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160 posts categorized "Arts, literature & performance"

03 June 2019

Recording of the week: Lilian Baylis (1874-1937)

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

This week we feature the voice of Lilian Baylis, talking about the Old Vic and Sadler's Wells theatres, which she famously managed. The Old Vic company nurtured the careers of Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft and Sybil Thorndike amongst many other notables of 20th-century British theatre.

The voice of Lilian Baylis (C1077/6)

The recording was made in the mid 1930s at the invitation of the Vic-Wells Association, and produced as a one-sided HMV Private Record. It is not known how many discs were originally pressed or still exist today.

Lilian Baylis disc

Our copy, which is signed by Lilian Baylis on the label, was donated in 2003 as part of the archive of theatre designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch.

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

24 May 2019

Bicentenary of Queen Victoria – is this her voice?

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Queen_Victoria_by_BassanoQueen Victoria in 1882 by Alexander Bassano

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

Queen Victoria was born two hundred years ago on 24th May 1819.  The most famous and, until recently, the most long reigning of British monarchs, Victoria represented a whole century of development and achievement where Britons were at the forefront of science, engineering and the arts.

It is known that she was persuaded to record a cylinder of greeting on 8th August 1898 to send to Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia but insisted that it be destroyed after he had heard it.  In return, the Emperor and his Queen recorded greetings to Victoria in 1899 and these have survived (BL shelfmark M 1865; digital access via BL reading rooms). 

There are references in letters and first-hand accounts of hearing a recording made by Queen Victoria reported in the book by Paul Tritton The Lost Voice of Queen Victoria (1991 Academy Books).  With the circumstantial evidence it would appear that the recording is probably Queen Victoria, but the unfortunate fact is that the few sentences she speaks are barely decipherable.  There are various interpretations of the spoken text, but she seems to say:

Britons restless for their Queen to speak,

let me answer,

if can be,

XX,

that I have never forgotten.

The fourth line is unintelligible and has been variously interpreted as ‘we all had a wonderful festival’ and ‘towards the end of a wonderful gift to me’, referring to her Golden Jubilee.  It sounds like neither to my ear, but we have subjected the National Sound Archive’s original 1991 transfer by Peter Copland of the Bell-Tainter Graphophone cylinder owned by the Science Museum to the latest restoration technology.  The wax coated cardboard cylinder is believed to have been recorded by Sidney Morse at Balmoral in 1888.

Queen Victoria

While the sound of that recording is poor, we can hear the Queen’s cousin and contemporary Prince George, Duke of Cambridge (1819-1904) in better quality, recorded by Edison’s agent Colonel Gouraud on 22nd December 1888.  His message to Thomas Edison, the inventor of sound recording, is as follows:

I congratulate you on the marvelous success of this invention which I think will produce singular results in the future.

The recording comes from the Alan Cooban collection (C1398) digitised with funding from the Saga Trust.

Duke of Cambridge

George_-_Duke_of_CambridgeCollodion of Prince George by Roger Fenton 1855

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

23 April 2019

Merrie England

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Merrie England 1 re-coloured retouchingIllustration from HMV set of Merrie England (Courtesy of Damien's 78s)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

To celebrate St George’s Day this year I have selected a work whose popularity lasted well into the twentieth century.

When Arthur Sullivan died in 1900 he had written fourteen operas with his writing partner W. S Gilbert together producing such famous and immensely popular titles as The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, The Mikado and The Gondoliers.  In his last works he collaborated with librettist Basil Hood (1864-1917), but Sullivan died before their last work, The Emerald Isle, was completed.  English composer Edward German (1862-1936) was asked to finish the work and this led to further collaborations with Hood, the most famous being Merrie England from 1902 and Tom Jones from 1907. 

Basil-hood-1917Basil Hood in 1917

Merrie England is a comic opera set in the court of Elizabeth I.  The work played at the Savoy Theatre during 1902 and 1903 and the runaway hit from the show, The Yeomen of England, was recorded at the time in remarkably good sound by its originator, Henry Lytton (1865-1936).  In the days before microphones and amplification, singers had to be heard throughout a large theatre unaided, so the recording studio’s acoustic horn easily captured Lytton’s large and powerful voice. 

Henry Lytton 1902 in D

The opera proved so popular that in 1918 a complete recording was made by HMV on eleven twelve-inch 78rpm discs supervised and conducted by the composer.  This was quite an undertaking for its time as generally only extracts, arias and songs were recorded from operas and shows.  It would also have been extremely expensive to buy the complete set of acoustically recorded discs. 

Merrie England 2 re-coloured croppedCourtesy of Damian's 78s

The soloist for The Yeoman of England was Charles Mott, an English baritone who had made his name in Wagner roles, including the English premiere of Parsifal, and was chosen by Elgar to appear in some of his performances and productions.  Mott recorded the side on 27th February 1918.  Although already thirty-eight, Mott was conscripted into the army and joined the Artists Rifles.  Three months after making this recording he was shot at the Third Battle of Aisne on 20th May 1918 and died of his wounds two days later.  The disc label, therefore, reflects this.

HMV label

Charles Mott 1918

A later recording, by the sonically superior electrical process, was made in 1931 and although conducted by Clarence Raybould, it was recorded ‘under the supervision of the composer.’  The work’s popularity continued through amateur productions up and down the country and HMV recorded it again in 1960.  The work is still revived at times of patriotic events such as royal jubilees, the most recent being in 2012 for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. 

EdwardgermanEdward German

 

25 March 2019

Recording of the week: Peter Blake remembers the Royal College of Art

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This week's selection comes from Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

This week we’re travelling back to 1950s London, where a young Peter Blake was learning to draw. Peter Blake is an English Pop artist who famously co-created the cover art for the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the 1950s he was a student at the Royal College of Art with Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff.

339_richard_smith_peter_blake_as_students_photo_robert_buhlerPeter Blake and Richard Smith (right), as Royal College of Art students c. 1956. Robert Buhler, Courtesy Royal College of Art Archive. Image not licensed for reuse

In this clip from his life story interview, Peter Blake conjures up his memories of the busy life drawing room. In the life drawing room you might find artists sitting on 'donkeys' and there would be at least 15 life models – each surrounded by a group of students jostling for space. Some artists took up more space than others, and Blake picks out the artists that one would avoid... As well as capturing the characters of his fellow students, Blake gives a vivid account of his tutors, and of the professional models:

Peter Blake on life drawing classes (C466/168)

In the recording Blake describes his tutors both as ‘vultures’ and ‘sharks’ – who would hover around the many easels and lurch in to rub out the students’ drawings and make corrections. He’s right in saying that this wouldn’t be tolerated by art students now! Despite this, in his next breath he describes how wonderful it all was.

This clip features on the Voices of art website. Voices of art is a new British Library resource that explores the art world from behind the scenes. Extracts from oral history recordings accompany a series of essays by writers immersed in the art world of the 20th and 21st centuries. To hear Peter Blake’s clip in context, see Tom Powell’s article 'Why can't you draw the model like that?' Remembering the life room through Artists' Lives and Lisa Tickner’s article Playing it by ear: Kasmin in the 1960s.

Peter Blake was recorded by National Life Stories for Artists’ Lives in sessions between 2003-2005. The interviewer was Linda Sandino. Listen to the full interview on BL Sounds.

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

18 March 2019

Recording of the week: Will Montgomery - Submarine

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

Camberwell Submarine_ Eva del Rey

You may have seen this extraordinary ventilation shaft known as the Camberwell Submarine on Akerman Rd. London SW9.

It was built in the 1970s as part of an underground boiler room and heating system for Myatt’s Field estates. It is regarded as one of a kind due to its dimensions and design. See urban 75 for more images.

The boiler room and heating system is no longer in use. The room is closed but there is a memento of its sound kept forever in the archives.

‘Let us cross a large modern capital with our ears more sensitive than our eyes’ wrote futurist maverick Luigi Russolo in The Art of Noises (1913).

Artist Will Montgomery made recordings of the machinery of the boiler room in action. He assembled them into a short piece and published it on Touch Radio website, 8th November 2008. He called it ‘Submarine’.

Touch Radio 036: Will Montgomery - Submarine

I went on location on a Friday afternoon last February and strolled along the site listening to Montgomery’s composition on my phone. White noise, a harmony of hissing sounds exhaling through the boiler's steel valves. It felt both eerie and calming as if the Camberwell Submarine had gradually come back to life.

Follow @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news. Visit British Library Sounds to listen to more pieces from Touch Radio.

11 March 2019

Recording of the week: Sora song

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This week's selection comes from Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World and Traditional Music.

The Sora people, are one of the oldest communities known in India. They are mainly situated in the hilly border area of the east Indian states Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The Sora live on the hill slopes just below the remaining forests and in the valleys relatively isolated from the surrounding communities. The Sora habitats are mainly surrounded by Hindu Telugu (south Indian) and Oriya (north Indian) communities. The language of the Sora belongs to the Austro-Asiatic (Mundabranch) language group. The centre of the Sora life within the traditional groups is their traditional belief system of ancestor worship.

Christianity, especially in the form of Baptism (brought in by North American missionaries) made a big impact on Sora villages in Orissa. Less than fifty percent of Sora describe themselves as Hindu, which means they regard their traditional belief system – ancestor worship – as being part of Hinduism. The most important spiritual experts are kudan (mainly women), kudan-boi (women) and kudan-mar (men). Using elaborate rituals, dance and music performances, these experts are able to communicate with the deceased.

All Sora traditional music forms are more or less related to the religious rituals as performed individually or at festivals. Ancestor festivals are celebrated either immediately after the death of one person or after a longer time for several people. Therefore the intricate ritualistic festival Gu-ahr, consisting mainly of funeral stone planting and buffalo sacrifices, is usually performed for all ancestors who died in the previous 13 years.

Vocal music is mainly unaccompanied and the majority of performers are women. For each song one singer leads and the other singers follow with a slight delay. The women sing in a guttural raspy voice and use slight melismatic effects. Sometimes singers are accompanied by the gogoray fiddle, the two-string lute jenjurangrai, or the tiriduy flute. All ancestor rituals require certain lengthy mantras to be performed before the medium falls into trance and is able to hold a dialogue with the deceased.

Sora singers
Lakamma and Masalamma, two Sora priestesses and singers by Rolf Killius. © Rolf Killius. Image not licensed for reuse.

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Ethnomusicologist Rolf Killius made this recording of two Sora priestesses in January 2001, inside the mud-thatched house of Mr. Jageya in the village Soyala Guda in the Srikakulam district, Andhra Pradesh state, India. In the following paragraph, Killius provides us with some contextual information about this mesmerising recording –

Lakkama from the indigenous Sora community first sings solo. Later her co-priestess, Masalamma joins in. Joining means she follows her slightly delayed, just for a fraction of a second. This exciting style of vocal music is - to my knowledge - unique in Indian Music. Indeed the Sora community are unique. They live along the border of the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and the North Indian state Odisha. This is also the border where the south Indian meet the north Indian language speakers. More peculiar is the fact that these two women speak and sing in Sora, a language belonging to the Austro-Asiatic language group. The style remotely reminds oneself of the way in which in Karnatic Music, the art music of South India, the instrumentalist, usually the violin player, follows the singer. When I asked the two Sora priestesses to elaborate on their style, they couldn’t understand my question. For them this is the ‘typical’ Sora music style, practised since the time immemorial. This piece celebrates the green (unripe) mango festival. Similar songs trigger these priestesses to fall into trance and in this condition are able to speak with their long-gone ancestors.

You can listen to more recordings of the Sora in the Music in India collection on British Library Sounds.

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

 

08 March 2019

International Women's Day: Oral History highlights

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To celebrate International Women’s Day, three colleagues from the British Library Sound Archive have handpicked three oral history interviews from National Life Stories collections.

Architect Angela Brady

“The women have got to be better than the men to survive in architecture.”

Angela Brady interviewed by Niamh Dillon C467/107 Track 5

This interview was selected for International Women’s Day by Niamh Dillon, who interviewed Angela Brady from 2013-2014 for the National Life Stories project, Architects’ Lives. Niamh reflects on Angela Brady’s career:

Angela Brady was born in Dublin in 1957 and trained as an architect at Bolton Institute of Technology. During her studies, she had her first encounter with the gendered attitudes within the profession. As a response, she determined to ‘work bloody hard’, successfully qualifying as an architect. During her early career she spent periods in Denmark working on housing and moved to London, working for large practices before setting up her own practice, Brady Mallalieu. She campaigned and won election as President of the Royal Institute of British Architects campaigning on a platform to increase diversity within the profession. She was only the second woman to achieve the position and presided over the organisation during the 2012 Olympics. In 2017 she was awarded an OBE for services to architecture.

Angela Brady's interview is listed on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue (reference C467/107). For more information about Architects' Lives see the NLS project page.

Artist Sheila Girling

“…trying to fit two lives. It’s a great strain on women I think really, to have to cope. Because children are not just things you can put down and put away.”

543_sheila_girling_with_tony_caro_portrait047 - small
Sheila Girling with Anthony Caro. Courtesy Barford Sculptures Limited. Image not licensed for reuse.

This interview was selected for International Women’s Day by Hester Westley, who interviewed Sheila Girling in 2009 for the National Life Stories project, Artists’ Lives. Hester describes Sheila Girling’s approach to her artistic practice and family life:

Sheila Girling’s life story addresses the challenges which restricted women artists before the days of equality movements and general awareness of gender inequality. Girling trained as an artist at the Royal Academy Schools at a time when women students were expected to treat such training, the same as any male student’s, not as a step towards a profession but more like a finishing school. Following her marriage to the famous abstract sculptor Sir Anthony Caro, Girling put her own practice as a painter on hold, raising their two sons before returning to her studio practice in later life. In this recording she discusses with frankness and compassion the difficult choices she made as she sacrificed her own needs for the needs of others; without bitterness, her candid discussion of what it means to be a woman artist will speak to generations of women as they navigate marriage, motherhood and a professional life.

In this clip, Sheila Girling discusses how she balanced her artistic career, family life, and the career of her husband, Anthony Caro:

Sheila Girling interviewed by Hester Westley C466/296

Sheila Girling features on the new British Library website Voices of art. To read more about Girling’s life and work, see Hester Westley’s essay Coaching from the side lines: Sheila Girling and Anthony Caro. Read a written summary of Sheila Girling’s interview on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue (reference C466/296).

Doctor Una Kroll

“...we’re partners and we should be equal and we should be contributing equally.”

This interview was selected for International Women’s Day by Lucia Cavorsi, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage who has enhanced the catalogue records for Una Kroll’s interview. Una Kroll was interviewed by Rebecca Abrams in 1991 for National Life Stories. Lucia shares her experiences of listening to the interview and learning about Una Kroll’s life and work:

Getting closer to women coming from completely different paths of life is nowadays not only edifying, but crucial for women’s rights. That’s what happened to me when I worked with this collection item. I got captured by the words of Una Kroll; by her vision of the world; by her incorruptible idealism. A doctor, a feminist, a deaconess (at the time of the interview), an activist, a mother, Una Kroll channelled her anger for social injustice towards service and fight. As a doctor, she set up the first local services for cervical screening and breast analysis at her St. Paul’s Cray practice. As an activist she campaigned relentlessly and cleverly for the ordination of women. As a deaconess and profoundly religious person she challenged the patronising attitude of a male dominated Church.

As a feminist she didn’t conform to given rules and started wondering why women had handed so much power to men; why rules were made by men to hold up women. As a mother she was concerned to see justice and harmony for people who were oppressed, so to offer a fairer world to her daughter. As a woman, she wanted to show how good it was to be a woman; how women’s role in society is to explore better ways to live in harmony, without anyone undergoing segregation. She taught me that opposition to men is a necessary phase both for our political struggles and our growth as women, but it’s just a phase. That what we all need to aim for, is to truly recognise the equal nature of all human beings. To appreciate and understand the inherent dual nature, feminine and masculine, of God. Whatever this is.

To listen to Una Kroll speaking about the stuggle for the ordination of women, head to the Sisterhood and after website. Una Kroll’s interview has very recently been digitised by Unlocking our Sound Heritage. It can currently be accessed at the British Library through the Listening and Viewing Service and will be available more widely soon. Read a written summary of Una Kroll’s interview on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue (reference C464/10).

20 February 2019

Creative States of Mind: a new collection of interviews exploring artists and the creative process

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Artist Patricia Townsend writes about her collection, 'Interviews exploring artists and the creative process', recently deposited and made available at the British Library.

What does it feel like to be an artist? Are there common threads between the experiences of individual artists or does each artist work in his or her own idiosyncratic way?

As an artist myself, I began to think about what happens in my mind as I create new artworks and to wonder whether my experiences are shared by others. Do other artists also begin with a vague intimation of what they want their subject to be, but with little sense of what form the potential artwork might take? Do they also sometimes have the experience of an idea for a new work bursting suddenly and unexpectedly into their minds? And if so, do they, like me, initially feel a sense of elation as if the new idea is perfect even though they know from experience that sooner or later (and usually sooner) this elation will evaporate and the idea won’t seem so wonderful after all? I set out to explore these questions and more in a series of interviews with professional artists working in a variety of media. These interviews, many of which are now archived in the British Library, formed the basis of my research for a PhD at the Slade School of Fine Art and for the book ‘Creative States of Mind: Psychoanalysis and the Artist’s Process’ (Routledge 2019).

BookCover

When I began this project I didn’t know whether the artists I interviewed would be able to put their experiences into words. After all, I was speaking to visual artists who have deliberately chosen a non-verbal medium in which to express themselves. Many of them were accustomed to being asked about their material processes and their motivations but I was asking them to talk about how it feels to make a work of art, something they might not have considered in depth before. Would it be possible to express this verbally? If the answer had been no, my whole project would have fallen flat, but as it turned out I needn’t have worried. Many of the artists were wonderfully articulate, often finding poetic images that vividly conveyed the qualities of their experiences. For instance, painter Hughie O’Donoghue used the metaphors of archeological digs and of dredging to describe his process of unearthing something from the subconscious as he paints:

Hughie O'Donohue interviewed by Patricia Townsend (C1801/17)

This recording adds another dimension to the understanding of O’Donoghue’s work that we might not have gained through the written word alone. His reflective way of speaking mirrors his deeply thoughtful engagement with his developing painting.

Another example is provided by photographer Sian Bonnell who describes how it feels to be immersed in her work, even to the point of making herself ill:

Sian Bonnell interviewed by Patricia Townsend (C1801/03)

This recording takes us, as listeners, inside this artist’s experience. Through the way in which Bonnell speaks, as much as through her language, we get a feel for the intensity of the state of mind she is in.

These examples attest to the individuality of each artist’s experience. And yet, the interviews reveal many shared threads too. O’Donoghue speaks of his painting as acquiring ‘some kind of life’ through his work on it. A number of other interviewees also speak of a point in their process when their developing artwork begins to come to life. And the state of complete absorption described so vividly by Bonnell is also referred to by many other artists, each of whom finds his or her own particular way to convey the quality of the experience.

In conducting the interviews, I wanted to find out whether there would be enough common threads in the artists’ accounts to enable me to trace the journey from the artist’s first inkling that he or she is onto something, through the artist’s work with a medium to the completion of the artwork and its launch into the outside world. It seemed clear to me that the making of a work of art involves unconscious as well as conscious processes but, of course, neither I nor the artists I interviewed could provide information about processes that are out of our awareness. Therefore I looked to psychoanalytic theory to try to fill the inevitable gaps and to shed light on the artists’ narratives. But in the interviews I was not attempting to analyse the artists as individuals (something that psychoanalysis has been accused of in the past). Rather I wanted to use psychoanalytic theory to analyse the creative process through factors in common across many interviews. This is what I aimed to do in the book ‘Creative States of Mind; Psychoanalysis and the Artist’s Process’.

It was a great privilege to have the opportunity to interview these artists and each encounter gave me enormous pleasure. I am delighted that 25 recordings are now available through the British Library so that others can hear the voices of these remarkable artists for themselves.

Patricia Townsend
www.patriciatownsend.net
www.routledge.com/9780367146160

To find 'Interviews exploring artists and the creative process' search C1801 at sami.bl.uk. For other collections of oral history interviews with artists, sculptors, craftspeople, theatre designers, photographers, and fashion designers explore our collection guide to Oral histories of visual arts and crafts.