Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

5 posts from August 2023

21 August 2023

Recording of the week: A poem by Jack Carey (1923-2001)

Black and white picture of Jack Carey

Above: Jack Carey in 1957. Photo copyright © Neil Hornick

Jack Carey was an English teacher and poet. His poetry was first published in 1958, in The London Magazine.

Further poems were published in a range of journals and anthologies over the years, and his collection Words and Mirrors (1976) garnered praise from peers such as Peter Porter, Fleur Adcock and Tom Paulin.

The posthumous collection Aftermath (2009) was edited by Neil Hornick.

Neil Hornick is perhaps best known as a pioneer of fringe and experimental theatre. You can read a short biography on the Unfinished Histories web site. I’m pleased to say that the Neil Hornick archive was acquired by the Library in 2022.

Jack Carey was Neil’s English Literature teacher at Christ’s College, Finchley, circa 1956-57, and also directed him in a couple of school plays. Neil and a fellow pupil were to keep in touch with Jack and his wife Yvonne for years afterwards.

The following recording comes from a tape donated to the Library by Neil in 2006.

The poem ‘Dichotomy’ was first published in The London Magazine, Vol. 7 No. 12, December 1960. The recording most probably dates from the mid- to late-1960s.

Neil notes that, ‘the influence of T. S. Eliot, apparent in some of Jack’s early poetry, is confirmed here by the faintly weary, desiccated and incantatory style of delivery’.

Listen to Jack Carey read 'Dichotomy'

Download Jack Carey transcript

For more Jack Carey recordings please visit Jack’s page on the British Library Sounds website.

Today’s selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Drama and Literature Recordings.

18 August 2023

Parkinson in the archive

This week the sad news of Michael Parkinson’s death was announced. Known as the ‘king of the chat show’, Parkinson had a rich television and radio career. Which included most famously presenting his own show Parkinson, and, from 1986 to 1988, Desert Island Discs.

Row of Michael Parkinson tapes

Whilst cataloguing audio for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, I had the pleasure of working on some Parkinson show excerpts from the LBC/IRN collection (C1438). You can listen to these recordings onsite at the British Library by searching Michael Parkinson AND C1438’ on our Sound & Moving Image catalogue. Some personal highlights include interviews with Anthony Hopkins (C1438/92/0078) and Tony Benn (C1438/90/0098). Parkinson had a real charm for interviewing, and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these recordings.

The Library holds many more recordings featuring Parkinson, which can be found by searching ‘Parkinson, Michael, 1935-2023’. His legacy and contribution to broadcasting will continue to be appreciated, archived and made accessible to the public.

This post was written by Grace Johnston, Reference & Technical Specialist, Sound Archive & Listening Service. 

15 August 2023

'Breathe in, Breathe out' - a soundscape

Experience a new sound installation, 'Breathe in, Breathe out', in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at the British Library. The project looks at the positive effects of sound on well-being and relaxation. It is the first in a series of new initiatives in the Treasures Gallery, exploring innovative ways of working and engaging with diverse audiences. It runs until Sunday, 26 November 2023. The gallery is free to enter.

We have installed an open-walled structure with dimmed lighting and comfy seating, which provides a cosy space for visitors to relax and unwind. A calming, dreamlike soundscape plays on an endless loop. The mix blends spoken word, music, wildlife, and environmental sounds. All the sounds are drawn from the Library's collection.

A visitor looks at the 'Breathe in  Breathe out' tracklist. Photo by Simon Leach Design

A visitor looks at the 'Breathe in, Breathe out' tracklist—photo by Simon Leach Design. 

Relaxation starts with conscious breathing. The title 'Breathe in, Breathe out' encourages listeners to take a deep breath and focus on the present moment. Nature sounds transport us to peaceful places, offering tranquillity amidst daily distractions. Dreams and dreamscapes also feature, highlighting the importance of rest and recovery. Research shows that we activate different parts of the brain when we listen to music. The impact of sound on our bodies is significant, particularly when it comes to our emotions, memories, and movement. It influences our breathing, heart rate, and mood.

The soundscape is mixed for 8-channel playback, creating an immersive surround-sound experience. The mix juxtaposes calming sounds with hints of suspense. Key elements include 'Jetsun Mila' by Éliane Radigue, inspired by the 11th-century Tibetan yogi and poet Milarepa. There are poems by Langston Hughes, W. S. Graham, and Caroline Bergvall. The music covers a broad spectrum of gentle tones, including the delicate notes of water bowls performed by Tomoko Sauvage and the eerie sounds of 'Iká' by Skull Mask, played by Gosha Shtasel, who created the mix and is one of the British Library's sound engineers. You can explore the entire tracklist on one of the display walls.

Two women fill out feedback forms at the 'Breathe In  Breathe Out' sound installation desk. Photo by Eva del Rey

Two women fill out feedback forms—photo by Eva del Rey.

Curating this mix has been an enjoyable experience, as sound and well-being are topics of particular interest to me. We wanted to provide a serene space for visitors to pause and recharge. We also sought to improve how sound is showcased in the Treasures Gallery, pushing the limits of our traditional displays. Surround sound offers an immersive sensory journey that has transformed the gallery space. Listening together cultivates a sense of relaxation, and connection, enhancing our general well-being. Each listener brings their unique perspective and emotions, yet we find common ground in the soothing embrace of sound.

Feedback is encouraged. Responses so far tell us that listeners feel captivated, as if they were part of a movie, with most finding it soothing and some even finding it stirring. It is an effortless and refreshing experience. The display highlights the power of sound to create a peaceful escape and a transformative experience for all who engage with it.

The British Library holds over 6.5 million recordings, ranging from spoken word to music, wildlife and environmental sounds. You can learn more about our sound collections on our Sounds subject web page and at British Library Sounds online

This post was written by Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings.

14 August 2023

Recording of the week: 40 Days and 40 Nights

Image containing a partially obscured face
Photo by Elias Maurer on Unsplash.

Three years ago the UK was emerging from the first of its three national lockdowns, imposed by the government in an effort to curtail the spread of Covid-19. In March 2020, BBC Radio 4’s PM programme launched Covid Chronicles, inviting listeners to submit accounts of their lockdown and pandemic experiences. Some of these submissions were broadcast on the programme, and the full collection has found a home at the British Library.

One of these submissions – ’40 Days and 40 Nights’ by Becky Clayton – is a humorous creative story, exploring the negative and positive effects of the lockdown from the perspective of a narrator in conversation with her housemate, Satan. Whilst Satan gleefully describes the chaos and destruction wrought by the pandemic, the narrator argues that a lot of good has come out of the lockdowns too, much to Satan’s annoyance.

Listen to Becky Clayton

Download 40 Days and 40 Nights transcript

Content warning: this audio clip contains strong language and adult themes.

Becky Clayton submitted this recording to BBC Radio 4 for the PM programme’s Covid Chronicles segment. The full Covid Chronicles collection will be available at the British Library later in 2023.

Becky’s story features as a collection item on the British Library’s Covid stories web resource. The resource offers insights into the Covid-19 pandemic from a multitude of perspectives, as documented in the many Covid collections now archived at the British Library. The resource features eight articles on a range of topics, from the experiences of NHS staff and patients to the impact of the pandemic on young people and communities. Becky’s creative story features in the article ‘Creative responses to the Covid-19 pandemic’, authored by Dr Ernesto Priego.

This week’s selection comes from Madeline White, Curator of Oral History.

07 August 2023

Recording of the week: Cycling

A photo of a man cycling

Photo by Keswick Sportive, used under CC 2.0 licence.

The BBC made their final recordings for The Listening Project last year, and we are currently in the process of adding these to the British Library collections. With over 2,000 conversations recorded over 10 years, the archive is a real treasure trove of stories and voices - full of laughter, tears, and human connections.

With the Tour de France taking place in July, I was reminded of this sweet and funny chat between two cycle enthusiasts. This was one of the earliest recordings added to the archive, and was made by Radio Cumbria in 2012. The conversation took place between partners Geoff and Midge, who discuss their shared history and love of being out and about on their bikes.

They first met through a local cycling club, and during the recording they reminisce about many of their experiences travelling together. In this clip they talk about riding on their tandem, including an accident they once had, and going on holiday to Mallorca:

Listen to cycling clip 1

Download Transcript for cycling clip 1

Throughout the conversation they speak of the amazing feeling they always get from cycling. Midge describes the magical buzz from being out in nature, and they agree cycling gives them so much freedom. In this clip, Geoff describes when he first learned to ride a bike as a child, and they then talk about how they plan to continue on their bikes for as long as possible. They hope that other people will also leave their cars, and join them on two wheels:

Listen to cycling clip 2

Download Transcript for cycling clip 2

The Listening Project is an audio archive of personal conversations, collected by local and national BBC radio stations. From 2012 to 2022, people were invited to have a conversation recorded and broadcast (in edited form) by the BBC, and archived by the British Library. You can currently listen to over a 1,800 of the recordings in full through our Sounds website, and learn more about the project at the BBC.

Today's post was written by Sarah Kirk-Browne, Digital Multimedia Collections Cataloguer.