THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

65 posts categorized "Digitisation"

16 July 2019

Magnetic Tape Alert Project

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The Magnetic Tape Alert Project is an initiative of the Information for All Programme (IFAP) Working Group on Information Preservation.

News_150719_magnetic_tape
Photo: Bernhard Graf, Vienna Phonogrammarchiv

 

Today’s knowledge of the linguistic and cultural diversity of humanity is widely based on magnetic tape recordings produced over the past 60 years. Magnetic audio and video tape formats are now obsolete, replay equipment in working condition is disappearing rapidly and the supply and service of spare parts is fading. As a result, the routine transfer of magnetic tape recordings is likely to cease around 2025. The only way to preserve these sounds and images in the long term, and to keep them accessible for future generations, is to digitize them and transfer to them to safe digital repositories.

While many professional memory institutions have already secured their audiovisual holdings, or have plans to do so in time, a great number of audio and video recordings are still in their original state, kept in small academic or cultural institutions, or in private hands.

With the Magnetic Tape Alert Project, the Information for All Programme (IFAP) of UNESCO, in cooperation with the International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA), aims to alert stakeholders to the imminent risk of losing access to their audiovisual documents.

Part of this is to conduct a survey, focusing on unique recordings, to assess the scale of the risk. The information obtained through the survey will serve as a basis for future planning for the safeguarding of these irreplaceable original documents in the long-term. Information gathered will be used to compile a report that will be made publicly available.

For further information and to respond to the questionnaire, please go to the project website.

Deadline for completion: 30 September 2019

The project coordinator, Andrew Pace, can be contacted at: MTAP@iasa-web.org

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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

06 May 2019

Recording of the week: Peter Kennedy recording of Sheila Gallagher, Donegal 1953

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This week's selection comes from Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Lead Curator of World and Traditional Music.

Peter Kennedy made this recording of Sheila Gallagher in Middle Dere, Donegal in 1953 - she was 90 years old at the time. She tells of learning songs from her father and his friends, who themselves lived to 100 years of age. The recording provides a window into a world some 200 years or more ago.

Sheila Gallagher, Middle Dere, Donegal, 1953, Tape 1 (C604/523, excerpt)

Untitled collage

More recordings are available online at:

https://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Peter-Kennedy-Collection/025M-C0604X0523XX-0001V0

https://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Peter-Kennedy-Collection/025M-C0604X0524XX-0001V0

https://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Peter-Kennedy-Collection/025M-C0604X0525XX-0001V0

https://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Peter-Kennedy-Collection/025M-C0604X0526XX-0001V0

https://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Peter-Kennedy-Collection/025M-C0604X0527XX-0001V0

The full Peter Kennedy Collection is being digitally preserved as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. You can also find out more about Peter Kennedy and his work at http://www.peterkennedyarchive.org/.

Follow @BL_WorldTrad@BLSoundHeritage 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.”

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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).

14 January 2019

Recording of the week: starling mimicry

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This week's selection comes from Greg Green, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

Learning to identify bird song can be tricky at the best of times; to the untrained ear it can all sound remarkably similar. To add to the confusion, many birds like to show off by mimicking the songs of other species, and some are very good at it.

Starling

In the UK, our best copycat is the starling (Sturnus vulgaris). These incredible birds are like little avian hip hop artists. They take in ‘samples’ of the songs and calls around them and remix them! A typical starling song is very complex, consisting of multiple layers, and can incorporate song fragments from five or more species. Sometimes the song is reproduced faithfully, other times the rhythm is chopped up, repeated and mixed in with other sounds. It’s not just other birds they mimic too. They have been recorded mimicking mammals, car alarms, telephone ringtones, and even human speech.

This recording from Patrick Sellar showcases just some of the starling’s seemingly limitless repertoire. Patrick identifies the songs and calls of jackdaw, brambling, buzzard, blackbird, house sparrow, wren, arctic tern, northern bullfinch and willow tit.

WS5532 C10 - Common Starling mimicry recorded by Patrick Sellar on 1 st May 1978 (BL ref 07111) 

This spectrogram shows the similar harmonic content between the flight call of the buzzard and the starling’s mimicry.

Buzzard and starling mimicry

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

This recording has been digitised as part of the library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

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29 October 2018

Recording of the week: a high fidelity direct recording

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This week's selection comes from audio engineer Robert Cowlin.

Instantaneous lacquer discs frequently contain unique or rare recordings and, due to the instability of their sound carrying layer, are a preservation priority at the British Library Sound Archive. Also known as acetate discs, they generally consist of a metal substrate coated in a lacquer of cellulose nitrate which is modulated by a cutting stylus. The process is still in use today, comprising the first step in the manufacture of vinyl records. Many of the lacquers in the British Library’s collection were cut ‘on demand’ – direct to disc from radio broadcasts for patrons by independent cutters, such as W. H. Troutbeck of Twickenham. Today’s disc contains excerpts from “Visions of Saint Godric”, by Peter Crossley-Holland, cut on 17 October 1959.

Troutbeck

Cellulose nitrate degrades continuously over time, as it reacts with water vapour and oxygen, resulting in the eventual shrinkage of the lacquer layer. As the metal substrate cannot shrink, the lacquer cracks and flakes off resulting in the inevitable and irreversible loss of the sound carrying layer, hence their preservation priority status.

Lacquers from the 1950s onwards can be played like any other microgroove disc, with a lightweight elliptical or line contact pickup tracking at around 1.5 grams. Coarse groove lacquers also exist, so playback parameters may need to be modified to accommodate a wider groove. Test with a microgroove stylus first though.

This disc was cleaned in an ultrasonic bath using a solution of 1 parts photographic wetting agent to 70 parts deionised water. Like shellac discs, lacquers should not be cleaned with alcohol. Some instantaneous discs were coated with gelatine rather than cellulose nitrate. Gelatine reacts badly when exposed to water. I always perform a patch test on a non-modulated area before cleaning. Apart from digitising, one should avoid playing lacquer discs due to their fragility.

The disc in question is in very good condition considering its age, with no signs of delamination and only minor scuffing, it retains its deep shine when held to the light. Apart from some pops and intermittent surface noise, the sound quality is excellent. I’ve chosen a short passage that highlights the format’s ability to convey low-level detail – listen out for the audience!

Excerpt from Visions of Saint Godric by Peter Crossley-Holland (BL shelfmark 1LS0001183)

I’m giving a presentation on signal extraction from lacquer discs at this year’s British & Irish Sound Archives conference at the National Library of Wales on 17 November. More information about the conference can be found at http://www.bisa-web.org/next-event

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

08 October 2018

Recording of the week: from the days of the demo tape

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This week's selection comes from Lucia Cavorsi, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

When you work in a sound archive it’s not uncommon to find yourself drawn into a listening experience which is both immersive and enriching. For me, one of these moments arrived with a demo tape from the Serious Speakout collection (taken from the name of a London-based  promotion company active during the 1990s).

At the end of the recording I scrutinize the inlay. Who is behind this band? What is their story? I realize that, in a collection of over 700 demo tapes, this is the only all-female band I have come across. I manage to contact one of them on Facebook. After twenty two years they kindly agree to gather together again and recount their past. A Skype call doesn’t feel right. Three weeks later I fly to Bologna to meet them: Daniela Cattivelli, Silvia Fanti, Filomena Forleo, Olivia Bignardi, Flavia D’angelantonio, Margareth Kammerer. Respectively, saxophone, accordion, piano, clarinet, bass, and vocals of ‘Fastilio’.

Fastilio 1Fastilio, soon after forming, rehearsing at the occupied School of Arts, Music and Theatre - University of Bologna. Photo by Nanni Angeli 

Formed in late 1991, the story behind this experimental band is one of genuine curiosity for sound and its potential, playfulness within rigour and commitment, and risk taking. All six were enrolled at the University of Bologna’s School of Arts, Music and Theatre, which was at the time under student occupation. They met when they joined, with little musical knowledge, Laboratorio di Musica e Immagine. This was a fourteen member group with a strong socialising energy, working on collective improvisation and composition to create music for silent films.

After a year and a half they decided to try and rehearse on their own to express themselves more freely, curious to see what type of sound would come from such a diverse group of people, with both different backgrounds and creative ideas. They called themselves ‘Fastilio’ from the Italian ‘Fastidio’, meaning nuisance. Although lacking in experience, their plans were both influenced and inspired by the thriving scene of the time: concerts of experimental music, festivals featuring musicians from the Rock in Opposition movement and the Canterbury Scene, and seminars with composer and improvisor Fred Frith.   

They had been rehearsing for around four months when their first concert opportunity cropped up in February 1992. Their bass player had only picked up her bass for the first time a few months earlier, and yet the festival they were invited to featured musicians like Robert Fripp and Michael Nyman. Fastilio were offered joint billing with experimental violinist Jon Rose on opening night. Amid hesitation and excitement, short in repertoire and training, they eventually accepted. And there they were on stage with Jon Rose who, seeing how nervous they were, made shoulder muscles stretching a part of the performance. This first concert was a breakthrough; it taught them to be brave.

Fastilio 2Flyer First concert. Photo by Francesca Ponzini

Over the next five years of their existence, this band of girls in their mid-20s, committed themselves to sound. Each with different skill levels and musical personalities, Fastilio put into music their wishes of sonority, through reciprocal listening, improvising, experimenting, composing and, essentially, choreographing sound. Fastilio define their music as ‘twisted’, because of the changes in perspectives, the circularity of themes and the odd succession of harmonic and contrasting sounds.

Gradually they found themselves opening concerts for renowned musicians like Steve Coleman, performed in international festivals, jammed in cultural centres throughout Europe, and collaborated with different artists in anarchist houses in the Slavic countryside.  

The following excerpts are from a live gig recorded in Imola, September 1993

Fastilio demo tape excerpts (BL shelfmark C728/117)

Follow @lcavorsi, @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news. Many thanks go to the members of Fastilio for their help with this piece.

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04 September 2018

Sir Francis Chichester talks to Lady Chichester from Gipsy Moth IV

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Dr Emma Greenwood, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage, writes:

Sir Francis Chichester’s record-breaking circumnavigation of the globe in 1966-1967 is a legendary accomplishment in yachting and sporting history. When he sailed back into Plymouth Sir Francis was greeted by a fleet of small boats, thousands of fans and a hysterical press.

This huge public interest was largely owing to the Marconi Kestrel radio telephone installed on board the yacht Gipsy Moth IV which enabled Sir Francis to send weekly newspaper despatches throughout his voyage.

This same radio set, however, also allowed Sir Francis to communicate, very occasionally, with his wife Lady Chichester. One of these rare conversations took place on 19 November 1966 and, fortunately for us, it was recorded and has now been preserved as part of the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

The recording itself is of poor quality, but this only reflects listening conditions at the time. Lady Chichester was on board the cruise ship SS Oriana at the time, on route to a planned rendezvous in Sydney, and the radio signal was weak and subject to lots of interference. Questions had to be repeated, voices raised, and speech slowed down. There was also an operator on the line throughout, so there was no privacy between the couple.

Sir Francis and Lady Chichester talking before Sydney (C1604/01)

In spite of the circumstances, both Sir Francis and Lady Chichester sound remarkably composed. Much of the 14 minute conversation is taken up with the exchange of essential information relating to their respective positions, rates of progress, weather conditions and expected arrival times into Sydney. It is hard to believe that this was the first time they had spoken in nearly three months, or imagine the dangers Sir Francis had already faced in his voyage.

Nevertheless, the ability to communicate via radio telephone, was clearly of great importance to both parties. After the voyage, Lady Chichester stated, ‘the radio communication with Gipsy Moth IV was something really marvellous, and the men who worked it were wonderful people’ (‘A Wife’s Part in High Adventure’ in Sir Francis Chichester, Gipsy Moth Circles the World (Bello, 2012), p. 249).As for Sir Francis, being able to speak directly to Lady Chichester provided a much-needed psychological boost. He signs off “very glad to hear your voice and you have all my love, all my love, goodbye, goodbye”. Later, he wrote in his account of the voyage, ‘It was a joy to hear her, and to be able to talk directly to her. This cheered me up immensely’ (Gipsy Moth Circles the World, p.93).

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