THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

373 posts categorized "Sound and vision"

06 April 2020

Recording of the week: 'I didn’t come into the jungle to look at trees and lianas!'

Add comment

This week’s selection comes from Andrea Zarza Canova, Curator of World & Traditional Music.

Cover of CD release 'Healing, Feasting and Magical Ritual. Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea'
Cover of 'Healing, Feasting and Magical Ritual. Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea' (TSCD918)

Former senior producer for BBC Radio 3 John Thornley made this field recording in 1987, in Kei Village, near Mount Hagen, in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. The field recordings resulting from his three month stay in Papua New Guinea form part of the British Library Sound Archive collections. A selection from his collection was published on the Topic Records CD ‘Healing, Feasting and Magical Ritual. Songs & Dances from Papua New Guinea’ as part of the Topic World Series, done in collaboration with the World and Traditional Music section. The ‘Hunting Song of the Moge and Kopi clans’ features nine unnamed performers from Kei Village playing a song on bamboo flutes. Thornley’s liner notes about the song and players hide an interesting story inaccessible to the ear. I recommend listening first, to sink into the song’s hypnotic melody and then reading Thornley’s words about the song, which reveal a surprising layer of insight.

Hunting Song of the Moge & Kopi Clans

‘This was one of several songs that this group had arranged for bamboo flute, staggering their individual breathing so the song could be played seamlessly. This song is about a hunter who has no luck, and sings: ‘I didn’t come into the jungle to look at trees and lianas, I came to hunt for possum and birds!’ The four holes of the flute are played with the first two fingers of each hand. One player had a missing second finger on his right hand (in the area it is still a tradition to chop off one or more fingers as a sign of mourning for a close relative) so was playing with his first and third fingers.’

If you want to listen to a broader selection of recordings from the CDs published by Topic Records, you can listen to 'Topic World Series', our tenth programme for NTS Radio.

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

30 March 2020

Recording of the week: Dusting books

Add comment

This week's selection comes from Camille Johnston, Oral History Assistant Archivist.

Three men dusting books
Three men dusting books, one bent over © New York Public Library Archives, The New York Public Library

John Milne, born in 1929 in Aberdeen, worked for Bisset’s Bookshop in the 1950s. In his life story recording he reflected on changing approaches to bookselling and book handling. He talks about the importance of looking inside the books on the shelves, and argues that bookselling has now become about retail rather than about expertise. ‘Books are now sold like bars of soap, and that’s not my phrase, it came out years and years ago in one of the marketing ploys.’ In the following audio extract he takes us through his method of dusting the books in order to get to know the stock.

John Milne recalls the value of dusting books

People don’t handle books in the same way they used to. In the old days you would dust the books, and that’s the best way to get to know your stock. The discipline of dusting, every morning you would start on the shelf where you had stopped the day before, and you would pick up a book and you would have your duster or your brush, and you look at the title of the book and you look at the author and you look the publisher, and if you are standing still you would open it and read, a couple of pages, and to try to get some hold of the book and say, right, that’s it, back on the shelf. And work your way along the shelf, and you would maybe do two sections that morning. And after a week somebody comes in and says, a book, you say, ‘Oh I saw that yesterday,’ and you can stretch out your hand and have that book. It’s not done nowadays. There isn’t the discipline of learning about the inside of books. Maybe I’m denigrating present book staff but I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s the depth of knowledge that was there in the great old bookshops like Thin’s, Wallace, and still is, I don’t want to denigrate anybody, but Thin’s is a great bookshop, full of people who were wrapped up in books and did nothing else but books. Blackwell’s was the same, Heffers was the same, any of the big important shops of the Thirties are more or less still there.

John Milne was recorded by National Life Stories for Book Trade Lives in 1999. The interviewer was Sue Bradley. For more information about this recording see the Sound and Moving Image Catalogue.

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

23 March 2020

Recording of the week: Richard Attenborough on Michael Powell

Add comment

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

Richard Attenborough at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival
Richard Attenborough at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. Photo by gdcgraphics at https://www.flickr.com/photos/gdcgraphics/ CC BY 2.0

In a previous blog post I introduced the Anwar Brett collection. This comprises interviews and press conferences featuring film directors and actors. The collection numbers around 2400 tape cassettes and CD-Rs. This 'recording of the week' marks the completion of the cataloguing of the collection. Thanks are due to my colleague Trevor Hoskins for this.

The recording features actor and director Richard Attenborough. It is a short excerpt from a 33-minute press conference given in Leicester, 4 October 2007.Ostensibly a press conference on Attenborough's last film Closing the Ring, its sensitive handling by Quentin Falk covers much more.

Attenborough discusses the difficulty of getting finance for film-making; his childhood in Leicester, and the two Kindertransport refugee children adopted by his parents; his coping with the loss of a daughter and granddaughter in the 2004 tsunami; his collection of Picasso ceramics, and their loan to Leicester Art Gallery in memory of his granddaughter; and his hopes of dying in harness on the film set. His wife, actress Sheila Sim, aka Poppy, was present in the audience.

In this clip Anwar Brett asks a question about the film A Matter of Life and Death. This prompts Attenborough to recall his first meeting with ‘the genius of British cinema’, director Michael Powell.

Richard Attenborough on Michael Powell

With thanks to Trevor Hoskins.

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

16 March 2020

Recording of the week: 'I didn't catch any of that!'

Add comment

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

In this audio clip, Iona McDonald describes a familiar experience – failure to understand someone from a different part of the country or English-speaking world. Extremely broad dialect speakers can occasionally seem unintelligible, even to speakers of closely related varieties, as this amusing anecdote illustrates:

Anecdote about Scots dialect

We used to have some friends from the Falkirk area who used to come up and stay with us every year in the summer time and they had a very very strong accent very strong Central Scots accent and Sandy had been playing outside and came running in very windy day came running in and he said to my mother yir streetcher’s fawin doun yir claes’re on the grund and we all looked at the poor boy blankly and he repeated himself again yir streetcher's fawin doun yir claes’re on the grund and we were still making absolutely nothing of it we had to say right slow it down Sandy and yir streetcher's fawin doun and yir claes are on the grund so oh right we've got it now it meant your clothes-pole has fallen down and your clothes are on the ground and he just stomped his foot and looked so put out and said yous are aw too polite.

Iona MacDonald
Iona MacDonald © BBC 2005

Dialects differ systematically from other varieties in terms of vocabulary, grammar and accent (i.e. pronunciation). Sandy’s animated description here contains words, such as streetcher [= ‘clothes-pole’] and claes [= ‘clothes’], a non-standard pronoun, yous, and numerous localised pronunciations that render his Central Scots dialect incomprehensible to family friends from Skye. Yous occurs in a number of Scottish dialects and indeed in places like Merseyside and Tyneside, but Standard English no longer distinguishes between singular and plural ‘you’. Sandy’s pronunciation of doun, grund, aw and fawin are also typical of many Scottish accents and, to a lesser degree, of varieties in North East England.

This passage comes from a BBC Voices Recording in Portree, Isle of Skye, and is one of 300 conversations about language, accent and dialect made by the BBC in 2004-5.

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

09 March 2020

Recording of the week: The dominion of the salmon

Add comment

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

Caitlín Maude was an Irish poet, playwright, actress and traditional singer from Rosmuc, Connemara, in the west of Ireland. Her version of the traditional Irish song ‘Liam O Raghallaigh’ was recorded by Peter Kennedy in London in 1968, when she was 27 years old.

Catilín_Maude
Caitilín Maude, an file © Daithi Mac Lochlainn

Maude was raised in the Gaelic language and sang unaccompanied in the sean-nós style, which means ‘in the old way’. Sean-nós singing from Connemara is usually characterised by a high degree of ornamentation, using melisma and grace notes to enhance the power of the song’s narrative. To my ears, what is striking about Maude’s voice is the restraint with which she uses this technique, her approach finely calibrated to lend power to the bleak beauty of the song – austere in its matter of factness about what happens to the body of a drowned man, but ornate in its expression of loss and sorrow, and fascinated by the strange transformations that death can bring.

Listen to 'Liam O Raghallaigh'

Maude’s comments before and after the song form a shrewd and witty counterpoint to the tragedy of the story. I particularly love the careful relish with which she translates some of the more gruesome images from the Irish, including my favourite line: ‘Your two snow-white hands are under the dominion of the salmon’.

Caitlín Maude died in 1982, at the age of 41, leaving a small but important legacy of writing and song. The recordings she made with Peter Kennedy are available for listening at the British Library.

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

02 March 2020

Recording of the week: Sir George Henschel

Add comment

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

German born British musician Geroge Henschel was born in 1850 and became a close friend of Brahms whom he met in 1874 when the composer was 41 years of age. A multi-talented musician, Henschel was a baritone, pianist and conductor. In 1877 Henschel took part in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem with the composer conducting while in 1881 he became the first conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was also a friend of Moscheles and Tchaikovsky. Remarkable then, to have a recording of him conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1927.

Sir George Henschel
Portrait of British baritone, conductor, and pianist Sir George Henschel (1850-1934) by Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

Here he is directing a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C major Op. 21, recorded at London’s La Scala Theatre in December 1926 and February 1927. It is Henschel’s only orchestral recording and was the first of a complete recording (by different conductors) of all the symphonies made to commemorate the centenary of the death of Beethoven in 1927 while this year we celebrate 250 years since the great composer’s birth.

Beethoven Symphony No. 1

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

24 February 2020

Recording of the week: Elgar's Introduction and Allegro

Add comment

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

This is an extract of a recording of Introduction and Allegro by Edward Elgar from 1940. Like many recordings in the Stuart Pollard Collection, it is an off air recording of a performance by Arturo Toscanini and NBC Symphony Orchestra. The piece is well known but that is not what made it get stuck in my head. Even from the first couple of seconds I recognised it and it triggered memories from my earlier life as a musician. I had not listened to the piece in nine years but it instantly felt so familiar again, hearing it in this new context, as part of this collection.

This piece featured prominently in my life during my final school year when I was 17–18 years old. This was a year of lots of change and stress but the constant in my life was my involvement with the local music trust and especially the chamber orchestra. We rehearsed Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro almost every week during that year and played it in several concerts in the UK and then Finland. The piece became so familiar to me that I formed a love-hate relationship with it. It was one of the most challenging pieces I had played at that point in my career. Despite the intense training at the music trust, I still felt insecure with particularly challenging parts of the piece such as passages in which semiquavers were passed intricately between both violin sections. I especially remember some delicate moments regarding those semiquaver passages at the Temppeliaukion Church (Rock Church) towards the end of our tour in Finland.

Temppeliaukio_Church
The Temppeliaukio Church in Helsinki, Finland. Copyright  Matthew Duncan. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

A particular memory comes to mind when hearing this piece. I had innocently turned up to the first rehearsal of the year with my viola but on arrival I was told ‘wrong instrument’ and was shocked to find that without knowing it I had been appointed as principal second violin. I had to play the conductor’s violin on that day and the sudden change of plan made finding the concentration to sight read the Elgar very difficult. Being principal second violin added new pressures such as responsibility for starting the fugue. This became one of my least favourite parts of the piece and I was often very stressed by it because of the challenge of setting a good foundation for this part of the piece and for stopping everyone from rushing. Memories of my experience with Introduction and Allegro were triggered instantly on hearing the recording in the Stuart Pollard Collection but they intensified on hearing the fugue so that is why I selected an excerpt of the fugue to share this week.

Fuge excerpt from Elgar Introduction and Allegro C353-61_S2_C1

Having changed careers by gaining work experience and studying to become an archivist over the past three years, my time as a musician can start to feel distant. I had a great commitment to music so it can feel strange to no longer have such close connections with it. However, working at the British Library is a positive experience because discovering pieces like Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro in the collections of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project enables me to link what I am doing now to the childhood hobby that gradually took over my life.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage and @soundarchive for all the latest news. UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

18 February 2020

National Life Stories Goodison Fellowship 2020-2021: Suzanne Joinson

Add comment

"Cycling every day, about three and a half miles along the front to Grand Parade where the art school was, and I used to, if I was late, I used to hitch on to the back of a lorry, sounds terribly dangerous … I used to somehow hang on to the back and get right along the front in about five minutes."

-- Juliet Pannett on attending art school in Brighton in 1928

It is possible to tell so much from a voice: the tone, accent and emphasis. The artist Juliet Pannett’s recording from 1991 is both nostalgic and immediate. The tonal quality of her speech evokes another era, and her laughter is full of life. As we listen to her recalling details – like hitching on lorries along Brighton seafront – we connect to her memory and see her classroom or art studio vividly in our mind for an instant. Listening in is a privilege; it’s like being trusted with a secret or engaging in a magical form of time-travel.

Juliet Pannett on attending art school in Brighton in 1928 (C466/09)

As the National Life Stories Goodison Fellow 2020-21, I will explore the audio archives of three creative women connected to Sussex: Juliet Pannett, archived under Artists’ Lives and Ann Sutton and Barbara Mullins from Crafts Lives. Not household names by any means, but they all achieved significant professional success and I believe that in quiet, unsung ways, they have each left an impressive, potentially subversive artistic legacy that resonates today.

Photograph of Graffham, West SussexGraffham, West Sussex. Copyright David Spicer, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons.

On the surface, weaver Barbara Mullins lived a quiet life in the village of Graffham, West Sussex. With Gwen Mullins, her mother, she offered spinning, weaving, pottery and classes in dyeing using Sussex plants. In her interview she discusses their trip to Santa Fe, running out of money, and returning home to deliver workshops. Their cottage industry developed into the Gwen Mullins Trust, offering an apprentice scheme and financial support for craft makers. This paved the way for a government-funded body, the Crafts Council, which eventually replaced the Trust.

Listening, a number of strands become clear: the importance of international travel to Barbara and Gwen to these women who lived a seemingly very ‘English’ and provincial life; the collaborative, creative and possibly co-dependent relationship between mother and daughter; the endless navigation between creativity and money that necessarily exists in an artist’s life; and the importance of legacy.

Because the National Life Stories oral history methodology covers a life-span where possible, the interviews provide a birds’ eye view of how the local and domestic situation of a subject’s existence is intrinsically connected with the professional ‘output’ of their life. This, I believe, is pertinent to appreciating female artists, especially those living and working outside of metropolitan areas.

I will explore the archives to look at big questions: How does their work relate to geographical locations? What is the overlap between place, art, money, family, reputation and legacy? How did domestic and family situations contribute to their professional work? How does their self-narrative reflect their position within a cultural map of the south of England? And beyond, how are they now situated within national and global contexts?

Internationally acclaimed artist Ann Sutton talks with wry matter-of-factness about the reality of forging a career in the sixties. We follow her training, teaching jobs and commissions. It is moving to listen to her talk about the choices she made around birth control, opting not to have children and how her marriage intersected with her vocation. In this clip she talks about the potter Bernard Leach and her desire to challenge the status quo he represented:

Ann Sutton on Bernard Leach and breaking with tradition (C960/22)

From her studio in Arundel she conducted an impressive career and ran the Ann Sutton Foundation. Through this she supported talented graduates and pioneered a way of helping young artists transition to the commercial world. This approach that would later be taken up by art colleges directly.

My aim with this Fellowship is to delve deep into the National Life Stories archive to celebrate the unique contributions of these impressive artists. I want to map how their individual stories and works link to a bigger cultural picture and I hope to showcase how the National Life Stories project is a tremendously impressive, unique resource.

At some point in their oral history interviews all three women say ‘It’s been a good life’ or ‘It was a marvellous life’. I want to honour those marvellous lives, their work ethic and professionalism, and use my time as a Fellow to share with a wider audience the continuing creative and artistic legacies of Juliet Pannett, Barbara Mullins and Ann Sutton.

Suzanne Joinson is an award-winning writer and academic. Her novels A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar and The Photographer's Wife are published internationally by Bloomsbury. She lectures in creative writing at the University of Chichester and writes regularly for a range of publications including the New York Times, Guardian and others. She has a strong interest in oral history and the stories found in landscapes and places.