical of Shugendo systems, symbolically constitutes the whole universe and the whole of existence: Time, Space, Heaven, Earth and Humanitiy, based on Shintō, Taoist and Buddhist thought[2]

Photograph of Shinto mask performancePhotograph of Shinto mask performance (courtesy of Etnografiska Museet via Europeana)

The performers travel around the countryside bringing their blessing of prosperity and protection to the local people. Dance is therefore seen as a way to communicate and perpetuate religious tradition; in particular, the emphasis is on the aesthetic aspect of the dance.

Kagura (BL shelfmark 1LP0157766)

Kagura, a flower-hat dance, lion dances and masked dances [3] played a central role in the theatrical arts during the Muromachi period (1333-1615), a time characterized by emperor rivalries. Despite its turbulence, the Muromachi period was a time of great musical potential; a material and psychological build up for a flood of activities that was soon to burst upon the artistic world in a torrent of color and sound[4]

The first kagura ceremony can be traced back to the year 1002 and falls into the category of shamanistic practice[5].  We can divide Kagura into two subcategories: mi-kagura, the court music formal part of Shinto functions, and sato-kagura, which was mainly folk music.

The dance style of kagura consists of performances of approximately 15 mins, and a bamboo pipe (kagura-bue) is one of the common instruments used during such performances; kagura can also be intended as a proper musical genre. [6]

The study of the kagura focus on both the artistic side and religious aspect of this practice. As religion may differ from one culture to another, also a definition of dance as performative art only can lead to a simplistic approach.

It should be remembered that the Japanese view all their traditional performative, theatrical, dance and ritual forms as springing from the same source: the original kagura performance in Heaven[7]



1. Averbuch, Irit. (1995). The gods come dancing : A study of the Japanese ritual dance of yamabushi kagura. (Cornell East Asia series ; no. 79). Ithaca, N. Y.: East Asia Program, Cornell University. BL shelfmark

2. Ibid, p. 58

3. Malm, W. (1990). Japanese music and musical instruments. Charles E. Tuttle, 249. BL shelfmark HUS 789.2956

4. Ibid, p. 33

5. Ibid, p. 42

6. Karpati, J. (2008). Typology of Musical Structures in the Japanese Shintō Ritual Kagura. Asian Music: Journal of the Society for Asian Music., 39(2), 152-166. BL shelfmark 1742.701000

7. Averbuch, Irit. (1995), p. 27

Special thanks to Lyrichord for granting us permission to feature this recording.