Sound and vision blog

232 posts categorized "Arts, literature & performance"

22 October 2021

The wanderings of Blackbud: Preserving Blackbud’s Glastonbury demo

Written by Kirsten Newell, Data Protection & Rights Clearance Officer.

Last year, UOSH was lucky enough to interview the Subways  about their 2004 win at the Glastonbury Festival New Bands competition. You can read more about the history of the Emerging Talent Competition in this blog post on the collection, which marked the 50th anniversary of the 'Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival', on 19 September 2020.

Now, a year later, and 17 years after their win, we have been able to put panellist Wes White’s questions to Joe Taylor, frontman of the joint 2004 ‘New Bands’ winner, Blackbud.

White sat on the jury to determine finalists for the Emerging Talent Competition from 2004 to 2007, having been heavily involved in the process through his mother, Hilary, who worked in the Festival Office. Recalling Blackbud, Wes held that the group had a ‘very different, languorous approach’ from the Subways, ‘with epic, mind-blowing jams’. While there was only one slot available on the ‘Other Stage’, Wes maintained that ‘Blackbud were an amazing band and some of our panel would cite them among their favourite ever bands to this day’.

Blackbud performing live outdoors in Glastonbury town

Above: Blackbud performing in Glastonbury town – image taken from CC images.

Wes White: Do you remember sending Blackbud’s demo into the competition?

Joe Taylor: No, since it would have been sent in by our manager Grant Newton at the time. He was Adam 's dad (Adam was the bassist), and looking back on it, he took the management very seriously and we were fortunate to have his support and efforts back then.

WW: As a Somerset band, had you been able to perform at Glastonbury before? Had all of you been in the audience in previous years?

JT: I know I was at Glastonbury Festival as a child, and although I don’t remember much, It does feel like a dream. Probably most of my time was spent in the children’s area because I remember trampolines and a helter skelter slide. I was also in the audience several times as a teenager, and also when we played, but I couldn’t say for sure which years. I remember some amazing moments most of which were off the main stages and in the more obscure places. I remember Amy Winehouse and Bonnie Raitt on the Jazz world stage, seeing Brian Wilson, Aphex Twin at the Glade, I remember being there in the mud, and one year feeling big relief that I didn’t go when there happened to be a huge storm!

Listen to Blackbud’s ‘Wandering Song’

[British Library ref. C1238/4548 BD3]

WW: What do you remember about the night of the competition finals, at Pilton Working Men’s Club? Did it seem special then, or was it just another gig at the time?

JT: In that time, I think we were gigging a lot and beginning to travel further away from our home base, so I seem to remember it was nice to play somewhere fairly local. I also remember a bit of tension, there being other bands that we had to directly compete against but also feeling confident that we were just going to play a very short set, and have the most fun possible. Perhaps by coincidence, Jeff Buckley was playing as a background music before we went up on stage. I think it added to the meaning of the performance for me as I was really inspired by his music at the time.

WW: Some of the contest’s winners and finalists have only ever played Glastonbury once - but Blackbud went on to numerous bookings at the Festival in the following years. Do you have a favourite memory from among those performances?

JT: The most memorable must have been the actual ‘Other Stage’ performance that was cancelled due to a sudden downpour, and we decided to play an acoustic set down by the side of the stage for the few fans that were waiting in the rain for us to come out! We just started jamming on acoustic in the rain and people gathered around, I remember the feeling of just enjoying that moment so much even though we didn’t get to play on the actual stage…

WW: Is there anything you would change?

JT: Not sure… change something in the past? I suppose there have been moments I would have liked to change, or be somewhere else, but actually everything that happens makes us who we are today and I wouldn’t want to change anything.

WW: In the wake of the competition, there was a great deal of record company interest in the band. Did it seem that Glastonbury and the competition success helped in bringing the band to the labels’ attention?

JT: Yes probably... it was a combination of things that got labels interested, firstly we were dedicated musicians, and really enjoyed playing together, and we were investing our time and energy into the band, working really hard developing our sound, gigging in pubs and clubs, small fairs and all kinds of places, while writing material and rehearsing, recording home demos and building a fanbase, so there may have been some interest already happening, but I think the Glastonbury Festival competition was a catalyst in terms of attracting industry people to the band and what happened was that several labels were trying to develop a relationship and sign us which was an incredible situation.

Listen to Blackbud’s ‘158’

[British Library ref. C1238/4548 BD1]

WW: Blackbud announced an ‘indefinite hiatus’ in 2009. What are you up to musically now, and are you still in touch with the other group members, Adam and Sam?

JT: The thing with Blackbud during our time signed to Independiente, was that the whole industry was rapidly changing (and still is) and we happened to be one of the last bands to get a major development deal. It was an amazing experience, and it came to a natural end as the sale of music also declined. The important thing for me is that I was always a student of music, and kind of in love with the guitar. So when the opportunity came to take some time off from Blackbud, I began to explore and grow in different ways, leading to 4 years living and studying flamenco in Seville. I composed and produced for my wife (singer Mor Karbasi), and we travelled all over the world with this project which we built together, playing with many great musicians along the way. Now I am based in Israel, working in the Jerusalem East West orchestra and a flamenco guitarist, and doing sessions with many groups as a freelance musician. I have a home studio where I record and produce, and I release the music I make as a solo artist, under my own name. I have been in touch with Sam and Adam in the last years, and it was always really great. Even though we live different parts of the world, we would still have a connection if we were to jam together. Sam played with some well-known artists as a session drummer and now works at Amnesty International, which is really admirable, and Adam also plays with artists in the Bristol area and recently became a father, which is something I can relate to!

WW: The band is still fondly remembered by passionate fans. Is there any sign of an end to that hiatus on the horizon?

JT: Haha...I suppose the last question hints to this answer. We live in different parts of the world. To be honest I would love to do a reunion and have suggested it to Adam and Sam when I had plans to come back to the UK but it didn’t happen yet. I hope my solo music also appeals to those fans and satisfies their curiosity in the meantime.

WW: How do you feel about that early demo being archived in the British Library?

JT: I feel it’s a real honour!

Many thanks to Wes for giving his questions, and to Joe for agreeing to be interviewed. Blackbud’s demo will be available to stream next year on UOSH’s upcoming website.

23 August 2021

Recording of the week: Mrs Meurig Morris in a trance address

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

Columbia DX 265 disc label

In this week’s ‘Recording of the Week’ we feature the stentorian tones of Louisa Ann Meurig Morris (1899-1991), who was well-known as a spiritualist and medium in the 1930s.

In January 1931, she featured in the first ever filmed séance in the history of moving pictures, in the company of Lady Conan Doyle.

This recording for the Columbia label, which is different from the soundtrack of the Movietone film, was made a few weeks later, on 20 March 1931.

Here we present sides one and two in their entirety.

Listen to Meurig Morris [1CL0046884]

Download Meurig Morris transcript

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10 August 2021

Discovery of a rare Bettini cylinder recording

Richard Copeman with cylinder editRichard Copeman with his Bettini cylinder (photo © Jonathan Summers)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

In February 2020, just before lockdown, collector Richard Copeman contacted me about a concert cylinder he had just purchased in Paris.  He wondered if we would like to make a digital transfer of it for the British Library Sound Archive. 

Concert cylinders are not common, although I previously wrote a blog about one here which gives details about these larger forms of cylinder produced in the early 1900s.  The cylinder Richard Copeman has is in its original green box with a hand written title on the label, but it has lost the label from the lid. 

Box imageImage of box label (photo © Jonathan Summers)

The date of 1899 is hand written in blue pencil on the bottom of the box.  The title also appears engraved into the edge of the cylinder. 

Inscription on cylinder edgeInscription on cylinder edge (photo © Jonathan Summers)

We know what the work is – Concertino in E flat Op. 26 for clarinet by Carl Maria von Weber, and the performer’s name is announced at the beginning.  However, the name of the recording company is not – Edison, and many others, always included the name of the company in the announcement.

Another avid collector came to the rescue in the form of David Mason who had facsimile copies of Bettini catalogues.  In one of these he found ‘Rouleaux de Concert a Grand Diametre’ and listed there was the cylinder of the Concertino with the performer’s name - Henri Paradis.

Henri Paradis

Henri Paradis was born in Avignon in 1861 and at the age of nineteen won the Premier Prix for clarinet at the Paris Conservatoire.  His teacher was the delightfully named Chrysogone Cyrille Rose (1830-1902) who had been consulted by composers Jules Massenet and Charles Gounod on the technical capabilities of the clarinet.  Rose was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1900. 

Bettini June 1901 pp. 16-17 Edit

Bettini catalogue June 1901

As can be seen in the catalogue, Paradis plays his teacher’s version of the Weber composition published around 1879 in Paris.  After a period in L'Orchestre de la Garde Républicaine, Paradis joined the orchestra of the Paris Opera in 1890 and did not retire from his post until 1932.  He was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1935 and died in 1940.  From 1906 he was clarinetist in Le Double Quintette, eight of whose early recordings can be heard on BL Sounds here.  The full title of Société de Musique de Chambre pour Instruments à Cordes et à Vent was shortened to Société du Double Quintette de Paris; for the disc labels they became Le Société du Double Quintette. Mostly born in the 1860s, the group consisted of ten players plus Georges de Lausney on the piano.  The personnel were Pierre Sechiari (first violin), Marcel Houdret (second violin), Maurice Vieux (viola), Jules Marnoff (cello), Paul Leduc (double bass), Louis Bas (oboe), Ernest Vizentini (bassoon), Francois Lamouret (french horn), Henri Paradis (clarinet) and Adolphe Hennebains (flute).

Paradis’s affiliation with the Garde Républicaine and Paris Opera are mentioned in the spoken introduction on the cylinder which begins with a pitch identification, something important with early primitive equipment.  Paradis plays a highly abridged version of the score but the clarity and quality of the recording are extraordinary for something over 120 years old.

Weber Concertino Henri Paradis mp3

But what of Bettini, the producer of the cylinder?  Early recording is dominated by Thomas Edison in the United States and the Pathé brothers in France – both working on various other inventions concurrently.  Bettini was a fascinating, if relatively unknown, figure from the dawn of recorded sound. 

Gianni Bettini 1898 (Phonoscope magazine)Gianni Bettini in 1898 (Phonoscope magazine)

Born in Novara, Italy in 1860 Gianni Bettini was a gentleman inventor who had a salon at 110 Fifth Avenue, New York in the late 1890s where he made private recordings of great singers and other famous people including Mark Twain.  He was then based in Paris operating as the Société des Micro-Phonographes Bettini, 23 Boulevard des Capucines and although he brought his master recordings to Paris at the turn of the century, these were all destroyed during the Second World War.  A Wikipedia article states that Bettini cylinders are rare and that ‘only a few dozen are known to exist’.  This makes the discovery of this Paradis cylinder all the more exciting.  Not only is superior sound achieved with the larger concert cylinder, but Bettini invented some improvements including the ‘Spider’ whereby the stylus was attached to the recording diaphragm by multiple legs, hence its name.  Of course, the fact that this cylinder is not worn and in excellent condition also makes a great difference to the sound. It would appear that the cylinder was recorded right at the end of the nineteenth century, but it is not certain that the date stamped on the box is the date of recording.  It appears in the 1901 Bettini catalogue. 

It was the more widely circulated recording (both on cylinder and disc) that Bettini made of Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) which has survived and kept his name alive in the annals of the history of recorded sound.  Like Edison and the Pathé brothers, Bettini worked on a motion picture camera.  He died in San Remo in 1938.

Thanks to Richard Copeman for discovering it and allowing it to be shared through this blog.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

09 August 2021

Recording of the week: Memories of a theatregoer

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

In the last year of closed performance venues, we have almost forgotten what it means to go to the theatre.

Alessia-chinazzo (576 pizel wide) Photo by Alessia Chinazzo on Unsplash

In this interview from 2008, recorded as part of the Theatre Archive Project, Barbara Silcock shares her memories as a theatregoer back in the Seventies.

From her recollections of attending pantomimes as a child to being in the Empire Theatre in Sheffield, she speaks about experiencing the theatre as sort of escapism filled with euphoria; the theatre as a place for empathy.

With the melancholic tinge of a distant memory, she recounts the wonders of being backstage at the Lyceum Theatre and the distinctive smell of theatres.

Excerpt of Barbara Silcock interview [BL REF C1142/222]

Download Transcript

The smells we experience play a crucial role in our lives: it is through smell that our memory can vivdly bring back feelings and experiences.

Her words remind me of the pure joy of going to a theatre performance, the passive-active role of being in a live audience.

It is hard not to admit that after a year of virtual performances, what I’ve missed is precisely that familiar ‘dump’ smell she speaks of.

The Theatre Archive Project investigated British theatre history from 1945 to 1968, from the perspectives of both theatre-goers and practitioners. The project was a collaboration between the British Library and De Montfort University, and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

23 July 2021

Persian choral album surfaces after four decades in limbo

Choral Music from Persia CD coverCD cover courtesy of Persian Dutch Network

Guest blog by Pejman Akbarzadeh

In 1973, the Empress of Persia, Farah Pahlavi, commissioned the choral conductor Evlin Baghcheban to establish a conservatory of music for orphaned children. In this school, Baghcheban organised a choral group called the Farah Choir. The group gave regular concerts throughout the country and in the autumn of 1978 went to Austria to record their debut album. A number of fascinating Persian folk songs were recorded in Vienna, with a plan to release them in Tehran. However, the victory of the Islamic Revolution disrupted all plans, the choir was dissolved, and its conductor went into exile. 

The master tapes of the 1978 recording session remained silent at Baghcheban's house for decades. The name of the choral group 'Farah' was a reference to the name of the former queen of Persia, so releasing an album under her name was out of question in post-revolutionary Iran. However, shortly after the death of Baghcheban the tapes were transferred to Holland, where they were restored and released by the Persian Dutch Network.

This recording has a key historical value for Persian choral music. It features the first attempt, by Ruben Gregorian (1915-1991), to arrange Persian folk songs for a Western-style choir. Gregorian published the scores of his arrangements in Tehran in 1948, but recordings of his work were not previously available internationally. In his arrangements, he tried to be as faithful as possible to the original melodies, with no intention of changing or developing any part. The rest of the songs in the Farah Choir's recording were arranged by one of the next generation of Persian composers, Samin Baghcheban (1925-2008), husband of Evlin. His style is very different, showing more interest in the use of folk melodies as a starting idea, then developed using various compositional methods. He uses imitation and drone in his arrangements as well.

The British magazine Songlines has featured a four-star review for the recording and Empress Farah has expressed delight that the 1978 recording has been preserved and become available after four decades. The album "Choral Music from Persia" plays a crucial role to raise public awareness of a little known genre in music.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

 

 

05 July 2021

‘Violence, shock, life’: the sounds of Pierre Boulez’s formative years

Pierre Boulez (1968)Pierre Boulez (1968)

Guest blog by Edison Fellow Dr Caroline Potter

Pierre Boulez was one of the most important musicians of the 20th and early 21st centuries. His own music is often considered forbiddingly cerebral, not least because musicologists have tended to focus on its construction, but I contend that the French literary and broader intellectual context was at least as important to the composer as musical techniques such as serialism. My research project, generously supported in 2020-21 by a British Library Edison Fellowship, uncovers the crucial impact of this context on Boulez, enhancing our understanding of his work and leading towards a more visceral, emotional response to his work.

Boulez’s reputation as the ‘angry young man’ of European modern music followed him for the rest of his long life. He was angry because music mattered hugely to him. Of course, this anger sprang from his rejection of the conservative French musical culture of his youth, from a desire to wipe the slate clean after the horrors of World War II, and surely also from his rejection of senior male role models, including his father who wanted him to train as an engineer. But, more profoundly, this violence and anger has striking parallels in Parisian artistic culture of the 1930s and 40s, and specifically from artists broadly connected with surrealism.

Antonin Artaud 1926Antonin Artaud (1926)

 One of the most important figures in Boulez’s artistic evolution was Antonin Artaud (1897-1948). He is best known today for writings including The Theatre and its Double, but for Boulez, Artaud was not primarily a cultural theoretician, but a performing artist whose work only truly existed live. It was Paule Thévenin, Artaud’s friend and later his literary executor, who introduced Artaud’s work to Boulez (she later also edited a collection of Boulez’s writings). Artaud’s final public performance took place at the Galerie Loeb in Paris in July 1947, where he read some of his texts surrounded by an exhibition of his drawings. This was an intimate space; ‘Boulez and his friends had to sit in front of the first row of chairs, and they found themselves almost ‘under’ the voice of Artaud when he was reading.’[1] Being within spitting distance of Artaud, still a charismatic performer despite his much reduced physical condition, was an experience that Boulez never forgot. Towards the end of his life, he recalled that Artaud’s performance ‘made an impression on me because what initially seemed to make no sense suddenly made sense very strongly.’[2]

Few Artaud recordings survive: there are copies of Aliénation et la magie noire (1946) and Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu (1947) in the British Library. In Pour en finir… Artaud pushes his voice to its very limits;

Pour en finir avec le jugement de Dieu (1947) extract

through the extremes of expression, register and dynamics, he sought to transcend the limitations of human utterances. Listening to Artaud’s vocal performance alongside the final movement of Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata played by Maurizio Pollini, with its aggressive performance directions such as ‘pulvériser le son’, shows that they both inhabit a sound world where no holds are barred.

Boulez Piano Sonata No.2 extract

In the 1920s, Artaud was briefly associated with André Breton, the self-appointed leader of the surrealist movement. The French surrealist circle was a pluridisciplinary environment whose members had wide-ranging artistic and intellectual interests. Often these coexisted in one publication, as in the reviews Documents and Minotaure, whose pages provide a complete portrait of contemporary surrealism, from psychoanalytical studies of delirium to images provoking new ideas through incongruous juxtapositions. And Breton himself frequently combined photography, autobiography and fiction in a single publication; he also had a strong interest in ethnography and amassed an impressive collection of non-Western and esoteric objects.

One obvious connection between Breton’s stories – one that was particularly resonant for Boulez – is the recycling of the last phrase of his novella Nadja (1928), ‘La beauté sera CONVULSIVE ou ne sera pas’ (Beauty will be CONVULSIVE or it will not be). At the end of ‘La beauté sera convulsive’, a short story published in Minotaure in 1934, we read this extension: ‘La beauté convulsive sera érotique-voilée, explosante-fixe, magique-circonstancielle ou ne sera pas’ (Convulsive beauty will be erotic-veiled, exploding-fixed, magic-circumstantial or it will not be).[3] Convulsive beauty is a physical shock, an instant unmediated reaction which has the power to reunite supposed opposites. It provokes profound sensations instantaneously which according to Breton, ‘could not come to us via ordinary logical paths.’

‘La beauté sera convulsive’ is illustrated by a photo by Man Ray captioned ‘explosante-fixe’: a female dancer wearing a full skirt and sleeves, perhaps a flamenco dancer in a trance, captured in a freeze frame with her arms, sleeves and skirt suspended in mid-whirling motion. This fleeting instant captured on film exemplifies ‘convulsive beauty.’ Images, it is suggested, are superior to words as conduits of convulsive beauty, provoking as they do an instant, unmediated reaction. And moving beyond Breton, I contend that music has an even stronger power to convey convulsive beauty. Music can only exist in time and in sound; its action on our senses is literally ‘moving.’ Unlike Breton, the Belgian composer André Souris, a friend and early supporter of Boulez, understood the unique power of music; he believed that ‘the language of music was more apt than any other to faithfully relay the deepest feelings’ and that music was ‘perhaps the medium most suited to surrealist expression.’[4]

The impact of surrealism on Boulez has been underplayed: most obviously, he used a Breton fragment, …explosante-fixe…, as the title of several related works in the 1970s-90s, and this fusion of apparent opposites – explosion and stasis – is a highly apt metaphor for his music. A recording of an early version conducted by Boulez at the Proms on 17 August 1973, when compared with later versions, shows that its musical identity remained remarkably stable. This extract was recycled in later iterations of …explosante-fixe…, including the offshoot Mémoriale (1985).

Explosante Fixe (1973) extract

In a letter to Souris written in 1947, Boulez wrote that his music was about ‘violence, shock, life’ and he believed ‘this is what is most lacking, it seems to me, in every work by the serial “school”.’[5] In the work of Artaud and Breton, Boulez discovered the ‘violence, shock, life’ which is the defining characteristic of his first compositions.

[1] Sarah Barbedette, ‘Différentes façons d’être voyant’ in Barbedette (ed.) Pierre Boulez [exhibition catalogue]. Paris: Actes Sud, 2015: pp. 23-37, at p. 25: ‘Boulez et ses amis doivent s’asseoir devant le premier rang de chaises, et c’est presque « sous » la voix d’Antonin Artaud qu’ils se trouvent lorsque celui-ci profère ses poèmes.’

[2] François Meïmoun, Pierre Boulez: La Naissance d’un compositeur. Paris: Aedam musicae, 2010, p. 59: ‘[…] ce qui n’avait initialement aucun sens prenait d’un coup un sens, et un sens très fort.’

[3] André Breton, ‘La beauté sera convulsive’, in Minotaure, 5 (May 1934): pp. 8-16, at p. 16.

[4] Cited in Robert Wangermée, André Souris et le complexe d’Orphée. Entre surréalisme et musique sérielle, Liège, Mardaga (1995), p. 6; ‘la matière musicale était plus propre qu’aucune autre à épouser fidèlement les mouvements intérieurs […] [la musique constituait ‘peut-être le moyen le plus conforme aux démonstrations surréalistes.’

[5] Wangermée (1995), p. 272; ‘Boulez disait ensuite ce qu’apportait sa propre musique: la violence, le choc, la vie. “C’est ce qui manque le plus, me semble-t-il, à toutes les œuvres de ‘l’école’ atonale”, ajoutait-il.’

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

 

 

21 June 2021

Recording of the week: Carol Ann Duffy reads ‘Mrs Midas’

This week's selection comes from Dr Eva del Rey, Curator of Drama and Literature Recordings and Digital Performance.

I have been listening to Carol Ann Duffy reading her poem ‘Mrs Midas’ at an English PEN event held in London in 1994.

King Midas is known in Greek mythology for his ability to turn everything he touches into gold. Carol Ann Duffy’s poem is set in modern times and is written from the perspective of the King’s wife, Mrs Midas. The story starts with a perplexed Mrs Midas at their home where there is something odd going on with the King. Through a sequence of incidents at dinner time the King makes a confession. On seeing the food and homeware turned into gold Mrs Midas recounts:

___________________________________ I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn’t mind. I couldn’t believe my ears:
how he’d had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold?
It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable; slakes
no thirst.

Listen to the recording to find out what happens next.

'Mrs Midas' [BL REF C125/347 C7]

Read poem transcript

‘Mrs Midas’ is part of Duffy’s collection The World’s Wife, published by Picador and Anvil Press Poetry in 1999. Each poem engages with a mythological or historical male figure. The poems are always written from a female perspective and in monologue form. Several of these women are spouses. The collection provides a revised outlook on familiar narratives but all of them place women centre stage.

There are five years between Duffy’s reading at PEN and the publication of The World’s Wife, yet the poem did not change. There are four other poems from this collection in the recording, ‘Mrs Tiresias’, ‘Mrs Aesop’, ‘Queen Kong’ and ‘Mrs Darwin’.

The English PEN collection consists of literary talks and readings hosted and recorded by PEN between 1953 and 2006. It also includes the International Writers Day events, recorded by the British Library. Most of the events took place either in London or different parts of the UK.

This collection has been preserved by the Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project. It includes a total of 1184 recordings from over 400 tapes, which are now accessible in the Library’s Reading Rooms. In due course, from early 2021, you will be able to listen to up to 325 English PEN recordings online.

Since I am still working from home in London, I have included this picture of King Midas from a children’s book my mother gave me as a child growing up in Spain. This was my first encounter with the King Midas story. The story feels more complete now with the addition of Mrs Midas’ views.

Illustration of King Midas
Illustration of King Midas from the book 'El rey Midas. Mis cuentos favoritos' published by Editorial Vasco Americana, 1967

English PEN is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year (1921-2021). To mark this important occasion they are running Common Currency, a year-long programme of events, residencies and workshops, which includes a three-day festival at the Southbank Centre, London, 24-26 September 2021.

To tie in with PEN’s centenary I will be featuring more recordings from the collection in the coming months.

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

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

24 May 2021

Recording of the week: On architecture and identity

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

In these extracts from an oral history interview, architect Edward Jones talks about his approach to architecture, and what it means to build houses in both London and the rest of England. The interview was recorded in 2012 by the National Life Stories and is part of the Architect’s Lives collection.

Architecture is the living culture of a city life. We relate to the shapes of buildings and public spaces while we walk along the streets.

In trying to explain the gap between the design of buildings in the post-war period and the desires of people who would live in them, Edward reflects on a professional attitude that led to urban spaces being represented as miserable, inspiring a sort of urban blues.

A feeling of vulnerability from unsupervised spaces also arises from within the city’s voids: what is the relationship, or the lack of relationship with those spaces?

Traditional English house [BL REF C467/98]

Jones often gets asked what the best type of dwelling for the city would be, but in this interview, he shows how different urban histories led to different types of housing.

England has a very different architectural tradition to the Continent. Historically, England never experienced major land invasions so there wasn’t a need for walls or for intervening areas between the door and the street. London, Jones continues, never needed any defensive walls. Thus, the house-type building was the predominant housing solution that worked for England and flats only become more widely used in the 19th century.

Row of brick houses in London
Photo by Gonzalo Facello on Unsplash

In contrast, continental Europe adopted apartment blocks to house life in the cities. Paris or Brussels are architectural conglomerates with different levels of defence. Likewise, Glasgow has the same architectural structure. But not England.

Architecture as a reflection of a cliché: housing solutions become a representation of the ideal of a good life. Thus, the design of houses becomes part of the tradition, it reveals the relationship between spaces and the people who inhabit them.

Not only do houses create an identity, but cultural norms also play an important role in defining the geometry of cities across the country.

The celebration of private life in English culture is reflected in the strong residential character of London. The uniqueness of many of the green spaces in the city illustrates English cultural affection for the countryside. New York City doesn’t have that green character, Jones continues, but he still might prefer that urban arrangement as an experience of city life (although he admits he is probably an outsider to this).

The City's green spaces [BL REF C467/98]

Download Transcript for Edward Jones interview

Some distance is needed to observe the peculiarity of a city. Edward Jones reminds us that 'it might take the eyes of a foreigner to kind of see it'.

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

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