Sound and vision blog

111 posts categorized "Sound recording history"

21 October 2021

True Echoes: Eric Raff 1924 Efate, New Hebrides cylinder collection (C83)

The Eric Raff 1924 Efate, New Hebrides Cylinder Collection (C83) is a set of twelve black wax cylinders recorded in 1924 on the island of Efate in Vanuatu. The collection was previously known as the RAI Vanuatu Cylinder Collection as the cylinders came into the Library from the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1983, but with no documentation as to when they were recorded or by whom.

Their British Library shelfmarks are C83/1498 to C83/1509. Three cylinders, C83/1504, C83/1506, and C83/1508, are badly broken and so could not be dubbed. It is one of two collections from Vanuatu within the True Echoes project at the British Library; the other is the John Layard 1914-1915 Atchin, New Hebrides Cylinder Collection (C177).

The cylinders of the Eric Raff 1924 Efate, New Hebrides Cylinder Collection (C83)

Above: The cylinders of the Eric Raff 1924 Efate, New Hebrides Cylinder Collection (C83)

The cylinders were accompanied by 28 sheets, formerly held together by small rusty pins, but there was no information about the recordist or the date. The papers are carefully typed out translations and transcriptions of songs and stories from various villages on Efate.

A transcript of the recording 'The song to warn Iakokae-Iako' as performed by Miriam of Malavau

Above: A transcript of the recording "The song to warn Iakokae-Iako" as performed by Miriam of Malavau. This is the third page of the original documentation for the cylinder collection. Held by the British Library's World and Traditional Music section.

We started the historical research by compiling a document of everything we knew about the collection, and a list of any possible recordists, from anthropologists to government officials, from missionaries to traders, who spent time on Efate between 1898 and the 1930s. We circulated this document to researchers working in Vanuatu today.  We looked at handwriting, and other likely characteristics of the recordist. Chris Ballard at the Australian National University helped us to deduce who the recordist was. We can now say that the cylinders were recorded by Eric Maitland Kirk Raff (1892–1927), an Australian Presbyterian missionary who was based at Vila on Efate from 1917 to 1924.

Eric was born in Victoria, Australia, on 29 March 1892. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church in Melbourne on 18 October 1916, and formally appointed as minister of the Margaret Whitecross Paton Memorial Church in Vila on the same day. On 9 December 1916, he married Ruth (née Baird), and on 17 January 1917, they left Australia for Vanuatu, then called the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides.

Sarah Walpole, archivist at the RAI, found correspondence from 1927 between Ruth Raff and Sir Everard im Thurn, a former President of the RAI, which gave us a much better understanding of this collection. Ruth noted that Eric made thirteen 4-minute Edison phonograph records “in Vila … early in 1924” (Raff 1927b). The collection only comprises twelve cylinders now; we do not know what happened to the thirteenth. The cylinders are unusual as they hold 4 minutes of recording as opposed to the more usual 2 minutes; the phonograph used to record them operated at a faster turning speed. These particular kind of cylinders were very fragile, which explains why three of the twelve surviving cylinders are badly broken. We do not know how or where Eric obtained the phonograph or the cylinders.

The Raffs left Efate in 1924 due to Eric’s ill health, and travelled to Scotland. Later that year, Eric wrote to both the Edison Bell Works and the Gramophone Company as he wanted to have permanent copies of the cylinders made; neither company could help. Ruth also noted that they tried to enlist the help of Alfred Cort Haddon – “a friend at Cambridge (an ethnologist whom we had met in the Islands) tried to interest Dr Haddon, but apparently nothing came of it – I think they said their funds were low!” (Raff 1927b). Haddon led the 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits and the cylinders produced during this expedition are now in the collections of the British Library’s Sound Archive. Further information on this collection, known as C80, can be found in this Sound & Vision blog post.

In July 1926, Eric received a reply from Thomas Joyce, Deputy Keeper of the Department of Ceramics and Ethnography at the British Museum, indicating that he would purchase Raff’s “New Hebrides Records” at 5 shillings a piece (Joyce 1926).

Eric died on 22 March 1927 in Bournemouth at the age of 34. Ruth was determined that the “valuable phonographic records of old native songs (both legends & songs fast dying out)” collected by her husband should not be lost to science (Raff 1927a). During a stay in Edinburgh in April and May 1927, she typed up all of the legends to give to Thurn; she mentioned “more interesting notes on early Efate” that she could send to him later (Raff 1927d). It is not clear whether this material has survived. It is also not clear what happened to the cylinders. Ruth may have sold them to the British Museum when she visited London in early June before her departure for Australia on the 16th June (Raff 1927c).

The level of detail on the accompanying documentation, including corrections on the covering List of Records as well as on the transcriptions and translations, indicates that both Eric and Ruth were familiar with the languages represented in the collection.  This documentation indicates that there were originally 30 songs recorded. Six performers are noted by name and village: Miriam of Malavau, Meny of Fila, Turi of Leleppa, and Kaltaban, Leiboni, and Tavero of Meli. Four songs were performed by “Pango women.” Nganga, probably a chief of Meli, is noted as the translator of three songs. Initial research indicates that most of the songs are from the languages of North Efate (Nakanamanga), South Efate (Nafsan) and Mele-Fila (specifically the Meli dialect).

A map of Efate highlighting Port Vila and the villages of the C83 Vanuatu performers. Map data ©2021 Google.

Above: A map of Efate highlighting Port Vila and the villages of the C83 Vanuatu performers. Map data ©2021 Google.

The clip that we would like to share with you today is from the first song on cylinder C83/1498, Iakokae-Iako, by Miriam of Malavau.

Clip from C83/1498, Iakokae-Iako by Miriam of Malavau

Research to find out more information about the performers and the genres of the songs and stories told, as well as the languages featured in the recordings, will be done by our project partners at the Vanuatu Cultural Centre / Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta (VCC / VKS). Ambong Thompson is Manager of the National Film, Sound and Photo Unit that manages the Vanuatu Cultural Centre’s collection of film and audio recordings and photographic collections of cultural events, ceremonies, celebrations, performance, practices and activities. Through the True Echoes project, digital copies of Eric Raff's 1924 recordings will be accessioned into the VCC collection.

Ambong Thompson, Manager of National Film, Sound and Photo Unit at Vanuatu Cultural Centre

Above: Ambong Thompson, Manager of National Film, Sound and Photo Unit at Vanuatu Cultural Centre.

Ambong said,  

“We have already identified three fieldworkers from Mele, Ifira and Pango to work with staff from Vanuatu Cultural Centre… We have already spoken to, and had a good response, from Mele village. Some people from Mele Village have heard about the project and were very delighted.”

The VCC is working to identify the right people and equipment to undertake participatory research for this project. Ambong noted that these are “very old recordings and will make a major contribution towards our collections”.

References:

Joyce, Thomas Atholl. 1926. ’T.A. Joyce, Dept. of Ceramics and Ethnography, British Museum to Rev. E.M. Raff.’ Ethnomusicology Committee. Wiley Digital Archives: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. No Date. http://WDAgo.com/s/5bb00889. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Raff, Ruth. 1927a. Letter from Mrs Ruth Raff to Sir Everard im Thurn, 27 March 1927. Ethnomusicology Committee. Wiley Digital Archives: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. http://WDAgo.com/s/47577a34. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Raff, Ruth. 1927b. Letter from Mrs. Ruth Raff to Sir Everard im Thurn, 14 April 1927. Ethnomusicology Committee. Wiley Digital Archives: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. http://WDAgo.com/s/3bf69adf. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Raff, Ruth. 1927c. Letter from Mrs. Ruth Raff to Sir Everard im Thurn, 8 May 1927. Ethnomusicology Committee. Wiley Digital Archives: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. http://WDAgo.com/s/4ccaadc9. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Raff, Ruth. 1927d. Letter from Mrs Ruth Raff to Sir Everard im Thurn, 10 May 1927. Ethnomusicology Committee. Wiley Digital Archives: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. http://WDAgo.com/s/211a4c36. Accessed 8 June 2021.

Vicky Barnecutt, True Echoes Research Fellow

23 August 2021

Recording of the week: Mrs Meurig Morris in a trance address

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

Columbia DX 265 disc label

In this week’s ‘Recording of the Week’ we feature the stentorian tones of Louisa Ann Meurig Morris (1899-1991), who was well-known as a spiritualist and medium in the 1930s.

In January 1931, she featured in the first ever filmed séance in the history of moving pictures, in the company of Lady Conan Doyle.

This recording for the Columbia label, which is different from the soundtrack of the Movietone film, was made a few weeks later, on 20 March 1931.

Here we present sides one and two in their entirety.

Listen to Meurig Morris [1CL0046884]

Download Meurig Morris transcript

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10 August 2021

Discovery of a rare Bettini cylinder recording

Richard Copeman with cylinder editRichard Copeman with his Bettini cylinder (photo © Jonathan Summers)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

In February 2020, just before lockdown, collector Richard Copeman contacted me about a concert cylinder he had just purchased in Paris.  He wondered if we would like to make a digital transfer of it for the British Library Sound Archive. 

Concert cylinders are not common, although I previously wrote a blog about one here which gives details about these larger forms of cylinder produced in the early 1900s.  The cylinder Richard Copeman has is in its original green box with a hand written title on the label, but it has lost the label from the lid. 

Box imageImage of box label (photo © Jonathan Summers)

The date of 1899 is hand written in blue pencil on the bottom of the box.  The title also appears engraved into the edge of the cylinder. 

Inscription on cylinder edgeInscription on cylinder edge (photo © Jonathan Summers)

We know what the work is – Concertino in E flat Op. 26 for clarinet by Carl Maria von Weber, and the performer’s name is announced at the beginning.  However, the name of the recording company is not – Edison, and many others, always included the name of the company in the announcement.

Another avid collector came to the rescue in the form of David Mason who had facsimile copies of Bettini catalogues.  In one of these he found ‘Rouleaux de Concert a Grand Diametre’ and listed there was the cylinder of the Concertino with the performer’s name - Henri Paradis.

Henri Paradis

Henri Paradis was born in Avignon in 1861 and at the age of nineteen won the Premier Prix for clarinet at the Paris Conservatoire.  His teacher was the delightfully named Chrysogone Cyrille Rose (1830-1902) who had been consulted by composers Jules Massenet and Charles Gounod on the technical capabilities of the clarinet.  Rose was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1900. 

Bettini June 1901 pp. 16-17 Edit

Bettini catalogue June 1901

As can be seen in the catalogue, Paradis plays his teacher’s version of the Weber composition published around 1879 in Paris.  After a period in L'Orchestre de la Garde Républicaine, Paradis joined the orchestra of the Paris Opera in 1890 and did not retire from his post until 1932.  He was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1935 and died in 1940.  From 1906 he was clarinetist in Le Double Quintette, eight of whose early recordings can be heard on BL Sounds here.  The full title of Société de Musique de Chambre pour Instruments à Cordes et à Vent was shortened to Société du Double Quintette de Paris; for the disc labels they became Le Société du Double Quintette. Mostly born in the 1860s, the group consisted of ten players plus Georges de Lausney on the piano.  The personnel were Pierre Sechiari (first violin), Marcel Houdret (second violin), Maurice Vieux (viola), Jules Marnoff (cello), Paul Leduc (double bass), Louis Bas (oboe), Ernest Vizentini (bassoon), Francois Lamouret (french horn), Henri Paradis (clarinet) and Adolphe Hennebains (flute).

Paradis’s affiliation with the Garde Républicaine and Paris Opera are mentioned in the spoken introduction on the cylinder which begins with a pitch identification, something important with early primitive equipment.  Paradis plays a highly abridged version of the score but the clarity and quality of the recording are extraordinary for something over 120 years old.

Weber Concertino Henri Paradis mp3

But what of Bettini, the producer of the cylinder?  Early recording is dominated by Thomas Edison in the United States and the Pathé brothers in France – both working on various other inventions concurrently.  Bettini was a fascinating, if relatively unknown, figure from the dawn of recorded sound. 

Gianni Bettini 1898 (Phonoscope magazine)Gianni Bettini in 1898 (Phonoscope magazine)

Born in Novara, Italy in 1860 Gianni Bettini was a gentleman inventor who had a salon at 110 Fifth Avenue, New York in the late 1890s where he made private recordings of great singers and other famous people including Mark Twain.  He was then based in Paris operating as the Société des Micro-Phonographes Bettini, 23 Boulevard des Capucines and although he brought his master recordings to Paris at the turn of the century, these were all destroyed during the Second World War.  A Wikipedia article states that Bettini cylinders are rare and that ‘only a few dozen are known to exist’.  This makes the discovery of this Paradis cylinder all the more exciting.  Not only is superior sound achieved with the larger concert cylinder, but Bettini invented some improvements including the ‘Spider’ whereby the stylus was attached to the recording diaphragm by multiple legs, hence its name.  Of course, the fact that this cylinder is not worn and in excellent condition also makes a great difference to the sound. It would appear that the cylinder was recorded right at the end of the nineteenth century, but it is not certain that the date stamped on the box is the date of recording.  It appears in the 1901 Bettini catalogue. 

It was the more widely circulated recording (both on cylinder and disc) that Bettini made of Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) which has survived and kept his name alive in the annals of the history of recorded sound.  Like Edison and the Pathé brothers, Bettini worked on a motion picture camera.  He died in San Remo in 1938.

Thanks to Richard Copeman for discovering it and allowing it to be shared through this blog.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

29 June 2021

True Echoes: Cambridge Expedition to the Torres Strait Islands, 1898

The Alfred Cort Haddon 1898 Expedition (Torres Strait and New Guinea) cylinder collection (C80) is a collection of 140 wax cylinders recorded as part of the 1898 Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits. The collection is made up of two parts; 101 cylinders recorded in the Torres Strait Islands in Australia and 39 recorded in what is today Papua New Guinea.

Members of the 1898 Cambridge Expedition on Mabuiag, Torres Strait. From L – R: WHR Rivers, Charles Seligmann, Alfred Cort Haddon (seated), Sidney Ray and Anthony Wilkin

Above: Members of the 1898 Cambridge Expedition on Mabuiag, Torres Strait. From L – R: WHR Rivers, Charles Seligmann, Alfred Cort Haddon (seated), Sidney Ray and Anthony Wilkin. Reproduced by permission of University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology N.23035.ACH2

I am currently researching the cylinders recorded in the Torres Strait Islands as part of True Echoes, a three-year project funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). This collection of wax cylinders is hugely significant; they are the earliest ethnographic sound recordings in the British Library’s Sound Archive and the earliest recordings made in Oceania.

Of these 101 Torres Strait cylinders, 92 have been digitised, including three probable Torres Strait cylinders recently identified within other collections at the British Library. Unfortunately, some cylinders cannot be digitised because they are broken or have been damaged by mildew or mould.

The expedition was organised by Professor Alfred Cort Haddon (1855-1940), a distinguished natural scientist and ethnologist who was instrumental in establishing anthropology as a discipline at the University of Cambridge. Although trained as a marine biologist, his first visit to the Torres Strait Islands in 1888 was “the turning point in his life”, reshaping both his career and the field of anthropology (Quiggin 1942:81). He returned to the Torres Strait Islands in 1898 to focus on ethnology and to document traditional knowledge, including music and dance, which he noted was impacted by the effects of colonialism in the region.

The Torres Strait Islands were of particular interest to researchers of the time due to their location between the “distinctive cultural, geographical and biological zones” of Australia and New Guinea, enabling researchers to develop “European theories in both natural history and ethnology” (Herle & Rouse 1998:12).

Expedition members included William Halse Rivers Rivers (1864–1922), a physician specialising in experimental psychology and physiology; Charles Seligmann (1873–1940), a pathologist specialising in tropical diseases; Charles Samuel Myers (1873–1946), a physician who specialised in psychology and music; William McDougall (1871–1938), also a physician; linguist Sidney Ray (1858–1939), and Anthony Wilkin (1877?–1901), the expedition’s photographer.

The cylinders came into the British Library as part of the larger Sir James Frazer collection from the University of Cambridge. They were re-identified in 1978 following a visit to the British Institute of Recorded Sound (BIRS) by Alice Moyle (1908–2005). The BIRS later became the British Library's sound collections. Moyle was formerly the Ethnomusicology Research Officer at Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (AIAS), now Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). She spent a month in England from 23 August 1978, following retirement from her position at AIAS. During this trip, she spent two weeks at BIRS to discuss the plans for transferring the Torres Strait (“Myers”) cylinders to tape. She also offered assistance in sorting the Australian cylinders. She completed a “preliminary sort” of the cylinders, and later wrote about “scaling ladders and investigating the dusty corners” of the BIRS.

The 1898 cylinders have little accompanying documentation, aside from inscriptions on the cylinder containers and some small paper inserts. However, many of the recordings correspond to songs and ceremonies described in the six Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits published between 1901 and 1935. Historical research conducted by myself and Vicky Barnecutt, True Echoes Research Fellow, as well as Alice Moyle’s findings have enabled us to enhance the metadata and documentation for this important cylinder collection. This has included re-instating attribution for many of the recordings, which feature a variety of performers from at least four of the Torres Strait Islands, including Mer / Murray Island, Mabuiag / Jervis Island, Saibai Island, and Iama / Yam Island. The expedition members often named and directly quoted Torres Strait Islanders in their publications, helping me to identify individuals featured in the recordings. For example, Peter, Tom Noboa and Waria (hereditary chief of Mabuiag) worked as Sidney Ray’s main consultants on Mabuiag, and Ulai and Gasu are featured in many of the recordings made by Myers on Mer / Murray Island.

Both Ray and Myers have been identified as the sound recordists of the Torres Strait cylinders. Myers spent most of his time on Mer / Murray Island and many of his recordings can be categorised into three groupings; Malu, keber and secular songs. The Malu and keber songs are ceremonial songs. Malu (or Malo) refers to the Malu-Bomai belief system, which was the “major religious belief system on Murray Island before the London Missionary Society arrived in the Torres Strait in 1871” (Koch 2013:15). The Keber songs are associated with the Waiet belief system and were “performed during periods of mourning” (Lawrence 2004:49) and as part of “funeral preparations” (Philp 1999:69).

The secular songs include kolap wed or “spinning top songs”; Myers noted that kolap spinning had "recently been the fashionable excuse for an island gathering" and these songs were performed while sitting in a circle and spinning the tops (Myers 1898:87; 1912:240).

C80/1032 is an example of a kolap song. The inscription on the cylinder lid and the note inside the cylinder box indicate that this is an older song, possibly composed by Joe Brown (also known as Poloaii) and sung by Ulai. These men were both from Mer / Murray Island and contributed to a number of the recordings in the cylinder collection.

A kolap (spinning top) song, Mer / Murray Island (C80/1032)

Top spinning on Murray Island / Mer, 1898

Above: Top spinning on Murray Island / Mer, 1898. Photograph taken by Anthony Wilkin. Reproduced by permission of University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology N.23184.ACH2

Ray produced recordings on Mabuiag, Saibai and Iama / Yam Island. His linguistic research was published in Volume III of the Reports. This includes a transcription and translation of the Story of Amipuru as told by Waria, which can be heard on cylinder C80/1041.

The Torres Strait collection contains recordings of songs from other cultures, including those from Samoa (C80/1055, 1488), Rotuma (C680/722, C80/1061) and Japan (C80/1049-1051). We think that these were recorded on the Torres Strait Islands.

The Torres Strait cylinder collection is large and complex. True Echoes is working in partnership with AIATSIS, as well as local communities in the Torres Strait Islands, in order to understand the collection more fully. Participatory research in the Torres Strait Islands is being planned for later this year and we hope that the sharing of local knowledge and cultural memory will enable the cylinder collection to be accurately catalogued and made more visible and accessible for the communities from which the recordings originate. Following participatory research, we hope to share the cylinder recordings and research findings via the True Echoes website.

Grace Koch (History Researcher) and Lara McLellan (Manager, International Engagement) from AIATSIS travelled to Thursday Island, Torres Strait, from 1–8 May 2021 in order to make contacts with relevant people and organisations that will be involved in the project and to learn the best ways to observe cultural protocols. Grace writes:

“Before the trip, we had circulated information about the project and had made printouts of the research documents compiled by Rebekah Hayes, listings of people recorded on the cylinders, and bibliographies of all of the Torres Strait material held in the AIATSIS collections.

“Meetings were held with staff and representatives from the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) and Gur a Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council (GBK) as well as with Flora Warrior, a descendant of Net (Ned) Waria (Mabuiag I.). The Chair of GBK, Lui Ned David, is a descendant of Maino (Iama and Tudu Islands), who was a friend and mentor to Haddon on both the 1888 and 1898 trips. We also located descendants of Noboa (spelt today as Nubuwa) and Nomoa (spelt today as Numa), both of Mabuiag, and Ulai of Mer.

Grace Koch with Lui Ned David, Chair of Gur a Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council (GBK). Thursday Island, May 2021

Above: Grace Koch with Lui Ned David, Chair of Gur a Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council (GBK). Thursday Island, May 2021.

Above: Lara McLellan (L) and Grace Koch (R) with Flora Warrior, a descendant of Net (Ned) Waria, who features on some of the 1898 wax cylinder recordings. Thursday Island, May 2021.

Above: Lara McLellan (L) and Grace Koch (R) with Flora Warrior, a descendant of Net (Ned) Waria, who features on some of the 1898 wax cylinder recordings. Thursday Island, May 2021.

“All of the people with whom we spoke are involved in cultural maintenance and education, so are enthusiastic about the project. We are partnering with them to shape it in ways that will be most helpful to them and to the British Library. The work will ensure that the connections to specific islands, clans and families will be respected.”

Rebekah Hayes

True Echoes Research Fellow

Bibliography:

Herle, Anita and Rouse, Sandra (eds.) 1998. Cambridge and the Torres Strait: Centenary essays on the 1898 anthropological expedition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [British Library shelfmark General Reference Collection YC.1998.b.5990]

Koch, Grace. 2013. We have the song, so we have the land: song and ceremony as proof of ownership in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land claims. AIATSIS research discussion paper no. 33. Canberra: AIATSIS Research Publications. Available as a PDF online.

Lawrence, Helen Reeves. 2004. “‘The great traffic in tunes’: agents of religious and musical changes in eastern Torres Strait”. In: R. Davis (ed.) Woven Histories, Dancing Lives: Torres Strait Islander Identity, Culture and History. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press. [British Library shelfmark Asia, Pacific & Africa YD.2005.a.5328]

Moyle, Alice. 14 November 1986. Letter to Ray Keogh [Held at AIATSIS, MS3501/1/129/18]

Myers, Charles Samuel. 1898-1899. Journal on Torres Straits anthropological expedition. [manuscript] Haddon Papers. ADD 8073. Cambridge: Cambridge University Library.

Myers, Charles Samuel. 1912. “Music”. In: A.C. Haddon (ed.) Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, Volume IV, Arts and Crafts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 238-269. [British Library shelfmark General Reference Collection YC.2011.b.632 vol. 4]

Philp, Jude. 1999. “Everything as it used to be:” Re-creating Torres Strait Islander History in 1898. The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 58-78. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23825691

Quiggin, Alison Hingston. 1942. Haddon the Head Hunter: a short sketch of the life of A. C. Haddon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [British Library shelfmark General Reference Collection 10859.n.10.]

21 June 2021

Recording of the week: Carol Ann Duffy reads ‘Mrs Midas’

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

I have been listening to Carol Ann Duffy reading her poem ‘Mrs Midas’ at an English PEN event held in London in 1994.

King Midas is known in Greek mythology for his ability to turn everything he touches into gold. Carol Ann Duffy’s poem is set in modern times and is written from the perspective of the King’s wife, Mrs Midas. The story starts with a perplexed Mrs Midas at their home where there is something odd going on with the King. Through a sequence of incidents at dinner time the King makes a confession. On seeing the food and homeware turned into gold Mrs Midas recounts:

___________________________________ I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn’t mind. I couldn’t believe my ears:
how he’d had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold?
It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable; slakes
no thirst.

Listen to the recording to find out what happens next.

'Mrs Midas' [BL REF C125/347 C7]

Read poem transcript

‘Mrs Midas’ is part of Duffy’s collection The World’s Wife, published by Picador and Anvil Press Poetry in 1999. Each poem engages with a mythological or historical male figure. The poems are always written from a female perspective and in monologue form. Several of these women are spouses. The collection provides a revised outlook on familiar narratives but all of them place women centre stage.

There are five years between Duffy’s reading at PEN and the publication of The World’s Wife, yet the poem did not change. There are four other poems from this collection in the recording, ‘Mrs Tiresias’, ‘Mrs Aesop’, ‘Queen Kong’ and ‘Mrs Darwin’.

The English PEN collection consists of literary talks and readings hosted and recorded by PEN between 1953 and 2006. It also includes the International Writers Day events, recorded by the British Library. Most of the events took place either in London or different parts of the UK.

This collection has been preserved by the Library’s Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Project. It includes a total of 1184 recordings from over 400 tapes, which are now accessible in the Library’s Reading Rooms. In due course, from early 2021, you will be able to listen to up to 325 English PEN recordings online.

Since I am still working from home in London, I have included this picture of King Midas from a children’s book my mother gave me as a child growing up in Spain. This was my first encounter with the King Midas story. The story feels more complete now with the addition of Mrs Midas’ views.

Illustration of King Midas
Illustration of King Midas from the book 'El rey Midas. Mis cuentos favoritos' published by Editorial Vasco Americana, 1967

English PEN is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year (1921-2021). To mark this important occasion they are running Common Currency, a year-long programme of events, residencies and workshops, which includes a three-day festival at the Southbank Centre, London, 24-26 September 2021.

To tie in with PEN’s centenary I will be featuring more recordings from the collection in the coming months.

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

07 June 2021

Recording of the week: Efe honey gathering in the Ituri Forest

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

For about two months a year in the Ituri Forest, it is honey gathering season for the Efe people of north eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. This season is an important and exciting time for the Efe, in which their energy is focused intensely on gathering honey, a favourite and staple part of their diet and livelihood.

The gathering occurs when honey is most abundant, between May and September. There are many different Efe songs and dances associated with honey gathering, performed before, during and after collection.

Climbing for honey
'Climbing for honey' by Terese Hart is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Honey gathering song [BL REF C423_1 S2 C2]

This particular group song is sung when the men are gathering honey from trees. The song is a beautifully intricate texture of polyphonic singing, hand clapping and likembe (a small lamellophone). Yodelling voices gradually emerge over the men’s bass humming. Listen closely and you can hear how the amorphous singing and humming imitates the swarm of honeybees flying around them. By ‘yodel’ we mean a vocal technique that involves alternating a ‘chest voice’ with a ‘head voice’, as recordist Didier Demolin explains in the liner notes to a CD release of his recordings.

The honey usually has to be gathered by climbing high into the trees, where the hive is often located twenty metres or more above. The men smoke out the bees and collect the honey in a basket or pack of leaves.

This song was recorded by Didier Demolin at the edge of the Ituri Forest in 1987, when the Efe were camping near the Lese villages of Ngodingodi and Digbo. The recording is part of the C423 Didier Demolin Collection and can be listened to in British Library Reading Rooms at C423/1 S2 C2.

The collection is of particular significance because the recordings were made shortly before warfare and deforestation inflicted profound damage upon Efe and Mbuti communities and their environment.

This Efe honey gathering song features in the British Library Sound Archive’s latest NTS radio programme on work songs from around the world. The show's selection also includes the songs of pearl divers from Bahrain, Somalian women singing to the rhythm of corn pounding, Scottish waulking songs and miners’ songs from Venezuela and the U.K., amongst many more.

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

17 May 2021

Recording of the week: The first recording of a complete piano concerto

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

Lockdown has given us the chance to listen to music while working from home and revisit well known recordings that we may not have had the opportunity to hear for a while. Recently I listened again to the first complete recording of a piano concerto – Beethoven’s famous 'Emperor', recorded for HMV in April 1922 by Frederic Lamond (1868-1948) with the Royal Albert Hall and conducted by Eugene Goossens.

photograph of Frederic Lamond
Frederic Lamond in 1898

Lamond was a pupil of the great Franz Liszt, studying with him in Weimar during the last few years of Liszt’s life. I actually wrote the notes for a CD reissue of this recording on the Biddulph label way back in 1998. What strikes me now is not so much the poor quality of the acoustic recording, but the rhythmic drive of the performance and particularly the orchestra; Goossens’s youthful energy is evident throughout the recording.

Eugene Goossens
Eugene Goossens

Eugene Goossens (1893-1962), born just down the road from the British Library in Camden Town, was not even thirty when the recording was made. He was from a family of Belgian musicians who began his musical life as a violinist. His grandfather conducted the first English performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser in 1882 while Eugene gave the British premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in June 1921 with the composer present. Quite a feat for a novice conductor in this first year! Ten months later he made this recording.

Concerto for Piano and Orchestra no. 5, op. 73, E flat (Emperor) (BL REF 1CL0029360)

Lamond gives a majestic performance, full of power, virility, nobility and authority. The rudimentary recording process, whereby the players had to gather around a recording horn that collected the sound waves in the room, has managed to capture a good deal of detail without any use of electricity. One hundred years after the event, we can still enjoy the vitality and informed performance of the greatest musicians.

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04 May 2021

'The most important thing is to hear the voice of the Earth': revisiting a Buddhist temple in Fukushima

This week (29 April – 5 May) in Japan welcomes the arrival of a cluster of national holidays known as Golden Week. Today (4 May) is celebrated as Greenery Day or Midori-no-hi (みどりの日). This is a day that encourages the people of Japan to embrace the environment and take a moment to reconnect with the natural world.

Dokeiji Temple entrance
'May Peace Prevail On Earth' - An inscription written in both Japanese and English on a sekitō (石塔), a stone pagoda that welcomes visitors at the entrance of Dokeiji Temple, a Buddhist temple located in Minamisōma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

'The most important thing is to hear the voice of the earth', says Tokuun Tanaka – head priest of Dokeiji Temple, an 800-year old Sōtō Zen temple situated in the Odaka district of Minamisōma, roughly 20km from the site of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on the north eastern coast of Japan. After the Tōhoku earthquake struck on 11 March 2011, the tsunami and nuclear disaster which followed devastated this region.

A 30km mandatory evacuation zone left many residents with no choice but to leave immediately. Their homes, their communities and their environment were all damaged irreparably. The evacuation order was lifted in 2016 but there remains a great deal of uncertainty as to the long-term effects of the radiation damage there, much of which is still present in the towns and villages surrounding Fukushima, as well as in the marine and forest environments. The forests occupy 75% of the fallout zone and are still considered too dangerous to begin the process of decontamination. What is certain is that it could take many years, if not generations, before the regenerative healing powers of nature begin to take effect.

Tokuun Tanaka - Buddha's Word [BL REF C1872/48/1]

With this humble song, titled Itsukushimi (慈しみ) - a word that can be interpreted as compassion, love and mercy - Tokuun brings together Buddhist scripture from the Sutta Nipata, an ancient text considered to be over 2500 years old, with the modern stylings of folk spirituals on his acoustic guitar. 'The singer-songwriter is Buddha' he tells me in a friendly, jovial tone whilst seated on the tatami floor of Dokeiji temple’s Butsu-dō (main hall). It is a song that Tokuun sings alone at night, surrounded by a gentle chorus of night crickets on this particular late summer evening of 5 September 2019.

I had the opportunity to visit Tokuun and make this recording whilst doing field work supported by the World and Traditional Music section of the British Library Sound Archive. The resulting recordings can now be browsed on the Sound and Moving Image catalogue as the Mat Eric Hart Japan Collection (C1872)

Slowly, the members of this temple community are returning, some after many years of having been displaced, but sadly there are also those who will never return. Every month, Tokuun welcomes visitors to Dokeiji Temple, inviting them to sing together with him this song of compassion, love and healing.

In Tokuun’s own words: 'Our way of life is being challenged. From growth to maturity, let us be part of the change. Let us take the right path without concern for profit or loss. It is time for the whole of humanity to evolve based on solidarity and harmony beyond self and society.'

Written by Mat Eric Hart

The Mat Eric Hart Japan Collection (C1872) explores contemporary practices and rituals of spiritual Japanese individuals and communities, and further aims to examine, from a sonic and artistic perspective, the relationship that exists between nature and spirituality within Japanese culture. The collection includes field recordings of both traditional, contemporary and classical Japanese and Ainu music, Buddhist chants, Shinto rituals, Shugendo and Yamabushi ceremonies. These recordings were made between August and November 2019 at various locations across Japan and her islands.

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