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93 posts categorized "Save our Sounds"

25 November 2019

Recording of the week: 'Power' by Adrienne Rich

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

This week’s recording of the week features American poet Adrienne Rich reading her poem ‘Power’. Rich is performing at the 1st International Feminist Book Fair, London, 1984. The poem was first published in 1977 in Rich's acclaimed collection The Dream of a Common Language.

Rich introduces ‘Power’ saying it's a poem about power (women’s power), considering both true and false power...

The poem also examines the quality of endurance, with reference to the life of scientist Marie Curie.

Adrienne Rich reading 'Power' at the 1st International Feminist Book Fair London 1984 (C154/2)

Marie Skłodowska Curie (7 November 1864 - 4 July 1934) was a Polish-born physicist and chemist.

She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, the only woman who has won it twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different fields.

Marie and her physicist husband Paul Curie did research on uraninite, a radioactive uranium-rich mineral and ore. The Curies isolated the uranium from its radioactive elements, which they named radium and polonium. The latter after Marie’s homeland in Poland.

As a result the Curies won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 (shared with physicist Henri Becquerel). Later in 1911, Marie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her services to the advancement of chemistry.

Marie Curie died from aplastic anemia. This was reportedly caused by her exposure to chemicals and radiation.

Marie Curie working in her laboratoryMarie Curie in her laboratory. Photo credit: National Archief on Visual Hunt / No known copyright restrictions

The 1st International Feminist Book Fair took place 7-9 June 1984 at the Africa Centre in London.

This was a public event with presentations on politics, class, race, gender, sexuality, social equality and women's place in the literary world.

Speakers included: Audre Lorde, Suniti Namjoshi, Toni Cade Bambara, Alifa Rifaat, Joan Barfoot, Susan Griffin, Nicole Brossard, Maureen Watson, Grace Nichols and others.

The  event was recorded by the British Library and the collection has been recently been digitised by the Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

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

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19 November 2019

Recording of the week: the pampapiano of Rafael Achomccaray Quispe

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

Although that was not their primary intention, it was the Europeans who first brought the pampapiano to Peru’s Andean region of Cusco. Music was seen as an important component of evangelisation, but churches in the mountainous areas of Peru lacked the hefty pipe organs that accompanied mass and other religious functions back in Europe. So, they imported small and portable organs to fill the recently-built churches of those remote Andean communities with music. Variably called pump organs, reed organs or harmoniums, those pedal-pumped, free-reed instruments had only four or five octaves and a very limited set of timbres or stops. But they did the job.

Time passed, and as grander organs were brought into the churches, those earlier, smaller models were gradually dismissed. They were, however, adopted by the local population, who started using them outside the church to play religious music but also secular local styles. It was then that this locally-repurposed instrument got its new name. The melodio, as it was known in Spanish, became the pampapiano, from the Quechua word pampa, which means ‘land’ but also ‘ground’ and ‘floor’. Having left the church, the pampapiano could be played almost anywhere in the land. You just had to place it on the ground and start pedalling.

Pictured below is the pampapiano of Rafael Achomccaray Quispe, a professional musician living in San Jeronimo, a very religious village eight miles south-east of Cusco. It is a foldable model that can be carried around by the handle, not unlike a bulky suitcase. It is also an old and quite battered model, with many of the keys worn out by repeated use.

Photograph of Rafael Achomccaray Quispe's pampapianoThe pampapiano of Rafael Achomccaray Quispe, photographed by Peter Cloudsley. Judging by the marks on the keyboard, it seems that Rafael’s repertoire was mostly in G and D major.

A small plaque on Rafael’s pampapiano (not visible in the picture) says: ‘Piano made by Stevens, Kentish Town, London NW5’, and I wonder what tortuous routes brought this instrument from North London to a small village located at over 3,000 metres high up in the Andes.

Rafael was about 55 years old at the time of this recording, and his hearing was seriously compromised. This did not stop him from performing regularly at weddings, birthdays and baptisms with a group that also included harp, violin and quena (a notched flute). He played entirely from memory, although he was able to read music.

Photograph of Rafael Achomccaray Quispe at his house in San JeronimoRafael Achomccaray Quispe at his house in San Jeronimo, photographed by Peter Cloudsey.

Rafael’s repertoire included sacred music but also huaynos, marineras, yaravís and other secular styles. In this week’s recording, made by Peter Cloudsley in San Jeronimo on 12 February 1981, Rafael plays an instrumental yaraví titled Kusco (the clatter of the pedals and keys of the pampapiano is clearly audible throughout).

Kusco played on the pampapiano by Rafael Achomccaray Quispe (C9/16 C3)

Many thanks to Peter Cloudsley for allowing us to share his recording and for providing the pictures that accompany this post.

The Peter Cloudsley collection at the British Library holds many more recordings of Rafael’s pampapiano, including songs sung in Quechua, Spanish and Quechuañol (see shelfmarks C9/13, C9/14, C9/15, C9/16). For a short interview with the musician, see C9/19. A recording of a pampapiano being played during Easter mass inside Cusco Cathedral is also part of the collection (see C9/28 and C9/29).

The Peter Cloudsley collection has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

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

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04 November 2019

Recording of the week: the lesbians aren't into dustbins

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

The British Library Sound Archive holds the most exhaustive oral history collection relating to LGBTQ+ lives in the UK: the Hall-Carpenter Oral History Project.

Set up in 1985, as part of the wider Hall-Carpenter Archive formed in 1982, it contains 121 interviews and ten recordings of meetings, covering the time from the 1930s to 1987. The project was coordinated by Margot Farnham and carried out by the two separate lesbian and gay oral history groups, which respectively published the books Inventing Ourselves and Walking after Midnight.

The title Inventing Ourselves was chosen because the book wanted to explore how lesbians had created their lives and contributed to the changes of their time.It stemmed from the need to question the past, become subjects and break silence and marginalisation, from the recognition of the complexities of lesbians’ experiences and from the necessity to provide their own social representation about lesbians.

This recording was made during a meeting whose nature, date and time could not be traced. It features Jackie Forster (06 Nov 1926-10 Oct 1998), contributor to the Arena Three magazine, and among the founders of its successor Sappho, established in 1972. The room is filled with women and contagious laughter. Amusement, freedom and togetherness seem to be the elements permeating the gathering. Jackie Forster delivers a talk which is a recollection of vivacious memories from the 1960s, a time where lesbians thought they were just women who happened to love other women. A time where no role models were available and nobody knew whether there were other lesbians or not. A time where, as a consequence, all that they thought they were and all that they wanted to achieve was to be ordinary, simple women. Perfectly ordinary. Perfectly invisible. Despite the effort, these women failed gloriously, and by doing so they bravely and decisively contributed to that visibility, both in public and in private lives, without which lesbian identity would today be weaker and more prone to external distortions.

Jackie ForsterPhotograph of Jackie Forster, courtesy of Jo McKenzie.

The story starts with that time Jackie Forster and Esmé Ross-Langley went to meet a businessman interested in advertising in the lesbian magazine Arena Three...

'Lesbians aren't into dustbins' (C456/62) - 6 min. 40 sec. 

'And I asked...are you lovers?' (C456/62) - 3 min. 59 sec.

We would like to thank Anne, Jackie's partner and Jo, Jackie's niece, for their help and support with this piece. We also wish Jo a happy birthday, a date which she shares with her aunt Jackie. 

The Hall-Carpenter Oral History Project has been digitised as part of the library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. Follow @BLSoundHeritage for all the latest news from the project.

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23 October 2019

A privilege to be alive on Fair Isle

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Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds, writes: 

It may come as little surprise, but wildlife sound recordists are usually absent from their recordings. It makes perfect sense, of course; the primary aim of these recordings is to capture the vocalisations of a particular animal or the collective sounds of a habitat. Through the use of microphone grips, long leads and stillness, recordists can completely remove themselves from the sonic picture they're creating.

Occasionally a recording will begin or end with an announcement. Here the recordist may state the location, time of day, weather conditions or species heard. Sometimes we hear the animated protestations of a recordist under attack (trust me, this happens). Other times it might be the gentle snores of a dozing recordist. But, for the most part, recordings are dedicated to nature and nature alone.

The following recording is a little different. And it's one of my favourites. It was made by Patrick Sellar, co-founder of the British Library's wildlife sounds collection, in 1974 on the Scottish Island of Fair Isle. The main subject of the recording is the Great Skua (Stercorarius skua), or Bonxie to use its colloquial name, however throughout the recording Patrick gives us a running commentary of the events taking place. He speaks of a birdwatching group approaching the nest site and describes the aerial attacks that this approach elicits (the alarm calls of one of the birds can clearly be heard). He then turns his attention to the landscape itself, describing in detail the clear view, light wind and calm sea. Though the calls of the Great Skua, along with the sweet aerial song of a nearby Skylark, can be heard throughout the recording, it's Patrick's description of what can't be heard that really helps us, as listeners, recreate the scene in our minds. As the birds call out we can almost feel the gentle breeze on our face and see the tiny, white-crested waves below. 

Though I love the entire recording, it's Patrick's closing sentence that has really stayed with me. After describing the scene so evocatively, he signs off with the words ' It's one of those days that's a real privilege to be alive on Fair Isle'. For me, these words perfectly encapsulate the power of nature. To make us stop and remember just how lucky we are to be alive is really quite something. 

Patrick  Sellar recording Great Skuas on Fair Isle, 1974 (BL ref 02672)

Colour photograph of the north coast of Fair IsleFair Isle, photographed in August 1974 by Dr Julian Paren (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This recording is just one of many which has been digitised as part of Unlocking our Sound Heritage, an ambitious 5 year project which aims to preserve and provide access to 500,000 rare and at risk recordings from across the nation. 

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

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17 September 2019

Beginnings: Arabic music in the 'Ezra Hakkāk and Emile Cohen Collection

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Hazem Jamjoum joined the British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Project in April 2019 as Gulf Audio Curator and Cataloguer. Over the next 2-3 years he will be working on the Library's audio collections connected with the Gulf region to scope, catalogue and research them, to manage their preservation and access and to write about them. In this blog Hazem talks of his introduction to the collections.

 

It was at the very beginning, less than three weeks into my role as Gulf History Audio Curator that I found myself with British Library Sound Archive doyen Ian Macaskill in the disc and tape-bestrewn room through which newly acquired sound and moving image materials enter the British Library’s collections. At the end of this audio-cataloguer rite of passage, one foot already out the door, I was beckoned back into the room to describe my role at the Library to another veteran of the accessioning team. As if awaiting confirmation that I would work with Arabic language materials, a bemused Jowan Collier rose from his seat and began the dance around the stacks of CDs to the other end of the room. “I imagine there’s a box that’s been sitting here that might just pique your interest.” A few dozen shellacs in an assortment of discrepant sleeves lay in a dark wooden box marked “532: Emile Cohen Collection.” A yellow sticky note, curled up like a delaminated lacquer disc on the side of the box announced October 25, 2016 as the donation date.

Image of Emile Cohen Box
“…there’s a box that’s been sitting here that might just pique your interest.”


I eventually found out that it was my predecessor on the British Library-Qatar Foundation partnership, Rolf Killius, who had arranged for this gift. Rolf had delivered a lecture about Iraqi music at the British Institute for the Study of Iraq after which an elderly gentleman introduced himself, and soon thereafter offered to donate a collection of shellacs to the British Library. This was Emile Cohen. Born in Baghdad in 1943 to a secular scion of a rabbinical family, Emile spent the evenings of his youth listening to the dozens of guests who would assemble at his grandfather’s house for edifying conversation. Given the centrality of Baghdad’s Jewish community to the city’s musical life, much of this conversation centred on things musical. It didn’t hurt that from the roof of their house they could eavesdrop on the regular musical performances at the nightclub next door. Cohen had obtained the recordings from 'Ezra Hakkāk. The Hakkāk’s owned a shop on al-Rasheed Street in Baghdad and another in Tehran that started off selling leather goods, branching out into sewing machines, electronics and, ultimately gramophone machines and records.

Emile narrates much about these and other stories in an oral history interview conducted by Richard Green and held at the Library as part of the Sephardi Voices UK Collection (C1638), and which comprises oral history testimony about the settlement of Jews from West Asia and North Africa in the UK.

Image of Emile Cohen with Collection – photo by Rolf Killius 2016
Emile Cohen just before a trip to the British Library to donate his shellac collection. Photo: Rolf Killius, 2016.

Much can be said about what was in that little box, but ‘beginnings’ might be ‘a very good place to start’ given how many of the recordings contained in that box of wonders embodied career-launching events in the contributing artists’ biographies. At the very top of the box’s stack of discs lay two Baidaphon records by the legendary Laylā Murād (1918-1995). Though Murād had achieved enough fame as a teenager in one of Cairo’s top music halls to be cast in one of the earliest full length Egyptian films (al-Dhaḥāyā [The Victims], 1932, dir. Bahija Hafez and Ibrahim Lama), hers was a minor role in the silent film. She achieved a bit more notoriety when that film was reissued as a ‘talkie’ a few years later, landing her a recording deal with Baidaphon that resulted in Ḥabbayt w shuft ktīr (I've loved and seen a great deal), which was also in the box. But it was not until her 1938 collaboration with Moḥammad ʻAbd al-Wahhāb on the film Yaḥyā al-Ḥubb (Long Live Love, dir. Moḥammad Karīm) that her career as a superstar singer and actor began. Indeed, the two records at the top of the delightful box were Yā mā ʼaraqq al-nasīm (oh how soft the breeze) and Yā qalbī mālak (oh my heart, what is the matter), both written by Aḥmad Rāmī and composed by ʻAbd al-Wahhāb, and both from that film’s soundtrack.

Image of Habbayt w shuft kteer on the Baidaphon label
“Ḥabbayt w shuft ktīr” on the Baidaphon label. Recorded when she was 19 years of age, it was one of Layla Murad’s very first recordings.

Nestled among the shellacs in the box of wonders was a little 17cm disc in its original sleeve proclaiming the artist as “Om Kalsoum”, one of more than a dozen variations on the Egyptian diva’s name. The recording is “Enta fein wel ḥobb fein” which roughly translates as “love is here, and you are way over there”, a song much better known after its opening verse "ḥubb eh illi-inta gayy tʼūl 'aleh" (what love is it that you speak of). By 1960, when this song was first performed, Um Kulthūm was already well established as the pre-eminent Arab artist across the region. Indeed, at that time Egypt and Syria had united into the United Arab Republic, and Um Kulthūm had been chosen to sing the union’s national anthem. But it was the largely unknown composer of this runaway hit who skyrocketed to regional fame when it was first performed. Balīgh Ḥamdī (1931-1993) had studied music since the age of nine, spending his college years between law school and the music academy before trying his hand as a singer in the late 1950s. It was around this time that Um Kulthūm was looking for a new sound, meeting Ḥamdī at the recommendation of singer (and Misrphon label owner) Moḥamad Fawzī. In the two decades that followed the success of ḥubb eh, Ḥamdī became one of the most sought after composers in the Arab world, composing for every major artist of the mid-twentieth century as well as for radio, television, theatre and the cinema. Hip hop aficionados will be very familiar with Timbaland’s sampling of the melody from Ḥamdī’s Khusāra khusāra on Jay Z’s first major hit single, Big Pimpin’. Intellectual property enthusiasts are likely also familiar with it after Ḥamdī’s nephew sued Jay Z, Timbaland and EMI in 2007 for copyright infringement. The court summarily dismissed the case in 2015, finding that Egyptian law was not applicable, and that as a result the artists and the recording company were under no obligation to seek the permission of Ḥamdī’s family for what the family considered a debauched use of Balīgh Ḥamdī’s work.

Image of Um Kulthūm on the cover of Enta Fein wel Hobb Fein
The original sleeve of Um Kulthūm’s ḥubb eh, composed by Balīgh Ḥamdī


In addition to a host of other career-making recordings, Emile Cohen’s gift can tell the tale of another sort of beginning; the beginning of Egyptian music’s regional dominance in the interwar period. Many of those involved in the development of cultural production in Egypt since the nineteenth century were artists whose families had moved to Egypt from Greater Syria, a trend that continued well into the twentieth century. From this collection alone, some names that stand out include:

  • Ṣabāḥ, who was brought to Egypt from Mount Lebanon by filmmaker ’Āssia Dāgher and ultimately recorded over 3000 songs and performed in over 100 plays and films;
  • Moḥammad Salmān, who moved to Cairo from Mt. Lebanon to pursue a career in music but would later find his passion as an actor and filmmaker in the Egyptian capital;
  • Ḥalīm al-Rūmī, who grew up in Palestine performing as an amateur until he was sent to study at the music academy in Cairo in 1937. There, he became deeply involved in composing and performing for radio audiences before eventually becoming head of music programming at the Near East Broadcasting Service in Palestine until the expulsion of, and denial of return to, two-thirds of the Palestinian population in 1947-1948. After a few years with the broadcast service which had moved to Cyprus, he moved to Lebanon to head the music department at the Lebanese radio service al-Sharq al-Awsat;
  • Najāḥ Salām’s Beiruti father was a well-known composer and ‘ūd player and took the chanteuse, already known in Lebanon, to Cairo in 1948 to meet many of the leading musical figures of the Egyptian capital. This, of course, did wonders for her career. So much so that by the mid-1970s she was granted honorary Egyptian citizenship.
  • Sihām Rifqī who moved from Syria to Egypt for a music and film career, recording over a dozen hits before an early retirement;
    and of course
  • Farīd al-‘Aṭrash and Amal al-‘Aṭrash (aka Asmahān), brother and sister born to a notable Druze family that had led the resistance against the French occupation of Syria, moving to Egypt because of the anticolonial connections between their family and that of the Egyptian independence movement’s leader Sa‘d Zaghlūl. The siblings rose to dominate the music and musical film scene in Cairo by the 1940s.
Image of Baidaphon sleeve featuring their top recording artists
Baidaphon was a Beirut-based record label, and possibly the first homegrown music recording company in the Arab world. This sleeve from the 1940s showcases the company’s top recording artists. It is notable that all of these artists hail from Greater Syria, and all of them launched their stardom and regional celebrity in Egypt. Clockwise from the top: Asmahān, Najāḥ Salām, Ḥalīm al-Rūmī, Sihām Rifqī, Moḥammad Salmān, Ḥanān. The record in the photograph is by an Egyptian dancer of Syrian origin, Bibā ʻIzz al-Dīn, who achieved far more notoriety for her live shows in Cairo’s music halls than she did for her recorded output.

Those familiar with postcolonial dynamics will be particularly aware of just how politicised cultural battles between former coloniser and colonised can be. In the case of Arab states emerging from British, French and Italian colonial rule, and in light of the centrality of Cairo described above, the battle over national culture was also waged with an eye to Egypt. Whether in Tunisia, Iraq, or elsewhere, the mid-twentieth century witnessed an immense amount of activity that practically accepted Egyptian cultural production as the language of Arabic culture, but each of these fledgling nation-states sought to develop and elevate their own dialect within that. The dynamic between language and dialect is not only metaphor; any composer in the interwar period who wanted to produce 'serious' music had to do so in either classical Arabic or an Egyptian dialect, while other dialects were reserved for their own folklore. After the post-WWII wave of postcolonial independence, composers and lyricists beyond the confines of Cairo sought a legitimacy for their own dialects, including other Egyptian dialects, as ones that could convey a cultivated urbanity.

The recordings in this collection help tell that story as it unfolded in Lebanon. The early recordings by Ṣabāḥ and Wadī‘ al-Ṣāf ī in the collection typify the folkloric bent of the music recorded in Lebanon well into the 1940s. One of the more significant recordings in the collection is the song Waynik yā Laylā (Where are you Layla) by Sāmī al-Ṣaydāwī, who originally composed the song for Lebanese singer Kamāl al-Ṭawīl. Both Ṣaydāwī and Ṭawīl had built careers performing in the Egyptian dialect to audiences in both Egypt and Greater Syria; Waynik yā Laylā was one of the early non-folkloric songs performed and recorded in the Syro-Lebanese dialect, forming part of a trend that would continue and grow over the decades that followed.

Image of the iconic cover art of Fairūz and the Raḥbānī brothers’ 1952 hit: ʻItāb (reproach)
The iconic cover art of Fairūz and the Raḥbānī brothers’ 1952 hit: ʻItāb (reproach)



The artists who did the most to propel Lebanese song into the more exalted register regionally all had a part to play in yet another item in the box of wonders. The song ʻItāb (reproach), appearing on the Zodephone label in the early 1950s, was an instant hit, one that proved momentous for the emergence of Beirut as Cairo’s main musical rival. The vocalist, Nuhād Haddād, had been 'discovered' a few years earlier by Mohamad Flayfel, composer of such songs as Mawṭini (‘my homeland’, the popularly accepted national anthem of Palestine, and the post-2003-occupation anthem of Iraq) and Ḥumāt al-Diyār (‘defenders of the home,’ the national anthem of Syria). Flayfel encouraged Haddād to study music at the conservatory, and to immerse herself in that repository of vocal technique at the heart of ecstatic Arabic song: Qur’anic recitation (tajwīd). While at the conservatory, Ḥalīm al-Rūmī heard her sing and decided to take her under his wing, introducing her to his friends the Raḥbānī brothers, ‘Assī and Manṣūr. Rūmī also decided to pick out a stage name for her, one that means turquoise, and that millions of people now associate with their morning coffee: Fairūz.

As a romance blossomed between ‘Assī Raḥbānī and Nuhād (they married in 1955), so did their creative collaboration, the first fruit of which was the song ʻItāb that is on this recording. The airing of this song on Lebanese and then Syrian radio in late 1952 launched Fairūz’s regional fame, enabling her to sign her first recording contract with Zodephone. Indeed, Zodephone's early success as a record company was based on the company's recordings of Fairuz songs.

All that’s left to say is a big warm thank you to Emile Cohen and ‘Ezra Hakkāk for such wonderful beginnings!

 

Written by Hazem Jamjoum, Gulf Audio Curator and Cataloguer, British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Project (BLQF), which produces the Qatar Digital Library. Follow the BLQF Project @BLQatar

Follow The British Library’s World and Traditional Music team @BL_WorldTrad

Follow Unlocking Our Sound Heritage updates @BLSoundHeritage

16 September 2019

Recording of the week: Whooper Swans take flight

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

Swans are often portrayed as elegant and beautiful birds, and while they can be very aggressive, they are certainly among my favourite birds to see and hear. So it was an absolute joy when I had the chance to catalogue many reels of swan recordings. I enjoyed many of the recordings in these reels, including the stunning wingbeats of Mute Swans in flight and even a heartbeat which I previously selected as a recording of the week last year.

19th century illustration of a Whooper Swan19th Century Illustration of a Whooper Swan (Biodiversity Heritage Library CC-BY)

This recording of Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus) by John Corbett was captured in the tranquility of the Swedish lakes. Two whoopers can be heard bellowing to each other. An impressive sound on its own, but here the sound diffuses, reverberates and echoes throughout the vast mountainous surroundings so perfectly that it’s as though the landscape was designed especially for these calls. Or perhaps these vocalisations evolved in this habitat to resonate further for long distance communication. The pair take flight as the recording plays on, beautifully demonstrating the Doppler effect as they fly past the microphones and out to the horizon, their calls gradually fading into the echoes from the environment. Just stunning!

Whooper swans recorded by John Corbett (WS1734 C5)

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

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

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19 August 2019

Recording of the week: securing the right to read

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

Along with many other libraries around the world, the British Library celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride this summer, with staff from St Pancras and Boston Spa joining the parades in York and London.

This Recording of the Week takes us back to 1985, when Pride was a very different kind of event with a much stronger political tone. With around 10,000 people in attendance, the 1985 march was considered to be the biggest to date. In comparison, an estimated 1.5 million people gathered in central London to mark the annual parade this year.

This recording comes from a collection of brief street interviews conducted at the 1985 Pride March, through which we can gain an insight into the atmosphere of the event and the thoughts and preoccupations of those attending. A recurring concern were the raids and seizure of imported books by UK Customs and Excise, which most famously involved independent bookseller Gay’s the Word in Bloomsbury, but also affected other organisations that sold or distributed gay and lesbian reading material. More than one hundred imported titles were deemed ‘indecent or obscene’ under the 1876 Customs Consolidation Act, and confiscated.

Photograph of rows of books in a bookshopPhoto of neatly stacked books placed in front of a wall of bookshelves by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash. Click here to view image credit.

In this short clip, a marcher from the Gay Christian Movement, a charity founded in 1976, describes the impact  of this state censorship and the expensive legal battle against it, and shares their thoughts on our right as people in a free society to read and, most importantly, to choose what we read.

Securing the right to read (C456/121)

Both the Gay Christian Movement and Gay’s the Word faced charges of conspiring to import indecent material, but mounted successful opposition to these acts of repression with the strong support of both authors and publishers and the wider community of readers.

Technology has altered the way in which many of us engage with and access reading material, but the sense of community and solidarity that can be created through literature, particularly for LGBTQ+ and other marginalised populations, remains just as important. This theme will be explored over several events at the British Library in the upcoming season, including Banned Books Week in September, which examines censorship and other barriers to self-expression. More information and tickets can be found on our events page.

Discover more LGBTQ history at the British Library.

This recording belongs to the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive, which has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project

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

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12 August 2019

Recording of the week: women conscientious objectors of WW2

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

C880 is a fabulously intriguing collection of interviews, conducted by Rena Feld, of twenty-nine women who either were or are conscientious objectors. Their reasons varied – religious, moral, political – but they held firm in the belief that war, for any reason, was intrinsically wrong.

Before I began listening to this collection, my knowledge of conscientious objectors during the Second World War was limited. I just knew they were men.

Weirdly, the concept of women conscientious objectors never occurred to me, simply for the reason that they were exempt from conscription. What I didn’t know though, was that any single woman between the ages of 20 and 30 could be called upon to report for war work.[1]

British Women's Land Army recruitment posterBritish Women's Land Army recruitment poster, depicting a woman with pitchfork, captioned 'For a healthy, happy job join the Women's Land Army', circa 1940 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Some found that this was in direct opposition to their personal beliefs and refused. The results varied from fines to job loss and for some, like Barbara Roads (C880/02), imprisonment. And then there are others, like Angela Sinclair-Loutit (C880/23) who worked in war hospitals during air raids.

All of the interviews in this collection have some great stories behind them. They really highlight what living and working during WW2 was like, as seen through the eyes of people who just wanted peace. However, I would like to talk about just one of these women.

Enter Diana McClelland (C880/04).

Diana McClelland  (C880/04)

Diana McClelland was a physiotherapist, so exempt from war work summons, who specialised in treating children. From her interview, it’s not clear whether or not she actually managed to register as a conscientious objector, but she definitely wanted to.

During the Battle of Britain, there was a Government supported organisation called the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (C.O.R.B). This group evacuated children to the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, with the plan that when the war was over they would return home to their families.[2] 

In 1940, in her own words, Diana just wanted a short holiday to Canada. So, she boarded a C.O.R.B ship as a volunteer to accompany the children. Unfortunately, she boarded the SS Volendam and never made it to Canada.[3]

Auxiliary Territorial Services recruitment posterAuxiliary Territorial Services (ATS) recruitment poster (The National Archives via Wikimedia Commons)

Spoiler alert: she did make it to Glasgow and none of the kids on board were lost.

The ship was torpedoed by the German submarine U-60, and the passengers and crew had to be evacuated and rescued by the accompanying ships. She gives quite a frank description of the events; the ship listing, waiting for the lifeboats, of the crew shouting in Dutch and the children oblivious to the danger. According to the captain, it was the most orderly evacuation he’d ever overseen, something he attributed to the passengers not knowing Dutch. 

When Diana McClelland returned to Glasgow, holiday attempt foiled, she was asked if she would be willing to try again.

Naturally, she said yes.

The only reason she didn’t was because by the time she was meant to sail, the SS City of Benares had also been attacked, this time with a large number of casualties.[4]

I won't lie, if I’d been on a torpedoed ship I don’t think I’d be willing to run the risk again. No matter how pretty Canada is. Which I suppose means these women were braver than I’ll ever be, and I admire that.

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[1] Women of the Second World War https://www.gov.uk/government/news/the-women-of-the-second-world-war

[2] National Archives Catalogue https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C493

[3] BBC WW2 People’s Archive newspaper https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/34/a4297034.shtml

[4] “Remembering the SS City of Benares tragedy 70 years on” by Michelle Murphy, BBC News, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-11332108

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