Sound and vision blog

246 posts categorized "Arts, literature & performance"

20 September 2022

Recording of the week: The Rite of Spring

This week’s post comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist.

Photo of Columbia LX 119 disc label

The following post is inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s famous work, The Rite of Spring. The audio featured below is an excerpt from a 12” 78 rpm disc from our archive, released on Columbia Records in 1929. Stravinksy himself conducts the Symphonic Orchestra of Paris.

I was drawn to this recording after recently going to see a revival of Pina Bausch’s 1975 staging of The Rite of Spring at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. This was performed by a company of dancers from African countries.

Pina Bausch (1940-2009) was a German dancer and choreographer who was enormously influential in the fields of dance and performance. She worked in the tradition of ‘Tanztheater’ (literally ‘dance theatre’), which marries many different creative skills.

The performance was not very long; it ran for about 45 minutes with no interval. While I was watching it, I kept thinking about the meaning of the title, and its association with the spectacle I was seeing. I found I was often unsure of what exactly I was looking at or whether there was an explicit plotline to follow. It looked to me like a metaphor of seasons passing, of a romantic relationship, but mostly, of an emotional battle framed through an erotically charged dance performance.

The colour red was used throughout the production. Red is the colour of tension, of a bullfight, or, perhaps, of sensual attraction. The pure aesthetic of the movements, and their role in narrating the plot, are probably the things I remember the most. The whole performance revolves around the intrinsic, entangled relationship between two disciplines: theatre and dance.

Ultimately, Bausch’s choreography tells a story of sacrifice. The woman with the red dress is hunted to death by the other men and women on stage.

There is a pervasive emotional tension that is difficult to evade. Whilst the recording we are posting today is not the version used in the stage performance, it relays that said emotional tension, which connects the two works of Bausch and Stravinsky.

Listen to The Rite of Spring (excerpt)

Pina Bausch’s legacy resides in her conception of a new language of dance. She is remembered as one of the most innovative choreographers of all times. Since her death in 2009, her works continue to be performed around the world. It is a testament to Bausch’s interpretative abilities that her choreography for The Rite of Spring continues to reach new audiences, spanning several decades and several continents in the process.

05 September 2022

Recording of the week: Oskar Nedbal (1874-1930)

This week’s post comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

Photo of the Czech Quartet

Above: The Bohemian Quartet in 1895. Left to right: Karel Hoffmann (1st violinist); Hanuš Wihan (violoncellist); Oskar Nedbal (violist); and Josef Suk (2nd violinist). Photographer unknown.

A name rarely heard today, Oskar Nedbal was a talented musician who excelled in many areas of musical life. He first focused on the violin at the Prague Conservatory from 1885 to 1892, where he also studied composition with Dvořák, before moving to viola. He was the founder member and violist in the Bohemian (later Czech) Quartet where Josef Suk was the second violin.

The Bohemian Quartet raised the standards of quartet playing to an international level and Nedbal sometimes played the piano in the group. They first performed in London in 1897 and upon their return a year later were described by one critic as ‘beyond all praise’. However, Nedbal had to leave the Quartet in 1906 as he apparently absconded with the wife of the first violinist Karel Hoffmann.

Nedbal was also a conductor of repute and from 1896 to 1906 was one of the first conductors of the famous Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. He became renowned outside of his homeland, touring as a guest conductor.

Photo of Oskar Nedbal

Above: Oskar Nedbal, 1901. Portrait by Šechtl and Voseček studios. From Wikimedia Commons. Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Rendered here in b&w rather than RGB colour.

In addition to his instrumental and conducting activities, Nedbal was a popular composer and many of his operettas and ballets written before the First World War met with great success not only in Vienna and Berlin, but throughout the world. At the 1898 London concert mentioned above, Hoffmann and Ilona Eibenschütz played Nedbal’s Violin Sonata. His orchestral works continued to be performed in London in the early years of the twentieth century.

Nedbal settled in Vienna in 1907 where he founded the Wiener Tonkünstler-Orchester. He made two sides with them for Deutsche Grammophon in 1910. He also recorded as a solo violist in the same year. A few years later, around 1913, he made four more recordings with the Tonkünstler-Orchester for the Anker label including the first movement of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. He also recorded two waltzes by Johann Strauss, one of which, Wiener Blut, you can hear below.

Photo of Anker disc label

Listen to Wiener Blut

Nedbal returned to Prague in the early 1920s after the formation of the Czechoslovak Republic but his style of composition was viewed as dated and out of fashion. He continued to visit London, conducting the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra, accompanying violinist Jan Kubelik in 1921.

During the 1920s, Nedbal was Head of Opera at the Slovak National Theatre and worked for Radio Bratislava. Unfortunately, he fell into financial difficulties and committed suicide by jumping out of a window of the Zagreb Opera House in 1930.

12 July 2022

Postcard from Dumre

Rahul Giri is one of our Resonations artists-in-residence alongside Yee I-Lann, whose recently published blog you can read online. Also known as _RHL, Rahul Giri is a producer and DJ based in Bangalore, India. While studying broadcast journalism, Rahul became one half of the duo Sulk Station, whose work has been described as ‘hypnotic, downtempo electronica with Hindustani musical influences’. For years, he has been an active developer of Bangalore’s alternative scene and musical identity, running Consolidate – an independent collective-turned-record-label. In this blog he gives us some insight into the start of his online residency at the British Library:

Dumre, a small town in central Nepal, was where my father was posted as a civil engineer in the late ‘90s. It was also where I spent many of my vacations. While thinking about how to approach the Resonations artist residency, I wanted to find a personal connection. This came through ethnomusicologist Carol Tingey’s field recordings of the Gaine community at Tarkughat village, Lamjung. A village that was less than 30 kilometers from our camp in Dumre.

Photo of gaine musicians in NepalPhoto of Gaines at Tarkughat Village, Lamjung with their instruments (madal, arbajo, sarangi, from left to right) taken by Dr. Carol Tingey, 1992

Carol Tingey’s recordings took me back to my childhood days in and around the hills of Dumre. During my father’s office hours I would leave the camp and wander around, following narrow winding paths up the neighboring hills surrounded by terraced farming plots, where a few huts were dotted here and there. My fear of the unknown was eclipsed by a sense of adventure and curiosity. My walk would almost always end at a cliff overlooking the boisterous Marshyangdi river; the climb down - steep and slippery, and thick with vegetation – was one I never attempted.

On my way back I’d stop at the solitary chia pasal (tea shop) just outside our camp for a bottle of Coca-Cola (charged against my father’s tab) and sometimes an order of wai wai noodles. The radio would always be on and tuned to Radio Nepal, playing mostly folk music and popular songs from Nepali cinema. At British Library Sounds you can listen to a selection of lok geet (folk songs) recorded by Carol Tingey at Gorkha, approximately 40 kilometers east from Dumre.

Every once in a while there were parties at the camp, and meat (maasu), alcohol (rakshi) and maadal (hollow drum) would come out. The staff and their family and friends would sit around the fire and sing songs. Paan ko Paat (Marshyangdi Salala), a hugely popular folk song in Nepal and for the Nepali diaspora, was a regular feature. Paan ko Paat is part of the dohori tradition in which a group of men and women sing back and forth in an improvised conversational format tied together by a set melody and chorus. Dohori songs are generally sung at melas (fairs), weddings and other festivities. The improvised lyrics are filled with flirtatious and suggestive metaphors in hope of courtship. You can listen to a rendition of Paan ko Paat by Gaine musicians recorded by Carol Tingey at British Library Sounds.

A lot of the songs recorded by Carol Tingey, especially the folk songs from Gorkha and Tarkughat, were the soundtrack of my time at Dumre. However it was her recordings of the Gaine tradition that really drew me into this sound archive collection.

The Gaines are a caste of professional musicians who traditionally traveled from village to village performing songs in return for money or food. Their primary instrument is the sarangi, a four string instrument played with a bow, generally accompanied by a madal (hollow drum). They have been referred to as bards, historians and journalists of the pre-radio era owing to the fact that they would sing songs about current affairs, socio-political issues, cautionary tales and events from neighboring villages. Their repertoire includes folklore, karkha (songs of historical heroic praise), mythologies, devotional and seasonal songs. The Gaines, once considered untouchable, also fall into the lowest bracket in terms of economic and social standing.

Though it was not the main focus of her research, Carol Tingey explored the Gaine tradition. First while researching the work and sound recordings of Arnold Adriaan Bake. Then later as part of a collaborative postdoctoral research project with musicologist Richard Widdess and musician and ethnomusicologist Gert-Matthias Wegner. Tingey’s own recordings of Gaines in Tarkughat, Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, Nepal, made in the ‘80s and ‘90s, document much of the Gaine repertoire.

One example of a tragic ballad can be listened to in Tingey's recording of the song Sarumai Rani. The song, recorded in two parts (listen online to part one and part two), revolves around Sarumai Rani's desire to go to her maiti (parental home). She pleads to Raja, her husband, but he keeps refusing, instead he offers her ‘suna bote choli’, a gold studded blouse.

maiti rajako deshni ho

My home is your country too

fulera gayo kesha ni

aba janchhu mero maiti ko desha

My hair has turned gray (I have gotten old)

Now I want to go to my maiti

After much convincing, Raja finally concedes. Unfortunately Sarumai Rani is bitten by a snake on the way home and dies.

The music and story of Sarumai Rani encapsulates ‘dukha’ or sorrow, an emotion that is synonymous with Gaine music. Perhaps this emotion is a reflection of their social standing as well as the plight of rural and marginalized communities of Nepal.

Growing up in Kathmandu - especially during my late teens - I was always looking outwards. I listened to shortwave radio instead of FM or AM and found great joy in picking up albums from music stores in Kathmandu that sold dubbed cassette tapes of international releases. One of these tapes happened to be Radiohead’s Amnesiac. The album was going to be the building block of my musical journey - as a listener and musician. I was constantly looking for music with a similar emotion, which led me to artists like Sigur Rós and Portishead. The common thread joining them was melancholia, a sense of longing and vulnerability that was despairing and comforting at the same time. This experience is something I found in the music of Gaines.

So when I started thinking about the residency and listening to countless recordings in the sound archive, I found myself looking inwards instead. It wasn’t just a nostalgia-driven search but an attempt to find reference points for my musical landscape. A way to find parallels and make sense of what I do as a musician within the Nepali context.

27 June 2022

Recording of the week: Sharing Somali sounds and stories

This week's selection comes from Emma Brinkhurst, Learning and Engagement Coordinator.

As Learning and Engagement Coordinator for the British Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage programme, a highlight of my role has been working in partnership with Camden Somali Cultural Centre to develop a listening project. Weekly listening sessions showed the capacity of recorded sound to make connections, bringing listeners in contact with different times and places, as well as connecting those who share the experience of listening together. Ubah Egal, director of Camden Somali Cultural Centre, explained the significance of Somali sound recordings in the British Library’s World and Traditional Music collections, saying 'Camden Somali Cultural Centre wants to re-engage the community with our oral tradition of sharing stories. The collection at the British Library represents a beautiful selection of recordings capturing our oral tradition from many generations of Somalis.'

Poet and storyteller Elmi Ali selected recordings of song and poetry for the group to listen to, which elicited discussion, reminiscence, laughter and a sharing of cultural pride during the sessions. Of particular interest to participants were recordings from the John Low collection, made in Somalia in the mid-1980s during Low’s time as a development worker in the Lower Shabeelle region. On 12 November 1984, Low sent a postcard from Somalia to the British Institute of Recorded Sound (now the British Library Sound Archive). He wrote that 'songs, poems, work songs abound' and set about making recordings representing a diverse cross section of musical styles and practices. Several decades later, following Somalia’s civil war and the disruption and displacement it caused, Somali listeners in London engaged with these songs and poems, which stimulated memories of cultural heritage and former times, places and people.

During the listening sessions, artist and poet Sophie Herxheimer drew and painted, reflecting the words and stories shared by the group. Sophie’s drawings portray recollections of nomadic life evoked by recordings such as this house building song performed by a group of women and recorded by Low:

House Building Song [BL REF C27/13]

This song stimulated discussion about the role of women in nomadic culture and how women were responsible for building nomadic houses, with one participant commenting that this song made her think of her mum. At the end of the project she said: 'this has brought back so many memories.'

Black and white drawing of a nomadic woman with the words 'most come from a nomadic background the woman building the house or hut - using wood, mud, cloth, singing the songs while they build.'

Participants were very moved by lullabies from the collection, such as this one performed by Faadumo Cabdi Maxamed:

Lullaby [BL REF C27/13]

Hearing recordings such as this prompted memories of other lullabies, such as a fondly remembered lullaby that a participant sang to the group, a moment that was captured by Sophie in this drawing:

Black and white drawing of a mother and child and a glass of water, with the words 'We sing lullabies for the boys: "New moon, we need you like a thirst" and for girls: "you are so beautiful...no one is going to hurt you and if they hurt you I will hurt them"'

Low also recorded camel songs, including this watering song for camels at the Shabeelle river, sung by Geedi Maxamed Cali and a male chorus:

Camel Song [BL REF C27/12]

Listening to this evoked much laughter as a participant recounted memories of being a city girl visiting the countryside and running away in fright from various animals – foxes on one occasion and a baby camel on another!

A coloured pencil drawing of a camel and two children with the words: "So when I was out in the wild with my cousin we saw a fluffy animal and I didn't know what it was because I'm from the city. She said "watch out it's gonna get you!" and she followed it so it chased me! I was scared but it was only a baby camel'

One member of the group described the listening sessions as providing 'an opportunity for us to get to know each other in a different way, tell these stories to each other that we never speak about.' Ubah Egal reflected on the project as 'a wonderful moment capturing the reactions and impact the recordings had on our community and participants.' This small selection of recordings demonstrates the potential for sound heritage to unlock memories, connect listeners, and make a deeply personal impact.

The Somali listening sessions took place as part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, a major project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund which aims to preserve and provide access to thousands of the UK's rare and unique sound recordings.

With thanks to John Low for allowing us to use the sound clips, Sophie Herxheimer for permission to post her artwork, Elmi Ali for selecting recordings, and to Ubah Egal and members of Camden Somali Cultural Centre for allowing us to include their comments and stories in this blog.

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

The logo of the Camden Somali Cultural Centre Pink waveform logo of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project

25 April 2022

Recording of the week: Everybody has something to offer

This week’s selection comes from Jonathan Benaim, Audio Cataloguing Coordinator.

Taken from the British Library’s Oral History of Jazz in Britain collection, this recording is from an interview with guitarist Ernest Ranglin. In this particular excerpt, prompted by interviewer Val Wilmer, he reflects on the notion of competitiveness between musicians.

Ernest Ranglin on competition in jazz [BL REF C122/198-199] 

Download Transcript

In place of competition, Ernest Ranglin sees a collaborative process, valuing the contribution made by different players. The synergy of collaboration can be perceived in the interaction between interviewer and interviewee too. Their rapport is tangible and it makes for an expansive exchange.

International Jazz Day is celebrated on 30 April. Established by UNESCO, it advocates for the positive influence of jazz, including its capacity to cultivate peace, unity, co-operation and dialogue. The description of solidarity that Ernest Ranglin gives, and the camaraderie of the speakers, neatly illustrates that ethos.

A black and white photograph of guitarist Ernest Ranglin taken on Tottenham Court Road, London.Ernest Ranglin, Tottenham Court Road, London, 17 May 1993. Photograph by Val Wilmer.

With thanks to Val Wilmer for kind permission to use her photograph in this article.

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

19 April 2022

Juliet Pannett

National Life Stories Goodison Fellow Suzanne Joinson writes about her research into the artist Juliet Pannett.

Black and white photo of Juliet Pannett holding a koalaJuliet Pannett, courtesy of Denis Pannett

As part of my National Life Stories (NLS) Goodison Fellowship, I have been delving into the oral histories of three Sussex-based artists: Ann Sutton and Barbara Mullins from Crafts Lives and Juliet Pannett from Artists’ Lives. If a biography is ‘a matter of joining holes together,’ as Carole Angier writes, then listening to the interviews often feels like experiencing the tension of the weave. The interplay of storytelling, hesitation and unfolding memory is immersive.

All three artists have had a profound impact on the cultural landscape of the South of England and beyond. Yet their reputations remain relatively marginal, although this is now changing for Ann Sutton.

In this blogpost I take the subject of Juliet Pannett, MBE, and look at how her self-defined life relates to her artistic legacy, particularly through the lens of her being regionally situated in Sussex. Whereas Ann Sutton is an avant-garde, experimental artist, and Mullins was in the vanguard of a resurgence of traditional materials and approaches, Pannett was in many ways the most ‘establishment’ of the three.

Pannett was 80 years old when Janet Grenier interviewed her in 1991 at Pannett’s home in Angmering. Her interview reveals an amusing, polished storyteller. The vowels signify a certain class and are evocative of a different era. Born in 1911 and died in 2005, she established an impressive career as a portrait artist and parliamentary painter. In her oral history interview she says with pride, ‘I could write to anyone I liked and almost everyone said yes.’ [Juliet Pannett interviewed by Janet Grenier C466/09/03, 00:03:11] The National Portrait Gallery houses 21 of her paintings and her subjects range from the Queen to Jean Cocteau. As a parliamentary artist she covered historic moments such as Churchill’s last appearance in the Commons and the Profumo affair. She was a member of The Society of Graphic Artists and Pastel Society and a fellow of The Royal Society of Arts. Later in life she ran courses in Sussex with her son, Denis, and the rose bowl Juliet Pannett Prize of the West Sussex Art Award bears her name today.

In the interview she talks frankly about establishing herself in the art world. She speaks of the complexities of combining family life with working for The London Illustrated News and of the efforts required to increase her reputation as a portrait artist. As I listen to the hesitations and digressions, as well as the anecdotes, I catch hints of an undertow of struggle in her life. A picture emerges of a genteel English family keeping up appearances despite a gambling cad of a father and a mother forced to take in paying guests.

Because the NLS interviewing methodology moves slowly and chronologically forwards, the unravelling of a ‘life story’ is extremely full. We follow Pannett’s scholarship at the Brighton School of Art. We hear of the Master, Louis Genet, and his techniques and approaches. We can almost feel the crunch of pencil sharpenings under shoes and smell white spirit in the studios. Pannett’s training was both formal and provincial. She had to complete a year of drawing before being allowed to touch a paint brush. No trips to Rome for her, and she admits that most girls in the class were filling the time before marriage. But her seriousness and ambition are evident all the way through. ‘I wanted to be a really good draughtsman,’ she says.

Most fascinating to the contemporary ear is how she established her career. Sending work to editors, pitching, being accepted in the illustration world as a female artist and her precociousness. Before finishing art school, she sent some work to The Cricketer and she then followed up with Sussex County Magazine:

‘I loved walking on the downs and sketching the old shepherds and country people and I thought well they might be interested, so I took them to show Arthur Beckett the publisher in Eastbourne and he said oh yes, good ideas we’ll have a series of Sussex types and I did thirty or forty and it was great fun, and it gave me an excuse to talk to the old shepherds.’ [Juliet Pannett interviewed by Janet Grenier C466/09/01, 00:25:55]

She tells it in a breezy fashion but receiving a professional commission at such a young age is impressive. It is possible to see how consistently hard she worked and the challenges of combining a career with family life. Her narrative shows us the continual navigation and integration of her family – her son Denis in particular, but also her sister the artist Phoebe Somers – with her working life.

The geographical locations that Pannett talks about are very local to me and so I can see the South of England through her eyes. Hove seafront, Brighton. Clambering on the beach at ‘Black Rocks’, now Brighton Marina. Years later she moved back to Sussex and bought a house in the village of Angmering. She considered herself a Sussex person and the imprint of her work can be found in the county if you look. It is in the archives of Worthing Museum, or captured in ephemera relating to prior exhibitions in Croydon Civic Hall, or in Hove Town Hall.

Black and white portrait photograph of Juliet Pannett as a young womanJuliet Pannett, courtesy of Denis Pannett

As I continue to work through the interviews, I am interested in exploring questions around why these female artists who operated outside of metropolitan hubs have slipped attention. Is it a correlation to living in the regions? I am also looking at how lives and life stories can be ‘written’ alongside oral interviews in alternative ways. The NLS interviews provide a central spine: the story in the subjects’ own words as experienced in that particular moment. Alongside that, like satellites, are catalogues and exhibition ephemera, educational and trust foundations. There are also more nebulous legacies such as the long-term impact on teaching, textbooks, and influence on generations of students or attendees at workshops. There is archival documentation of meetings and a wide matrix of cultural materials that contribute to an ongoing legacy.

Pannett died aged 94 after a lifetime as a professional artist and it is clear that most obituaries draw on the NLS interviews. The NLS ‘life-story’ oral history methodology depicts holistic histories that are fluid. The web of materials linked to Pannett’s output show us a professional working mother and a determined character person. She had much to prove, and when she was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Queen achieved a formal recognition that was important to her. The NLS interviews allow her career achievements to be examined as part of a wider picture. Most crucially, the integration of the domestic and personal life with the cultivation of a career and the creation of art.

When we look at an entire life-version, rather than individual isolated events, exhibitions, or achievements, we can see the unfolding of significant creative energy. Through a collation of memory and ephemera, my research suggests that peripheral forms of life stories – lives told in the margins of British art history – can be re-evaluated in a contemporary light, particularly within the context of a re-thinking of cultural agency and the impact of non-metropolitan areas. As we rethink our creative and cultural-geographical centres, moving outwards from cities to regions, it’s worth working in archives such as the NLS project to find a rich tapestry of stories that provide alternatives to the mainstream.

Suzanne Joinson is an award-winning writer and academic. Her novels A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar and The Photographer's Wife are published internationally by Bloomsbury. She lectures in creative writing at the University of Chichester and writes regularly for a range of publications including the New York Times, Guardian and others. She has a strong interest in oral history and the stories found in landscapes and places. Suzanne previously wrote for the Sound and Vision Blog in February 2020.

14 April 2022

Between the Orange Tree and the Lime

Between the Orange Tree and the Lime (2017) is a short film by artist Duncan Whitley, dedicated to the memory of flamenco singer and tabernero José Pérez Blanco, also known as Pepe Peregil. The film forms part of the Duncan Whitley Collection [BL REF C1338], which documents Seville’s Easter Week processions and is available in British Library Reading Rooms.

For two years there were no Easter processions on the streets of Seville due to the global pandemic. In this blog post, Duncan Whitley marks the renewal of the tradition with some words on his short film:

I was introduced to Pepe Peregil in 2010, thanks to friends in one of Seville’s brass bands who insisted I meet him. Peregil was one of Seville's eminent saeteros (singers of the saeta, a type of flamenco song). He was also known to many people as the affable owner of a bar called Quitapesares, located in Seville’s city centre. I interviewed Peregil in 2010 and the following year he invited me to join him in the Plaza del Museo, where he sang as the penitentiary Easter procession El Museo returned to its chapel. I recorded Peregil singing saetas at an incredibly intimate distance, so much so that I could vividly hear the sounds of his breath through my microphone.

The film Between the Orange Tree and the Lime transports viewers into the Plaza del Museo, Seville, on the night of Lunes Santo (the Monday after Palm Sunday). The film is a poetic meditation on presence and absence through flamenco song in Seville's Semana Santa. It focuses on the saeta, derived from the Latin word sagitta meaning arrow, a flamenco poem or prayer sung acapella to the effigies of Christ or the Virgin Mary as they are carried in procession during Easter Week.

The film’s title1, takes the opening lines of a saeta sung by Pepe Peregil in the Plaza del Museo, where he sang each year without fail from 1967 through to 2011: “Between the orange tree and the lime, is my Virgin of the Museum”. Peregil passed away in 2012 and so this film also captures his last public saetas.

Pepe Peregil singing a saeta

Pepe Peregil singing a saeta in the Plaza del Museo in Seville. Duncan Whitley, 2011

I have been studying the soundscapes of Seville’s Holy Week through my field recording practice since 2006. A fascination for the vernacular world of acoustic communication in Seville’s major fiesta, embracing music, voice and other mechanical sound-making eventually led me to focus on recording the saetas flamencas. At the time there weren’t many published recordings of saetas performed live in the street, beyond those recorded in Jerez de la Frontera in 1993 and published in Saetas: Cante de la Semana Santa Andaluza (BL REF 1CD0111003).

There are however many studio recordings of saetas. Many are performed by the great singers of cante jondo (a vocal style in flamenco) in the 1920's such as La Niña de los Peines, Tomás Pavón or Manuel Vallejo. The controlled environment of the recording studio preserves and magnifies the quality of the voice but what we don’t hear, is the saeta in context: the acoustics of the narrow streets, the murmurs of the public, the screaming of the swifts overhead at dusk. I became interested in the challenge of trying to capture quality sound recordings of contemporary saetas sung in their live, public and religious context: in the streets of Seville or from balconies, addressed to the images of Christ or the Virgin depicted in mourning.

Transcription and translation of the saeta:

Se hinque de Rodillas [Fall to your knees!]
La Giralda2 si hace falta [Even the Giralda finds herself obliged]
Y se vista de mantilla [And she dresses in mourning]
Cuando por su vera pasa [When the Last Breath of Seville]
La Expiración de Sevilla [Passes by her side]

The saeta featured in this extract from the film was written for Pepe Peregil by Pascual González, a singer, composer and poet mainly associated with sevillanas (a lively form of flamenco song and dance from Seville). Peregil’s son, José Juan, tells me that Peregil asked Pascual González to write him a saeta whilst they stood on a balcony in the Plaza del Museo one Lunes Santo, awaiting the arrival of the effigy of Christ of the Last Breath. Remarkably, González improvised these lyrics moments before the arrival of the procession, and stood behind Peregil reading him the lines as he sang, as there was not enough time for Peregil to memorise the words.

Following Peregil’s death in January 2012 I returned to Seville during Easter Week, with the intention of recording in the Plaza del Museo but the processions of Holy Monday were cancelled due to heavy rain. I returned to the plaza again in Easter 2013, and this time opted to wait beneath a balcony at the entrance to the square from which Pilár Velázquez Martínez, artistic name Pili del Castillo, and Peregil sang alongside each other for many years. I had recently interviewed Pili, so I knew she would sing to the effigies of El Museo but she hadn’t told me that she had specially prepared her own saeta to the Virgin of the Waters (colloquially known as the Virgin of the Museum) in dedication to her friend Pepe Peregil.

This saeta, an emotional farewell of sorts, references the absence of Peregil in the plaza:

Madre Mía de las Aguas [My Mother of the Waters]
Tienes la cara divina [Your face is divine]
Pero es tanta tu hermosura [But such is your beauty]
Que no la quiebra la pena [That sadness doesn't break it]
Ni el llanto te desfigura [Nor does crying disfigure you]

Si al llegar a tu capilla [If upon arriving at your chapel]
Notas que te falta algo [You notice that you're missing something]
No llores tú Madre Mía [Don't cry Mother of mine]
Que Peregil desde el cielo [That Peregil from the sky]
Seguro que te está cantando [Is surely singing to you]

Between the Orange Tree and the Lime was first screened in 2017 at the Whitechapel Gallery (London), at the EMASESA (Seville) with the Association of Friends of Peregil, and the Consejo de Hermandades y Cofradías de Sevilla (the governing organisation of Seville’s processional brotherhoods) in an event in honour of Pili del Castillo. Special thanks to Simon Day for working with me as camera operator 2011-2013, and to José Juan Medina for assisting with research.

 

Footnotes:

1. The 'lime' in the title refers to the white, rendered surfaces of the walls of buildings typical of Seville’s historic centre. Orange trees would be in blossom during Easter week and so the title builds a sensory evocation of the Virgin of the Museum carried into the plaza.

2. The Giralda is the iconic tower of Seville’s cathedral. The mantilla is a black lace veil, typically worn over a high comb. It is traditionally worn by women during the Easter Week processions in Andalucia, especially on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. 

31 January 2022

Recording of the week: On the meditative practice of drawing

This week’s selection comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist. 

Having been to live drawing classes myself over the last few months, I started to appreciate and master this art I have for long time forgotten (perhaps, neglected).

In this compilation of short extracts from life story oral history interviews recorded by National Life Stories for the Artists' Lives project, various artists talk about different aspects of the art of drawing, from the very idea behind the process to the materials used in the creative process, to the basic question: what is drawing?

Drawing requires a structure, it is a conversational relationship with the paper; but drawing is also energy. Similar to sculpture, it is an intellectual as well as physical process: the whole of the body is involved in the making.

Black brush strokes on a white backgroundPhoto by Sheldon Liu on Unsplash

Among the compilation, the most fascinating part for me is the third excerpt where Deanna Petherbridge talks of drawing as ‘an artistic equivalent of this absolute economy of means’. She recalls her experience of drawing lemon trees on a Greek island, and the materials she used. In her words, pen and ink, black and white were used to make ‘thin and controlled lines’; ultimately, they served the purpose of economy, the ‘imaginative use of the minimal’.

Deanna Petherbridge describes her drawing style [BL REF C466/152]

Download Transcript

Thus the material is an integral part of the practice, it shapes and defines what we create; the meaning of the artistic work is also hidden in the tools we use. Also to me this is true: charcoal is for bold quick statements, pencil to polish and adorn smaller details.

In my experience, drawing is an art that doesn’t require much thinking: the pencil explores the paper, almost resembling a meditative practice where the eyes get better at seeing, not simply looking. The challenge for me comes when trying to draw human presence – not drawing the person, but a human body in its pure form.

I ask myself, what is the minimum (perhaps the kind of minimum that Deanna talks about?) required to give my drawings a meaning, a poetic side, a touch of reality? Drawing could be an idea we have in mind: in the process of learning, the most difficult thing is to slow down.

Deanna Petherbridge was interviewed by Linda Sandino in 2002 for Artists’ Lives, an ongoing National Life Stories project which has been interviewing British artists since 1990. A selection of full interviews from the collection is available to listen to on British Library Sounds, and audio extracts are presented alongside contextualising essays on the Voices of art website.

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

Sound and vision blog recent posts

Archives

Tags

Other British Library blogs