THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

08 March 2019

International Women's Day: Oral History highlights

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).

04 March 2019

Recording of the week: spontaneous mimicry on a yorkshire moor

This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds.

Though many songbirds are capable of mimicry, it’s fair to say that some are more talented than others. The European Blackbird is one such example.  From the songs of other birds to the sounds of car alarms, the blackbird is not afraid of stepping up to the mark and having a go.

But why bother wasting time mimicking other sounds when you’ve got a perfectly good song of your own? If you’ve ever listened to a singing blackbird, you’ll know that its voice is a wonderful thing, full of passion and flair. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. As male birds use their songs to attract a mate and ward off potential rivals, it never hurts to have a few tricks under your wing. Being able to mimic other sounds and incorporate them into your song could mean the difference between a successful breeding season and a frustrating few months.

2021012_app_si_C_IV_909Male Blackbird by Wilhelm von Wright (Finish National Gallery, CCO via Europeana)

The following recording of a blackbird, made by Richard Margoschis in 1992, is a special one, not just because the male is able to accurately mimic the call of a nearby bird, but that he appears to do so spontaneously. While singing from a hawthorn bush on the edge of a yorkshire moor, our blackbird is accompanied by the mournful 'pu-we' whistles of a nearby Golden Plover. As the plover continues, our male stops, listens and then gives his own rendition of the call.

Blackbird spontaneous mimicry of a Golden Plover (BL ref 33668)

Was this just a one-off? Or was our blackbird so chuffed with his efforts that he decided to make this imitation a permanent feature of his song? Unfortunately we'll never know. But what we can say is that this little bird gets ten out of ten for effort.

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

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

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

25 February 2019

Recording of the week: rabbits and chickens by post!

This week's selection comes from Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History.

I recently went to post a letter in my local post-box and discovered that it had disappeared! Gone without warning or explanation. It had been there for as long as anyone could remember and it made me think about how post-boxes are such a fixture of our environment, both in the town and in the countryside (where I live), that we take them for granted. And behind every post-box is an amazing network of people and systems carrying our letters, packages and postcards all over the world. 

Postbox_and_gatepost _Wainsford_Road _Pennington_-_geograph_org_uk_-_253116Postbox and gatepost, Wainsford Road, Pennington / Robin Somes / CC BY-SA 2.0

National Life Stories’ ‘An Oral History of the Post Office’ interviewed 117 people working for Royal Mail from the 1930s (or the GPO, General Post Office, as it was then known). Working for the GPO was ‘a job for life’ and being a postman often ran in families. Seamus McSporran was Postmaster on the remote Isle of Gigha off the west coast of Scotland in the 1960s where people (long before Amazon) relied on mail-order catalogues for parcel post deliveries of everyday items. And at certain times of the year rabbits and chickens would also go through the post!

Seamus McSporran (C1007/09)

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

20 February 2019

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

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.

18 February 2019

Recording of the week: croggy or backy?

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

Sadly, despite growing up in Yorkshire and the West Midlands in the 1970s, I never owned a Chopper, although I certainly remember the thrill of a croggy [= ‘shared ride on handlebars of bicycle’] on my mate’s bike (including the obligatory football cards and lollipop sticks attached to the spokes). Online debate about the relative merits of croggy versus backy [= ‘shared ride on back of bicycle’] are numerous and invariably focus on the potential dialectal (i.e. geographical) preference for one or other variant. Curiously, these virtual discussions seem particularly animated on Teesside, where a third variant – tan – also exists, but submissions to the Library’s WordBank, a crowdsourced collection created in 2010/11 by visitors to the Evolving English exhibition, suggest croggy resonates particularly strongly with many contributors.

CROGGY [Middlesbrough C1442/6650]

CROGGY [Peterborough C1442/4353]

CROGGY [London C1442/3192]

CROGGY

The form croggy arises by taking the first segment of the word, crossbar, changing the final consonant <s> to <g>, and adding the suffix <-y>; thus crossbar → cross → crog → croggy. This brilliantly playful hypocorism is a popular productive process in some British dialects, in which an underlying polysyllabic word containing a medial <-s-> (or <-st->) sound mutates to a <g> (or <k>) sound and the final syllable is replaced by the suffix <-y> (or <-ie>). The most widespread analogous form is probably plastic → placky, although there are other examples and the phenomenon is perhaps particularly common in adolescent speech. I certainly have very fond childhood memories of winters praying we would have enough snow to go plackybagging [= ‘sledging on a plastic bag/bin liner’] and I always kept a lacky band [= ‘elastic band’] in my school blazer pocket to fire paper pellets with.

As this type of linguistic creativity is restricted to very informal speech it is seldom documented in conventional dictionaries, although the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2006) has an entry for plaggy [= ‘plastic’] and The Lore of the Playground (Roud, 2010) includes laggies as one of several regional variants for 'French skipping' (i.e. skipping with a long elastic band round one's legs rather than with a skipping rope). Collins Dictionary categorises croggy as ‘Northern England and Midlands dialect’, while The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (Thorne, 2014) classifies croggie as ‘schoolchildren’s slang’, thereby implying, I suspect, a somewhat wider (geographic) distribution, which is supported by our WordBank data. The advent of social media offers far greater prominence to this kind of vernacular language and so, not surprisingly, croggy/croggie has several entries at Urban Dictionary (which also includes lacky band [= ‘elastic band’] and (like its counterparts, backy/backie and tan) warrants its own hashtag (#croggy and #croggie) on Twitter. A university friend from Newcastle once uttered my favourite ever example of this process: fantackerbacker [= ‘fantastic’], which kind of sums it up in a nutshell, really.

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

15 February 2019

Andrea Levy

We’re sad to hear of the death of novelist Andrea Levy who passed away yesterday, aged 62.

Andrea grew up in north London, the daughter of Jamaican-born Winston and Amy Levy. She attended Highbury Hill Grammar School before studying textile design at Middlesex Polytechnic. After working as a costume assistant at The Royal Opera House and the BBC she began to attend a writers’ class at City Lit and published her first novel, Every Light in the House Burnin’, in 1994. Today she is best known for the award-winning Small Island and The Long Song.

In 2014, Andrea agreed to make a recording for Authors’ Lives which will be made available to listeners in the weeks to come. She was at that time living with the knowledge that she had a life-limiting illness.

With typical courage and eloquence, she ended her Authors’ Lives recording by reflecting on mortality, and the impact she hoped her books might have had in the world:

‘Everybody dies, and everybody knows they’re going to die. But while other people have it in the back of their heads, I have it here, right in front of my face: I see it and I know it.

But in the meantime I’m fit and well and I’m loving life. There’s a certain freedom that comes from knowing that this is the time you’ve got, and every minute is going to be dedicated to what you want to do because you really don’t have long. If you can go day by day, there’s some sort of release in it.

[Living with cancer] is a process of forgetting and never forgetting that you have to do at one and the same time: I never forget, but I just get on with it. I’ve had a very good life, I’ve loved it. I’ve worked hard and produced some good work I think, and the confidence I have now is because of writing: because I was able to quietly, in my own time and my own way, to show my worth.

I hope my books have a life beyond me. I hope I made a contribution to something, to the end of racism and the coming equality. I hope that the life that I’ve lived goes some way to make things easier. That’s the only posterity.’

Sarah O’Reilly, Interviewer, Authors’ Lives

11 February 2019

Recording of the week: the endingidi and the erhu – two types of the spike tube fiddle

This week's selection comes from Tom Miles, Metadata Coordinator for Europeana Sounds.

The Hornbostel-Sachs classification system is a way of grouping types of musical instruments by structure and the way in which sound is produced, rather than the culture from which the instruments are made. This system reflects the classification of the animal kingdom by skeletal structure, rather than by size or behaviour. This means that similar types of musical instruments can be found in very different parts of the world and playing different styles of music.

The two instruments featured here are both spike tube fiddles. That is to say, the string bearer passes right through the resonator of the instrument. In this case, the resonator is a tube, at right angles to the spike.

One instrument is the endingidi (or ndingidi) from Uganda. The other is the erhu, a two stringed instrument from China.

SidebysideTwo types of spike tube fiddle (Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz - Ethnologisches Museum, CC-BY-SA-NC-ND)

Our recording of the week is an unidentified song for erhu and voice, recorded by Colin Huehns during a field trip to Xinxiang, China, in 1994.

Unidentified song for erhu and voice (C485/79)

There are quite a few other examples of both instruments on Europeana here. In addition, you can see the erhu played in this photograph of “Female Musicians and singers of Foo-Chow” taken around 1910, provided on Europeana by the Världskulturmuseet (CC BY-NC-ND). It’s played rather like a cello, but the bow is held with the palm facing upwards rather than downwards.

91609_SMVK_VKM_fotografi_1302757

Over 1000 recordings of music from Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, as well as China, can be found in the Colin Huehns Asia collection on British Library Sounds.

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

08 February 2019

Where our laws are drafted: 150 years of the Office of Parliamentary Counsel

On 8 February 1869 the Board of the Treasury met to discuss “the drafting or preparing of Bills introduced into Parliament on the part of Her Majesty’s Government.” The Treasury minute goes on to note “the advantage of bringing all important Government Bills under the view of one person,” and being “pleased to direct that the office as proposed shall be constituted to be called the “Office of the Parliamentary Counsel”.

The Office of Parliamentary Counsel has grown from one man and his assistant in 1869 to consist of a staff of 60, including some 50 experienced barristers and solicitors. Led by Elizabeth Gardiner, the team’s job is to assist government departments in preparing Bills.

In a BBC interview Gardiner remarked that, "what they used to say was that every Labour government legislated more than a Tory government but that every government legislated more than the previous one, of that colour.”

The experience of Patrick Macrory, director of Unilever, seems to corroborate that view. He worked as an assistant at the Parliamentary Counsel Office during the late 1940s under Granville Ram (known as the ‘Maestro’) and alongside Harold Kent who later became Treasury Solicitor.

Interview with Patrick Macrory, C408/005, Tape 1, Side 2, 00:23:18 – 00:24:31

In this excerpt from her 1988 interview for NLS Legal Lives, Baroness Hale explains how parliamentary draftsmen contribute to the work of the Law Commission on law reform.

Baroness_Brenda_Hale
University of Salford Press Office [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Interview with Baroness Hale, C736/008, Track 4, 00:17:29 – 00:20:52

Those currently working in the Office of Parliamentary Counsel are facing unprecedented challenges, drafting legislation to accommodate the constitutional novelty that is Brexit.

Blogpost by Emmeline Ledgerwood (@EmmeLedgerwood), AHRC collaborative doctoral student with the University of Leicester and the British Library Oral History department. Her PhD research is looking at governments’ attitudes to the management and funding of scientific research, 1970-2005.