THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

16 posts categorized "Resources"

27 October 2014

Qatar Digital Library portal launched

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A new online portal in English and Arabic which provides access to previously undigitised British Library archive materials relating to Persian Gulf history and Arabic science, was launched by the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership last week on 22 October.

The new portal, Qatar Digital Libraryhosted by the Qatar National Library, provides contextual material to help make the best use of the 500,000 digitised pages available. This includes 475,000 pages from the India Office Records and 25,000 pages of medieval  Arabic manuscripts.

Sowt Musicians
Photo credit: Rolf Kilius

Available on this portal are around 200 titles of traditional music from the Gulf region. These are from The British Library's Middle Eastern music collection and consist mainly of 78 rpm shellac discs from the 1930s to 1960s. The vast majority of these discs are from labels such as Gramophone/HMV (UK), Columbia (USA), Baidaphon (Lebanon) and Odeon (Germany). Many discs were recorded by agents from the recording companies in the fast-developing urban areas of the Gulf region. Thus these recordings mainly represent a (then) new urban culture, which was important in nation-building, cultural exchange and in crossing of social and tribal borders.

Rural musical genres were also recorded, though to a much lesser degree. The following articles explain the circumstances around these recordings:

Dusty Streets and Hot Music in Baghdad: Iraqi Maqam Music and Chalgi Ensembles

Sing, Play and Be Merry: The Unique Ṣawt Music of the Arabian Peninsula

To complement these historical, commercial recordings (mainly shellac discs and older fieldwork recordings from the Gulf region) traditional music performances were filmed in Oman, Qatar and Kuwait during field work trips as part of the partnership programme. These videos are also available on the Qatar Digital Library Portal. You can read more about this research in the following article:

Modernity meets Tradition: Reflections on Traditional Music in Qatar

For updates on the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership and the Qatar National Library, follow us @BLQatar!

Article written by Rolf Killius, Curator of Oral and Musical Cultures, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership.

01 February 2014

Building a jukebox for Europe

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We’re thrilled to announce the start this month of a new project: Europeana Sounds. This project will bring together online, for public access, over a million sound and associated digitised items from leading audio archives and libraries across Europe.

We shall double the number of sound tracks that can be discovered through Europeana, improve descriptions for two million sounds, music scores and associated items to make them easier to find, and we’ll create new thematic ‘channels’ on Europeana that bring related objects together in a coordinated way. The sounds will encompass not just musics of different genres – classical, pop and rock, traditional and folk - but also languages and dialects, oral memories, nature and environmental sounds.

Europeana Sounds will be accessed through Europeana, the portal to Europe’s digitised heritage. Through a multi-lingual interface supporting 31 languages, Europeana already connects a mind-boggling 30 million books, paintings, photographs, sounds, films, museum and archival objects from collections held by 2,200 source institutions. Sound recordings are one of the most popular media types, although representing just 2% of Europeana’s content. And while many of Europe’s leading cultural heritage institutions have large, high-quality audio collections that have great public appeal and are valued for research and for creative use, access to them is fragmented and constrained. Europeana Sounds will make audio content from memory institutions easily accessible - a much-needed gateway to Europe’s incomparably rich sound and music collections.

Coordinated by the British Library, this three-year project is led by a network of 24 European organisations: innovative digital technology organisations and leading library and archive collections of sounds and related materials. We will also collaborate with three digital distribution platforms, Historypin, Spotify and SoundCloud and their existing global online communities, to extend the public reach of Europeana’s sound recordings.

The project will additionally test innovative ways to enrich metadata by crowdsourcing and by using automated machine-driven categorisation and cross-media linking. It will align different kinds of objects from different collections:

Blackbird

Blackbird (Turdus merula) singing (painting by Stephanus Hendrik Willem van Trigt. Source: Teylers Museum, Netherlands, via Europeana)

Blackbird singing

Blackbird (Turdus merula) singing (recorded by Eric & May Noble, Wales, March 1991. Source: The British Library)

 

We’ll also experiment with ‘score following’, so you will be able to scroll music scores from collections contributed by one institution while listening to recorded performances of the same compositions from another source, as illustrated below with extracts from Johan Sebastian Bach's Wohltemperierte Clavier.

Bach

Score of Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 870 from JS Bach’s manuscript of Wohltemperierte Clavier ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’, book 2. (Source: The British Library. Add.MS 35021).

 Wohltemperierte-Clavier-BWV870

Audio recording of Prelude and fugue in C major, BWV 870
(Source:
recorded example from Europeana via Helsinki City Library).

 

More details about the Europeana Sounds project:
Website: http://pro.europeana.eu/web/europeana-sounds
Twitter: https://twitter.com/eu_sounds


Picture1Europeana Sounds is funded by the European Union under its ICT Policy Support Programme as part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programm.

11 October 2013

World Newsreels Online

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Sampler video for World Newsreels Online

I'm delighted to be able to report that the British Library is now offering access in its Reading Rooms to World Newsreels Online 1929-1966.

This is a collection from Alexander Street Press of 500 hours (8,000 individual items) of newsreels (filmed news for cinema release) from Japan, France, the Netherlands and the USA, including wartime propaganda newsreels and a complete run of the important The March of Time series in its American edition (the British release version was slightly different). Most of the films have been fully transcribed, with transcriptions available in synchronisation presentation alongside the video. The contents include:

Nippon News—36 hours of Japanese newsreels from 1940-48 with English transcripts.

Four French newsreels, 75 hours of fully translated and transcribed news items from:

  • Les Actualités Mondiales—Selections 15-20 minutes in length, adapted from the German series that ran from 1940 to 1946.
  • France Actualités—A coproduction of the Vichy regime and the Germans from 1942 to 1944.
  • France Libre Actualités—1944–1945 segments from an offshoot of the French Resistance.
  • Les Actualités Francaise—selections from the 1945–1969 series in which the French state discussed war topics, consequences, and reconstruction

The March of Time—Full run of this American series, 115 hours of fully transcribed content, 1935-51.

United Newsreel—More than 35 hours of 1942-46 American weekly newsreel produced by the US Office of War Information, complete with transcripts.

Universal Newsreel—More than 200 hours of content with full transcripts from Universal Studios’s bi-weekly series that ran 1929-46.

Polygoon Profliti—87 hours of Dutch newsreel 1939-45.

The March of Time is of huge importance for the history of news on film. It was founded by Louis de Rochment in 1935 as an offshoot of Time magazine and as a follow on to a CBS radio series of the same name which started in 1931. It immediately made its mark with its dynamic presentation of the stories behind the news. It courted controversy in its outspokeness, in its occasional use of dramatised recreations, and in its choice of controversial themes at a time when newsreels (the form of news shown regularly in all cinemas) were looked upon more as part of the entertainment industry than as hard news offerings. Its distinctive bold style with booming commentary was artfully pastiched by Orson Welles for the News on the March sequence in Citizen Kane (1941).

The series ran in cinemas until 1951. Notable stories include Leadbelly (vol. 1 issue 2, 1935), Huey Long (vol. 1, issue 3, 1935), Father Divine (vol. 2 issue 2, 1936), League of Nations Union (vol. 2, issue 5, 1936), An Uncle Sam Production (vol. 3 issue 4, 1936), Conquering Cancer (vol. 3, issue 6, 1937) and the issue-length Inside Nazi Germany (vol. 6 issue 6, 1938) and Norway in Revolt (vol. 8 issue 2, 1941)

The key publication on The March of Time is Raymond Fielding's book The March of Time 1936-1951 (1978) and he provides a handy overview of the series on the HBO Archives site.

World Newsreels Online is available now in the British Library Reading Rooms and adds to our growing number of onsite audiovisual resources, including the Library's own television and radio news service, Broadcast News, which has a collection of over 30,000 UK TV and radio news programmes recorded since May 2010, to which over 60 hours of new content is added daily.

British Library onsite users can access World Newsreels Online via our Electronic Databases pages. Sadly access is not possible outside our Reading Rooms.

02 October 2012

New broadcast media resources at the British Library

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Bbcpilot_frontpage

The British Library is piloting three major new television and radio resources within its St Pancras, Colindale and Boston Spa reading rooms. Together with our existing sound collections the Library is now providing instant onsite access to nearly a million sound and moving image items. Additionally, we are now giving access to programme and transmission data for a further 20 million recordings, a proportion of which can also be made available for onsite listening - with advance notice - on request.

The three services are:

BBC Pilot Service

This is a trial service produced by the BBC in collaboration with the British Library. It brings together the BBC's programme catalogue, Radio Times data and BBC television and radio programmes recorded off-air from mid-2007 to the end of 2011. There are currently approximately 2.2 million catalogue records and 190,000 playable programmes, both television and radio. The Pilot Service is being made available in the Library's Reading Rooms on a trial basis between October 2012 and March 2013 but we hope to extend and augment the service in the future.

Broadcast News

This service provides access to daily television and radio news and current affairs programmes from seventeen channels (fifteen TV, two radio) broadcast in the UK since May 2010, recorded off-air by the British Library. The programmes will be almost instantly available, with new programmes available in our Reading Rooms within hours of broadcast. We currently record forty-six hours per day, including television services of the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky News, Al-Jazeera English, NHK World, CNN, France 24, Bloomberg, Russia Today and China's CCTV News, plus key news and current affairs programmes from BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service. Many of the television programmes come with subtitles, which we have made word-searchable, greatly enhancing Broadcast News as a research resource.

TRILT (Television & Radio Index for Learning & Teaching)

TRILT is a database of all UK television and radio broadcasts since 2001 (and selectively back to 1995). It covers every channel, every broadcast and every repeat, some 15 million records so far and growing by a million per year. Produced by the British Universities Film & Video Council (BUFVC) it is regularly used by many universities but has never before been available to general users.

Broadcast News - Front page

 

For reasons of copyright and licence, the three services can only be made available in our Reading Rooms for registered British Library users. The sound and moving image items can be accessed at any of the dedicated multimedia terminals within each Reading Room. There are currently twenty-five terminals, at least one per Room, but this will soon be increased to sixty. Eventually we aim to equip every Reading Room terminal for multimedia access.

To access the new services just follow the link to Sound and Moving Image services from the front page of any Reading Room terminal equipped with headphones (you can't use your own headphones, please note).

We are keen to have feedback from users, and you will find a link to a survey at each of the multimedia terminals. Do fill it in and let us know your thoughts on the services and how you think we can develop things further.

Additional information on our moving image holdings and services is available on the Library's Help for Researchers pages.

19 March 2010

Media History Digital Library

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A huge step forward has been made for online research in film studies with the launch of the Media History Digital Library project. This is a major conservation and access project for histoical printed materials related to cinema, broadcasting and recorded sound, concentrating on American media industry journals and financed by private funds. The project has been established by film archivist and historian David Pierce, and has ambitious plans to digitise an make freely available online a wide range of American media journals, of which these are the target titles:

Industry Magazines  Billboard, Box Office, Cine-Mundial, Daily Variety, Exhibitor's Herald, Exhibitor's Trade Review, The Film Daily, The Film Index, The Hollywood Reporter, Motion Picture Daily, Motion Picture Herald, Motion Picture News, Motography, The Moving Picture World, Radio Broadcast, Radio Daily, Talking Machine World, Variety

Company Magazines  The Lion's Roar, Publix Opinion, RCA News, Radio Flash, Reel Life, Universal Weekly

Fan Magazines  Motion Picture Classic, Motion Picture Magazine, Motion Picture Digest, Radio Mirror, Screenland, Shadowplay

Technical Journals  American Cinematographer, American Projectionist, The International Photographer, International Projectionist, Motion Picture Projectionist, Projection Engineering, Radio Engineering, Sound Waves, Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers

A pilot project has a target of 300,000 journal pages, and already eight volumes (covering four years, 1925-1930) of the fan magazine Photoplay, and one volume each of the trade journals Motion Picture Classic (1920) and Moving Picture World (April-June 1913), have been made available through the Internet Archive, taken from the collection of the Pacific Film Archive.

There's an enthusiastic review of the project by Leonard Maltin on his Movie Crazy blog, and I review the project in greater detail on my silent cinema blog, The Bioscope.

The British Library hasn't digitised any film journals (though the stage journal The Era, available for the years 1838-1900 on our Newspapers site, has much information on the early film industry). However we do have a list of all the British and Irish cinema and film periodicals that we hold in our newspaper collection, which includes many rare titles and useful information on date ranges and changes of title.

Posted via email from Luke McKernan

16 March 2010

C-SPAN video archive online

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President Obama's State of the Union Address, 27 January 2010, from www.c-spanvideo.org

C-SPAN has put its entire video archive online, 23 years of broadcasting amounting to over 160,000 hours of content. C-SPAN stands for Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network. It's an American cable TV network owned and operated by the US cable industry as a free service. It was set up in 1987 to record government proceedings, and its archive documents practically every session of the Senate and the House of Representatives, presidential press briefings and many kinds of public affairs events. The New York Times reports:

“This is the archive’s coming of age, in a way, because it’s now so accessible,” said Robert Browning, director of the archives. Historically, the $1 million-a-year operation has paid for itself partly by selling videotapes and DVDs to journalists, campaign strategists and others. Mr. Browning acknowledges that video sales have waned as more people have viewed clips online. “On the other hand, there are a lot of things people now watch that they never would have bought,” he said. The archives’ fans include Ms. Maddow, who called it gold. “It’s raw footage of political actors in their native habitat, without media personalities mediating viewers’ access,” she wrote in an e-mail message ... C-Span executives said they hoped that its search filters would be up to the task. Mr. Lamb said, “You can see if politicians are saying one thing today, and 15 years ago were saying another thing.” He added, “Journalists can feast on it.”

The site gives the schedule for the three C-SPAN channels (C-SPAN, C-SPAN2 and C-SPAN3), the C-SPAN Congressional Chronicle (an index to the C-SPAN video recordings of the House and Senate floor proceedings), a blog, store and extensive search and browse options. There is a simple search option on the front page (which has a drop-down text feature showing summaries with your search term highlighted) and an advanced search option (for which you can add extra fields by clicking) allowing searches to be refined by date, tag, format, title, summary, person, organisation, location etc. You can browse the archive by programme type, series, congressional committee, date, topic, popular programmes and so on. Each record gives title, date, topic, tags, summary, duration (some of them run for hours), sometimes a transcript (generally made from uncorrected closed captioning), programme ID and the number of views. There are handy user features such embedding, sharing, links to biographical details of people featured, and related videos. Videos can be viewed full screen and are of a good quality.

It's a stunning resource, overwhelming in its size, limitless in the opportunities it opens up for American studies, political studies, and just for finding who said what when. What we wouldn't give to have something similar in the UK. Here we've had parliamentary AV recordings since 1978, when the Parliamentary Sound Recording Unit was created. This became the Parliamentary Recording Unit when it added video of the House of Lords in 1986, then the House of Commons in 1989 (the Sound Unit disbanded in 1992). We do have live access through the excellent ParliamentLive, which has coverage of all UK Parliament proceedings taking place in public, but its on-demand archive only stretches back 12 months from the date of broadcast. Thereafter you have to contact the Parliamentary Recording Unit itself for access.

Where the US cable network has led, maybe one day the UK will be able to follow in providing comprehensive online access to this archive much as we now enjoy with Hansard. It's good to be able to read, but how much more compelling it is to be able to see and hear as well. It helps us all the more to judge, to recognise, and to understand.

09 March 2010

Editing out the Fascists

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Salutes

'Nazi Congress', Pathe Gazette, released 17 September 1936, from www.britishpathe.com

The National Archives recently issued some declassified MI5 files which cast an intriguing light on one corner of British film history. An MI5 dossier says that Sidney Bernstein, owner of the Granada cinema chain, a founder of ITV, and later Lord Bernstein and a fellow of the British Film Institute, was a Soviet informer. As The Times report puts it,

Sidney Bernstein, later Baron Bernstein, helped the Soviet Embassy to vet journalists applying to go to Moscow and provided funds for a Czech-German agitator named Otto Katz, said to have been Marlene Dietrich’s first husband. He was known for persuading Hollywood stars to contribute to the Anti-Nazi League, a Communist front.

What particularly caught my eye though was this line from a 1936 Security Service report on Bernstein:

Sidney Bernstein is now reliably reported to be an active secret Communist ... He always cuts the news films in his cinemas so that Fascist scenes etc which might make a favourable impression are removed. Items about Russia are given prominence.

Now this is fascinating - but was it possible?

British newsreels were notoriously conservative in politics and supine towards authority. Firmly established as a part of the entertainment package that was the cinema programme, they delivered a ten-minute package of news stories that kept audiences informed but favoured royalty, sport, tradition and the upbeat. In the 1930s there were critics on the Left who derided the newsreels' political attitudes, and in particular felt that their treatment of the Spanish civil war at times revealed a Nationalist, or quasi-Fascist, bias.

Whether that is entirely fair or not as regards the newsreels is a moot point. Some might argue that they were more facetious than fascistic, but they undoubtedly aroused passions in those who felt that the Republican cause was being overlooked, and that the newsreel's avowed impartiality was hiding political truth from British audiences.

But did Bernstein edit the newsreels in his cinemas to counter this insidiousness? It is intriguing to think that he could have done so, but hard to believe that he actually did. Granada was a relatively small circuit - Bernstein controlled 30 or so cinemas by 1939 - and the way that newsreel distribution worked was that one print would service several cinemas through a system of what were called 'runs', whereby the older the print (and hence the older the news), the cheaper it was to rent (newsreels were issued twice-weekly). One could estimate that a few as half-a-dozen prints could serve all Granada cinemas, though there were five newsreels series on the market at that time - Pathe Gazette, Gaumont-British News, British Paramount News, British Movietone News and Universal Talking News, which would have added to the complexity. But even if stories might conceivably have been cut, giving extra prominence to other stories was not possible unless a new commentary was added, which simply not technically possible. Moreover I have not come across any evidence which remotely suggests that Bernstein - or any other exhibitor of his prominence - tampered with the newsreels. One feels that the story would have had to have leaked somehow - not least by prints with the missing or altered stories being returned to the newsreel companies who were most particular about how their product was treated.

Though it is appealing to think that Bernstein - who had strong socialist sympathies, though there is no evidence that he was ever a communist - could have got his own back on the newsreels by cutting out stories that he felt were pro-Fascist, the Secret Service report is most likely a product of rumour or fantasy. Bernstein became a film adviser to the Ministry of Information, and went on to enjoy a notable career with Granada television, ending up a revered elder statement for the industry.

If you are interest in British newsreels, the first place to look is the BUFVC's News on Screen database, which is a near-comprehensive record of all British newsreel issues 1910-1979, including thousands of digitised commentary scripts. Newsreels themselves are easy to view. The whole of the British Pathe archive 1896-1970 is freely available online, as is the British Movietone library (1929-1979), though the latter requires registration. Those in the UK university sector should check when their institution is signed up to the JISC's NewsFilm Online, which includes a large proportion of the Gaumont newsreel library from the 1920s-50s, while much of this content anyone can find for free (as low resolution copies) on the ITN Source website, under its New Classics series.

The best study of British newsreels in the 1930s (there aren't many) is Anthony Aldgate's Cinema and History (1979), which is particularly strong on the newsreels and the Spanish Civil War. For a more general account with some key original texts on the production and reception of the newsreels in the 1930s, see Yesterday's News: The British Cinema Newsreel Reader (2002) - edited by yours truly.

04 March 2010

A glimpse of India

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A Glimpse Of India from Cambridge University on Vimeo.

The Centre of South Asian Studies at Cambridge University has released online a collection of almost 300 films showing life in India and other parts of South Asia during the final days of the British Empire.

The remarkable archive comprises around fifty different private collections made by people who lived and worked in India between 1911 and 1956 and which were originally gathered together in the 1960s. The Centre has been able to digitise the collection and publish only for free access - not only to view, but to download and reuse in education (the films are in QuickTime and you will therefore have to have QuickTime Pro software loaded to be able to download them - it costs £20.00). Each video comes with the message "These images may not be used without licence", but what that licence might be is not stated. But elsewhere it says that you are "free to use this material in the classroom".

The films were all shot silent, by amateurs, so they are the home movies of the British in India. When home movies started to become common in the 1920s and 1930s, with the appearance of non-flammable small gauge 16mm (i.e. smaller than the 35mm film used in cinemas), the cameras and filmstock were still expensive, and it tended to be that such films were taken by the wealthier classes - including those who made up the British Raj. So such films tend to privilege the privileged, though the collection overall is very varied in what it shows and includes scenes shot during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, images of labourers working on railways, dams and farms, tribal dances and days at the races, children at school and playing, and pictures of the funeral of Lord Brabourne, a former Governor of Bombay and Bengal, in 1939. Colour came to home movies in the 1930s (here on 8mm film), and many of these films reveal a picture of life in India that the monochrome commercials newsreels and travelogues of the period cannot match.

Dr Kevin Greenbank, archivist at the Centre of South Asian Studies, describes the films thus:

It's one thing to get an understanding of a place by reading about it or visiting 60 years later; to be able to see people at the time and watch events such as partition actually taking place before your own eyes is quite another. The films are the equivalent of modern-day home videos. This makes the collection particularly valuable because it shows some of the things which aren't recorded in documents or books - like the interactions between people, or the way that the British behaved towards their servants. It's a fascinating resource for analysing how these two societies, British and Indian, worked - or perhaps didn't work - together.

What you see is India through British eyes - it appears that no films made by Indians exist in the collection, as the names of the families who donated the films indicate: Christie, Hunter, Mackrell, Stokes, Williams, and so on. No information is given on the filmmakers and their personal backgrounds, which is a shame, because such information contextualises what we see and increases the films' value for the social historian. When viewing personal films, it is important know the person just as much as what the person filmed, because there is no such thing as the objective film record. The scholar needs always to ask why one is able to see what one is seeing, to understand the process of mediation. (More background information is promised for later this year)

The films each come with a brief synopsis, plus technical information and indication of location. To view individual films you click on the thumbnails provided. They are utterly engrossing, and the collection will undoubtedly open up South East Asian studies into areas that textual sources just don't cover.

The Centre of South Asian Studies is now seeking funding to link the film collection with its oral history archive, which contains more than 300 recorded interviews and was released online last year.