Sound and vision blog

39 posts categorized "Events"

22 September 2021

Postcards from China

Since the end of August 2021 a new British Library audio exhibition 'Listen: The Story of Recorded Sound' has been open to visitors to Pingshan Library, Shenzhen, China. It will run until 20 February 2022.

Visitors will be able to hear an eclectic mix of sounds from the British Library’s collection of over 6.5 million recordings of spoken word, music, wildlife and the environment. Recordings date from the 1880s to the present day. 

The exhibition was brought to Pingshan Library in partnership with the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC) and Pingshan Media Centre (PMC), alongside Pingshan Global Promotion Centre (PGPC), and was sponsored by the Publicity Department of the CPC Pingshan District Committee of Shenzhen (PDCPC).

This is the first time that the British Library has brought an audio exhibition to China to be experienced by Chinese audiences. Please see our Chinese-language page about the exhibition for more.

Exhibition photo - image courtesy of Pingshan Media Centre

Above: 'Listen' exhibition, Pingshan Library. Copyright © Pingshan Media Centre, 2021. Used with permission.

In a novel initiative to help publicise the exhibition, the CBBC collaborated with students from the Innovation Lab of Art and Technology, Shenzhen University. The students were invited to develop a set of 10 promotional postcards. The results were quite striking and original, and a selection is reproduced here.

Postcard design by Chen Lin

Postcard design by Feng Jiahao

Postcard design by Han Feng

Postcard design by Huang Jianhui

Postcard design by Zeng Zhixiong
Artists, from top to bottom: Chen Lin; Feng Jiahao; Han Feng; Huang Jianhui; Zeng Zhixiong. Images copyright © The Innovation Lab of Art and Technology, Shenzhen University, 2021. Used with permission.

17 May 2021

Recording of the week: The first recording of a complete piano concerto

This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

Lockdown has given us the chance to listen to music while working from home and revisit well known recordings that we may not have had the opportunity to hear for a while. Recently I listened again to the first complete recording of a piano concerto – Beethoven’s famous 'Emperor', recorded for HMV in April 1922 by Frederic Lamond (1868-1948) with the Royal Albert Hall and conducted by Eugene Goossens.

photograph of Frederic Lamond
Frederic Lamond in 1898

Lamond was a pupil of the great Franz Liszt, studying with him in Weimar during the last few years of Liszt’s life. I actually wrote the notes for a CD reissue of this recording on the Biddulph label way back in 1998. What strikes me now is not so much the poor quality of the acoustic recording, but the rhythmic drive of the performance and particularly the orchestra; Goossens’s youthful energy is evident throughout the recording.

Eugene Goossens
Eugene Goossens

Eugene Goossens (1893-1962), born just down the road from the British Library in Camden Town, was not even thirty when the recording was made. He was from a family of Belgian musicians who began his musical life as a violinist. His grandfather conducted the first English performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser in 1882 while Eugene gave the British premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in June 1921 with the composer present. Quite a feat for a novice conductor in this first year! Ten months later he made this recording.

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 5, op. 73, E flat (Emperor) (BL REF 1CL0029360)

Lamond gives a majestic performance, full of power, virility, nobility and authority. The rudimentary recording process, whereby the players had to gather around a recording horn that collected the sound waves in the room, has managed to capture a good deal of detail without any use of electricity. One hundred years after the event, we can still enjoy the vitality and informed performance of the greatest musicians.

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

08 February 2021

Recording of the week: From feminist utopias to contemporary sound

This week's selection comes from Harriet Roden, Digital Learning Content Developer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Imagine a land where flowers pave the streets, energy is solely reaped from the sun and air-cars transport people to universities, laboratories and observatories. Imagine this land is run entirely by women, because the men are all locked away in purdah.

This is 'Ladyland', a fictional utopia envisioned by Begum Rokeya (1880 – 1932) in her 1905 novel Sultana’s Dream.

Book cover of Sultana's Dream
Sultana’s Dream was originally published in the Indian Ladies’ Magazine in 1905.

Rokeya was a Bengali feminist writer and educator who is widely regarded as a pioneer of women's liberation in South Asia. She held the belief that women in her society were disadvantaged because of ignorance around their own rights and responsibilities.

She campaigned to change this.

In 1909 Rokeya founded the first school in Bengal for Muslim women which is credited as allowing the first generation of women to become literate.

She later established the Muslim Women’s Society, which advocated for women’s legal and political rights. The actions of the society has since been praised by Tahmima Anam as ‘the cornerstone of the women’s movement in Bengal’, creating a foundation for a politically progressive feminist movement in contemporary Bangladesh.

Her influence has continued to be felt in the creative outputs and work of women across the globe.

A small, white cassette tape sits on a shelf in our sound archive. The four tracks of Aliyah Hussain’s EP take their titles from key moments in Royeka’s novel. This track titled ‘Koh-i-Noor’ is directly inspired by the conversation between the main protagonist, the Queen and Sister Sara who, whilst touring ‘Ladyland’, describe its creation. With universities, ‘manufactories’, laboratories and observatories on the horizon, the Queen states:

Koh-i-Noor from Sultana's Dream, EP by Aliyah Hussain

Men, we find, are rather of lower morals and so we do not like dealing with them. We do not covet other people's land, we do not fight for a piece of diamond though it may be a thousand-fold brighter than the Koh-i-Noor, nor do we grudge a ruler his Peacock Throne. We dive deep into the ocean of knowledge and try to find out the precious gems, which nature has kept in store for us. We enjoy nature's gifts as much as we can.

In the year that Bangladesh turns 50 years old, join us on 22nd February when Tahmima Anam and friends Monica Ali, Nasima Bee and Leesa Gazi take this visionary work as a starting point in an exploration of fiction from across the Bangladeshi diaspora. Book now.

Explore the worlds imagined by women science fiction writers on the Women’s Rights webspace.

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

16 November 2020

Recording of the week: Music and singing for the Tihar Festival in Nepal

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

Tihar (Diwali) festival celebrations in Pokhara, Nepal
"20121113-Nepal-trekking-5-Pokhara-ARZH5002E" by zhushman is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tihar (also called Diwali) is a five day Hindu festival celebrated in Nepal. It usually takes place in the Nepali month, Kartik (end of October to November). The festival is in honour of Laksmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Good Fortune. Animals including crows, dogs, cows are also worshipped. Tihar is known as the festival of lights, as diyas (oil lamps) and festive lanterns are lit, illuminating homes and temples.

In this recording, we hear a group of campus students and staff in the small Nepali town of Gorkha Bajar, performing a Deusire song. They are singing and playing instruments including harmonium, madal and kartal. Deusire (or Deusi Re), are traditional call-and-response songs that are sung during the Tihar festival celebrations in Nepal. Traditionally, troupes of children and teenagers sing the songs and dance as they visit homes in their community, giving blessings for prosperity and collecting money, sweets and food.

Tihar git (deusire) (BL REF C1465/44)

This recording was made October 29th 1987 and is part of the Carol Tingey Collection (C1465/44). You can listen to more recordings from this collection on British Library Sounds.

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

06 July 2020

Recording of the week: Barbara Kruger in conversation

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

Barbara Kruger, ‘You Are Not Yourself’, 1981
Barbara Kruger, ‘You Are Not Yourself’, 1981 © Image: callejero / VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Listen to a recording of visual artist Barbara Kruger in conversation with the art historian Griselda Pollock at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London,1991.

Barbara Kruger ICA London 1991

Barbara Kruger is best known for her found photographs in black-and-white, overlaid with eye-catching text, displayed on billboards, banners, bumper stickers, postcards and the likes. Her work addresses social issues, gender representation, violence against women, misogyny, power politics and the pitfalls of capitalism and consumerism. She deconstructs commonly held assumptions with forthright eloquence, bold humour and open-ended meaning:

‘I shop therefore I am’.

‘Your body is a battleground’

‘It’s a small world but not if you have to clean it’

In addition to her photographic and collage work she makes large-scale immersive installations covering all areas of the exhibition space. She also creates works on film and video.

Kruger has exhibited both outdoors in public spaces and indoors in galleries and museums. Some of her more recent creations include the design of the cover of the New York Magazine pre-election issue (2016 USA elections), published on the 31st October, showing a closely cropped image of Donald Trump’s face overlaid with the word 'LOSER'; an installation entitled Untitled (Skate) at the Coleman Skate Park in New York in 2017; and in 2018, a large-scale mural painted in the colours of the Argentinian flag covering an abandoned grain silo in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires, Untitled (No Puedes Vivir Sin Nosotras / You Can’t Live Without Us).

Barbara Kruger started making art in the 1970s leaving behind a successful career as a graphic designer for magazines such as Mademoiselle. She first exhibited in London at the ICA in 1983. Later in 2014, she had a large solo exhibition Untitled (Titled) at the Modern Art Oxford Gallery, and her next show, set to open at the Art Institute of Chicago this November 2020, Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You, is expected at the Hayward Gallery in London, in 2021. This will be her biggest exhibition in 20 years, featuring four decades of her work.

In this 1991 recording at the ICA she talks about the importance of making art that is accessible to everyone and why she challenges being called a feminist conceptual artist:

‘I’ve never felt myself defined or defined myself as a maverick girl, feminist artist, and nobody was searching for women artists to take up, you know. Perhaps they are beginning to do it now in NY, but we made our presence known and forced the issue. No one was looking for us, in fact they were looking the other way’ (20:59).

This recording is part of the ICA collection C95, available online on British Library Sounds. It is made up of 889 sound recordings of talks and discussions with prominent writers, artists and filmmakers, which took place at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, between 1982 and 1993.

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

08 June 2020

Recording of the week: Michiko Hirayama singing Scelsi

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

Between 1978 and 1994 the Institute of Contemporary Arts ran an annual series of contemporary music concerts called MusICA. Among the works programmed were those by Italian-born composer Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988). Little known and ostracised by music academic entourages of the time throughout his life - French composer Pierre Boulez branded him as an amateur - he became well known around the 1980s and is today considered one of the pioneering figures of minimalist and microtonal music.

Fascinated in the 1940s with the teaching of the Second Viennese school and its characteristic twelve-tone music, he shifted in the 1950s towards more radical and experimental avenues. His interest in mysticism and esoterism largely influenced him. Testament to this is a Zen symbol added to his signature on all of his scores. Oriental philosophies didn’t much influence his compositional methods, but rather provided concepts through which to compose music.

His main musical teaching was that the whole world depends on sound. The repetition of a single sound, in particular, is central to his ideas. He writes: ‘my music is not this, nor that, it’s not dodecaphony nor pointillism, it’s not minimalist either [...]. Notes are just wrappers […]. Sound is spherical, but we always tend to see it in terms of duration and frequency. That is not right. Every spherical element has a centre […]. We need to get to it. By hitting for a long time the same note, the note itself becomes bigger, it grows so much that its own harmony surfaces and enlarges within it’. A single sound loses then its status of one among equals with other notes in a piece, and becomes the essence of it, through the continuous elaboration of its frequency.

Scelsi's research determined, between 1952 and 1978, avant-garde compositional techniques which mainly involved improvisations both with piano and instruments producing quarters and octaves of tones, like the ondioline. His musical journeys were not only free of any constrictions, but also free from transcriptions (which he left to his collaborators, after recording his works on tape). The appreciation of the verticality of a sound, led him to further investigate musical timbre, and to appreciate the human voice as one of the most powerful instruments capable of breaking sonic structure.

Michiko Hirayama
Courtesy of Fondazione Isabella Scelsi

Among his closest collaborators was Michiko Hirayama (1923-2018), the Japanese singer historically associated with the performance of ‘Canti del Capricorno’, the 20-song cycle that Scelsi wrote specifically for her voice. The microtonal inflections in her technique while interpreting classical Japanese pieces had in fact soon captured him.

Scelsi officially wrote the cycle between 1962 and 1972. During an interview with musical artist Arturo Tallini though, Hirayama explains how it actually took her four decades to reach interpretative perfection of the cycle’s vocal part. Firstly, the manuscripts contained notes with just phonemes pencilled down to which she had to add her own improvisation and vocal experiments so as to become the instrument of the song itself rather than its interpreter, quite an open-ended task; secondly, she felt the intensity of both emotional and mental state required to make Scelsi’s work come to life was only achieved when she was 82. In 2005, towards the end of a performance of the entire cycle held in Berlin, she indeed found herself in a state of unconsciousness. Only then she considered ‘Canti del Capricorno’ finally completed.

C611/49 Scelsi No. 2

This is an extract from Michiko Hirayama’s performance of ‘Canti del Capricorno’, No. 2 performed at the ICA on 8 February 1981.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage for all the latest news from the project.

03 February 2020

Recording of the week: 'If Not, Not'

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

Tapestry in entrance hall of British Library- If Not, Not

You may be familiar with the tapestry featured in this photograph if you visit the British Library every now and then. If its bright colours and mysterious symbolism haven't lured you in before, it’s a tapestry based on the painting If Not, Not (1975—1976), by the artist Ronald Brooks Kitaj RA (1932 – 2007), which hangs in the National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. For me it has been a source of wonder and stimulus on countless wanders through the Library’s public areas, leaving me with many questions on what the man with the hearing aid in the lower left hand corner, the large, brick gatehouse in the upper left corner or the general atmosphere, which is both attractive and ghastly, might mean. It has felt like an endless source of ideas and stories when procrastinating away from my desk and it's led me to dig deeper and uncover more about R.B. Kitaj's life and remarkable work.

The tapestry rendition of If Not, Not was commissioned for the British Library by its architects MJ Long and Colin St. John Wilson, who were good friends of Kitaj’s. Kitaj painted their portrait The Architects, in August 1979, to celebrate the remodelling of his home by MJ Long. A book called Kitaj: The Architects, gathers diary entries and fragments of conversation from their sitting sessions.

The tapestry was woven on a bespoke loom at the Dovecot Tapestry Studio by the Edinburgh Weavers Company, it required 112 kilos of wool and 7000 hours to complete. Seven master weavers worked on different areas of the tapestry to create this impressive rendition measuring approximately 7 square metres. It was the largest tapestry to be woven in Britain in the 20th century. It was funded by the Arts Council of England Lottery Fund and others.

For Colin St. John Wilson, works of art were an integral part of the building’s design and not mere decoration: 'Tapestries and sculpture are absolutely part of the building, not afterthoughts or adornments to prettify it' (Independent). When the tapestry went on display in July 1997 (its original spot was on the opposite wall where the large exhibition poster currently hangs), its textural qualities not only contributed to the character of the space, serving as a contrast to the hard surfaces throughout the area, but also benefitted the space acoustically by absorbing the sound echoing and reflecting throughout the entrance hall.

In the following excerpt from a much longer interview, which is part of the National Life Story Collection: Architects' Lives, we can hear Colin St. John Wilson speak about some of the references woven into the tapestry's complex network of symbols. He also talks more broadly about the importance of visual imagery in public buildings and how the Library's readers might relate to the works on display.

Colin St. John Wilson on tapestry

This tapestry will be one of the many artworks featured in a series of site-specific tours which explore the Library’s public art collections through sound. Following David Toop's idea, as fleshed out in his book Sinister Resonance (2010), that it is possible to imagine a sound world within ‘mute things’, the tour guides have used sound recordings from the British Library Sound Archive to draw out or expand the stories within works by artists such as Barbara Hepworth, R.B. Kitaj, Eduardo Paolozzi or Antony Gormley. You can find more information on how to book yourself on to a tour on the British Library’s event page.

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

02 May 2018

Oral History and the Library of Ideas

Oral History was one of the British Library's show-and-tells at the Library of Ideas, an afternoon event on 22 April aimed at students and artists interested in using the Library's collections in creative ways. All over the library stalls sprung up, covered in interesting-looking stuff. I felt a bit under-dressed to be honest. All we had on the Oral History stall was a little speaker. But I dimmed the lights and laid out some seats around the room. You listen differently when your eyes, and body, are relaxed.

Undercurrent poster

When many people think about history, they think about books and documents. And there were a lot of them on show. But history is all around us, in our own families and communities, in the living memories and experiences of people. Everyone has a story to tell about their life which is unique to them.

The first clip I played was Alfred Crundwell (C1398/022: copyright the Estate of Alfred Crundwell; used under review exemption). He's one of my favourites. He was born in Shoreditch in 1849. Alfred was 51 years old when Queen Victoria died. He was 102 years old in 1952 when he was interviewed by the woman from the BBC Home Service about Tunbridge Wells...

Alfred Crundwell on Tunbridge Wells

Alfred clearly doesn't feel comfortable being interviewed. He seems to have problems hearing the interviewer's leading questions. He isn't given any time to answer. This is an example of a terrible interview. Imagine the things Alfred could have related to us about the technological changes he had seen his lifetime and what it was like to outlive his four siblings by over 60 years. The amount of social change this man had lived through is staggering. Yet nothing useful came out of it – apart from a really good teaching tool on how not to interview. Alfred had so much more to give.

My colleague Shirley Read has been interviewing photographers for almost twenty years for the Oral History of British Photography collection. One of Shirley's more recent interviewees was the Turner Prize-winning photographer Wolfgang Tillmans (C459/220: copyright Wolfgang Tillmans; used by kind permission of Wolfgang Tillmans). In this clip, Shirley asks a huge question: why was young Wolfgang taken with the photographic image?

Wolfgang Tillmans on why photography and what it means to be alive

It is so difficult, as an interviewer, to bite your tongue at such moments. The pause is a really long one at around 30 seconds, but it feels even longer because of the weight of the silence. I can almost feel Shirley's discomfort – her job is silent but it involves an awful lot of non-verbal communication and empathetic eye contact. Shirley gives Tillmans the time and emotional space required to allow him properly to consider his answer. The oral history interview they are creating together means a lot to both of them – it's an example of shared authority, of performance even – and as a result it is a tremendously valuable historical document. The full-length interview is available in the Library Reading Rooms.

Livia Gollancz (C468/03) was a professional musician – she played French horn in the Hallé Orchestra. She died at the age of 97 in March this year. Dental problems forced her to curtail her musical career abruptly in 1953. She then spent 36 years working in her father Victor Gollancz's publishing firm, running it successfully for 17 years in an overwhelmingly male industry...

Livia Gollancz on Emmeline Pankhurst

In this clip Livia is still at the stage of her life story of talking about her childhood. Notice the introduction - 'I can't remember many details...' - and the pregnant pause after it which interviewer Louise Brodie allows. What follows is a story about Livia's grandmother, the suffragette Henrietta Lowy, who resembled Emmeline Pankhurst. The two women would swap clothes after suffrage meetings and Henrietta would go out of the public entrance, so that Emmeline could evade arrest by leaving in disguise via the back way. You might recognise a similar scene from the 2015 film Suffragette. The full interview is online.

Alexa Reid (C963/47) was interviewed for the Lives in Oil project. In this clip she remembers what it was like to be the only woman working her cleaning shift on the Merchiston oil platform...

Alexa Reid on the Merchiston Platform

When National Life Stories attempts to document an industry in an oral history project, we try to capture the life stories of all aspects of the field. The stories of oil rig support workers are every bit as important as those of the roustabouts, the drillers, the engineers and the executives. Only that way can we capture what an industry was like to live through. You can listen to Alexa's interview at the Library.

What does the word ‘workhouse’ make you think of? Victorian poverty? Poor law textbooks? This clip, from an oral history held at Manchester Central Library, is a woman being interviewed by Paul Graney in 1960 about the six months she spent in Salford Workhouse in 1920.

The woman remains anonymous because her son or daughter may still be alive. That baby would be 98 years old, and could for all I know be sitting in a Prestwich care home listening to this clip right now. The woman reads a poem she wrote in the workhouse to cope with her experience of being pregnant there, and then breaks down. It is a difficult listen. A lot of oral history is emotionally difficult, or repetitive, or boring, or annoying. Basically it’s human.

Other kinds of history – the ones people think of when they think of a library – are generally the results of already decided courses of action. A committee makes its decision, a photographer snaps his moment, even a private diarist frames her day for her very personal audience of one. Whereas oral history is simply one human being talking to another. With all the randomness and kindness and stubbornness that entails.

Oral history proves that history doesn't just mean words on a page. Our often contradictory interviews prompt creative responses as much to the emotion and personality revealed in the voices as to the historical details they document. They are the ultimate primary, unmediated, source. And people have used them in a variety of creative ways: theatre productions, films, creative writing of all kinds, sound art and many other things in between.

If you are interested in using oral history as a source for your creative work, the best place to start is our collection guides. You'll find lots of links there to our catalogue – this is searchable by name, occupation, place or date of birth. Most interviews have text summaries – these can be word-searched to pick up references to places, people or topics. Over 3,000 are available online at British Library Sounds; the rest you can make an appointment to listen to at the Library.

Drop us a line at nls@bl.uk if you have any questions, and before you re-use any of our oral history collections. We'll need to check on rights and permissions to make sure that you can re-use the material in the way you want to. There may be licensing and supply fees involved, but we are keen to help you use our collections.

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