Sound and vision blog

17 posts categorized "The Listening Project"

12 February 2018

Recording of the Week: The Listening Project Symphony

Paul Wilson, Curator Radio Broadcast writes:

This week’s selection celebrates World Radio Day 2018 (13th February) and is an example of the art of radio at its best: blending creativity with actuality to illuminate aspects of our life and times and, in this instance, one of the moral dilemmas of our day. It's an excerpt from the Listening Project Symphony, a beautiful composition by Gary Carpenter for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, first broadcast live from Manchester in December 2012. The piece incorporates extracts from some of the intimate and often surprising conversations which have emerged from The Listening Project, a collaboration between the BBC and the British Library in which family members or friends are invited to share their stories, private thoughts and feelings with an unseen radio audience.  

BBC Philharmonic at Salford Quays  2012
The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra at Salford Quays, 2012. Photo courtesy of the BBC

In this extract we briefly hear voices from three separate conversations, each poignant or moving in its own way even in this edited form. The third - part of a conversation between a young British Muslim woman of Indian/Pakistani descent and her India-born mother - will hold a particular resonance for some. The daughter begins by gauging her mother's response to a hypothetical question about marriage: how would you feel if I were to marry a man of a different religion? She then takes the hypothetical situation a step further - how would you feel if my partner were another woman?

The Listening Project Symphony (excerpt) 

The complete Listening Project Symphony can be heard on the BBC iPlayer here and the Listening Project’s BBC homepage is here. The complete collection of unedited Listening Project conversations can be explored at the British Library’s Sounds website.

16 October 2017

Recording of the week: soul midwives

This week's selection comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Friends, Vanessa and Felicity, talk about their work as soul midwives which involves working with people who are dying to ensure that their death is personal and dignified. They describe the different ways that people approach and experience death and how their work has changed the way that they view life and think about their own death. They discuss at length the mysteries that surround death, how other people react to what they do and the gift of insights that they feel are given to them by the people they work with. They also describe the experiences of death that made them want to do this job, they talk about how much they enjoy what they do and say that, contrary to what people might think, it actually involves a lot of joy and laughter.

The Listening Project_soul midwives (excerpt)

Vanessa and Felicity

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between Vanessa and Felicity can be found here.

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

10 July 2017

Recording of the week: choosing dreadlocks

This week's selection comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Mother and daughter, Jan and Ama, talk about why they both have dreadlocks. This is the first time they have told each other their reasons for choosing to wear their hair in this way and their motivations are quite different, though Jan’s hair definitely inspired Ama’s choice and they both really like the way that dreadlocks look and feel. They discuss how other people react to their hair and how this makes them feel as well as how their hair connects with their self-identity, their appearance and their blackness. Later in the conversation they talk about how fighting for racial and gender equality has evolved over time and is different for their respective generations, how their hair is part of being active in those fights and how choosing dreadlocks is a way of defining their own idea of beauty.

The Listening Project_Choosing dreadlocks

Jan and Ama

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between Jan and Ama can be found here.

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

19 June 2017

Recording of the week: language and identity

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

This short exchange during a conversation between two young females talking about life and relationships offers a fascinating glimpse into how our linguistic choices reflect our identity. One of the speakers, a British Muslim, uses the phrase bringing home the bacon which instantly sparks off giggles as, culturally and linguistically, it somehow encapsulates her reflections on her joint British and Muslim identity. The phrase she chooses could not be more quintessentially English - the first citation recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary is from the 1924 PG Wodehouse novel, Ukridge.

Bringing home the bacon

021I-C1500X0088XX-0001A0Photograph of participants

This extract is taken from the Listening Project - a collection of over 1000 conversations contributed by members of the public on a variety of topics of their own choosing. Listen to the full conversation between Afshan and Olivia here

Follow @soundarchive for all the latest news.

20 October 2015

Radio Festival 2015 at the British Library - with highlights from the radio archive


Brian Eno delivering the John Peel Lecture at the British Library
Brian Eno delivering the John Peel Lecture at the 2015 Radio Festival

The British Library recently hosted the 2015 Radio Festival, including BBC Radio’s John Peel Lecture, presented this year by Brian Eno, and a two day programme bringing together leading figures and experts from the UK radio industry. Hosted by Paddy O’Connell, this year’s speakers included radio and TV presenter Chris Evans, Will Page of online music service Spotify and Peter Barron, Google’s European Head of Communications.

Ahead of the Peel Lecture on the Sunday 27 September, BBC 6 Music took up residence in the foyer of our St Pancras building for an ‘Afternoon from the British Library’ with musician/DJ Jarvis Cocker and Mary Anne Hobbs broadcasting live. During the programme, Cocker and Hobbs registered for Reader Passes, before exploring the Library’s collections underground. Here they discovered some of the many rare and unique recordings in the sound archive, and even came face to face with an early edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Jarvis Cocker visiting the British Library (photo Toby Keane)
Jarvis Cocker exploring the LP stacks in the British Library's sound archive. Photo by Toby Keane

The Festival was the perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the British Library’s sound archive, an extraordinary collection of around 6.5m recordings dating back to the birth of recorded sound in the 19th Century. Adam Tovell, the Library's Production Co-ordinator (Technical Services), delivered the TechCon keynote address, outlining our concerns and solutions to the threats currently facing this unique collection; not least the danger that sounds may soon be lost due to obsolescence of the historical playback devices required to reproduce them, or as the materials from which they are made naturally decay.

This is one of the two central challenges of our Save our Sounds campaign, which we highlighted throughout the Radio Festival conference, the other being the archiving challenges of capturing today’s radio for researchers and students of the future.

During the Festival, we also played attendees some of our favourite sounds from the British Library’s radio archive, a collection of some 200,000 hours dating back to the 1920s. They were chosen by curators and staff from across the Library and played in between festival sessions:

Mary Stewart - The Ballad of John Axon - BBC Home Service, 1958

Luke McKernan - The Sinking of Radio Caroline, 1980

Caroline Brazier - Folk-Song Cellar - BBC Home Service, 1966

Jonnie Robinson - The Listening Project, 2012

Nora McGregor - Pressures of the Unspeakable - Resonance 107.3 FM, 1998

Andy Linehan - Johnny Rotten on Capital Radio, 1977

Rob Perks - George Ewart Evans - BBC Third Programme, 1964

Polly Russell - Anna Raeburn on The World Today - New York, 1974 

Richard Ranft - Music From a Small Planet - BBC Radio 4, 1983

Steve Cleary - Sono-Montage - BBC Third Programme, 1966

Steven Dryden - Kenny Everett on Capital Radio, 1970s

Paul Wilson - Pre-War Radio Luxembourg, 1935

To mark the end of the Festival, visitors to the Library were rewarded with an unexpected 15-minute performance by award-winning musician and BBC Radio 2 presenter Jamie Cullum, whose group played in our Entrance Hall.

Jamie Cullum (photo by Tony Antoniou)
Jamie Cullum playing in the Library's entrance hall. Photo by Tony Antoniou

With thanks to producer Simon Tester for recording the radio collection highlights, the Radio Academy, Gregory Whitehead, Anna Raeburn, Frances Taylor and Sophie McIvor.

09 September 2015

Listening Project Workshop

Holly Gilbert writes:

Join us on Monday 12 October at the British Library Conference Centre to reflect on the first three years of the Listening Project: an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC in which people are invited to share an intimate conversation with a close friend or relative.

These one-to-one conversations, modelled on the US StoryCorps project, last up to an hour and take a topic of the speakers' choice, collectively forming a picture of our lives and relationships today. The conversations so far gathered cover a huge range of life experiences told from the perspective of the people who have lived them, from birth to death and everything in between. The collection currently consists of 650 conversations made by contributors from 7 to 101 years old, recorded in all four corners of the UK and includes people who have moved here from across the globe.

The conversations can be listened to in full on the Library's Sounds website while the edited BBC radio programmes are available on the BBC Listening Project website.

The event includes a panel discussion chaired by presenter Fi Glover in which BBC producers reflect on the process of making the recordings and the impact of broadcasting excerpts, Listening Project participants discuss their experience of contributing to the collection and library curators and researchers explore the potential for using the online Listening Project archive for a variety of research purposes as it continues to grow.

The Listening Project booth will be making a stop at the Library especially for the event as part of its nationwide tour.

Listening Project booth

Tickets are free and can be booked via the British Library Box Office.

Workshop Programme

Monday 12 October 2015, British Library Conference Centre

10:30               Arrival: tea & coffee

11:00 – 11:20  Welcome & Introduction

11:20 – 12:45  Using the Listening Project Archive

  • Professor Joanna Bornat (Faculty of Health & Social Care, Open University and an editor of Oral History Journal)
  • Dr Natalie Braber (Department of English, Culture & Media, Nottingham Trent University)
  • Linda Ingham (Visual Artist-Curator, Conversations with my Mother, a book-work installation as part of the Shifting Subjects exhibition)

12:45               Lunch (not provided)

14:00 - 15:00 Creating the Listening Project Archive

  • Panel discussion with BBC Listening Project producers chaired by Fi Glover

15:00 - 15:30   Tea & coffee

15:30 - 16.30   Taking part in the Listening Project

  • Panel discussion with Listening Project participants chaired by Fi Glover

16:30                           Close

10 June 2015

Listening Project booth comes to the British Library

Holly Gilbert writes:

Being immersed in the BBC Listening Project collection at the British Library for the last three years has felt a bit like embarking on a compelling and often emotional journey around the UK without ever needing to leave my desk.

The Listening Project is a collection of 40-minute conversations between two people who have decided to take the time to talk about something of their choice that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to discuss.

The topics include a fascinating range of unusual lifestyles or jobs, such as living with wolves, being a polar explorer, performing as a drag queen, working as a soul midwife and being involved in the peace movement. There are inspiring and moving accounts of surviving sickness and trauma as well as living with terminal illness, disability and mental illness. Family experiences such as love, partnership, pregnancy, birth, divorce, death, adoption and infertility all feature in the collection, including what it’s like to have an arranged marriage, to be a single parent, to come out and to survive domestic abuse.

The Listening Project recording bubble at the British Library

Widening the scope of the project beyond national borders, people share their experiences of moving to the UK from other countries including Poland, Iraq, Jamaica, Afghanistan and Uganda. There are also personal accounts of historical events such as the Second World War, the Northern Ireland Troubles, the Holocaust, the 1974 Miners’ Strike and the Nagasaki atom bomb.

A conversation that particularly haunts me is the one in which Tricia describes to her friend Carol the experience of spending some of her teenage years and most of her twenties in the terrifying psychiatric hospital High Royds near Leeds in the 1980s.

Her description of the imposing Victorian architecture and incomprehensible mental health system which she did her best to resist is unforgettable and extremely powerful, as is her subsequent release, recovery and experience of returning to and photographing the building when it was closing down in 2003 which was for her a kind of healing process. It is a privilege to hear the story of this part of Tricia’s life as described by her and to be able to archive it in the British Library, making it accessible in perpetuity.

I sometimes wonder what researchers in 100 years’ time will make of the experiences and preoccupations of the people who have shared their stories as part of the Listening Project and of the wider society that these small insights into their lives reflect.

The recordings cover the length and breadth of the UK, from the South West of England to the Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland, from East Anglia through Wales and over to Northern Ireland. The youngest speaker is 7 year old Felix talking to his brother Kit about being siblings in the twenty-first century and the oldest is 101 year old Muriel talking to her son Julian about her memories of the First World War.

With more than 650 searchable recordings available to listen to worldwide on the British Library Sounds website there is almost no limit to where you might be transported and what you might learn from someone else’s experience of life. So I invite you to join me, open your ears and mind and begin your own journey via the conversations of others.

The Listening Project Booth will be at the British Library in St Pancras on 10 and 11 June 2015 before touring all four corners of the United Kingdom.  Visit the Booth on the piazza to find out how you can record a conversation, which will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and archived by the British Library.

12 April 2012

The Listening Project

Melissa Byrd, Marketing Manager, writes

The Listening Project on BBC Radio 4 is now in full swing; you may have seen the ads on BBC TV. Here at the Library we were excited to see them and listen to the programmes for the first time, because they represent the culmination of a great deal of work behind the scenes over the last few months.

The Project aims to capture the nation in conversation: to record intimate conversations between loved ones and broadcast them to the nation. It’s oral history, but with a twist; the interviewer is a close friend or family member, and the emphasis is on relationships, on conversations rather than storytelling. Our curator Jonnie Robinson talks about this in more detail on the BBC Radio 4 blog.

There’s been a lot of press coverage of the Project. One of my favourites was an article in the Guardian on ‘the art of eavesdropping’ which sparked an entertaining discussion in the comments section about overheard conversations. But, of course, these conversations aren’t overheard; they are recorded in a local BBC Radio studio, or uploaded by listeners. So rather than the often unintentional humour of everyday chitchat, the subject matter is rather serious; conversations cover loss, aging, illness and terrorism. What is refreshing is that, despite the subject matter, the speakers are largely optimistic. The emphasis is on getting on with life despite their difficulties.

The Library will receive the first batch of recordings for archiving this month, and we’ll be posting some comments on the material that has been collected, and some thoughts about how it could be used by researchers, teachers and writers.

The first few programmes have now been broadcast and there are lots of recordings on the BBC website to listen to, or you can download the podcast.

Find out more about our involvement in the project

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