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76 posts categorized "Sound recording history"

28 September 2020

Recording of the week: Discovering Sibelius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lemminkainen's Return extract 1

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

Lemminkainen's Return extract 2

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

Lemminkainen's Return extract 3

 

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

24 September 2020

Young for Eternity: Unlocking Our Sound Heritage preserves the Subways’ Glastonbury demo

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Written by Nina Webb-Bourne, Communications Intern for UOSH.

On 28 March I was supposed to be going to the O2 Forum in Kentish Town to see the Subways, an English rock band, with my sister. However, all live music was effectively cancelled as we entered into a national lockdown five days before. The evening would have been both a celebration of seeing a favourite band live, and the recent news that I had been hired by the British Library. Little did we know, I would quietly start my position as the communications intern for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project still in lockdown, two months later.

In a happy coincidence I soon learned about the inclusion of a rare Subways demo in the Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection (C1238). In fact, the band was first to win a competition giving unsigned bands the chance to perform on stage at the festival. You can read more about the history of the Emerging Talent Competition in this blog by Karoline Engelhardt, which marked the 50th anniversary of ‘Pilton Pop, Blues and Folk Festival’ on 19 September.

SubwaysAbove: A photo of the Subways’ Charlotte Cooper and Billy Lunn playing bass and guitar on the Other Stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2004. © STUNPHOTO

For five years, unsigned bands sent in physical applications with a short biography and a demo CD containing their best tracks. The competition soon moved online, but in the brief period beforehand it generated a large number of boxes of ephemeral material related to the entries, and close to 5,000 CDs. The local library in Glastonbury was a likely candidate for storing the collection but it was neither able to process the stock or house it.

However, the organisers sought a permanent home for the collection and were able to connect with the British Library’s Popular Music department for this purpose. The Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection would go on to be identified as a valuable treasure trove of youth culture, and deemed a worthy beneficiary of UOSH’s National Lottery Heritage funded effort to preserve and provide access to some of the UK’s rarest and most at-risk sound recordings.

Listen to 1 AM

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company)

In light of the significance of this collection and the serendipity of my working on a project involving the Subways, I was excited to be able to interview lead singer and front man Billy Lunn. Billy plays guitar for the band alongside Charlotte Cooper (co-lead, bass and backing vocals) and Josh Morgan (drums). I talked to him about the journey from being an unsigned act to traveling the world with his bandmates, and what it means to know their Glastonbury demo now resides in the UK’s national library.

In 2004, Billy Lunn was working in a hotel, collecting dirty laundry from rooms. He was also writing and recording lots of music for his band, the Subways. To pay his parents back for purchasing his 8-track mixer, he also recorded tracks for other local bands in the kitchen of his parent’s council house in Welwyn Garden City. By chance he found out about Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition. Billy explains:

‘I’d mixed this other band’s tracks and handed them their finished demo. I asked where they were going to send it, offering the details of some really supportive promoters we’d come across. They said “Thanks, but we’re actually just going to send this to Michael Eavis. He’s running this unsigned bands competition, and if you win, he’ll put you on the Other Stage at Glastonbury.”

‘A month later, I received a phone call from a man called Wes White, saying he loves the songs, and that he thinks we should make our way up to Pilton to play for Michael at his working men’s club.’

White was part of the jury that helped choose the finalists for the Emerging Talent Competition from 2004-07. However, he had been involved with the festival since its earliest days. His mother, Hilary White, had worked at the Festival Office in Glastonbury town and helped to formalise the process behind the competition.

From the moment the office’s address had got out, she had fielded a barrage of speculative CDs and cassettes coming in. Initially she had listened to these demos on her own. She would pass them on to whichever stage booker she deemed appropriate, though slots were often difficult to find between the bookings for established artists. Eventually Hilary White managed to get bookers for the main stage to agree to host one unsigned band each, with the overall winner going on to play on the Other Stage.

CharlotteAbove: A photo of Charlotte Cooper facing the crowd at Glastonbury Festival, as she plays her bass guitar. © STUNPHOTO

When the conventions of the competition were confirmed, Wes White joined a panel of judges at the live finals, including Michael and Emily Eavis, Martin Elbourne (who booked the Pyramid Stage), Malcolm Haynes (Dance Village and Jazz/World Stage), BBC Radio One presenter Huw Stephens, and producer Philippa Marshfield, among others. White speaks about his time as a judge fondly:

‘We were very proud of the number of unsigned performers we found slots for across the festival, beyond just the winning artists, and of the achievements that some of “our acts” have gone on to.’

He remembers the Subways performance in Pilton. In particular he recalls ‘their energy and straightforward, no-messing approach’ which helped them to stand out. The band managed to squeeze six songs into a tight twenty-minute set. Most importantly for White, they let the music speak for itself. Billy recollects that the band were packing their instruments away when Michael Eavis strolled straight over to them to offer them the Other Stage slot.

Listen to City Pavement

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company)

The prospect of playing live on the Other Sage at Glastonbury elicited the usual pre-gig nerves, but it did not daunt the band. They were 18 or 19 at the time, relishing the chance to make some noise, and still riding on a high from beating the competition in Pilton. They also knew they had nothing to lose. Surprisingly, the gig itself remains a hazy blur to Billy, Charlotte and Josh. Billy says:

‘I can vividly remember standing side-of-stage before showtime, and also walking into the arms of our manager after finishing the set. The gig itself was probably a little too much excitement for my consciousness to keep hold of. One day, maybe, hopefully, the show will come flooding back. Every electric second of it.’

BillyAbove: A photo of Billy Lunn twisting mid-air as he plays his guitar to the crowd on the Other Stage in 2004. ©. STUNPHOTO

Playing at Glastonbury had an immediate effect on the band. They decided to quit their jobs, having determined that winning the competition proved them they should devote their lives to making music. Following their appearance on the Other Stage, they began work booking their first UK tour. At the close of the tour they were signed by Warner Records. Their debut album, Young for Eternity, was released in July 2005.

The Subways have recently marked the 15th anniversary of Young for Eternity with a special edition release of the record and a tour rescheduled for next year. They have also recorded Rock & Roll Queen in 20 different languages for fans all over the globe. Billy reflects on the journey from his parents’ kitchen to touring and performing Young for Eternity now:

‘We’ve been asked many times over the last decade whether we’re sick of playing songs from Young for Eternity - especially Rock & Roll Queen – and our answer is always the same; never! Performing on stages all over the world is absolutely the most enjoyable part of all of this. No matter how many times we play the songs from Young for Eternity, as long as they create an atmosphere of joy and togetherness, we’ll play them with the urgency and vivacity as if it’s the first time.’

Listen to Rock & Roll Queen

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company)

A part of this journey and a unique artefact of the band’s personal history has now been preserved and digitised by UOSH for the British Library’s sound archive. There was only ever one version of the CD made which was submitted to the Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection, (C1238/2540). It was essentially a ‘best of’ compilation of all the demos that the band had recorded up to that point.

Billy feels thankful to have taken part in the competition in the first place, and to have gone on to have the chance to support their heroes on stage at such an early age. Turning his mind to the value of the UOSH project at British Library, and our safekeeping of this sole version of their demo, he says:

‘The prospect of preserving cultural artefacts is something for which I show unending support. I am passionate about the history of rock music. I always feel unworthy of any such devotion of focus to my own works or narrative, but I ultimately feel remarkably happy that some semblance of our story is being safely preserved for those who may harbour even the vaguest of interest in it.’

Listen to I'm In Love

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company)

JoshAbove: A photo of Josh Morgan playing the drums at Glastonbury on The Other Stage in 2004. © STUNPHOTO

Alongside Billy Lunn, Wes White, who is a librarian himself, expresses his ‘relief, delight and pride’ that this snapshot of underground music at that time is now part of the historical record. By October the collection will be fully preserved, and will be made available to the public soon.

I am grateful to Billy and Wes for agreeing to be interviewed for this piece, and Ben Hamilton-Kirby and BMG for helping us to share these recordings. Thanks to the many members of the UOSH project who have worked on this vast and fascinating collection, including but not limited to; Karoline, Kirsten, George, Lucia, Greg, Gosha, Karl and Tom.

Follow @BLSoundHeritage, @BL_PopMusic, and @soundarchive for all the latest news

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21 September 2020

Recording of the week: My family and other tapes

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

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

Philips magnetic tape boxPhilips magnetic tape box

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

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

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

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

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

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

C1475-185 frontC1475-185 back

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

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

Boris Blacher Violin Concerto Op.28 (end)

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

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

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

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

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19 September 2020

Glastonbury New Bands Competition Collection: Unlocking the dreams of unsigned bands

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By Karoline Engelhardt, UOSH Cataloguing Intern, and Andy Linehan, Curator of Popular Music.

On this day in 1970, as chance would have it a Saturday just like today, around one and a half thousand people assembled on the green fields at the rural Worthy Farm near the village of Pilton in South West England for what was then known as the Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival. The event, organised by dairy farmer Michael Eavis, was not an instant success but laid a foundation for something that over the following decades would become the leading fixture of the British live music and festival scene.

Fifty years on, the Glastonbury Festival has evolved into arguably the world’s most popular music festival. Headlining one of the main stages has become an indicator that one has made it in the industry and getting to perform at Worthy Farm is now a dream many bands pursue.

The festival has a long history of supporting a diverse range of performing artists which is evident in its infrastructure. Along with the famous Pyramid Stage dozens of smaller stages are scattered all over the festival site which provide a platform to (relatively) unknown performers to showcase their talents to a wider audience.

In the early 2000’s Glastonbury took its support of aspiring bands and musicians to another level by calling out for unsigned acts to enter a competition which offered the chance to perform on one of the festival’s main stages. The Emerging Talent Competition, launched in 2004 as the Glastonbury Festival Unsigned Performers Competition, is still part of the annual festival today.

From 2010 onwards applications were processed online but up until 2009 emerging acts had to physically compile an application bundle consisting of an entry form, giving details about the performer and their music, a biography and a demo CD containing no less than two or three of their best songs. A selected team at Glastonbury would listen to the demos, shortlist their favourites and invite the successful candidates to perform in a final at Pilton Working Men’s Club.

Demos and documents on the shelves at the Library

Above: Demos and documents of the Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection stored at the British Library Sound Archive.

From 2004 to 2009, excluding the fallow year of 2006, thousands of applications found their way to Glastonbury. CDs, documents and additional items that were often added to the applications, such as band merch or press cuttings, started to fill a growing number of boxes stored at the festival offices. They could have stayed locked behind those office doors, never to be seen or heard again, but luckily the organisers understood the potential value of what they had in their possession. In search of a permanent home for the recordings they eventually got in touch with the Sound Archive at the British Library, whose Popular Music department was thrilled to acquire the collection.

A contemporary witness of the music created at the beginning of the 21st century by unsigned bands and musicians in Britain and beyond, the Glastonbury New Bands Competition Collection (C1238) not only offers the opportunity to reflect on the current state of various music genres, but also provides a valuable representation of youth and DIY culture at the turn of the century, captured through the demo designs and song lyrics.

In the first three years of the competition contestants were offered to choose between four stages for which they wished to compete: the Dance Tent/ Dance Village, the Acoustic Stage, the World Stage/ Jazz World Stage and the New Tent/ John Peel Stage. This approach resulted in a refreshing mix of musical genres amongst the submissions. The overall winner would appear on the Other Stage, situated right behind the Pyramid Stage, following in the footsteps of established performers such as Iggy Pop, Massive Attack or the Chemical Brothers.

The Subways performing on the Other Stage at the Glastonbury Festival 2004

Above: The Subways performing on the Other Stage at the Glastonbury Festival 2004 following their win of the first competition. © STUNPHOTO

English rock band the Subways were the first to win the overall competition in 2004 and are only one example of an act that went on to establish themselves after entering. Amongst others, the collection includes some rare first attempts by Scouting for Girls, Liz Green, James Blunt, Smoke Fairies, Newton Faulkner, Wild Beasts and Ashok, a band featuring Florence Welch, subsequently of Florence + the Machine. Not all of these acts would emerge as winners or even get invited to the finals of the competition – which only confirms that determination and stamina go a long way. Many bands vanished after a few years, some never found fame but still enjoy performing together today. Other contestants found success pursuing other professions outside the music industry and this collection adds a piece to all of their biographies.

Listen to '1AM' by the Subways - the first track from the band's demo submitted to the competition in 2004

British Library ref. C1238/2540, (p) 2006 The Echo Label Limited (a BMG company).

Consisting of more than 4600 demos, the Glastonbury New Bands Competition Collection has been selected for the ambitious Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project (UOSH), which is part of the Save Our Sounds programme led by the British Library. Involving ten further hubs across the UK, UOSH aims to preserve nearly half a million unique and at-risk recordings and to make them accessible to the public. The project solely focuses on collections that have been stored on analogue recording formats. These are prone to two possible risk factors: the sound carriers are physically vulnerable; and the means to play them back are slowly becoming extinct.

Demo CD submitted by Ashok

Above: Demo submitted by Ashok featuring Florence Welch who went on to form Florence + the Machine. ‘Happy Slap’ is an early version of their debut single ‘Kiss with a Fist’.

In this particular case, CD players are still widely available and most PCs even have an inbuilt CD drive. However, the vast majority of the demos submitted to the Glastonbury competition were on CD-R. Different from mass-manufactured commercial CDs, the digital information on CD-Rs is burned into a layer of dye on the bottom side of the disc. The results of this procedure are strongly dependent on the device used for the burning process, the quality of the blank disc and the speed at which the information has been written into the dye. Furthermore, the dye simply fades away over time and exposure to daylight can speed up that process.

All of these aspects make this large collection particularly vulnerable and therefore call for a pressing need to digitise these recordings in order to eliminate the risk of losing their audio content forever. At the same time the UOSH rights clearance team is in contact with individual artists to make this collection as accessible as possible.

The Glastonbury New Bands Competition Collection will be fully preserved by the end of this month.

Key discovered in the collection

Above: Discovered amongst the collection documentation items: a contestant quite literally put the key to their dreams in the hands of the competition organisers.

Keep an eye out for Nina Webb-Bourne’s forthcoming blog, she will be sharing the story behind the winning demo submitted by the Subways to the Glastonbury Festival Unsigned Performers Competition in 2004, featuring an interview with the band’s lead singer Billy Lunn.

14 September 2020

Recording of the week: Another side of Laurence Binyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laurence Binyon reads 'Pine Trees'

Pine Trees

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

 

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

27 July 2020

Recording of the week: The secret song of the skylark

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This week’s selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator.

Birds are much like people when it comes to using sound to express themselves. Some are measured and mellow while others go at it hammer and tongs.

The Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) is a songster that firmly believes in sonic bombardment. Not that this is a bad thing; its complex song is an almost continuous stream of beauty that has been enjoyed by humans throughout the ages. Though pleasing to our ears, the skylark’s sweet song is actually a lucky byproduct of evolution.

19th Century Colour Illustration of the Eurasian Skylark
Eurasian Skylark colour plate from Coloured Figures of the Birds of the British Islands, Vol 4, issued by Lord Lilford, London 1885-1897 (via the Biodiversity Heritage Library)

During the breeding season, males use their songs to attract potential mates. Speed, stamina and complexity act as indicators of fitness and help females decide who to settle down with. Sadly our ears are not designed to fully process the vast amount of information contained within these aerial serenades but, thanks to technology, we can get a little closer to the detail. How do we do this? By slowing things down.

The following clip contains both the normal song of a skylark and a slowed down version. The original was recorded by Alan Burbidge on the Hebridean island of North Uist during May 1997 (BL ref 145065).

Slowing down a skylark's song

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

22 July 2020

Unlocking Our Sound Heritage preserves 200,000 endangered sounds

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Article written by: Nina Webb-Bourne

Thanks to the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage (UOSH) team's dedication to sound conservation, 200,000 of the nation’s most endangered recordings are now preserved for generations to come.

This major milestone has arrived at a significant moment. Along with our ten hub partners, we are now over half-way through a National Lottery Heritage Funded five-year project to restore and catalogue half a million rare and at-risk sounds. However, the vital work of curators, cataloguers and audio engineers around the nation was recently impeded by the challenges of lockdown life.

Despite these obstacles, or perhaps in spite of them, the UOSH team was spurred on to find that extra momentum and make this impressive breakthrough. Each and every hub across the nation played a part and contributed a substantial 20,000 recordings to the total. The audio heritage safeguarded and digitised by the project now includes recordings as varied as a survey of traditional Irish dialects by the National Museums Northern Ireland, and the British Library’s Glastonbury New Bands Competition collection.

To celebrate this achievement, we are sharing with you the striking sound of the Ecuadorian Yellow-billed Jacamar, the 200,000th recording to be catalogued and preserved in our archive. This recording was originally archived on audio CD and is one of over 5000 Ecuadorian bird sounds recorded by Niels Krabbe.

Listen to the Yellow-billed Jacamar

Yellow-billed Jacamar, Ecuador, 1994. Held in the Ecuador birds WA 2003/003 collection.

Illustration-of-Yellow-bill

 [Image: The Biodiversity Heritage Library]

Niels Krabbe is an ornithologist, bird conservationist, and skilled recordist. He has worked extensively in the Andes and has a developed a keen interest in the biodiversity of Ecuador, where he became the first person in 80 years to scientifically record an observation of endangered Yellow-eared Parrots. The collection held by the British Library also includes the calls of endangered and endemic species, such as the El Oro and White-necked Parakeets.

As a result of Niels Krabbe’s prolific and sustained work in the region, we have obtained a valuable treasure trove of recorded history, rich in breadth and depth, and one that showcases much of Ecuador’s bird life and natural environment. These sounds are also an authentic representation of that habitat. Krabbe prides himself on ‘preferring to get a good tape recording of a bird rather than a good look at it’.

A similar dedication to conservation has ensured the UOSH team's recent success in cataloguing its 200,000th sound. As we emerge from lockdown, there is a renewed focused on the task ahead as there are many more recordings at risk, and thousands more to digitise before the project is complete.

Follow project updates at @BLSoundHeritage on Twitter and Instagram.

30 June 2020

The Santals, Scandinavian missionaries, and salvage ethnomusicology: an encounter of three worlds

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Since 2015, Christian Poske has conducted his PhD research on the Bengal recordings of the Arnold Bake Collection. A Collaborative Doctoral Scholarship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK, situated his PhD within two institutions: the British Library Sound Archive and SOAS, University of London. He conducted his fieldwork in Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Bangladesh from April to October 2017, revisiting the locations of Arnold Bake’s fieldwork. Christian's fieldwork investigated the aims and methods of Bake’s research in the early 1930s and studied the continuity and change in the devotional and folk music and dance documented by Bake. Christian is completing his PhD in Music this year at SOAS and in addition to his research has been engaged as a cataloguer for the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. He currently works as Bengali Cataloguer at the Department of Asian and African Collections at the British Library.

The audio recordings from the Christian Poske Collection have recently been catalogued and will be available for on-site listening at the British Library when the Reading Rooms re-open. For now, those interested can access the descriptions of the recordings by browsing the Sound and Moving Image catalogue for catalogue entries under collection number C1795. This blog post written by Christian Poske is an insightful introduction to the collection through his fieldwork in Jharkhand and West Bengal.

The restudy of historical sound recordings often gives unexpected results. During my research on the cylinder recordings of the Dutch musicologist Arnold Bake (1899-1963) at the British Library Sound Archive, I came across a number of sparsely documented recordings made at a Christian mission for the Santals, a South Asian aboriginal people centred in the Indian state of Jharkhand today. When I conducted my fieldwork in 2017, I found out that one of the church songs recorded by Bake is still popular among converts in the region.

'Recently, I had the opportunity to start recording Santal music… To really get in touch with the Santals, I have turned to the currently most important authority in this field, Dr Bodding... However, he is a missionary, and as he helped me along, we arrived at a huge boarding school for Santals. But it looks worse than it is. The mission has the policy to change as little as possible. Language, music and customs are, if anyhow possible, retained. All melodies used in the church are pure Santal melodies, although the words were made Christian... The music as such is quite unlike Hindu music, and their whole musical sense is very different. They love polyphony a lot when they get to hear it. I have recorded a sample (which hardly has any scientific value) how the Santal singing master of the school edited a song with four voices without actually ever having a European education, he does not speak a word of English, for example. The boys sing it with passion, which you could never expect from the Hindus…'
(Arnold Bake, letter to Erich M. v. Hornbostel, 15.4.1931, Berlin Phonogram Archive)

With these words, Bake explained his fieldwork at the Kairabani mission to Erich M. v. Hornbostel (1877-1935), the director of the Berlin Phonogram Archive. The Norwegian missionary Paul Olaf Bodding (1865-1938) of the Santal Mission of the Northern Churches had arranged Bake’s visit to Kairabani.

1. Kairabani Church 1926
'The new Kairabani Church at the consecration, 1926' (Photographs of the Danmission, Copenhagen/ International Mission Photography Archive, USC Digital Library)

In the letter to Hornbostel, Bake referred to the church song 'Boge gupi do' ('The Good Shepherd') that had been composed by the Norwegian missionary Lars Olsen Skrefsrud (1840-1910) around 1886 (Gausal 1935: 70). Skrefsrud, one of the founders of the Santal Mission of the Northern Churches, settled in India to make sustained efforts to convert the Santals from animist belief to Christianity. He learned Santali language from 1867 onwards and published the first comprehensive grammar of the language a few years later (1873), which introduced a romanisation system providing the language with the first standard script that is still used by converts today, with minor amendments made by Bodding.

Skrefsrud group photo
From left to right: Missionaries H. P. Børresen, H. J. Muston, L. O. Skrefsrud, with Santali hunting priest, chiefs (with turbans), hunters, and musicians (Santal Parganas, 1874) (Photographs of the Danmission, Copenhagen / International Mission Photography Archive, USC Digital Library)

Bake recorded solo and choral renditions of the song 'Boge gupi do', which is based on a traditional Santali melody, as he correctly noted. However, the choral version had not been arranged by the Santali choir leader of the Kairabani mission, but by an organist of the Santal Mission of the Northern Churches (Rạṛ Puthi 1929: preface).

'Boge gupi do' performed by male singer, Kairabani, March 1931 (C52/1641)

'Boge gupi do' performed by male choir, Kairabani, March 1931 (C52/2128)

Arnold Bake’s views on the Santals and their music and dance were influenced by colonial ethnographic clichés of aboriginal peoples that he replicated in his correspondence and publications (Bake 1936-37: 68), where he portrayed the Santals as a natural and pleasure-loving people, fond of music, dance, and drinking, and overall in a half-civilised state. One month after his visit to Kairabani, he filmed Santali dances at a Hindu festival in the village Kankalitola near Santiniketan. In a letter to his relatives, he described what he had seen in Kankalitola as 'a real nature dance':

'I am so curious what you will think of the films from Kankalitola that we left behind in Calcutta last week to reproduce. It was the typical male and female dances. You will see, I think, why the missionaries are against this dancing, it is very sensuous, yet it has great charm… And so entirely unaffected, a real nature dance.' (Arnold Bake, letter to his mother-in-law, 20.5.1931, Mss Eur F191/8, 191)

In Kairabani, he photographed Santali pupils playing their instruments at the mission, but he seems to have been dissatisfied with the sober ambience of the premises. To also have a picture of a Santali musician in a natural environment, he probably arranged a photo with one of the musicians outside:

Santali flute player by pond
Santali flute player by a pond, photograph by Arnold Bake (Kairabani mission, March 1931)

In this period, Hornbostel and other comparative musicologists collected recordings from musicologists and ethnographers worldwide at the Berlin Phonogram Archive 'to save what can be saved' of the traditional musics of the world threatened by the spread of Western culture (Hornbostel 1904-5: 97). Such recordings were expected to be made in surroundings free from European cultural influences. Therefore, Hornbostel marked all of Bake’s recordings from the mission as “worthless” (Ziegler 2006: 101-2), notwithstanding whether these featured traditional Santali or Christian songs. The reason for Hornbostel’s drastic measure was his suspicion that exposure to western church music had affected the Santals’ renditions of their own traditional songs. In his reply to Bake, he only hinted at his reservations:

'I am already very excited about the recordings and hope that you will have more opportunity for interesting recordings... of the Santals. In general: the more you record, the better, provided that the music is not europeanised yet.'
(Erich M. v. Hornbostel, letter to Arnold Bake, 5.7.1931, BPA)

When I began to evaluate Bake’s recordings at the British Library Sound Archive in 2015, I could not distinguish traditional from Christian songs among the Kairabani recordings due to my lack of knowledge of Santali language. Through my fieldwork, I was able to find out more. In Jharkhand, I visited the Kairabani mission school that still exists today. Here, I met the Santali language teacher Ignatius Besra, who helped me with the evaluation of the recordings at his home in Dumka. As he recognised the song 'Boge gupi do' (C52/2128), he rushed from the desk in the living room to another room to bring the church song book Sereń Puthi. He showed me the lyrics and said it was a 'hit' still popular among converts today. When I left, he gave me his copy on the way. I visited the Kairabani mission for the last time the following day and asked a schoolteacher to sing the song for me:

'Boge gupi do' performed by Nalini B. Hansdak Kairabani, May 2017 (C1795/11)

Mansaram Murmu, a doctoral researcher from Visva-Bharati University, translated it for me in Santiniketan two months later:

            Boge gupi do / A good shepherd -
            Ac’ren bhiḍhiko, boeha, / for his sheep, brothers,
            Ạḍiy’ jotonko; / he cares a lot.
            Sahre jaegate / Towards a good place,
            phạria dak’ jharanatey’ / to a spring of clean water,
            Ạyur idiko. / he leads them.

            Mit’ bhiḍiy’ at’len khan, / When a sheep gets lost -
            Ạuri ńame dhạbic’ doe / until he retrieves it,
            Gupi pańjaye. / he searches it.
            Uni ńamkate / When he has found it,
            Tarenrey’ ladeye / he carries it on his shoulder
            Rạskạ monte. / gladly.

            Ac’ak’ oṛak’te / At his home,
            Seṭerkate do boeha / when he has arrived, brothers,
            Peṛae jarwako, / he invites its kin,
            Onkoe metako / and tells them,
            Rạskạk’pe iń tuluc’, / Rejoice with me,
            Bhidin ńamkede. / I have found the lost sheep.

            Tạruc’e hec’len khan /When the tiger comes
            Ṭheṅga epelkate doe / he brandishes the stick
            Teṅgo darame; / and saves them. .
            Ac’ren bhiḍiko / His sheep,
            Maraṅ mũhim khongey’ / from huge danger
            Aḍ bańcaoko. / he saves them.

            Bhiḍi ńutumte / For the sheep,
            Boge gupi do boeha, / a good shepherd, brothers,
            Jiwiy’ alaea; / sacrifices his life.
            Jisui nonkaket’, / Jesus does like this
            Bańcao akat’bonae, / he has saved you
            Soetan tạrup’ khon. / from the grasp of the devil-tiger.

            Sereń Puthi (2015: 168)

Carrying out fieldwork with Bake’s recordings showed me the advantages of reconnecting cultural heritage communities with historical sound recordings that are insufficiently documented. Apart from the ethical imperative of making recordings from the colonial period accessible in countries of origin again, community engagement often brings valuable information to light that makes it possible to enhance the archival documentation of recordings, which ultimately makes the material more meaningful to everyone.

This blog is derived from my PhD research “Continuity and Change: A Restudy of Arnold Adriaan Bake’s research on the devotional and folk music and dance of Bengal 1925-1956”, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council UK, Award No. 1664039.

Further Reading:

Rạṛ Puthi: Book of Melodies (Choral Book). 1929. Dumka: The Santal Mission of the Northern Churches.

Sereń Puthi ["Book of Songs"]. 2015. Dumka: Dumka Diocesan Council (NELC).

Bake, Arnold A. 1936-7. ‘Indian Folk-Music’. Proceedings of the Musical Association 63: 65– 77.

Gausdal, Johannes. 1935. Contributions to Santal Hymnology. Bibliotheca Norvegiæ Sacræ 11. Bergen: Lunde.

Hornbostel, Erich Moritz von. 1904-5. ‘Die Probleme Der Vergleichenden Musikwissenschaft’. Zeitschrift Der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft 7: 85-97.

Skrefsrud, Lars Olsen. 1873. A Grammar of the Santhal Language. Calcutta: Calcutta School Book and Vernacular Literature Society.

Ziegler, Susanne. 2006. Die Wachszylinder Des Berliner Phonogramm-Archivs. Veröffentlichungen des Ethnologischen Museums Berlin. Berlin: Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.