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326 posts categorized "Recording of the week"

05 July 2021

Recording of the week: A hibernating dormouse

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

You'd be hard pressed to find anything cuter than a sleeping dormouse. This tiny little rodent can spend up to seven months of the year asleep, moving between a state of hibernation and torpor (deep sleep) before reawakening when the weather is warm enough.

Hibernating dormice

The following recording was made over 50 years in London by wildlife sound recordist Lawrence Shove. In it we can hear the rhythmic high-pitched calls of a dormouse fast asleep, oblivious to the activity around it.

Common Dormouse calls during hibernation recorded in London England on 11 April 1966 (BL REF 104845)

Common Dormouse calls during hibernation, recorded in London, England on 11 April 1966 (BL REF 104845)

This recording is part of a much larger collection of British wildlife recorded by Shove during the 1960s and 1970s. The collection has recently been preserved through the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project and will soon be available online.

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21 June 2021

Recording of the week: Carol Ann Duffy reads ‘Mrs Midas’

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

I have been listening to Carol Ann Duffy reading her poem ‘Mrs Midas’ at an English PEN event held in London in 1994.

King Midas is known in Greek mythology for his ability to turn everything he touches into gold. Carol Ann Duffy’s poem is set in modern times and is written from the perspective of the King’s wife, Mrs Midas. The story starts with a perplexed Mrs Midas at their home where there is something odd going on with the King. Through a sequence of incidents at dinner time the King makes a confession. On seeing the food and homeware turned into gold Mrs Midas recounts:

___________________________________ I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn’t mind. I couldn’t believe my ears:
how he’d had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold?
It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable; slakes
no thirst.

Listen to the recording to find out what happens next.

'Mrs Midas' [BL REF C125/347 C7]

Read poem transcript

‘Mrs Midas’ is part of Duffy’s collection The World’s Wife, published by Picador and Anvil Press Poetry in 1999. Each poem engages with a mythological or historical male figure. The poems are always written from a female perspective and in monologue form. Several of these women are spouses. The collection provides a revised outlook on familiar narratives but all of them place women centre stage.

There are five years between Duffy’s reading at PEN and the publication of The World’s Wife, yet the poem did not change. There are four other poems from this collection in the recording, ‘Mrs Tiresias’, ‘Mrs Aesop’, ‘Queen Kong’ and ‘Mrs Darwin’.

The English PEN collection consists of literary talks and readings hosted and recorded by PEN between 1953 and 2006. It also includes the International Writers Day events, recorded by the British Library. Most of the events took place either in London or different parts of the UK.

This collection has been preserved by the Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project. It includes a total of 1184 recordings from over 400 tapes, which are now accessible in the Library’s Reading Rooms. In due course, from early 2021, you will be able to listen to up to 325 English PEN recordings online.

Since I am still working from home in London, I have included this picture of King Midas from a children’s book my mother gave me as a child growing up in Spain. This was my first encounter with the King Midas story. The story feels more complete now with the addition of Mrs Midas’ views.

Illustration of King Midas
Illustration of King Midas from the book 'El rey Midas. Mis cuentos favoritos' published by Editorial Vasco Americana, 1967

English PEN is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year (1921-2021). To mark this important occasion they are running Common Currency, a year-long programme of events, residencies and workshops, which includes a three-day festival at the Southbank Centre, London, 24-26 September 2021.

To tie in with PEN’s centenary I will be featuring more recordings from the collection in the coming months.

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14 June 2021

Recording of the week: A Yanomami ceremonial dialogue

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This week's selection comes from Finlay McIntosh, World & Traditional Rights intern for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

In 1978, the writer, musician and scholar David Toop travelled to the Upper Orinoco region in the Venezuelan Amazon to record the Yanomami indigenous people and their songs, rituals and ceremonies.

While these recordings were released on the album Lost Shadows: In Defence of the Soul (Yanomami Shamanism, Songs, Ritual, 1978), Toop also kindly donated the unedited field recordings to the British Library, where they have been digitised through the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. Toop writes:

I’m very happy that my Yanomami recordings will be available for digital access for two reasons. One is that the Yanomami are again undergoing a crisis due to the combined effects of the pandemic and a ruthless encroachment into their territory by illegal mining, so any attention focused on the Yanomami is a good thing. The second reason is connected to the first. I believe all people can benefit from exposure to the rich and diverse forms of encounter, counsel and negotiation that exist or have existed in world cultures, unfamiliar or strange as they may seem, because they can suggest alternate ways of listening to others, gaining understanding and resolving apparently intractable problems. Any narrowing of listening models is a bad thing.

Torokoiwa and daughter
Torokoiwa (a Yanomami shaman) and daughter. Photograph by Odile Laperche.

One of the recordings that stood out to me was his recording of wayamou – a type of ceremonial dialogue that the Yanomami use to negotiate relationships, maintain peace and resolve conflicts between different communities.

Wayamou is conducted at night and is performed in pairs, with one member from each community taking part. One participant will lead, and depending on whether the communities are on good or bad terms, he will criticise and reprimand the other participant, or submit requests and proposals to them.

The speaker will adopt a heavily metaphorical manner of speaking to conduct these conversations diplomatically and avoid addressing sensitive subjects too directly. The other participant will then repeat the phrases, words and syllables uttered by the speaker – sometimes identically and sometimes with slight variations – to show agreement with the speaker or at least an understanding of his point of view.

Afterwards, the participants swap roles so both have a chance to speak. The pair is then replaced by series of other pairs and discussions continue throughout the night.

It is a duel of persuasion and negotiation, where participants have the opportunity to put words, ideas and desires in each other’s mouth. Ideally, by dawn, solutions or compromises to the communities’ problems will have been reached.

Wayamou, recorded by David Toop [BL REF C1162/8 C1]

The controversial anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon once described wayamou as: “something like a fast game of Ping-Pong, with the melodic, staccato phrases as the ball.”

We hear how the speakers throw these words and phrases between each other, creating colliding rhythms and echoing crescendos that are abruptly punctuated with sharp accents.

At certain points, you can even hear the respondent replying so fast that he is speaking at the same time as the lead participant, guessing what the lead is saying before he has even said it.

I was so enthralled by this amazingly fast and complex dialogue that I didn’t even stop to think about what they could be saying. However, when reading the liner notes to Lost Shadows, I was surprised to learn that there was a false start to the recording:

The recording seems to be going well, but Emilio jumps up, clearly angry, and stops them. What they have been saying is that the foreigners are stupid to want to record their music and they are going to trick us out of many gifts.

Perhaps this should not come as a surprise. Here the wayamou had been stripped of its social function: there was no relationship to negotiate, no conflict to resolve or peace to maintain. When asked to perform under these conditions, what would there be to speak about?

Even if they are just talking about how foreigners are stupid to want to record their music, it is still an undeniably captivating recording ... and I don’t think we are stupid for wanting to listen to it!

If you are interested in learning more about the Yanomami, photographer Claudia Andujar’s exhibition The Yanomami Struggle will be running at the Barbican from June 17 to August 29 2021. Filmmaker and anthropologist Luiz Bolognesi’s film A Última Floresta (The Last Forest) will also be showing at the Berlinale on 19 and 20 June, 2021.

Further reading and listening:

Kelly Luciani, José Antonio. 2017. “On Yanomami Ceremonial Dialogues: A Political Aesthetic of Metaphorical Agency.” Journal de la Société des Américanistes 103, no. 1: 179-214.

Chagnon, Napoleon A. 1992. Yanomamö: The Last Days of Eden. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Toop, David. 2015. Lost Shadows: In Defence of the Soul (Yanomami Shamanism, Songs, Ritual, 1978). Sub Rosa.

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07 June 2021

Recording of the week: Efe honey gathering in the Ituri Forest

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

For about two months a year in the Ituri Forest, it is honey gathering season for the Efe people of north eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. This season is an important and exciting time for the Efe, in which their energy is focused intensely on gathering honey, a favourite and staple part of their diet and livelihood.

The gathering occurs when honey is most abundant, between May and September. There are many different Efe songs and dances associated with honey gathering, performed before, during and after collection.

Climbing for honey
'Climbing for honey' by Terese Hart is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Honey gathering song [BL REF C423_1 S2 C2]

This particular group song is sung when the men are gathering honey from trees. The song is a beautifully intricate texture of polyphonic singing, hand clapping and likembe (a small lamellophone). Yodelling voices gradually emerge over the men’s bass humming. Listen closely and you can hear how the amorphous singing and humming imitates the swarm of honeybees flying around them. By ‘yodel’ we mean a vocal technique that involves alternating a ‘chest voice’ with a ‘head voice’, as recordist Didier Demolin explains in the liner notes to a CD release of his recordings.

The honey usually has to be gathered by climbing high into the trees, where the hive is often located twenty metres or more above. The men smoke out the bees and collect the honey in a basket or pack of leaves.

This song was recorded by Didier Demolin at the edge of the Ituri Forest in 1987, when the Efe were camping near the Lese villages of Ngodingodi and Digbo. The recording is part of the C423 Didier Demolin Collection and can be listened to in British Library Reading Rooms at C423/1 S2 C2.

The collection is of particular significance because the recordings were made shortly before warfare and deforestation inflicted profound damage upon Efe and Mbuti communities and their environment.

This Efe honey gathering song features in the British Library Sound Archive’s latest NTS radio programme on work songs from around the world. The show's selection also includes the songs of pearl divers from Bahrain, Somalian women singing to the rhythm of corn pounding, Scottish waulking songs and miners’ songs from Venezuela and the U.K., amongst many more.

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24 May 2021

Recording of the week: On architecture and identity

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This week's selection comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Reference Specialist.

In these extracts from an oral history interview, architect Edward Jones talks about his approach to architecture, and what it means to build houses in both London and the rest of England. The interview was recorded in 2012 by the National Life Stories and is part of the Architect’s Lives collection.

Architecture is the living culture of a city life. We relate to the shapes of buildings and public spaces while we walk along the streets.

In trying to explain the gap between the design of buildings in the post-war period and the desires of people who would live in them, Edward reflects on a professional attitude that led to urban spaces being represented as miserable, inspiring a sort of urban blues.

A feeling of vulnerability from unsupervised spaces also arises from within the city’s voids: what is the relationship, or the lack of relationship with those spaces?

Traditional English house [BL REF C467/98]

Jones often gets asked what the best type of dwelling for the city would be, but in this interview, he shows how different urban histories led to different types of housing.

England has a very different architectural tradition to the Continent. Historically, England never experienced major land invasions so there wasn’t a need for walls or for intervening areas between the door and the street. London, Jones continues, never needed any defensive walls. Thus, the house-type building was the predominant housing solution that worked for England and flats only become more widely used in the 19th century.

Row of brick houses in London
Photo by Gonzalo Facello on Unsplash

In contrast, continental Europe adopted apartment blocks to house life in the cities. Paris or Brussels are architectural conglomerates with different levels of defence. Likewise, Glasgow has the same architectural structure. But not England.

Architecture as a reflection of a cliché: housing solutions become a representation of the ideal of a good life. Thus, the design of houses becomes part of the tradition, it reveals the relationship between spaces and the people who inhabit them.

Not only do houses create an identity, but cultural norms also play an important role in defining the geometry of cities across the country.

The celebration of private life in English culture is reflected in the strong residential character of London. The uniqueness of many of the green spaces in the city illustrates English cultural affection for the countryside. New York City doesn’t have that green character, Jones continues, but he still might prefer that urban arrangement as an experience of city life (although he admits he is probably an outsider to this).

The City's green spaces [BL REF C467/98]

Download Transcript for Edward Jones interview

Some distance is needed to observe the peculiarity of a city. Edward Jones reminds us that 'it might take the eyes of a foreigner to kind of see it'.

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

17 May 2021

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

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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.

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10 May 2021

Recording of the Week: ‘We showed them that we could do it as good as them’

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

Women_of_steel_web
Women of Steel (2017), Barker's Pool, Sheffield. Women of Steel is a bronze sculpture that commemorates the women of Sheffield who worked in the city's steel industry during the First World War and Second World War. A work of the sculptor Martin Jennings, it was unveiled in June 2016. Image credit: Artaxerxes100, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

With many men conscripted and away from home during the Second World War, women were for the first time recruited to work in the steel works of northern England.

Edna McDonald on women steelworkers

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Born in 1921, Edna McDonald talks about starting work aged twenty at the Workington steelworks in Cumbria, arriving on her first day wearing her best jumper and polished clogs. The Workington steelworks was mainly making shell casings during the war though the area was better known for making railway tracks. The last Mossbay works closed in 2006 after 129 years.

This is a short extract from an oral history interview recorded by Alan Dein for National Life Stories’ ‘Lives in Steel’ project (ref C532/041).

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03 May 2021

Recording of the week: Anthony Daniels talks about C3PO and Star Wars

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This week's selection comes from Sarah Coggrave, Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Tomorrow (May 4) is Star Wars Day, and what better way to celebrate than with a recording from the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project?

Shortly after the first Star Wars film Episode IV – A New Hope was released in 1977, some of the cast members were recorded speaking about their roles in the film for BBC Radio London. Audio recordings featuring actors Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Alec Guinness and Anthony Daniels are now part of the Mike Sparrow Collection (C1248), one of the British Library’s radio collections, which has been recently digitized and made accessible as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

Mike Sparrow (1948 – 2005) was a producer and presenter for BBC Radio London (U.K.) and his collection includes a range of recordings from his time working there, including music, interviews and topical shows.

A C3PO figurine from the Hasbro line of Star Wars toys
A C3PO figurine from the Hasbro line of Star Wars toys, posed against a black background. Image credit: Brendan Hunter, iStock Unreleased, Getty Images.

The recording in this blog post features actor Anthony Daniels (who played C3PO in the Star Wars films) talking about his famous character. Based on the information available, this interview was probably recorded either in late 1977 or 1978. In the recording, Anthony Daniels discusses his unique interpretation of the character, which differed considerably from what George Lucas (creator and director of the Star Wars films) originally had in mind. He also talks about how difficult it was to convey emotions while wearing a gold plated fibreglass suit, and about receiving fan mail addressed to C3PO!

Anthony Daniels talks about his Star Wars character C3PO [BL REF C1248/364/C4]

Download Transcript of Anthony Daniels talking about C3PO

It would not have been possible to share this recording within the kind permission of Anthony Daniels, the executor of Mike Sparrow’s estate and the BBC.

For Star Wars fans there are plenty of relevant resources in British Library collections including books, films and even musical scores, all of which can be searched for on the Library's main catalogues.

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