THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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45 posts categorized "BBC"

05 October 2020

Recording of the week: We’re gonna be parents!

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This week's selection comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

C1500 0776 David and Mairead

Husband and wife, David and Mairead, are expecting a baby any minute now! Mairead is already in labour and they came across the Listening Project booth while taking a stroll through a park near the hospital as a distraction from Mairead’s contractions. They decided to stop and record a conversation in this liminal moment while waiting for their baby to appear.

David and Mairead (BL REF C1550/776)

They reflect on their experience of pregnancy and look forward to being parents with both excitement and trepidation. They discuss which words they will use for ‘mum’ and ‘dad’, while referring to their baby as ‘cub’, and reflect on a future of feeling more and more out-of-date as their child grows up.

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between David and Mairead can be found on British Library Sounds.

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

21 September 2020

Recording of the week: My family and other tapes

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This week’s selection comes from Nick Morgan, classical Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

The British violinist Derek Collier (1927-2008) enjoyed a long and successful career as an orchestral leader, soloist, broadcaster and teacher. He recorded four commercial LPs but left a much larger legacy of broadcast and private recordings, which his daughter kindly donated to the British Library in 2011 (in 2012, Sound Archive curator Jonathan Summers wrote about them in this blog). Some months ago, I was assigned the Derek Collier collection to catalogue for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage – and I felt like Gerald Durrell, magically transported back to youthful years spent with a menagerie of soon to be extinct specimens.

Philips magnetic tape boxPhilips magnetic tape box

Philips tape boxes of the 1960s (left) and 1970s (right) from the Derek Collier Collection

Only, this isn’t Corfu and they’re not pelicans, seagulls, scorpions or tortoises – they’re tapes. One problem with tapes is that they all look a bit the same. Some have pretty boxes and some have funky spools, yes, but most don’t tell you very much about themselves. Unless, that is, you’ve spent your formative years working with them. Starting as a radio producer more than three decades ago, I learned the Tao of tape hands-on at a Studer or a Telefunken, herding take-up spools and snipping raw takes with chinagraph pencil, razor blade and splicing sticky.

So it was a nostalgia trip to be reunited with these long-lost friends thanks to Derek Collier. Collier broadcast extensively for the BBC over nearly half a century, and his collection contains all the kinds of tapes used in radio production, and more. There are rehearsal tapes, including one with the Black American conductor Dean Dixon – very short, sadly (Jonathan Summers also wrote about Dixon in this blog). There are session tapes: a sequence of pieces recorded in the studio, with false starts, mistakes, retakes and ‘patches’, from which a ‘studio manager’ (engineer) and producer spliced together the best bits – it’s rare to be able to compare unedited recordings with edited versions, but the Derek Collier Collection makes it possible. There are ‘insert’ tapes, containing just the edited music for a broadcast, to which spoken presentation was added either in a studio or live on air – the collection even includes one insert tape for a programme which was never transmitted.

There are ‘clean-feed’ tapes: sometimes, at pre-recorded broadcast concerts, a presenter was in the hall, announcing the music as if live, but a separate tape without the presenter’s voice was also recorded. There are listening copies: tapes sent to Derek Collier as a courtesy by producers. One small spool, often used for short BBC news reports and trails, has the standard BBC label I myself stuck on countless spools, standard coloured ‘leader’ I myself spliced onto countless tapes – yellow at the start and between items, red at the end – and with it a note on BBC letterhead I sent to countless contributors, listing three items Derek Collier had recorded for Steve Race’s Invitation to Music on Radio 4 but hadn’t managed to record off air.

spool of tape and letter from BBC
Complimentary BBC copy tape from the Derek Collier Collection

Talking of which, there are lots of off-air recordings – Derek Collier had a recorder at home and taped his broadcasts from the radio. But he also used it to record himself practising and rehearsing, bringing us closer to the starting point of his interpretations, before a piece was ready for the concert hall or the studio. And, as a bonus, there are examples of several of these types of tapes from his teacher Alfredo Campoli, complementing the collection donated in 1995 by Campoli’s widow.

C1475-185 frontC1475-185 back

Two items from 1966 LP DECCA ECLIPSE ECS 639, recorded by Alfredo Campoli in Japan, from the Derek Collier Collection

Derek Collier broadcast a lot of music by modern composers, so for copyright reasons it’s not possible to sample all the species in his tape zoo on this blog – but we can play an extract from a work which Collier premiered in the UK and which turns up several times in his collection. Boris Blacher’s Violin Concerto Op.28 was composed in 1948 and introduced to Britain by Collier in 1963. Among his tapes are an undated private practice recording of the solo part, an off-air tape of the premiere, and an unedited session recording from 1976, plus the edited broadcast recorded off air the following year. But from 1965, here’s the end of this exciting, vivacious Concerto in another broadcast performance by Derek Collier, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and none other than Dean Dixon:

Boris Blacher Violin Concerto Op.28 (end)

Derek Collier gave public solo recitals until shortly before his death in 2008, and he continued to record them, on cassettes, in the venues themselves, capturing the atmosphere and practices of the thriving musical life of Essex, where he’d retired. And he went on adding new types of tape, recording duplicates on different machines (for safety?), creatively copying ‘master’ cassettes to correct technical problems, recording rehearsals, and making mix-tapes of previous performances, seemingly as sample programmes for concert organizers or interpretation guides for new recital partners.

C1475-228
Compilation for 2004 programme rehearsal purposes, from the Derek Collier Collection

Making sense of this extended family of recordings has been an absorbing and rewarding task, and thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund it has been preserved for visitors to the British Library’s website and reading rooms to explore and enjoy in future.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage, @BL_Classical, @soundarchive for all the latest news.

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10 August 2020

Recording of the week: Do you know what a paternoster is?

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This week's recording of the week comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Photograph of colleagues Sharon and Jonathan

Sharon and Jonathan are colleagues who work together in the Finance department of the British Library, based in Boston Spa in Yorkshire. Sharon has been employed by the library for 42 years whereas Jonathan is the newest member of the team. They discuss their experiences of work and how expectations and attitudes have changed over time. Sharon talks about what it was like to work for the British Library in the past and describes some of the old equipment that was used, including a paternoster. She also mentions the surprising lack of health and safety regulations back then which meant that employees were actually allowed to smoke inside the library buildings, something that Jonathan can’t even imagine happening now.

Sharon and Jonathan (BL REF C1500/845)

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between Sharon and Jonathan can be found on British Library Sounds.

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

25 May 2020

Recording of the week: Account from a Norfolk lifeboatman

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This week's recording of the week comes from Emma Burman, Learning and Engagement Coordinator.

The role of a lifeboatman has never been an easy one. Before the widespread introduction of modern day lifeboats, with electronic mapping and covered shelter, men responded to calls in open topped boats. These boats had very little shelter from the harsh sea wind and splash, they were slow, and had no navigation systems. As soon as the boat launched, the men would look at their watches, put the charts on their knees and use their parallel rules to work out the tides. These men could spend five or six hours exposed to the elements during a call out, limiting their physical and mental ability to carry out their work.

Photograph of lifeboat station
Lifeboat station where Brian Pegg worked © J Gaiger / Stringer via Getty Images

In 1857, when with the originally established 1804 lifeboat organisation fell into financial troubles, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution took over the Cromer lifeboat station in Norfolk. Brian Pegg began working for the Cromer lifeboat station in 1964, continuing until he was 59 years old. Like many lifeboatmen, it was a job he loved.

Nonetheless, Brian maintained a very strong awareness of the sea’s unstoppable and merciless nature and the respect one must show it. In 1999, Brian contributed his voice to the Millennium Memory Bank, and spoke about the distress of losing someone at sea. Throughout the recording, he discusses the impact that two particular tragedies had on him, as well as the impacts felt by the wider community along the coast.

Account from Norfolk lifeboatman (BL REF C900/11583)

Brian described his life as divided into three, his church, his family and his work for both the RNLI and in later life, the Salvation Army. He believed that if you can get those three parts of life to work together ‘you're on a high’, and if someone asked him to divide them up, it would be very hard.

This recording is from the Millennium Memory Bank Project, the largest recording project in the history of British radio. It ran from 1998-99, capturing the pulse of the century through the voices of thousands of people from all walks of life.

Discover more sounds from our shores on the British Library’s Coast website.

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

18 May 2020

Recording of the week: Don't try this at home!

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This week’s selection comes from Nick Morgan, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Joseph Sussman (1920-2013) was surrounded by music – literally: his house and garage were crammed full of 78s, LPs, CDs, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes and videos. They vied for space with stacks of printed music and books, on composers, performers, schools and teaching, as well as on Jewish history, thought, art and music. The sheer numbers, breadth and depth spoke eloquently of Mr. Sussman’s long, busy life as a music teacher, organist and choirmaster, listener, scholar and collector, husband and father. After his death, his daughters generously offered his collection to the British Library. Curator Jonathan Summers spent several days appraising it, and I went along as a volunteer helper in selecting recordings in all formats.

In 2019 I was lucky to join the Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project as a cataloguer. By chance, my first assignment was a collection of 50 reel-to-reel tapes recorded by Mr. Sussman in the late 1950s and 1960s and retrieved by us six years earlier. Most of the tapes contain BBC Radio broadcasts which haven’t survived elsewhere: talks on music and its history, composition and performance (not only classical), live and studio concerts and recitals. They reflect his wide interests and expertise, especially in Jewish music – notably, the works of the Swiss-born American composer Ernest Bloch.

On a few tapes, Mr. Sussman himself plays the piano or accompanies his wife and very young daughters in touching songs and recorder pieces. Music-making was part of the Sussman family’s everyday life, and at its heart was the piano, as it had been in countless households from the mid-nineteenth century on. So deeply rooted was this hundred year-old ‘piano culture’ that, as one of Mr. Sussman’s tapes reveals, in the early 1960s BBC Radio producers still took it as a basis for broadcasts to a wide audience.

In 1961 the BBC’s popular Light Programme broadcast ‘Valerie Tryon at the piano’, a fifteen-minute recital by the British-born pianist, then in her twenties but already a seasoned radio artist – she had been on air since 1954. The music she played whisks us back to a middle-class parlour around 1900: a Mendelssohn Song without Words, a Beethoven Bagatelle, a Chopin Waltz… with only a Poulenc Mouvement perpétuel, written at the end of World War I, to remind us that the ‘long nineteenth century’ had ended in the trenches.

portrait of Valerie Tryon

Another reminder of past tastes and attitudes is the programme’s presenter (he’s not identified – do you recognize his voice?), sounding as if perched avuncularly over Valerie Tryon’s piano. He starts engagingly, welcoming us into the fellowship of active pianists: ‘Miss Tryon is going to play pieces that many of us have tried, probably, at some time or another, to learn to play ourselves.’ The Chopin Waltz, though, brings out a critical streak: ‘Many an aspiring pianist has probably been guilty of somewhat cavalier treatment of the music of Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Schumann, but poor Chopin has probably suffered more than most.’ And if the cavalier pianist isn’t sufficiently chastened, a parting shot puts amateurs firmly in their place:

BBC Light Programme, 24 July 1961 (BL REF C1644/11 S2 C7)

Many of the BBC presenters on Mr. Sussman tapes sport a similarly supercilious air, though one suspects they felt freer to talk down to some audiences than others. Still, this broadcast, and many others preserved by Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, remind us how much classical music the Corporation offered audiences fifty years ago across all channels and all manner of formats, moods and ‘brows’. The BBC’s offerings ranged from Valerie Tryon’s salon favourites on the Light Programme, through repertoire familiar and not so familiar, such as Bloch’s works – which were aired surprisingly often on the Home Service – to the didactic earnestness of ‘Study Session’ on the unsung Third Network and, finally, the rarefied reaches of the Third Programme. Thanks to Mr. Sussman and other home-taping enthusiasts, by visiting the British Library’s reading rooms you can relive this almost vanished era, when classical music enjoyed a place at the heart of Britain’s homes and public life.

Follow @BL_Classical@BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

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11 May 2020

Recording of the week: Birth then and now

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This week's recording of the week comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Photograph of friends Gill and Deb

Gill and Deb have been friends for many years so when Deb split up with her partner during her first pregnancy she asked Gill to be her birth partner. Gill had already given birth to five children herself and Deb felt that she would be an experienced and reassuring presence at the hospital. Gill was someone she could trust at a time when she was at her most vulnerable and also someone with whom she wanted to share the magical moment of birth. Gill was very happy to be asked and they managed to make it work even though they were living some distance apart. Here they describe how they prepared for the birth and why it was such a positive experience for both of them. They talk about what they think makes a good birth experience and what can have a negative effect. They also discuss how attitudes towards birth and women’s bodies have changed in the 57 years since Gill had her first baby.

Gill and Deb (BL REF C1500/721) mp3

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between Gill and Deb can be found on British Library Sounds.

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

06 April 2020

Recording of the week: 'I didn’t come into the jungle to look at trees and lianas!'

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

Cover of CD release 'Healing, Feasting and Magical Ritual. Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea'
Cover of 'Healing, Feasting and Magical Ritual. Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea' (TSCD918)

Former senior producer for BBC Radio 3 John Thornley made this field recording in 1987, in Kei Village, near Mount Hagen, in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. The field recordings resulting from his three month stay in Papua New Guinea form part of the British Library Sound Archive collections. A selection from his collection was published on the Topic Records CD ‘Healing, Feasting and Magical Ritual. Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea’ as part of the Topic World Series, done in collaboration with the World and Traditional Music section. The ‘Hunting Song of the Moge and Kopi clans’ features nine unnamed performers from Kei Village playing a song on bamboo flutes. Thornley’s liner notes about the song and players hide an interesting story inaccessible to the ear. I recommend listening first, to sink into the song’s hypnotic melody and then reading Thornley’s words about the song, which reveal a surprising layer of insight.

Hunting Song of the Moge & Kopi Clans

‘This was one of several songs that this group had arranged for bamboo flute, staggering their individual breathing so the song could be played seamlessly. This song is about a hunter who has no luck, and sings: ‘I didn’t come into the jungle to look at trees and lianas, I came to hunt for possum and birds!’ The four holes of the flute are played with the first two fingers of each hand. One player had a missing second finger on his right hand (in the area it is still a tradition to chop off one or more fingers as a sign of mourning for a close relative) so was playing with his first and third fingers.’

If you want to listen to a broader selection of recordings from the CDs published by Topic Records, you can listen to 'Topic World Series', our tenth programme for NTS Radio.

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

16 March 2020

Recording of the week: 'I didn't catch any of that!'

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

In this audio clip, Iona McDonald describes a familiar experience – failure to understand someone from a different part of the country or English-speaking world. Extremely broad dialect speakers can occasionally seem unintelligible, even to speakers of closely related varieties, as this amusing anecdote illustrates:

Anecdote about Scots dialect

We used to have some friends from the Falkirk area who used to come up and stay with us every year in the summer time and they had a very very strong accent very strong Central Scots accent and Sandy had been playing outside and came running in very windy day came running in and he said to my mother yir streetcher’s fawin doun yir claes’re on the grund and we all looked at the poor boy blankly and he repeated himself again yir streetcher's fawin doun yir claes’re on the grund and we were still making absolutely nothing of it we had to say right slow it down Sandy and yir streetcher's fawin doun and yir claes are on the grund so oh right we've got it now it meant your clothes-pole has fallen down and your clothes are on the ground and he just stomped his foot and looked so put out and said yous are aw too polite.

Iona MacDonald
Iona MacDonald © BBC 2005

Dialects differ systematically from other varieties in terms of vocabulary, grammar and accent (i.e. pronunciation). Sandy’s animated description here contains words, such as streetcher [= ‘clothes-pole’] and claes [= ‘clothes’], a non-standard pronoun, yous, and numerous localised pronunciations that render his Central Scots dialect incomprehensible to family friends from Skye. Yous occurs in a number of Scottish dialects and indeed in places like Merseyside and Tyneside, but Standard English no longer distinguishes between singular and plural ‘you’. Sandy’s pronunciation of doun, grund, aw and fawin are also typical of many Scottish accents and, to a lesser degree, of varieties in North East England.

This passage comes from a BBC Voices Recording in Portree, Isle of Skye, and is one of 300 conversations about language, accent and dialect made by the BBC in 2004-5.

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