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291 posts categorized "Recording of the week"

28 September 2020

Recording of the week: Discovering Sibelius

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

Working at home has allowed me to listen to a lot more music than I normally would. One advantage is the opportunity to get to know areas of classical music that are unfamiliar. For me, one of those was the symphonies of the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Robert Wilhelm Ekman's painting Lemminkäinen at the Fiery Lake
Lemminkäinen at the Fiery Lake, Robert Wilhelm Ekman, c. 1867

It is extraordinary to think that Sibelius as conductor could have recorded his own works in the stereo LP era as he did not die until 1957. However, he withdrew from life and stopped composing during the mid-1920s after completing his Seventh Symphony and a few other orchestral works.

The first complete recording of the Symphonies to be released was made in 1952-1953 by Sixten Ehrling and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, but more famous is the cycle recorded for Decca by Anthony Collins and the London Symphony Orchestra between 1952 and 1954. This mono set is still held to be one of the best interpretations on disc. Other complete sets I have enjoyed recently are those by Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Many of the symphony cycles have other orchestral works as fillers such as Night Ride and Sunrise Op. 55, The Oceanides Op. 73, and the Lemminkäinen Suite Op. 22. Sibelius was a patriot, especially during the Russian occupation when his music became a rallying cry for his people with works such as the famous Finlandia. The Lemminkäinen Suite is based on Finnish folk legends (subtitled Four Legends from the Kalevala) and is a suite in four movements, the second of which is the famous Swan of Tuonela. The last movement is the thrilling Lemminkäinen’s Return Home.

Sir Thomas Beecham made a famous recording of the movement in October 1937, but he also performed the Suite at a Queen’s Hall concert on 27th February 1936. This Royal Philharmonic Society concert included Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, Walton’s Viola Concerto with William Primrose as soloist, a Schubert Symphony and the Sibelius Suite. A recording of Lemminkäinen’s Return Home exists in the Kenneth Leech collection (C738) at the British Library.

Having died in 1957 Sibelius is still in copyright so here are three short extracts which show the drive, power and excitement Beecham could bring to a live performance, encouraging the players of the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play at their virtuoso best.

In the first extract, you can hear Beecham shout at the climax.

Lemminkainen's Return extract 1

The articulation of the strings and brass is particularly noticeable in this next extract.

Lemminkainen's Return extract 2

The final extract is of the closing pages of the work.

Lemminkainen's Return extract 3

 

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21 September 2020

Recording of the week: My family and other tapes

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

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

Philips magnetic tape boxPhilips magnetic tape box

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

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

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

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

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

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

C1475-185 frontC1475-185 back

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

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

Boris Blacher Violin Concerto Op.28 (end)

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

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

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

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

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14 September 2020

Recording of the week: Another side of Laurence Binyon

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This week's selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary and Creative Recordings.

Portrait of Laurence Binyon
Portrait of Laurence Binyon - lithograph by Sir William Rothenstein, 1898. © The Trustees of the British Museum, released as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Poet and scholar Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) spent 40 years working for the British Museum as a leading authority on Chinese and Japanese art.

As a poet, he is best remembered for these lines from his WWI poem ‘For the Fallen’, which was first published in The Times of 21 September 1914:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

In 1914, Binyon himself, though over-age for military service, volunteered for the Red Cross, and served at the front as a medical orderly.

For this ‘recording of the week’ we present the poet reading a lesser-known work, ‘Pine Trees’, one of a group of four poems recorded for the Columbia Graphophone Company of Japan.

The original 10” 78 rpm disc, from which this is dubbed, is so rare that the sound archive does not actually hold its own copy. The date of recording is unknown.

Laurence Binyon reads 'Pine Trees'

Pine Trees

Down through the heart of the dim woods
The laden, jolting waggons come.
Tall pines, chained together,
They carry; stems straight and bare,
Now no more in their own solitudes
With proud heads to rock and hum;
Now at the will of men to fare
Away from their brethren, their forest friends
In the still woods; through wild weather
Alone to endure to the world's ends:
Soon to feel the power of the North
Careering over black waves' foam;
Soon to exchange the steady earth
For heaving decks; the scents of their home,
Honeyed wild-thyme, gorse and heather,
For the sting of the spray, the bitter air.

 

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

07 September 2020

Recording of the week: The V-Girls’ Academia in the Alps

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

Listen to Academia in the Alps: In Search of the Swiss Mis(s), a performance by the V-Girls, recorded by the British Library at the Feminist Theory Conference, Glasgow University, Scotland, 13 July 1991.

illustration of Heidi
Illustration by Edna Cooke Shoemaker in Heidi by Johanna Spyri. Translated by Helen B. Dole. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, c1927. PZ7.S772 H30 1927. Image from Crossett Library Bennington College licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Academia in the Alps In Search of the Swiss Mis(s)

The V-Girls was New York-based collective of five women artists: Andrea Fraser, Erin Cramer, Jessica Chalmers, Marianne Weems and Martha Baer.

They started as a critical theory reading group and collaborated together for ten years (1986-1996). They created performances shaped like academic panel-discussions, and presented them at universities, art galleries and museums.

Titles include:

Sex on Your Holiday Season (1987).

Academia in the Alps: In Search of the Swiss Miss(s) (1988).

The Question of Manet’s Olympia: Posed and Skirted (1989).

Daughters of the ReVolution (1993).

For these panel-performances the V-Girls wrote papers drawing from gender theory, linguistics, psychoanalysis and deconstruction. Their topics ranged across power and gender relations, education, literature and art history. They used satire and parody to challenge the opacity of the academic discourse.

Academia in the Alps focuses on Johanna Spyri’s children’s classic Heidi, published in 1881. This was a pretext to talk about the position of women in academia.

In a book devoted to Swiss women writers called The Madwoman in the Hayloft, Gilbert and Gubar describe how Spyri wrote standing up while cooking the evening meal so that if her disapproving husband came into the kitchen, she could quickly thrust her pages into or under the stew. This conflagration of novelist and nourishment is typical of 19th-century women writers, who were burdened both by the responsibility of making the broth and by the curse of stewing in it.

Some of the papers given on this panel include:

‘The Goatman in the Freudian Field’

‘Derrida and Dairy: Recovering the Balanced Meal in Heidi’

‘Why Heidi Can’t Read?’

This recording has been digitised by the Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project (2017-2022) funded by the National Lottery Fund. (British Library reference C537/1).

References:

Baer, Martha, Erin Cramer, Jessica Chalmers, Andrea Fraser, Marianne Weems, Herb Rorhback, Werner Sanchez, Pip Winthrop, and Raul. ‘The V-Girls: A Conversation with October.’ October 51 (1989), pp115-43.

‘The V-Girls / MATRIX 123’ February 16-17, 1989 (exhibition text by Lawrence Rinder). University of California, Berkeley Art Museum. Pacific Film Archive http://archive.bampfa.berkeley.edu/exhibition/123

Academia in the Alps: In Search of the Swiss Mis(s) [unreleased video recording, online]. Jessica Peri Chalmers The V-Girls. Franklin Furnace / Judson Church, 5 January 1991. 56 min. 58 sec.

https://thev-girls.tumblr.com/tagged/jessica+peri+chalmers (accessed 24/09/2020).

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

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31 August 2020

Recording of the week: Kathy Stobart interviewed by Jen Wilson

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

In the late 1980s, Jen Wilson, pianist and founder of Jazz Heritage Wales, interviewed saxophonist and bandleader Kathy Stobart (1925 – 2014). Now part of the British Library collection Oral history of jazz in Britain (C122), the audio recording of this interview has recently been cleared for online release as part of Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.

As Data Protection and Rights Clearance Officer, my job involves contacting rights holders and their representatives, in recordings such as this one, to request permission. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to learn more about the voices in the recordings, and as in the case of the Oral history of jazz in Britain collection, discover the rich history of jazz music making in the UK.

Kathy Stobart playing the saxophone
Kathy Stobart, photographed by Derek Gabriel for Jazz Heritage Wales

Born on 1 April, 1925 in South Shields, England, Florence Kathleen Stobart was the daughter of a pianist and a police officer. In her interview she describes a musical upbringing, and a talent for memorising piano pieces. Her early performance career included singing, dancing and impersonating artists such as Gracie Fields, but it was as a saxophonist and later bandleader that she became best known.

In this excerpt from the interview she describes her induction into life as a working jazz musician.

Kathy Stobart on her early experiences playing jazz

Kathy was only a teenager when her career began, and as a musician she travelled up and down the United Kingdom even touring abroad, working with musicians such as Denis Rose, Ted Heath, Jimmy Skidmore, Art Pepper, Peanuts Hucko, Vic Lewis, Humphrey Lyttleton, just to name a few.

While investigating the rights for this recording, I corresponded with Kathy’s son Peter by email, and in these exchanges he described her life as ‘long and full of some pretty amazing events’, highlighting the WW2 years in particular. In his words:

At the beginning as a very young girl 14 I think… travelling with an all-girl cabaret band (but run by a bloke! Don Rico) down to London and round the time of the Blitz through to… returning to London, again during the war, but around 1943, to actually take a real step into the Jazz World, travelling to west-end and Soho clubs at night, playing at the Embassy Club… with the likes of Clark Gable, Glenn Miller, Bob Hope sitting in the audience…then travelling back to Ealing amongst the sometimes bombed streets etc.

Peter goes on to describe how Kathy became ‘a ‘proper’ respected working jazz musician’, who was ‘very often on the cover of Melody Maker hailed as a real star…not that Kath would ever show off about stuff like that… she wasn't like that at all.’ His emails and the interview reveal a modest and witty Kathy Stobart, as you can hear in the next excerpt, in which she matter-of-factly talks about forming her own band, something that was a rare achievement for a woman at the time.

Kathy Stobart on working as a female band leader

Kathy married Art Thompson, a fellow musician, in 1943, then later trumpeter Bert Courtley in 1951. Around the same time she was leading her own band, which included Bert, Derek Humble and Dill Jones. As Peter mentions above, being a female bandleader for an all-male band was highly unusual, and is testament to Kathy’s determination and enthusiasm to do what she loved, and do it well.

The interview provides valuable insight into Kathy Stobart’s life as a working musician, including scaling back professional work to have three children in the 1950s and 1960s - although she continued to perform and tour throughout this period.

Kathy Stobart on juggling work and children

Sadly Kathy’s husband Bert passed away in 1969, and the interview reflects on some of the more challenging aspects of the jazz world, which professional musicians such as Kathy and Bert faced.

In the 1970s, she created the Kathy Stobart Quintet, one of the original members being Harry Beckett (trumpet), who was also interviewed for the Oral history of jazz in Britain collection. During this time Kathy was also playing in Humphrey Lyttelton’s band, as well as teaching adult music classes at City Literary Institute in Holborn, London.

There isn’t really enough space in one blog to list all of her achievements (you can read more about them on her website), but it is worth mentioning that she was also a regular guest musician on BBC Radio 1’s Sounds of Jazz, a headliner at Britain's first women's jazz festival in 1982, and even taught Dame Judi Dench saxophone in preparation for a role in a TV play. She continued to perform and make guest appearances with bands until her early 80s, long after most people would be considering retirement and a well-earned rest!

Freedom Music
Cover of Jen Wilson's book Freedom Music

A trailblazer who inspired many people, Kathy was a key influence in fellow musician Jen Wilson’s life. Jen is a pianist and the founder of Jazz Heritage Wales, formerly known as the Women’s Jazz Archive, and has kindly shared her own perspective on the interview and how she met Kathy:

I first saw Kathy Stobart on stage with Humphrey Lyttelton’s Band at Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall in about 1957/8? She was not sitting on the side in a fancy frock waiting to be called to sing. She was standing in the front line blowing our socks off. I was about 13/14 and transfixed. My brother John was a drummer, but also owned a tenor sax on which I tried to play blues riffs. Now here was the real thing. I never forget that first impression.

In 1980 Ursula Masson with a MA in history, formed the Swansea Women’s History Group. Gail Allen and myself joined and we went on to tour photographic exhibitions and make video documentaries about women’s lives in Wales. In 1985 after finishing our video on Welsh women in the miner’s strike, Ursula said to me “you are a jazz musician, what is the story of jazz in Wales?” I said I didn’t know. She said “then find out.” I spent 18 months writing to archives and libraries asking for material on British women jazz musicians. I got the occasional letter saying “we don’t hold anything here”, or “if you find anything could you let us have it?” Then Swansea’s Glanmor Jazz Club booked Kathy Stobart to play with the Russ Jones house band. So I thought, if no archive or library had any stories about British women jazz musicians, I’d better start with Kathy if I want to know our history.

After the gig, I nervously approached her to ask if I could interview her. “Of course, love. Thank you for asking. Come to the B&B in the morning for a chat.” I borrowed the History Group’s Marantz broadcast quality tape recorder. That first chat took us to 1939; she had to drive off to her next gig. I transcribed it over the next week – I was a fast typist, trained at my school’s secretarial course. Enthralled and excited, I told Ursula and Gail “I think I have just started the Women’s Jazz Archive.” “About time” said Ursula.

Years later I managed to catch up again with Kathy. Mike (husband) and I drove down to Axmouth and a lovely welcome. She talked non-stop. Halfway she rushed to the kitchen to make a pile of tuna sandwiches, cake and tea. Then she gently eased us out of her house as she had to drive to London for a gig. A truly, lovely lady.

I was intrigued as to how this full-time jazz musician, married to a full-time trumpet player, could travel the UK and bring up three sons and produce that quality of music. Kathy simply said “my mum, we all need our mums.” She had to call in her mum as when Bert Courtley was instructed to look after the boys for a week, she had returned home from a tour to find a pile of soiled nappies out in the backyard.

I am enormously grateful to Peter and Jen for providing more context for the interview, and for archivist David Nathan at the National Jazz Archive, for helping with contacts for this recording and the collection.

You can read more about Kathy Stobart on her website and Jen Wilson’s also provides more information. Jazz Heritage Wales is based at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD).

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

24 August 2020

Recording of the week: Lubaina Himid and Griselda Pollock in conversation (ICA, 1988)

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

Listen to artist Lubaina Himid in conversation with the art historian Griselda Pollock, recorded in 1988 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London.

The discussion focuses on the impact of feminism in visual arts in the 1970s and early 1980s. It also addresses the under-representation of black women artists in the history of feminist art practice. There is a Q&A at the end of the talk, which includes remarks by artist and writer Maud Sulter, who started the Blackwomen Creativity Project in 1982.

Detail of ‘A Fashionable Marriage’ (1986) by Lubaina Himid. Photo credit: David Perry
Detail of ‘A Fashionable Marriage’ (1986) by Lubaina Himid. Photo credit: David Perry 

Lubaina Himid ICA London 1988

Griselda Pollock introduces Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970-1985. This is an anthology of essays she has co-edited with Roszika Parker, documenting feminist art practices in the UK.

The book includes press releases, newspaper articles and reviews from events and exhibitions of the time. It became a seminal text in the discipline of art history in the UK. Lubaina Himid argues that the book, and feminist art history, is white-female-dominated and lacks a meaningful inclusion of black women artists:

I don’t really know that much about publishing really, except that I find that I can’t find myself - myself meaning ourselves: black women – in books very much written by black women, saying the things that we want to say, and that chronicle our experience as we had it.

Lubaina Himid MBE, CBE, is an artist, curator, writer and Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Central Lancashire. She trained as a theatre designer followed by an MA in Cultural History at the Royal College of Art. Her dissertation title was Young Black Artists in Britain Today (1984).

Himid won the Turner Prize in 2017 and has exhibited all over the world. Her work is in major public collections, such as Tate Britain, the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Arts Council Collection.

Since the start of her career she has both made art and curated exhibitions. She was a leading figure in the British Black Arts Movement of the 1980s and 1990s, and helped bring public attention to her generation of black women artists.

In her 2006-2007 interview for the British Library, National Life Stories project Artists’ Lives she said:

‘We wanted to shift how we as black people were seen in the world - and we were using art to do it.’

Himid works in painting, drawing, installation and printmaking. She makes art to open up conversations about race, gender, class and to ‘fill in the gaps of history’. Through her work, she reclaims the histories and contributions of black people in the history of Europe from the colonial times to the present.

‘We made art to make ourselves visible, to be part of a bigger history.’

She has created projects to challenge the representation of black people in the media and culture, such as the Guardian series. She also has reached out to institutions and archives to influence the inclusion of artists of colour in their collections.

At the time of this 1988 recording at the ICA, Himid had already curated four exhibitions of black women artists and had had two solo exhibitions.

5 Black Women at the Africa Centre (1983) Covent Garden London.
Black Woman Time Now (1983/4) Battersea Arts Centre London.
The Thin Black Line (1985) Institute of Contemporary Art London.
Unrecorded Truths (1986) The Elbow Room Gallery, Borough, London.
A Fashionable Marriage (1986) Pentonville Gallery, London (solo exhibition).
New Robes for MaShulan (1987) Rochdale Art Gallery, Lancashire, England (solo exhibition which included a collaborative work with Maud Sulter).

This recording is part of the ICA collection C95, available online on the British Library Sounds website. It contains 889 talks and discussions held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, during the period 1982-1993, featuring leading writers, artists and filmmakers.

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

References:

Lubaina Himid (1990). Mapping: A Decade of Black Women Artists 1980-1990.
Maud Sulter 1990, Passion: Discourses On Blackwomen's Creativity, Hebden Bridge: Urban Fox Press.

Making Histories Visible. An interdisciplinary visual art research project based in the Centre for Contemporary Art (School of Art, Design and Fashion) at the University of Central Lancashire (website).

The Thin Black Line(s).Tate Britain 2011-2012 (exhibition catalogue).

Lubaina Himid (2006-2007). National Life Stories: Artists' Lives C466/249. An oral history of Lubaina Himid interviewed by Anna Dyke at the artist’s home in Preston. Available online with full transcript.

In Conversation: Lubaina Himid & Courtney J. Martin (17 Feb 2017). A talk on the occasion of Invisible Strategies, the first major survey exhibition by British artist Lubaina Himid at the Modern Art Oxford gallery (20 Jan - 30 April 2017).

Modern Art Oxford - Lubaina Himid: Invisible Strategies (2017). 3D view of the exhibition presented by Vroom 360.co.uk

17 August 2020

Recording of the week: Ganapati, mythology and Koh-i-Noors: a poetry reading by Debjani Chatterjee

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

To celebrate the first official South Asian Heritage Month in the U.K., running from July 18th to August 17th, we are sharing the beautiful poetry of Debjani Chatterjee (1952-), an Indian-born British award-winning poet, children's writer, storyteller, editor and translator.

Having joined the Library earlier this year as an Audio Project Cataloguer, the first recordings I began working on were from the vast and impressive Poetry Society collection. It comprises well over 400 items, including reel-to-reel tape, DAT, Betamax and compact cassette, which are being digitised as part of the sound archive’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. The Poetry Society collection includes a diverse range of poetry, prose and literary events recorded in London by the Poetry Society and the British Library, beginning in the late 60s and continuing up until the early 90s. It includes an array of wonderful poets, both famous and lesser known.

I was delighted to come across Debjani Chatterjee’s poetry whilst cataloguing her reading at a Poetry Society event held at the National Poetry Centre in April 1990. The event also featured Indian poet, Eunice De Souza. The poets conjure vivid and sensory worlds, depicting Indian and British culture, religion, mythology and wildlife, whilst skillfully addressing issues relating to feminism, identity, racism and environmentalism with wit and poignancy.

Ganesa on Parvati's lap
Ganesa on Parvati's lap. The young Ganesa, wearing a yellow ‘dhoti’ is seated in Parvati’s lap with his rat; Parvati, wearing a red ‘sari,’ sits on lotuses in a canopied throne.                                Shelfmark: Add.Or.1036. Artist/creator: Anon. Place and date of production: c.1770.              Credit: British Library.

'To the English Language' - Debjani Chatterjee (C15/428 C21)

Chatterjee was born in Delhi and grew up in India, Japan, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Egypt, then moved to England in 1972. This poem ‘To the English Language’ cleverly portrays the perspective of an Indian immigrant making the UK their home and coming to terms with the contradictory emotions faced whilst asserting the importance of her place and voice, adeptly using the infamous ‘Koh-i-noor’ diamond as a metaphor. Chatterjee introduces the poem as “a journey to a language” and “a journey to a country”.

'Ganapati' - Debjani Chatterjee (C15/428 C25)

In Hindu mythology, Ganapati is the ‘elephant-headed god of wisdom’, also known as Ganesha or Gaṇeśa, amongst other titles. He is the son of Parvati, goddess of the mountains, and Shiva, god of destruction and the destroyer of evil. This poem is directed at Ganapati’s mother, Parvati, as depicted in the image. The poem refers to a tradition from Bengal, the home of Chatterjee’s ancestors, in which Ganapati is married to the banana tree. Chatterjee reveals earlier in the reading that she is particularly interested in elephants and she has written a large amount of prose and poems inspired by them.

'I Was That Woman' - Debjani Chatterjee (C15/428 C26)

This influential poem takes us on a journey, exploring various women, goddesses, heroines and characters from multiple countries, religions and cultures, both mythological and real. It includes Eve in the Garden of Eden, Sita, heroine of The Ramayana, Draupadi, heroine of The Mahabharata, Medusa and the Buddha’s aunt, to name just a few. I would encourage you to delve into Debjani Chatterjee’s poetry and explore the rest of the characters further. Debjani Chatterjee's website is a good starting point for understanding some of the references in the poem above.

The entirety of Debjani Chatterjee’s reading at this Poetry Society event (C15/428), along with the rest of the Poetry Society collection, will be available for on-site listening in Reading Rooms at the British Library. Other poets we recommend exploring in the C15 Poetry Society collection include Sujata Bhatt, Suniti Namjoshi, Iftikhar Arif and Saqi Farooqi. You may also be interested in the South Asian Literature Society event on C15/310.

Thank you to Debjani Chatterjee for kindly allowing us to share her poetry readings.

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

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10 August 2020

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

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

Photograph of colleagues Sharon and Jonathan

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

Sharon and Jonathan (BL REF C1500/845)

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

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