THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 3.5 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

21 November 2014

Jolly chuffed to spend a very hockey sticks weekend in Dulwich village

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 Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English, writes:

Last weekend I went to Dulwich to watch my daughter play hockey, which gave me the opportunity of exploring Dulwich village for the first time. The highlight of a thoroughly pleasant stroll was stumbling across a rather intriguing use of the word chuffed [= ‘pleased’] – a term used by millions of speakers of British English on a regular basis. Chalked up on a blackboard inside a wonderful artisan baker’s was a sign thanking customers for nominating the proprietors for a local trade award (I hope they win: the bacon bap I had was delicious). The sign declared that the owners were very chuffed to be nominated; an expression that immediately struck me as slightly odd - do people actually say very chuffed? Isn’t very somehow just too mainstream to combine with a word like chuffed? Aren’t more colloquial intensifiers like really, pretty and so or vernacular forms such as dead chuffed, proper chuffed and well chuffed more natural?

Very chuffed

A quick glance at several authoritative reference works seems to confirm my hunch. The entry for chuffed in the Oxford English Dictionary (online edition) includes six citations - the earliest from 1957 - and two examples each of chuffed, pretty chuffed and dead chuffed.  The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2014) agrees with the OED's dating and also includes the following observation:

originally northern English dialect […], adopted by military, then wider society […] often qualified by intensifiers DEAD, REAL, WELL

Both dictionaries include the antonym dischuffed – presumably formed by analogy with pleased/displeased rather than happy/unhappy – and the Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (2014) provides further support for Partridge stating that chuffed:

probably originates in northern English dialect […] and is still most frequently heard in the North and Midlands [...] embellished forms are ‘dead chuffed’, ‘chuffed pink’ and ‘chuffed to arseholes’

In 2004/5 the BBC Voices survey investigated the words we use for 40 everyday concepts, including the notion PLEASED. Researchers in the British Library’s Voices of the UK project are currently compiling an inventory of the terms captured in the study and have thus far catalogued over 100 variants for PLEASED. Apart from pleased itself, chuffed was by far the most common response and certainly seems to have been taken up enthusiastically outside its northern and midland heartland, but as far as I’m aware we haven’t encountered many – if indeed any – examples of very chuffed. Plenty of contributors supplied dead chuffed, well chuffed, chuffed to bits, chuffed to naffy break (also in Partridge) and even chuffed to buggery, but not very chuffed. And yet, by extraordinary coincidence this week a contestant on the BBC quiz show Only Connect said he had been very chuffed with his team's performance in the previous round. I dunno - you wait for ages for a very chuffed and all of a sudden two come along at once.

If you'd like to hear any of the numerous  variants for PLEASED just listen to one of the 300 BBC Voices Recordings. From thrilled, delighted, tickled pink, cock-a-hoop and on cloud nine to made-up, thrimmed, over the moon, baktalo (Anglo-Romani for ‘happy/lucky’) and stoked each gives subtle clues to a speaker’s geographic background, age, ethnicity and/or social status.

My daughter’s team lost by the way, although in scoring her first goal of the season I suspect she was chuffed and dischuffed in equal measure, but – all things considered –  probably not very chuffed.

14 November 2014

Computer Memories of Alan Turing

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Thomas Lean, interviewer for An Oral History of British  Science, writes:

This week the The Imitation Game, staring Benedict Cumberbatch as mathematician, logician, wartime codebreaker, and computer scientist Alan Turing, is released in British cinemas. Recognised as one of the fathers of computer science and artificial intelligence, Turing's mathematics research in the 1930s led him to the concept of the Universal Turing Machine, an idea which predicted the ability of stored program computers to perform any task they were programmed to do. He spent the Second World War working on ultra top secret code-breaking at Bletchley Park, devising the Turing-Welchman Bombe, to automate part of the process of decrypting German codes. Postwar he joined the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) where he designed one of the first stored program computers, the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE).

Frustrated in his efforts to get ACE built at the NPL, Turing joined the University of Manchester, which had recently completed the world's first operational electronic stored program computer. At Manchester he became deputy director of the computing laboratory in 1949 and worked on early software development and mathematical biology. In 1950 he introduced the famous idea of the Turing Test to define a standard by which a machine could be deemed intelligent. A brilliant but sometimes eccentric character, Turing has become one of the best known of the pioneers of computing. However, there are no know recordings of Alan Turing, his voice is lost to history, but several of his contemporaries were interviewed for An Oral History of British Science and recall working with him at Manchester. 

Geoff Tootill was one of the small team of electronic engineers who built the first stored program computer, at Manchester in 1948. In the following clip Geoff describes his surprise at having to correct some errors in what may have been Alan Turing's first computer program:

Geoff Tootill on working with Alan Turing

Listen at Voices of Science.

 

Tony Brooker joined the University of Manchester in 1951 to take over the day-to-day running of the computer user service from Turing. In the following clip discusses what it was like working with Turing at Manchester in the early 1950s.

 

Tony Brooker on working with Alan Turing

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Dai Edwards with the expanded Manchester 'Baby' computer, June 1949. Courtesy Express Newspapers.

As a research student Dai Edwards helped users to run the Manchester Mark 1 compute, in this clip he recalls setting the machine up for Alan Turing and building up a good working relationship. 

Dai Edwards recalls helping Turing use the Manchester Mark 1

Listen at Voices of Science.

 

Turing's stream of ideas was tragically cut short. In 1952, at a time when homosexual acts were illegal in Britain, Turing was convicted of having a sexual relationship with another man. As a result he lost his security clearance and was chemically castrated by hormone injections, whose side effects caused him even further discomfort. In 1954 he died, poisoned by a cyanide laced apple, in a probable case of suicide. However, perhaps as a result of his early death, aged just 41, Turing sometimes feels like he belongs to a more distant age than he does, but through the recollections of his former colleagues we can see him as his contemporaries did. 

12 November 2014

Inspired by Flickr: Water

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Over the course of 2014, sound artists, recordists, composers and designers have been beavering away in their studios, creating new compositions inspired by the British Library's collection of 1 million digitised images released onto Flickr Commons earlier in the year. The aptly named Inspired by Flickr offers contributors huge choice in the form of illustrations, photographs, diagrams, maps, book covers, musical scores and much more, all gathered from digitised books from the 17th, 18th and 19th Century.

Rather than submit one stand alone piece to the project, French sound artist and composer Stéphane Marin decided to create a quadrilogy of sound pieces inspired by images in this collection, based around the theme of the four classical elements. Air and Earth have already been showcased in previous blog posts and so now we turn to water. As with Marin's previous offerings in this series, the words of the French 20th Century philosopher Gaston Bachelard help bridge the gap between the 19th Century image and the 21st Century recording.

Part 3 - Inspired by Water

 

"The sleeping and silent water places,

 "singing lakes" in landscapes

(in the words of Claudel).

Close to it the poetic gravity deepens.

Water is living as a wide materialized silence.

It is beside the fountain that Pelléas whispers :

"There is always an extraordinary silence...

One would hear the water sleeping "(Act I).

It seems that to fully understand the silence,

our soul needs to see something that keeps silent (...)"

"Water and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Matter."

G. Bachelard

  Shan Village lake

The illustration in question is one of many found in the pages of the 19th Century book 'Amongst the Shans' by the prolific explorer Archibald Ross Colquhuon and depicts a typical Shan village scene. This visually rich landscape could have been interpreted sonically in an infinite number of ways; the water, trees, wooden boats, ducks, village activity could all have been brought to life through the medium of sound, yet Marin chose to refer back to a field recording made two years ago during a trip to Burma:

2012 : insomnia night

Listening to Inle Lake (Shan State - Burma)

The picture reminded me of this meditative night.

I hope that this raw field recording (the act of composition is in the way I have taken a "point of ear" of this sounding place) allows you to enter the materiality of this vast immobile water surface...

Immobile?!.

Not so...

Please...

Don't play loud...

Just listen with headphones!

Inle Lake Insomnia

Listening to this piece, with its steady animal chorus and traces of singing in the background, one can easily imagine listening to the village after dark. When looking at the landscape alone, daytime immediately comes to mind, yet look again while listening to its imaginary soundscape and it could easily be transformed into a moonlit night. Such is the power of sound.

 

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Following many collaborations with street art companies (Allegro Barbaro / Le Phun / Osmosis Cie / 2ème Groupe d'Intervention / Décor Sonore) on projects performed in the six corners of the French hexagon, and in international festivals held in cities such as Suwon, Beirut, Poznan, Grätz, Valladolid, Manchester and Saarbrüken, Stéphane Marin created Espaces Sonores in 2008, a company dedicated to contextual sound creation and sound art. His work includes An Umbrella for 2 - audio walks to be shared by two people under an umbrella which was created for the Saint Charles train station in Marseille (Lieux Publics - Street Arts Creation National Center) and the streets and underpasses of Singapore (Singapore Arts Festival - National Arts Council), Elementaire - an ecological soundscape for relaxing sound naps ; ÉcoutesS d'EspaceS / EspaceS D'écouteS sound walks, sessions of yoga for your ears and finally contributions to events that help others rediscover the pleasures of phonography  (Mingalabar ! - Arte Radio - Paris / L'Oreille Nomade #1 - Myanmar - Kinokophonography @ New York Public Library for Performing Arts).