Experience a new sound installation, 'Breathe in, Breathe out', in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at the British Library. The project looks at the positive effects of sound on well-being and relaxation. It is the first in a series of new initiatives in the Treasures Gallery, exploring innovative ways of working and engaging with diverse audiences. It runs until Sunday, 26 November 2023. The gallery is free to enter.
We have installed an open-walled structure with dimmed lighting and comfy seating, which provides a cosy space for visitors to relax and unwind. A calming, dreamlike soundscape plays on an endless loop. The mix blends spoken word, music, wildlife, and environmental sounds. All the sounds are drawn from the Library's collection.
A visitor looks at the 'Breathe in, Breathe out' tracklist—photo by Simon Leach Design.
Relaxation starts with conscious breathing. The title 'Breathe in, Breathe out' encourages listeners to take a deep breath and focus on the present moment. Nature sounds transport us to peaceful places, offering tranquillity amidst daily distractions. Dreams and dreamscapes also feature, highlighting the importance of rest and recovery. Research shows that we activate different parts of the brain when we listen to music. The impact of sound on our bodies is significant, particularly when it comes to our emotions, memories, and movement. It influences our breathing, heart rate, and mood.
The soundscape is mixed for 8-channel playback, creating an immersive surround-sound experience. The mix juxtaposes calming sounds with hints of suspense. Key elements include 'Jetsun Mila' by Éliane Radigue, inspired by the 11th-century Tibetan yogi and poet Milarepa. There are poems by Langston Hughes, W. S. Graham, and Caroline Bergvall. The music covers a broad spectrum of gentle tones, including the delicate notes of water bowls performed by Tomoko Sauvage and the eerie sounds of 'Iká' by Skull Mask, played by Gosha Shtasel, who created the mix and is one of the British Library's sound engineers. You can explore the entire tracklist on one of the display walls.
Two women fill out feedback forms—photo by Eva del Rey.
Curating this mix has been an enjoyable experience, as sound and well-being are topics of particular interest to me. We wanted to provide a serene space for visitors to pause and recharge. We also sought to improve how sound is showcased in the Treasures Gallery, pushing the limits of our traditional displays. Surround sound offers an immersive sensory journey that has transformed the gallery space. Listening together cultivates a sense of relaxation, and connection, enhancing our general well-being. Each listener brings their unique perspective and emotions, yet we find common ground in the soothing embrace of sound.
Feedback is encouraged. Responses so far tell us that listeners feel captivated, as if they were part of a movie, with most finding it soothing and some even finding it stirring. It is an effortless and refreshing experience. The display highlights the power of sound to create a peaceful escape and a transformative experience for all who engage with it.
Animals: Art, Science and Sound is the first major exhibition to explore the many different ways in which animals have been written about, visualised and recorded over time. Focusing on the British Library’s extensive natural history collections, the exhibition brings together chronologically and geographically diverse material produced over the past 2000 years, from some of the earliest encyclopaedic works on zoology to stunning high-resolution photographs of insects produced using the latest technologies.
The exhibition features over 100 objects selected from the Library's diverse collections and is divided into four main zones that cover darkness, water, land and air. As the name suggests, sound features heavily in the exhibition, both in terms of physical objects and sound recordings themselves. There are soundscapes playing in the gallery space that help create atmosphere and listening points where visitors can explore some of the more weird and wonderful recordings held by the Library. Published discs, field tapes, recording equipment and personal notebooks sit alongside historical manuscripts, paintings and printed works, and many of these items are on display for the very first time. There are objects of celebration, such as the first commercial record of an animal, but also objects of sadness, the most poignant of which is a reel of tape containing the song of a now extinct songbird.
Below are just a few highlights from this textually, visually and sonically rich exhibition.
The Holgate Mark VI bat detector which was one of the earliest portable models produced (British Library, WA 2009/018)
Animals: Art, Science and Sound runs until 28 August 2023. Please visit https://www.bl.uk/events/animals to book tickets and to find out more about the exhibition's accompanying events programme. Thanks go to the Getty Foundation, Ponant, the American Trust for the British Library and the B.H. Breslauer Fund of the American Trust for the British Library. Audio soundscapes were created by Greg Green with support from the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project, made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and scientific advice provided by ZSL (the Zoological Society of London).
This week's post comes from Cheryl Tipp, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds Curator.
Wind is usually the bane of a sound recordist’s life. It can ruin an otherwise perfect recording.
Thankfully, this recording of Scotland’s Largs Harbour on an overcast September evening is only improved by the gusty weather. An eerie chiming rises from the harbour as the wind whistles through the rigging of the moored yachts. The recording was made in 'pseudo-binaural' stereo, that is to say, using two microphones either side of a carry bag.
This is part of a small collection made by Richard Beard during a five-day sailing trip around the Inner Hebrides in September 2007. The collection also includes the sound of rain on the yacht’s plastic cockpit cover, as well as the vessel under sail.
This week we are pleased to feature a video from musician Paul Cheese which showcases a singularly unusual creative project. It is a musical piece he made from over 4,000 ‘found sounds’ recorded on a 5,000-mile bike ride around the UK in 2019.
Carrying a mobile recording setup on my bike, I cycled almost 5,000 miles to every region of the UK, with the goal of capturing the sound of people, places and record in unusual locations. During the trip I recorded and captured the sounds of people, their friendliness, the sound of the elements interacting with architecture and nature, and the activities of everyday life - over 11,000 sounds. I used around 4,000 of these to create a four and a half-minute piece of music.
The sounds of people's workplaces and tools, hobbies, art, and the different rhythms of different materials - outdoor recording the echoes bouncing off concrete, or through tunnels - all combined to create a unique reflection of ‘The Sound of the UK’.
Paul has kindly donated to the archive a high-quality version of the video shown here, plus a wav-format audio file, and an additional ‘making of’ video. A second audio file, of 200 people each pronouncing the name of their respective home city, town or village, has been lodged with our Accents & Dialects section.
Via email, I asked Paul a few questions about his project.
Steve Cleary [SC]: Did you camp outside each night or stay in hotels or B&Bs? And how was that?
Paul Cheese [PC]: Sometimes I would be on the road cycling and recording for 16 hours and most evenings I'd spend a couple of hours backing everything up, cataloguing all of the day’s captured media, writing a diary/blog and recharging the cameras/recording gear. So a pillow for my head and somewhere safe to put the bike and recording equipment for the night was required. I mainly stayed in cheap B&Bs and hostels. Most days I wouldn’t have any accommodation booked until the evening. This was because very early on in the journey I realised that sticking to the planned route would be impossible - the reason being that when I talked with people along the way they would suggest great-sounding places for recording. Fantastic!, but it was often a completely different way than the way I'd planned to go. So I quit the planning thing and although I had an idea of the main direction I was heading, I just headed where people suggested. This did mean that sometimes I hadn’t booked accommodation until 11.30 pm, and most of the time I didn’t have a clue where I was going, which added a whole different level to the adventure.
SC: How long were you on the road for?
PC: The cycle took me just over three months, longer than planned because of the detours to capture people's sound suggestions.
SC: What was the most interesting, enjoyable or surprising place you visited?
PC: I met so many amazing people and collected thousands of fantastic sounds that take me right back to the moment when I hear them. But there is one moment, that when it happened at the end of a long day it made me feel euphoric, emotional and lucky. As mentioned, sometimes I would arrive quite late to my accommodation. But this meant that some days I would arrive after everything was closed. So, no food. I was cycling in Wales and was staying above a pub.
It had been a long hilly day and I had eaten all my supplies. When I arrived, everywhere was closed and the bar didn’t even have any peanuts. But there were a few locals at the bar, we got talking and they said, ‘You’ve been cycling all day, we can’t have you going without food'. So one guy went home and got me some bread and butter; one lady got me some eggs; another went home and got me sausages; and one lady said, 'I’ve got some vegetables, you can have them too.' I felt like I was in a film, how amazing was that? I was so appreciative of their kindness and food.
During all of my bike adventures I have been overwhelmed by the kindness of people, and to top it all, when I left the pub in the morning, the front door made a fantastic sound, which I recorded and used in the final track.
SC: What were your favourites of the sounds you recorded?
PC: I collected thousands of sounds, just by having a good listen to the world around me.
How can I choose just one? There were so many great sounds and every sound has a story:
the beat of firemen retracting ladders in Suffolk;
the rhythm of chalk marks as the sign writer marked out the new lettering at a carriage restorers in Ballantrea on the west coast of Scotland;
lock gates in Leicester;
curlews and electric fences on the Orkney isles;
the kettle drum-like sound of metal girders being dropped in Cornwall;
the breathing of the shingle on Brighton seafront;
waves on steps in Rhyl;
footsteps on the beach of the North coast of Guernsey;
crop sprinklers in Shropshire;
the winding of cable on the transporter bridge into Middlesbrough;
Hull Cathedral bells and the flicker of bunting;
the favourite chord of an organ master in Newark-on-Trent;
the one-o -clock gun in Edinburgh;
clog dancers in Leeds;
kicking the bar in Aberystwyth;
the wind whistling in the rigging of boats at Sandwich bay, Kent;
the scrape of bull dozers pushing metal into compactors on the north coast of Wales;
Manchester town hall clock;
the rhythm of builders re-pointing a wall in Somerset;
the sound decay of the reverb in an old railway tunnel in West Yorkshire;
the sounds of Rossy boatyard at Clydebank as a plane flew over;
a Spitfire fly-by in Folkestone on the Kent coast;
the audio tones of the different sluice gates and weirs on the Kennet and Avon canal;
rhythms and clanks of metal works in Keighley;
an old man with a 2 piece metal walking stick in Cambridge;
a motorbike dealer’s favourite engine idling in Norfolk;
‘relay for life’ walkers footsteps in Barnstaple…
There were so many different bird songs and the sound of people’s accents.
If I had to choose from a cycling point of listening/view, it would have to be the sound of a strong wind humming bass lines through barbed wire fences.
From my experience, the loudest sparrows were on Jersey: the loudest blackbirds were in Norfolk; the loudest seagulls were in Devon (Sidmouth); and the most melodic blackbirds are from the northeast of England up to around Dundee.
SC: Were there advantages to doing this by bike?
PC: The brilliant thing about being on a bike is that you can stop and listen. Here’s an example.
I was cycling EuroVelo 1 in Scotland, ah, the amazing quiet! It was so quiet that I could sense this low rumble… the kinda sound you can feel. People say about following your nose - well I followed my ears…
I followed my ears for about a mile. Eventually I found it: the low sub bass was coming from a water pumping station. Which incidentally was humming the note of D.
There were some interesting things I noticed from the recordings (not highly scientific but interesting all the same). From the sounds I recorded, 30% blackbird calls on the east of the UK were at 98 bpm, in the west, 108 bpm. Three out of four UK builders render a wall at 108bpm.
From the thousands of sounds I collected, the most prominent tempo across the UK was 98 bpm, then 110 bpm, then 122 bpm. I reflected this by the three different tempo changes within the final piece.
I also found that the prominent key was F# major, then D major and A# major (I found that D major was the prominent key of Kent). I also used this in the different movements of the final piece of music.
SC: Would you consider doing something like this again?
PC: Absolutely! I’m in the middle of creating my third solo album Just for The Record Three. This is being written and recorded on 12 worldwide cycle missions with one song being written on each trip.
I’m looking forward to how the third album will come together and the inspirational sounds and locations I will find on the way.
This week’s selection comes from Jonathan Benaim, Audio Cataloguing Coordinator.
Recordings of weather can give us a palpable sense of a time and place. When sounds from the surrounding environment are captured in a weather recording, we are able to imagine the scene, the totality conveying a cohesive sonic picture.
A cloudy sky. Photo credit: Jonathan Benaim.
This thunderstorm recording has a nocturnal feel and evokes the natural world both great and small. It opens with the staccato sound of raindrops and the chirping of field crickets. It then surprises with a sudden, loud rumble of thunder. As the storm rolls on, the raindrops mass, their sound becoming louder and denser.
The recording is rich in texture and each detail helps us to build an image in our mind. The distant calls of sheep suggest a countryside location and also give a spatial depth. The pastoral sounds offer a soft counterpoint to the arresting claps of thunder.
The recording was made by Kyle Turner in Lacave, Lot, in France, on 25 May 2009. It is described in the British Library’s catalogue as the arrival of the second storm of the night. Kyle Turner recorded three storms that night in the same location. You can listen to the first storm of the night and the third storm of the night on British Library Sounds.
Ever wanted to create a game inspired by trees? Well now’s your chance!
The British Library will be running Games in the Woods, a tree-themed online game jam as part of this year’s Urban Tree Festival which takes place from 15 to 23 May 2021. The festival, now in its fourth year, celebrates all things related to urban and suburban trees, woodlands and associated wild places that bring so much life and joy to our cities.
The jam encourages people of all ages, either alone or in teams, to create digital or analogue games such as video games, interactive fiction, web comics, board games, escape games, card games or anything else that springs to mind.
Participants are encouraged to make use of the library’s digital content when creating their games. A dedicated playlist of downloadable wildlife and environmental sound recordings is available on the library’s Soundcloud account. From woodland creatures and babbling brooks to rumbling thunder and pouring rain, these recordings should come in useful when designing soundtracks.
A wide selection of images from the library’s collection of digitised 19th century books can also be drawn upon during the creative process. Check out our Flora and Fauna albums or, if you’re feeling lucky, just use tree-related terms to search the photostream.
Head on over to the Library's Digital Scholarship blog where Stella Wisdom has posted more information about the jam. Here you can also read about a similar novel-themed jam that was recently organised by Leeds Libraries.
Games in the Woods will run throughout the duration of the festival. There will be a launch event on Saturday 15 May with inspiring examples of interactive digital experiences featuring trees and then a show and tell on Sunday 23 May for jammers to share their creations. We look forward to seeing what you come up with!
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.
'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.
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.
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.'
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.
This week's selection comes from Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds.
The Gondwana Rainforests of Australia are renowned for their lush landscapes and rich biodiversity. Stretching from Queensland to New South Wales, this collection of rainforests represents 180 million years of our planet’s natural history. It’s here that both ancient and more recently evolved species coexist, each having carved out their own special niche in this World Heritage Area.
Lamington National Park is just one of the Gondwana Rainforests. Running along the Lamington Plateau, an elevated range of valleys and uplands with volcanic origins, this natural wonder is known for its stunning waterfalls, prehistoric terrain and high proportion of rare species.
Dawn in Lamington National Park, Queensland (Photo credit: JohnGGM, CC BY-SA)
Lamington is not just a feast for the eyes however; its soundscape is just as lush as its landscape. In September 1986, wildlife sound recordist David Lumsdaine visited the park and recorded what many consider to be the sonic highlight of the day – the dawn chorus.
Recorded in Queensland, Australia on 11 September 1986 by David Lumsdaine (BL ref 151390)
This 4 minute excerpt is a vibrant mix of songs and calls from a wide variety of early morning songsters. From the whip-crack song of Eastern Whipbirds and the yodelling of Pied Currawongs to the hurried rhythms of White-browed Scrubwrens, this recording is just bursting with life.