Sound and vision blog

551 posts categorized "Sound and vision"

26 September 2022

Recording of the week: Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

This week’s post comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings.

Photo of Mahatma Gandhi in 1931

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma (‘Great-souled’) Gandhi, led India’s campaign to rid itself of British rule.

In October 1931, during his fifth and final visit to London, Gandhi was invited by the Columbia Gramophone Company to make a record.

Columbia LBE 50 disc label

He declined to speak about politics but offered instead to speak on spiritual matters, in particular Hinduism, which he said was ‘the religion of humanity and includes the best of all the religions known to me’.

Listen to the voice of Gandhi

Download Gandhi transcript

Gandhi’s talk had appeared previously in print, in slightly longer form, in his weekly journal Young India (Vol. X, No. 41, Thursday, 11 October 1928) under the title ‘God Is’.

20 September 2022

Recording of the week: The Rite of Spring

This week’s post comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist.

Photo of Columbia LX 119 disc label

The following post is inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s famous work, The Rite of Spring. The audio featured below is an excerpt from a 12” 78 rpm disc from our archive, released on Columbia Records in 1929. Stravinksy himself conducts the Symphonic Orchestra of Paris.

I was drawn to this recording after recently going to see a revival of Pina Bausch’s 1975 staging of The Rite of Spring at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. This was performed by a company of dancers from African countries.

Pina Bausch (1940-2009) was a German dancer and choreographer who was enormously influential in the fields of dance and performance. She worked in the tradition of ‘Tanztheater’ (literally ‘dance theatre’), which marries many different creative skills.

The performance was not very long; it ran for about 45 minutes with no interval. While I was watching it, I kept thinking about the meaning of the title, and its association with the spectacle I was seeing. I found I was often unsure of what exactly I was looking at or whether there was an explicit plotline to follow. It looked to me like a metaphor of seasons passing, of a romantic relationship, but mostly, of an emotional battle framed through an erotically charged dance performance.

The colour red was used throughout the production. Red is the colour of tension, of a bullfight, or, perhaps, of sensual attraction. The pure aesthetic of the movements, and their role in narrating the plot, are probably the things I remember the most. The whole performance revolves around the intrinsic, entangled relationship between two disciplines: theatre and dance.

Ultimately, Bausch’s choreography tells a story of sacrifice. The woman with the red dress is hunted to death by the other men and women on stage.

There is a pervasive emotional tension that is difficult to evade. Whilst the recording we are posting today is not the version used in the stage performance, it relays that said emotional tension, which connects the two works of Bausch and Stravinsky.

Listen to The Rite of Spring (excerpt)

Pina Bausch’s legacy resides in her conception of a new language of dance. She is remembered as one of the most innovative choreographers of all times. Since her death in 2009, her works continue to be performed around the world. It is a testament to Bausch’s interpretative abilities that her choreography for The Rite of Spring continues to reach new audiences, spanning several decades and several continents in the process.

05 September 2022

Recording of the week: Oskar Nedbal (1874-1930)

This week’s post comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

Photo of the Czech Quartet

Above: The Bohemian Quartet in 1895. Left to right: Karel Hoffmann (1st violinist); Hanuš Wihan (violoncellist); Oskar Nedbal (violist); and Josef Suk (2nd violinist). Photographer unknown.

A name rarely heard today, Oskar Nedbal was a talented musician who excelled in many areas of musical life. He first focused on the violin at the Prague Conservatory from 1885 to 1892, where he also studied composition with Dvořák, before moving to viola. He was the founder member and violist in the Bohemian (later Czech) Quartet where Josef Suk was the second violin.

The Bohemian Quartet raised the standards of quartet playing to an international level and Nedbal sometimes played the piano in the group. They first performed in London in 1897 and upon their return a year later were described by one critic as ‘beyond all praise’. However, Nedbal had to leave the Quartet in 1906 as he apparently absconded with the wife of the first violinist Karel Hoffmann.

Nedbal was also a conductor of repute and from 1896 to 1906 was one of the first conductors of the famous Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. He became renowned outside of his homeland, touring as a guest conductor.

Photo of Oskar Nedbal

Above: Oskar Nedbal, 1901. Portrait by Šechtl and Voseček studios. From Wikimedia Commons. Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Rendered here in b&w rather than RGB colour.

In addition to his instrumental and conducting activities, Nedbal was a popular composer and many of his operettas and ballets written before the First World War met with great success not only in Vienna and Berlin, but throughout the world. At the 1898 London concert mentioned above, Hoffmann and Ilona Eibenschütz played Nedbal’s Violin Sonata. His orchestral works continued to be performed in London in the early years of the twentieth century.

Nedbal settled in Vienna in 1907 where he founded the Wiener Tonkünstler-Orchester. He made two sides with them for Deutsche Grammophon in 1910. He also recorded as a solo violist in the same year. A few years later, around 1913, he made four more recordings with the Tonkünstler-Orchester for the Anker label including the first movement of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. He also recorded two waltzes by Johann Strauss, one of which, Wiener Blut, you can hear below.

Photo of Anker disc label

Listen to Wiener Blut

Nedbal returned to Prague in the early 1920s after the formation of the Czechoslovak Republic but his style of composition was viewed as dated and out of fashion. He continued to visit London, conducting the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra, accompanying violinist Jan Kubelik in 1921.

During the 1920s, Nedbal was Head of Opera at the Slovak National Theatre and worked for Radio Bratislava. Unfortunately, he fell into financial difficulties and committed suicide by jumping out of a window of the Zagreb Opera House in 1930.

29 August 2022

Recording of the week: Learning garden birdsong with Charles and Heather Myers

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

Charles and Heather Myers

Above: Charles and Heather Myers, used with permission from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. Photographer unknown.

Charles and Heather Myers were a husband-and-wife recording duo. They met through their shared love of nature and sound recordings. Their impressive collection here at the library (BL shelfmark: WA 2010/017) consists of a whopping 559 open reel tapes and over 5,000 recordings. All are meticulously edited, catalogued, and organised by species and subject. The duo’s dedication and technical prowess make every recording in this collection a joy to listen to, and the time they spent organising and documenting made it a pleasure to digitise and catalogue as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. Any recordist should aspire to have a collection half as good as this!

Charles and Heather were both active members of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society (WSRS) and regularly met at field meetings before they got married and set up home together in Shropshire. They were always more than happy to share their knowledge and recordings with anyone interested, and often sent in material to the WSRS journals and members’ recording compilations, as well as entering, and often winning, the society’s annual recording competition. Heather took over as the society’s secretary from 1983 to 1994. Both Charles and Heather’s obituaries in the Wildlife Sound journals are filled with kind tributes from members who saw them as friends and mentors.

Heather with reflector

Above: Heather Myers with reflector, used with permission from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. Photographer unknown.

As well as contributing to the WSRS, they often submitted recordings and prepared pieces to their local talking newspaper for the blind. Many of these submissions are preserved in the collection, including this piece titled ‘Garden Birds No. 3’. In it, Mr and Mrs Myers welcome the listener into their garden in Shrewsbury, and introduce them to some of the regular avian visitors and their vocalisations. In this excerpt, Charles explains the difference between song thrush and mistle thrush songs. The full-length recording, archived here as British Library call number WA 2010/017/502 C6, also features the sounds of magpies, crows, house sparrows and dunnocks, with the latter two introduced by Heather. This is one of many precious recordings from the collection in which Heather and Charles’s passion and personality shines through.

Listen to Garden Birds No. 3

Download Charles and Heather Myers transcript

Charles with reflector

Above: Charles Myers with reflector, used with permission from the Wildlife Sound Recording Society. Photographer unknown.

Sadly the recording ends abruptly. The piece is incomplete, and neither ‘Garden Birds No.1’ nor ‘Garden Birds No. 2’ can be found elsewhere in the archive.

If you enjoyed this recording and would like to hear more from Charles and Heather Myers, a 60-minute mix of ambient sounds and talk from the collection can be found in the NTS Radio archive.

22 August 2022

Recording of the week: Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)

This week’s post comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings.

Photo of Sarojini Naidu in profile

Above: Image from the 1928 edition of The Sceptred Flute: Songs of India (Dodd, Mead & Company, New York), first published in 1917. Photographer unknown.

For this week’s archive selection we present a recording by the Indian poet Sarojini Naidu.

As well as a poet, Naidu was a political activist. She was close to Mahatma Gandhi and joined his campaign of civil resistance against the British occupiers of India. In 1925 Naidu became the first female president of the Indian National Congress, the political party that led the independence movement.

‘Awake (“To India”)’ is taken from a 10” 78 rpm disc issued by the Columbia company. It was recorded and made in the UK, circa December 1931. Naidu would have been in London around this time. With Gandhi, she attended the Second Round Table Conference, which ran from 7 September to 1 December 1931. The three Round Table Conferences of 1930-1932 were convened by the British Government and Indian political leaders to discuss possible changes to the constitution in India.

‘Awake’ (or ‘Awake!’, as it was titled in print) was dedicated to the Muslim leader and eventual founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The poem was recited by Naidu at the end of a public speech to the Indian National Congress, in Bombay (now Mumbai), in December 1915.

It is an appeal to all Indians to unite against British rule.

What is clear only in the published poem is that the final series of exhortations, beginning, ‘Mother!...’ are each attributed to different religious groups. This gives an effect something like a Greek chorus.

The closing lines are credited to ‘All Creeds’.

Photo of Columbia disc label

Above: Columbia LBE 51. British Library ref. 1CS0092386.

Our original disc is not in the best condition, so we offer two versions of the recording. The first version is a ‘warts and all’ archival dubbing.

Listen to Sarojini Naidu - original

Download 'Awake!' transcript

The second version has been - quite dramatically - de-noised through the application of a new machine learning model developed by the Aalto University School of Electrical Engineering.

Note: the model was ‘trained’ using recordings of 78 rpm coarse-groove noise profiles and clean recordings of classical music. So we are not really using it as intended here, given that our disc is spoken word, not music.

Listen to Sarojini Naidu - de-noised

The paper by E. Moliner and V. Välimäki - ‘A two-stage U-Net for high-fidelity denoising of historical recordings’, in Proc. IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing (ICASSP), Singapore, May, 2022, may be of interest to those of a technical bent.

With thanks to Karl Jenkins, Audio Engineer, and Adam Tovell, Head of Technical Services.

15 August 2022

Recording of the week: Wind in yacht rigging

This week's post comes from Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator.

Photo of sailing boat masts

Wind is usually the bane of a sound recordist’s life. It can ruin an otherwise perfect recording.

Thankfully, this recording of Scotland’s Largs Harbour on an overcast September evening is only improved by the gusty weather. An eerie chiming rises from the harbour as the wind whistles through the rigging of the moored yachts. The recording was made in 'pseudo-binaural' stereo, that is to say, using two microphones either side of a carry bag.

The British Library ref. is WA 2020/004/006/018. 

Listen to the sound of the wind in yacht rigging

This is part of a small collection made by Richard Beard during a five-day sailing trip around the Inner Hebrides in September 2007. The collection also includes the sound of rain on the yacht’s plastic cockpit cover, as well as the vessel under sail.

01 August 2022

Recording of the week: Women’s work on the record

This week’s post comes from Myriam Fellous-Sigrist, Data protection and Rights Clearance Officer.

Women picking netted gooseberries in Bedfordshire  1941

Above: Wartime Activities, women picking fruit, Bedfordshire, 1941. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Source: LSE Library.

One of the many joys of oral history is learning about unexpected topics. Whether recording an interview or discovering another interviewer’s work, oral history - and especially life story recordings - is full of information that we would not suspect if we were to only read the catalogue records and summaries.

In the last few months, I have worked on three collections of interview cassettes that were preserved by the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. These are An Oral History of British Horticulture (British Library ref. C1029), An Oral History of the Post Office (C1007) and the Hall-Carpenter Oral History Archive (C456). Most of the interviews are several hours long, sometimes up to 13 hours. Unsurprisingly, they cover much more than the topics of horticulture, the Post Office, or gay and lesbian experience in the United Kingdom. Some of the transversal themes are fascinating to observe, and one of them is women’s work in the mid-20th century, across social classes and geographical areas.

A large part of my work as an UOSH Rights Officer is to review newly digitised and catalogued sound recordings before deciding whether they are suitable for online open access. When it comes to oral history recordings, conducting a sensitivity review requires paying attention to the interviewee’s family members, key life events and relationships. Each time, I am reminded of the wealth of sociological and historical information that is usually captured in the first hour of most interviews, which often depicts the origins of two parents and four grandparents, as well as their occupations and roles inside and outside the home.

Listening to these recordings shines a light on the power of sound archives, and on the limits of their written description. The four extracts below show the importance of diving into the audio version of any interview, to go beyond the misleading categories that are inevitably created by cataloguing and summarising. This includes the simplistic, and often wrong, category of 'housewife' used to describe an interviewee’s mother. Often the interview summary also hides the many paid and unpaid occupations that many women had in the 20th century. These jobs are revealed when oral history narrators talk about their mothers, aunts, grandmothers and themselves. Although my selection is only of female narrators, the shift in women’s and men’s roles is also described through these personal accounts, as can be heard in the last extract.

My selection starts with Pamela Schwerdt, who was co-interviewed for the Oral History of British Horticulture project in 2002. She was born in Esher, Surrey in 1931. Her father was a naval officer and her mother’s occupation is described as 'none given' in our catalogue. Yet, the first part of the interview unveils a busy trio of women who, between themselves, set up and chaired for a century the National Wildlife Society. Its success culminated in Pamela’s mother receiving a CBE in 1986 for her work as President of this Society.

In this clip Pamela talks about the three Presidents of the National Wildlife Society. The British Library ref. is C1029/08.

Listen to Pamela Schwerdt

Download Pamela Schwerdt transcript

In the same oral history collection dedicated to horticulture, Peggy Cole described in 2003 the many paid jobs that her mother had in the 1940s and 1950s. Despite being catalogued as a 'housewife', her mother worked as a hospital cleaner, a woodcutter and fruit picker. In this extract, Peggy, who was born in 1935, recounts how her mother worked after the birth of her last son in 1950 as one of a hundred other female seasonal workers near Easton, Suffolk. The British Library ref. is C1029/11.

Listen to Peggy Cole

Download Peggy Cole transcript

In the third extract, we hear about Gladys Hillier who worked as one of the few postwomen in the 1940s in Gloucester, where she was born in 1917. In the interview that she gave in 2002 as part of the Oral History of the Post Office project, she described how she went from working in an aircraft factory during World War II, to delivering the mail in 1947 until her retirement in 1982. The British Library ref. is c1007/57.

Listen to Gladys Hillier

Download Gladys Hillier transcript

Women’s new paid professional activities during World War 2 are discussed in our fourth interview. Jackie Forster, who was born in 1926 in London, reflected on the impact this social change had within her own family. In an interview for the Hall-Carpenter Oral History Archive, she explained how her mother worked as an ambulance driver during the war and started making money in the Stock Exchange to support her two children. Jackie’s mother became the breadwinner after her husband, who was an army doctor posted in India, was declared missing in 1939. In this extract, Jackie describes the new family roles and dynamic, and how these had to be accepted by her father, who eventually returned to England in 1945. The British Library ref. is C456/87.

Listen to Jackie Forster

Download Jackie Forster transcript

25 July 2022

Recording of the week: What does the UK sound like?

This week’s post comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator, Literary and Creative Recordings.

Paul Cheese in Merthyr Tydfil

Above: Paul Cheese in Merthyr Tydfil. Photo copyright © Paul Cheese.

This week we are pleased to feature a video from musician Paul Cheese which showcases a singularly unusual creative project. It is a musical piece he made from over 4,000 ‘found sounds’ recorded on a 5,000-mile bike ride around the UK in 2019.

Download 'Paul Cheese closing comments' transcript

In Paul’s own words:

Carrying a mobile recording setup on my bike, I cycled almost 5,000 miles to every region of the UK, with the goal of capturing the sound of people, places and record in unusual locations. During the trip I recorded and captured the sounds of people, their friendliness, the sound of the elements interacting with architecture and nature, and the activities of everyday life - over 11,000 sounds. I used around 4,000 of these to create a four and a half-minute piece of music.

The sounds of people's workplaces and tools, hobbies, art, and the different rhythms of different materials - outdoor recording the echoes bouncing off concrete, or through tunnels - all combined to create a unique reflection of ‘The Sound of the UK’.

Paul has kindly donated to the archive a high-quality version of the video shown here, plus a wav-format audio file, and an additional ‘making of’ video. A second audio file, of 200 people each pronouncing the name of their respective home city, town or village, has been lodged with our Accents & Dialects section.

Paul Cheese in Shropshire

Above: Paul Cheese in Shropshire. Photo copyright © Paul Cheese.

Via email, I asked Paul a few questions about his project.

Steve Cleary [SC]: Did you camp outside each night or stay in hotels or B&Bs? And how was that?

Paul Cheese [PC]: Sometimes I would be on the road cycling and recording for 16 hours and most evenings I'd spend a couple of hours backing everything up, cataloguing all of the day’s captured media, writing a diary/blog and recharging the cameras/recording gear. So a pillow for my head and somewhere safe to put the bike and recording equipment for the night was required. I mainly stayed in cheap B&Bs and hostels. Most days I wouldn’t have any accommodation booked until the evening.  This was because very early on in the journey I realised that sticking to the planned route would be impossible - the reason  being that when I talked with people along the way they would suggest great-sounding places for recording. Fantastic!, but it was often a completely different way than the way I'd planned to go. So I quit the planning thing and although I had an idea of the main direction I was heading, I just headed where people suggested. This did mean that sometimes I hadn’t booked accommodation until 11.30 pm, and most of the time I didn’t have a clue where I was going, which added a whole different level to the adventure.

SC: How long were you on the road for?

PC: The cycle took me just over three months, longer than planned because of the detours to capture people's sound suggestions.

SC: What was the most interesting, enjoyable or surprising place you visited?

PC: I met so many amazing people and collected thousands of fantastic sounds that take me right back to the moment when I hear them. But there is one moment, that when it happened at the end of a long day it made me feel euphoric, emotional and lucky. As mentioned, sometimes I would arrive quite late to my accommodation. But this meant that some days I would arrive after everything was closed. So, no food. I was cycling in Wales and was staying above a pub.

It had been a long hilly day and I had eaten all my supplies. When I arrived, everywhere was closed and the bar didn’t even have any peanuts. But there were a few locals at the bar, we got talking and they said, ‘You’ve been cycling all day, we can’t have you going without food'. So one guy went home and got me some bread and butter; one lady got me some eggs; another went home and got me sausages; and one lady said, 'I’ve got some vegetables, you can have them too.' I felt like I was in a film, how amazing was that? I was so appreciative of their kindness and food.

During all of my bike adventures I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of people, and to top it all, when I left the pub in the morning, the front door made a fantastic sound, which I recorded and used in the final track.

SC: What were your favourites of the sounds you recorded?

PC: I collected thousands of sounds, just by having a good listen to the world around me.

How can I choose just one? There were so many great sounds and every sound has a story:

the beat of firemen retracting ladders in Suffolk;

the rhythm of chalk marks as the sign writer marked out the new lettering at a carriage restorers in Ballantrea on the west coast of Scotland;

lock gates in Leicester;

curlews and electric fences on the Orkney isles;

the kettle drum-like sound of metal girders being dropped in Cornwall;

the breathing of the shingle on Brighton seafront;

waves on steps in Rhyl;

footsteps on the beach of the North coast of Guernsey;

crop sprinklers in Shropshire;

the winding of cable on the transporter bridge into Middlesbrough;

Hull Cathedral bells and the flicker of bunting;

the favourite chord of an organ master in Newark-on-Trent;

the one-o -clock gun in Edinburgh;

clog dancers in Leeds;

kicking the bar in Aberystwyth;

the wind whistling in the rigging of boats at Sandwich bay, Kent;

the scrape of bull dozers pushing metal into compactors on the north coast of Wales;

Manchester town hall clock;

the rhythm of builders re-pointing a wall in Somerset;

the sound decay of the reverb in an old railway tunnel in West Yorkshire;

the sounds of Rossy boatyard at Clydebank as a plane flew over;

a Spitfire fly-by in Folkestone on the Kent coast;

the audio tones of the different sluice gates and weirs on the Kennet and Avon canal;

rhythms and clanks of metal works in Keighley;

an old man with a 2 piece metal walking stick in Cambridge;

a motorbike dealer’s favourite engine idling in Norfolk;

‘relay for life’ walkers footsteps in Barnstaple…

There were so many different bird songs and the sound of people’s accents.

If I had to choose from a cycling point of listening/view, it would have to be the sound of a strong wind humming bass lines through barbed wire fences.

From my experience, the loudest sparrows were on Jersey: the loudest blackbirds were in Norfolk; the loudest seagulls were in Devon (Sidmouth); and the most melodic blackbirds are from the northeast of England up to around Dundee.

SC: Were there advantages to doing this by bike?

PC: The brilliant thing about being on a bike is that you can stop and listen. Here’s an example.

I was cycling EuroVelo 1 in Scotland, ah, the amazing quiet! It was so quiet that I could sense this low rumble… the kinda sound you can feel. People say about following your nose - well I followed my ears…

I followed my ears for about a mile. Eventually I found it: the low sub bass was coming from a water pumping station. Which incidentally was humming the note of D.

There were some interesting things I noticed from the recordings (not highly scientific but interesting all the same). From the sounds I recorded, 30% blackbird calls on the east of the UK were at 98 bpm, in the west, 108 bpm. Three out of four UK builders render a wall at 108bpm.

From the thousands of sounds I collected, the most prominent tempo across the UK was 98 bpm, then 110 bpm, then 122 bpm. I reflected this by the three different tempo changes within the final piece.

I also found that the prominent key was F# major, then D major and A# major (I found that D major was the prominent key of Kent). I also used this in the different movements of the final piece of music.

SC: Would you consider doing something like this again?

PC: Absolutely!  I’m in the middle of creating my third solo album Just for The Record Three. This is being written and recorded on 12 worldwide cycle missions with one song being written on each trip.

I’m looking forward to how the third album will come together and the inspirational sounds and locations I will find on the way.

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