THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library

Introduction

Discover more about the British Library's 6 million sound recordings and the access we provide to thousands of moving images. Comments and feedback are welcomed. Read more

Help Us Create a Directory of UK Sound Collections

Amongst the literary treasures held in the basements of the British Library sits an extraordinary collection of sounds.  From recordings of extinct species, voices from the past, to music across all genres, the British Library’s sound archive is held on more than 1.5 million physical items, just waiting to be heard.

But all of these recordings, from those made on the earliest wax cylinders to contemporary CD-Rs, face a real and immediate threat.

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Edison 'Concert' wax cylinders in the collections of the British Library

Within 15 years, the combination of physical degradation and the disappearance of the technologies that support physical media will make accessing the nation’s sound archive difficult, and in many cases impossible.  Without taking steps to preserve these recordings now, they will be lost.

These risks face all recorded sound collections, across the country; from boxes of forgotten cassette recordings to professional archives.

To understand the risks facing the UK’s sound collections, the British Library has initiated a project to collect information about our recorded heritage, to create a Directory of UK Sound Collections.

By telling us what you have, we can understand more about the breadth of the nation’s collections and the risks that they face, and this will help us plan for their preservation, for future generations.

Our aim is to be comprehensive; to search out sounds that exist in libraries, archives, museums, galleries, schools and colleges, charities, societies, businesses and in your homes.  And we’re not just interested in large collections: a single item might be just as important as a whole archive.   

So if you think you might have a rare or unique collection of sounds, or just a recording that should be preserved, let us know!

The census is live now and will run until the end of March 2015.  You can read more about the project, and send us information about your collections here: www.bl.uk/projects/uk-sound-directory

Responses have already started to come in, and we’ll be publishing updates on the project, and some of the things we’ve found on this blog, so enter your email address and click the Subscribe button at the top of this page to receive notifications by email.

The British Library’s Directory of UK Sound Collections is one of the first steps in our Save our Sounds programme; one of the key strands of Living Knowledge, the British Library’s new vision and purpose for its future.

You can follow the British Library Sound Archive on Twitter via @soundarchive and tag with #SaveOurSounds

21 January 2015

Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust – an online collection of over 280 in-depth Holocaust survivors’ testimonies

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This week, to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January, the British Library is launching Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust, an online resource giving worldwide access to 289 oral history interviews with Holocaust Survivors. The interviews comprise a vast collection of powerful accounts of the Holocaust from Jewish survivors living in Britain that now, thanks to funding from the Pears Foundation and the Brian and Jill Moss Charitable Trust, have been digitised and made available for anyone to listen to online for the first time at http://sounds.bl.uk/oral-history

HOL1 Children at Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland.  Auschwitz/Birkenau was one of the Nazis’ largest death camps.  The children are wearing typical camp clothing behind the electric fence. 

The hundreds of testimonies now available online at British Library Sounds are drawn from two major oral history projects: Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre Testimony recording project which ran 1993-1998, and the Living Memory of the Jewish Community, a project run by National Life Stories at the British Library between 1987-2000 which gathered over 180 life story interviews with Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and their children.  Recordings were made with a wide range of survivors from many parts of Nazi-occupied Europe and with pre-war refugees (such as Kindertransport child migrants).  The main programme of survivor interviews was later supplemented by interviews with the children of survivors - the Second Generation.  With over 1000 hours of recordings, this is one of the largest collections of Holocaust testimonies in Europe. All but a handful of the 289 interviews have searchable content summaries and have been clustered into themes such as ‘camp experiences’, ‘Kindertransport’, ‘ghetto life’ and ‘resistance’ to enhance access for researchers. 

HOL3JPGA Czech Jewish woman from Prague shortly before her deportation by cattle truck.  Many died on the way to work camps or death camps, locked in overcrowded trucks without food or water. 

Since the BL started interviewing Holocaust survivors in 1987 many have sadly died but their voices and experiences have been preserved for future generations. The lesson of what happens when a society discriminates against an entire group of people in its midst could not be more relevant to recent events in Britain and Europe.

The following clips are taken from the full interviews on British Library Sounds http://sounds.bl.uk/oral-history

Barbara Stimler (b.1927, Poland, survived Lodz ghetto and Auschwitz concentration camp and a death march) talks about her deportation from the ghetto to Auschwitz. 

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch (b.1925 in Germany) talks about playing cello in the orchestra at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. 

The launch of Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust will be marked as part of an event at the British Library for Holocaust Memorial Day: ‘Life in a Jar: Childhood experience of the Holocaust’ on Monday 26 January 2015 at 18.30-20.00.  At this event Lili Stern-Pohlmann and Sir Erich Reich, who both endured the Holocaust as children, will recollect their experiences. There will then be a screening of the emotive film ‘Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers’, which tells the story of a group of Polish women who saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children. After the screening and talk there will be an opportunity to explore the oral history interviews now available at the ‘Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust’ collection on British Library Sounds.  Visit http://www.bl.uk/whats-on and follow the link to book tickets. 

Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History at the British Library

Documenting the Fringe

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A guest post by John Park, Editor of Fringe Report.

The first volume of Fringe Report, covering the years 2002-2003, is now available exclusively for consultation by readers at the British Library.

Fringe Report was a website based in London which reviewed fringe theatre, arts, independent and arthouse film, dance, performance, poetry, music - anything that fell off the edge of the mainstream - though it often covered that too. There were no rigid lines.

It published two or three items a week all year round, was an accredited reviewer to Internet Movie Database and did in-depth interviews, features, gossip, and reports on parties. 

Over the coming years, the whole content of Fringe Report 2002-2012 is being put into book form and donated to the British Library as a historical archive, a snapshot of the off-mainstream arts at the start of the twenty-first century.

The next volume, currently in preparation, will cover all the Fringe Report Awards - there are 250 of them - from 2003 to 2012, with the award certificates reproduced in colour.  It is due for presentation in spring 2015. 

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The cast and company of Yard Gal (Oval House Theatre, London, 2008), including actors Stefanie Di Rubbo and Monsay Whitney, and director Stef O'Driscoll, accept the Fringe Report Award 2009 for Best Production. Fringe Report Awards 9 February 2009, Leicester Square Theatre. Photo © Stefan Lubomirski De Vaux, 2009.

Fringe Report started in July 2002 and ran until 2012. It covered 50 shows each year and reviewed at the London Film Festival, the Dublin and Brighton Fringe Festivals, with reports over the years from other locations including Camden, Bath, Newbury, Reading and Montreal.

It had permanent writers in London, New York, Dublin, Denver, Edinburgh, Dallas, North-east England, St Petersburg and Hawaii; with up to 12,000 regular readers spread across the globe.  Most of them were in mainland Europe, England, Canada, United States, Republic of Ireland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, with others in the Middle East, across Asia, in Vietnam, China and Australia.

There was a monthly newsletter in English and Spanish as a briefing and gossip loop to PRs, actors, producers, directors, composers, performers, the public, theatregoers, arts enthusiasts, venue managers, promoters, impresarios, journalists, and other industry and showbiz professionals.

Each year there were 25 awards - the Fringe Report Awards - announced in January and presented on any day mid-February that wasn't Valentine's Day.

The first volume of Fringe Report, covering its first two years 2002-2003, was delivered to the Library on 18 December 2014, where it is now uniquely available.  It contains 478 pages of reviews of over 250 shows, plus interviews and articles.  A feature of the book - and of forthcoming volumes - is a comprehensive index of over 4,000 entries including shows, venues, companies and people.  Fringe Report always where possible contained full credits for the shows and events it reviewed or reported, and the index includes the names of 3,000 people involved.

When the whole archive is complete it will comprise 12 books including all published and previously unpublished material, 750 photographs, audio soundtracks of award acceptance speeches (including Sir Arnold Wesker, John Antrobus, Kevin Sampson, Dr Elliot Grove, Kiki Kendrick, Abi Titmuss, Holly Penfield) and film of the several years of the awards.

19 January 2015

Below the lines in the ice: the sonic world of icebergs

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No exhibition about the Arctic would be complete without some reference to icebergs. It just wouldn’t be right. During the planning of the British Library’s current exhibition, Lines in the Ice: seeking the Northwest Passage, icebergs, or more specifically, the sounds of icebergs, cropped up in a number of meetings and so the hunt for these sounds began.

A common misconception would be that icebergs are silent, white giants, moving noiselessly through the freezing waters of the polar seas. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Though at the opposite end of the world, crew members of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917) commented on the sheer variety of sounds heard in the presence of the Rampart Berg:

“Close to the berg the pressure makes all sorts of quaint noises. We heard tapping as from a hammer, grunts, groans and squeaks, electric trams running, birds singing, kettles boiling noisily, and an occasional swish as a large piece of ice, released from pressure, suddenly jumped or turned over.”

Frank Worsley, Captain of the Endurance (excerpt from 'South' by Sir Ernest Shackleton)

With our focus firmly on the Arctic, the work of Irish composer Dr Karen Power, who, in 2013, spent time in the Arctic as part of the Arctic Circle Residency programme, came to the forefront. Wanting to explore and document the sounds of the ice, Power armed herself with a weaponry of drills and hydrophones in order to explore this mysterious world.  

“Despite the silence, there is a tremendous pressure in the atmosphere. I wanted to get inside what I thought might be the cause of this pressure – the ice reshaping, melting - so I drilled some holes in some icebergs, at first on the shore and then floating in the middle of the water, and I was introduced to the most amazing sonic world”.

“First above the ice, then inside the ice, and finally at different degrees below the ice, I managed to drop hydrophones down as far as 20 metres below the surface to hear the icebergs cracking and resonating on the sea floor. What I found down there was truly, truly extraordinary.”

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The field recordings collected during the residency open a fascinating acoustic window onto the usually hidden world of Arctic ice. Pops, cracks, creaks, groans, bangs and taps are just some of the sounds encountered during this incredible journey beneath the surface of the Arctic Ocean, a few of which are featured here:

Close up iceberg pops just under surface

Extreme iceberg close up with moaning

With room for only one recording from the collection in the exhibition however, the decision was made to include this wonderful example, which ranges from high-pitched tinkling to low, drawn-out groans.

Pops and smashes from icebergs at waters edge

On her return from the residency, Power created a short documentary, Can you Hear the Arctic?, in an attempt to express how the Arctic has affected her past and present practice, but also what compositional work might lie ahead of her as she draws on the life-changing experiences of spending time in one of the most beautiful and extreme regions of the world.

“I thought I was going there to record above and below the ice, and that’s what I did. What I didn’t think about was all of the other ways that these spaces, the silence, the vistas, people and the places would affect me and leave their imprint on my work.”

“I left there with the most amazing sound recordings but also a change in the way I think about time and space and sound.”

Karen in the arctic photo by Tina Kohlmann
Dr Karen Power in the Arctic (Tina Kohlmann)

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A versatile, enthusiastic and well-received Irish composer, improviser, educator and curator Karen seeks to stimulate, engage and interact with audiences. Her work utilizes two primary sources; acoustic instruments and everyday sounds, spaces and soundscapes. Karen’s output is diverse - both in its approach and delivery - and her primary aim is to capture and translate the essence of an idea through any artistic means necessary. For example, recent projects have been presented as orchestral works, sonic installations, radio art, collaborations between sound and dance, image and experimental film, free improvisations and musical happenings.

Some exciting current and upcoming projects include; Gorging Limpet, which is a collaborative project between sound and experimental film, The Arctic Circle Residency, hearSpace (2014) - an exploration into the world of Radio with a new interactive radio art composition, a large-scale collaborative commission for Canadian-based Quatour Bozzini and a DAAD Artist-in-Berlin Award for 2015/16 residency. Her latest album, Is it raining while you listen, features compositions and field-recording based work.