09 July 2013

We've moved!

No new posts will be added here, as we have moved this blog to the newly designed and re-scoped Sound and Vision blog:

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/sound-and-vision/

Please update your bookmarks and blog subscriptions/feed readers

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19 April 2013

The Advent of Sound Recording

Cheryl Tipp, Natural Sounds Curator writes:

Over the past 5 weeks, listeners of BBC Radio 4 have been treated to a series dedicated entirely to sound and its many roles in human culture over the past 100,000 years. Noise: a Human History, written and presented by Professor David Hendy and made in collaboration with the British Library's Sound Archive, has explored a multitude of subjects, from the power of great orators to the significance of resonant spaces.

Episode 25, Capturing Sound, looks at new technologies that emerged during the latter half of the 19th Century, making it possible to record and thereby transform sound from something previously transient and elusive.

The British Library has an extensive collection of both early recordings and the equipment used to record and playback these sounds. Many of the earliest machines in the collection were the inventions of Thomas Edison, the first person to design a device that could both record and playback the captured sounds.

Edison phonograph
Edison Home Phonograph (1900)

Over 350 images of recording and playback equipment from 1877 to the end of the 20th Century can be explored in the Sound Recording History section of British Library Sounds. The site also contains over 600 early spoken word recordings that bring together the voices of sportsmen, explorers, writers, politicians and even royalty.

Don Bradman, Australian cricketer - How it's Done

Amy Johnson, pioneer aviator - The Story of my Flight 

Christabel Pankhurst, suffragette and co-founder of the Women's Social and Political Union - Suffrage for Women

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States of America - Address to the Congress of the United States, 8 December 1941

This varied collection is drawn from commercial cylinders and 78rpm discs that date from the earliest days of recorded sound to the late 1950s, when LPs became the standard format for the record industry. Many of the recordings have never been reissued.

Noise: A Human History is broadcast on weekdays at 13:45 on BBC Radio 4, with a special omnibus edition at 21:00 on Fridays. All episodes broadcast so far are available on iPlayer Radio.

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03 April 2013

British Bird of the Month: Starling

Cheryl Tipp, Natural Sounds Curator writes:

Two things come to mind when thinking about the Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris - mumuration and mimicry. Starling murmurations occur when thousands of individuals flock together forming great swirling patterns in the sky, either when leaving their roost at dawn or returning to rest at dusk. From Brighton Pier to the Somerset Levels, these magnificent spectacles continue to wow audiences across the country.

Starling_electrographica
Starlings are also known for their remarkable ability to imitate different sounds. The following example, recorded by Vic Lewis in Herefordshire, England during the spring of 1968, includes mimicry of House Sparrows, a Jackdaw and even a barking dog.

http://sounds.bl.uk/Environment/Listen-to-Nature/022M-LISTNAT00246-0001V0

Many other birds also make use of their ability to mimic sounds, sometimes with very unexpected results. The British Library CD 'Bird Mimicry' features a remarkable collection of recordings such as a Jay neighing like a horse, a Blackbird imitating the sound of a computer modem, Bullfinches singing German folk tunes and a Fawn-breasted Bowerbird spontaneously mimicking the various sounds of a building site.

(Image courtesy of Electrographica)

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25 March 2013

And a salad batch for the trip back to London, sir?

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

This month we've uploaded linguistic descriptions of conversations about local speech in Aston Cantlow, Bedworth, Coventry, Keresley and Wilmcote: the set of BBC Voices Recordings made by BBC Radio Coventry & Warwickshire. The descriptions list the participants' responses to a series of prompt words and in the case of Bedworth, Coventry and Wilmcote include a summary of the pronunciation and grammar of the contributors.

So what unites speakers in this part of Warwickshire? Well, there's general consensus that Bedworth [bedduth] has a micro-dialect of its own and a strong sense that although accents locally may not be well-known nationally, they're definitely not Brummies as confirmed by this speaker in Coventry:

0:09:27 Coventry has an accent of its own it it’s peculiar to itself it’s not Leicestershire it’s not Bedworth even it and it’s not it’s certainly not Brummy

Common local terms include babby [= baby], pumps [= PE shoes] and - for Coventrians at least - batch [= bread roll]. As a lifelong Sky Blues fan I have many happy memories of trips to Highfield Road, invariably calling in at the chippy on Gulson Road to stock up for the journey home (the best chips in the world according to my son). After one particular Premier League match against Wimbledon (yes, that did happen) we were in the queue behind a group of opposition fans when a local wisecrack suggested they might like to add a salad batch as a side order - a playful reference to the stereotypical southerner flaunting his perceived social superiority even in terms of his eating habits. Sadly, of course, the Wimbledon fans hadn't a clue what a batch was, but the locals got the joke immediately.

There are several linguistic highlights in this batch (excuse the pun) of recordings. There's an abundance of, like, data in the recording with Bedworth teenagers that will interest anyone studying the, like, use of the discourse marker 'like' and that. The awareness in Wilmcote of the local significance of the pronunciation of words such as grass and bath confirms this part of the Midlands as a transition area between a 'northern' short vowel and 'southern' long vowel for words in this set. But above all, the real gem is the discussion in Coventry of City's 1987 FA Cup triumph at Wembley, a result that finally gave Sky Blues fans relief from constant references to the Monty Python World Forum sketch in which Che Guevara is unable to answer what was at the time a trick question: 'Coventry City last won the FA Cup in what year?'

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21 March 2013

Europeana Creative

Europeana Creative is an exciting new European project which will enable and promote greater re-use of cultural heritage resources by Europe’s creative industries. The project was launched at the end of February 2013 at the Austrian National Library in Vienna and will run for 30 months. The British Library is just one of 26 partners from 14 European countries with diverse backgrounds who are contributing to the project. The team includes content providing institutions with world famous collections, creative industry hubs and organisations, the tourism and education sectors, living labs, software developers and multimedia experts, as well as think tanks.

Afb_rdblog_creative-kickoff_20130227

The online portal Europeana provides access to more than 26 million digitised cultural heritage objects from Europe’s libraries, museums, archives and audiovisual collections. The Europeana Creative project sets out to demonstrate that Europeana can facilitate the creative re-use of digital cultural heritage content and associated metadata. Partners will develop a number of pilot applications focused on design, tourism, education and social networks. Building on these pilots, a series of open innovation challenges will be launched with entrepreneurs from the creative industries to identify, incubate and spin-off more viable projects into the commercial sector.

The project goals will be supported by an open laboratory network (the Open Culture Lab), an on- and offline environment for experimentation with content, tools and business services, and a licensing framework where content holders can specify the re-use conditions for their material. The project will be supported by continuous evaluation and business modelling development.

The re-use of digital content is an essential part of the Digital Agenda for Europe. Several activities are already stimulating the re-use of cultural heritage in order to demonstrate the social and economic value of cultural content. With the publication of the Europeana metadata under the terms of the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0) in September 2012, further development of innovative applications based on this metadata is now possible. Europeana Creative takes this a step further by facilitating re-use of the digital objects themselves.

For further information and updates, please visit Europeana Creative

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18 March 2013

An aural history comes alive

A major 30-part radio series will be broadcast from today on BBC Radio Four. Noise: A Human History, made in collaboration with the British Library’s sound archive, is written and presented by David Hendy, professor of media and communications at Sussex University.

The series is a journey stretching across the world’s continents and over 100,000 years that explores the human experience of listening and the significance of sounds.

Cavern

During its preparation, Prof Hendy and series producer Matt Thompson gathered many recordings on location. They also wanted to mine the rich audio collections at the British Library for unique examples.  The Library has one of the world’s largest sound collections, covering an incredibly broad range of subjects: music of all genres; the spoken word, radio documentaries and oral memories; dialects and accents; sound effects and sounds of the natural world. You can discover and listen for free to 50,000 audio examples online at our British Library Sounds website.

Janet Topp Fargion, curator of our world and traditional music collections, Cheryl Tipp, curator of natural sounds, and Ian Rawes, our Sound and Vision reference specialist, each provided expert advice to the programme makers on sourcing recordings, selecting examples from among the 3.5 million recordings stored at the Library.  The choice is vast: if you listened to every track, for 24 hours per day every day, it would take 70 years of non-stop listening to hear the entire collection. Although such is the rate of intake, when you’d finished there would be an additional 180 years of new recordings to listen to!

Mankind’s ability to record sounds is only just over a century old. However the Library’s collection includes the kinds of timeless noises that we can be certain would have been heard by our earliest ancestors tens of thousands of years ago, such as this recording of water dripping in a subterranean limestone cavern in the Dordogne region of France.  The sounds of prehistoric caves are the focus of the first episode in the radio series.

 

Hear the sounds of water dripping in a limestone cavern
Hear the sounds of water dripping in a limestone cavern

Noise: A Human History is broadcast on weekdays at 13:45 from 18th March 2013 on BBC Radio Four. More details are our our Noise: A Human History web page. You can also follow the series and catch up on episodes at the BBC programme page:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rglcy

Richard Ranft, Head of Sound & Vision

(Limestone cavern image: www.freenaturepictures.com)

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14 March 2013

Dave's Wild Life: the winning entry from our short film competition The Sound Edit: Wildlife

Cheryl Tipp, Natural Sounds Curator writes:

Last year the British Library joined forces with IdeasTap and launched a competition which challenged animators, filmmakers and photographers to create a short film inspred by the Library's collection of wildlife sound recordings. 10 sounds were selected, a few of which are featured below:

Drumming calls from a spawning male Haddock

Song of the Black-faced Solitaire

Echolocation clicks of Noctule Bats

Clifftop with seabird colonies

Our 10 finalists (announced in January of this year) were each awarded a cash prize to help create their final films and the winning entry was announced during our Spring Festival. 'Dave's Wild Life' from Samuel de Ceccatty is a fantastic short which follows Dave, an amateur naturalist whose sole aim is to have his own TV show.

Many of the sounds provided by the British Library for the competition occur throughout the course of the film. My favourite has to be the use of the Haddock drumming calls to give a voice to the cranes or, as Dave liked to call them, the Diplodocus longus cranum.

If you'd like to find out more about Samuel's work and how the Library can help filmmakers, visit our Inspired By Creative Industries Blog.

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12 March 2013

Sounds of the Maasai Mara

Cheryl Tipp, Natural Sounds Curator writes:

The Maasai Mara is one of Kenya's largest and most biodiverse national reserves. Covering an impressive 650 square miles and bordering Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, this vast stretch of land supports a wealth of wildlife and bears witness to the annual Great Migration which sees millions of zebra, antelope and wildebeest travel hundreds of miles in search of fresh feeding pastures.

Wildebeest-during-Great-Migration
Over 470 bird species have been identified inside the reserve. Ornithologist and sound recordist, A.R. Gregory, who over the course of his life amassed over 4000 sound recordings of Kenya's birdlife, spent some time on The Mara in the mid 1970s where he collected a range of bird songs and calls, some of which are highlighted below:

Bare-faced Go-away Bird, Corythaixoides personata

Recorded at Keekorok Lodge, Masai Mara on 20th May 1974

Black-headed Oriole, Oriolus larvatus

Recorded at Keekorok Lodge on 21st May 1974

Grey-capped Warbler, Eminia lepida

Recorded at Keekorok Lodge on 19th May 1974 

White-browed Robin Chat, Cossypha heuglini

Recorded at Keekorok Lodge on 20th May 1974

Woodland Kingfisher, Halcyon senegalensis

Recorded on 23rd May 1974, exact location unknown

Keekorok Lodge first opened its doors to guests in 1962 and is the oldest property in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve. Surrounded by lush grassland, this site has offered a perfect base for countless ornithologists and naturalists drawn to the stunning landscape and biodiversity of this magical land.

More recordings from the A.R. Gregory Kenyan bird collection can be heard here.

(Image courtesy of Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)

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06 March 2013

British Bird of the Month: Greenfinch

Cheryl Tipp, Natural Sounds Curator, writes:

Spring is definitely in the air and with it comes an increasing amount of birdsong. The Greenfinch, Carduelis chloris, is just one of the birds that lends its voice to the springtime soundscape of Britain. Found throughout much of the British Isles, this small passerine occurs in many different habitats, from woodland and urban gardens to farmland and transitional spaces.

Greenfinch

The Greenfinch is easily identified by its olive green plumage and bright yellow streaks on the wings and tail, but, as with many songbirds, you will most likely hear individuals before you see them. The song, for example, is a mixture of twittering trills and long wheezing notes, as demonstrated in this recording made by Lawrence Shove in the 1960s:

http://sounds.bl.uk/Environment/British-wildlife-recordings/022M-W1CDR0001389-1900V0

Other variations of the Greenfinch song are included in our British Wildlife Recordings collection and clearly show that no two individuals ever sound the same.

(Image courtesy of Electrographica)

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05 March 2013

Mind the linguistic gap!

Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator for Sociolinguistics writes:

Commuters travelling to and from London through Metroland and beyond face a daily choice of tube or train: Chiltern Turbo or Metropolitan Line. So - shall I go home today by tube from Baker Street via Moor Park to Amersham or catch the train from Marylebone to Birmingham Moor Street calling at Beaconsfield? For most I suspect the decision is based on relative cost, speed, comfort and convenience of final destination. Following the Metropolitan Line's upgrade, including new onboard announcements, I wonder if linguistic preferences also come into the equation?

For residents of Buckinghamshire two stations above are superfluous (Moor Park and Birmingham Moor Street). They are only significant in that they both contain the word moor, the pronunciation of which has been changing in RP and some other British English accents since the middle of the 20th century. Older descriptions of RP and speakers of more conservative RP varieties interpret the vowel here as a diphthong (i.e. two adjacent vowel sounds such that moor sounds a little like 'moo-uh'). Younger speakers and more recent descriptions of RP favour a monophthong (i.e. moor rhymes with maw). This transition from diphthong to monophthong affects a group of words known to linguists as the CURE lexical set (e.g. poor, sure, tour and during). Although a relatively low frequency English vowel, a diphthongal pronunciation can contribute to an impression of 'old-fashioned', 'elegant' or perhaps even 'posh' speech, depending on our point of view.

British Library sound recordings provide wonderful evidence of this kind of linguistic change. The following recording from the Millennium Memory Bank (BBC, 1999) illustrates the diphthong variant on the word tour:

C90011591 [female b. 1909]

The recently created VoiceBank (BL, 2011) includes a substantial dataset of present-day RP speech. A preliminary audit of a random sample of RP speakers' pronunciation of the word poor shows an overwhelming preference for the monophthong, although the first speaker below shows the diphthong continues to survive:

C144200391 [male, b. 1949]

C144201689 [female. 1975]

C144200305 [female, b. 1986]

Hang on a minute - what's all this got to do with commuting? Well, intriguingly, the station announcement at Marylebone station and onboard Chiltern Line trains uses the more 'conservative' diphthong in Birmingham Moor Street, while the Metropolitan Line announcements at Moor Park use the more 'contemporary' monophthong. The announcements may be recorded scripts or automatically generated from a list of pre-recorded phonemes, but clearly the underlying phonetic systems differ in their representation of this vowel sound. So - tube or train tonight? The choice is yours (yew-uhs or yaws)!
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