Sound and vision blog

Sound and moving images from the British Library


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

24 April 2014

Inspired by Flickr: Chris Lynn

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Next up in our Inspired by Flickr series are two compositions from filmaker and sound artist Chris Lynn. The brief was to create a short sound piece inspired by one of the fabulous 1 million images released by the British Library last year onto Flickr Commons. The first image to catch Lynn's eye (and inspire his ears) was a 17th painting of Native Americans taken from William Strachey's 'Travels through Virginia'. The coloured engraving, entitled 'Their Sitting at Meate', called for a more faithful approach when creating the aural setting. Lynn wrote:

I felt the Native American scene required just a simple field recording of waves gently breaking on the shore. I wanted to keep the recording  authentic as possible because the sound and the image are embedded with multiple meanings concerning the history of Native Americans in North America.


Their Sitting at Meate

We skip forward a couple of centuries with the second image, a 19th Century photograph of the Northern Pacific Railroad yards of Tacoma, Washington. The photograph comes from a much larger collection of landscapes presented in the book 'Atlantis Arisen; or, talk of a tourist about Oregon and Washington..illustrated'.

The Tacoma train photo required something more industrial and slightly dramatic. The expansion of the West was already well on its way, but the photograph has a slightly haunting and modern sensibility. For this I chose a heavily processed field recording. My objective was to highlight the contrast in the composition. We see the trains of Tacoma, but also the great northwest landscape in the background.


Northern Pacific Railroad Yards

The two compositions perfectly demonstrate different ways in which composers can respond to a visual stimulus, whether the approach is one of authentic recreation or experimental interpretation. It will be fascinating to hear the different responses as this series continues to evolve. With each composition being influenced by both the image itself and the creative style of the composer, a collection of completely unique works will begin to emerge, inspired by images that are being seen by 21st Century eyes for the very first time.

If you would like to take part, please visit our Inspired by Flickr post.


Chris H. Lynn is a filmmaker, sound artist, educator, and curator. His digital images and super 8 films capture the subtle rhythms of light, movement, and sound in urban and rural landscapes. His work has been screened in a variety of venues, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C, the BFI in London (UK), and the Anthology Film Archives in New York City. His sound work- consisting of field recordings, minimal compositions, and audio from his films- has been released on various net labels and compilations.

16 April 2014

Inspired by Flickr: Jay-Dea Lopez

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Last month we issued a challenge to musicians, sonic artists and sound designers around the world: to create a short composition inspired by one of the fabulous 1 million images released by the British Library last year onto Flickr Commons. Submissions have begun to come in and we're delighted to kick off this series with a contribution from Australian sound artist and field recordist Jay-Dea Lopez.

As he explains below, Jay-Dea was inspired by an image from the 1890 publication Babylon Electrified: the history of an expedition undertaken to restore ancient Babylon by the power of electricity and how it resulted, from French author Albert Bleunard. Though largely occupied with non-fiction writings on science, Bleunard did dabble with fiction. Babylon Electrified was his only novel and demonstrated a vivid, Vernean style enhanced by scientific accuracy.

Looking at this illustration I imagine the long lineage of people who, throughout the history of human existence, have looked towards the night sky and wondered if there is something more. Gazing upwards our imagination runs free; the darkness becomes a blank slate into which we project our fears and desires.

Babylon Electrified_ the history of an expedition to restore ancient Babylon

Babylon Electrified

Babylon Electrified is the first in what we hope will be an ongoing series of "inspired by" posts that showcase some of the creative responses to our 1 million images. It's certainly got off to a good start.


Jay-Dea Lopez is an Australian sound artist and field recordist whose work reflects the social and environmental anxieties of the early 21st century. Jay-Dea’s field recordings and compositions have been used in film, radio, theatre, festivals and gallery installations overseas and in Australia. A Q&A with Jay-Dea can be found here.

15 April 2014

Sound & Vision: What Sounds Will You See?

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Over the past couple of months Graphic Media Design students from the London College of Communication have been producing coursework inspired by sounds from the British Library collection. The students were given their pick of recordings from the site, and asked to produce graphical works in whatever form inspired them, for a project we called (logically enough) 'Sound & Vision'. 

Six of the students' work has been featured on this blog over the past week, and this post rounds things up by reproducing one example of their work from each of the six. The overriding theme is nealty summed up by the slogan devised by one of the students, Natasha Smith, for her project: "What sounds will you see?"


Sanaz Movahedi was inspired sounds of polar exploration, particularly the 1909/10 recordings  ‘The Discovery of the North Pole by Commander Robert E Peary’ and  ‘Adrift on an Ice Floe in the Arctic Ocean by Sir Wilfred Grenfell’, combined with images of ice from the British Library's Flickr pages. She says, "What drew me was the sense of nostalgia these thin black discs clearly held. A grandeur and romanticised past time of men being adventurous, courageous and fearless when the northern hemisphere was still generally unknown." The results are otherworldly, surreal lands calling out to be explored.

See more: or visit her project web pages at


Natasha Smith was drawn to the interviews with molecular biologist and Nobel Prize winner Max Perutz. The themes of his interviews, and the tone of his voice, took her visual imagination in all sorts of interesting directions, the experience of which she can see having wider potential. She says she can "see the British Library holding creative workshops to encourage visitors to listen to and visualise sound for themselves". Her imaginary posters weren't actually hung outside the Library, as the picture above might suggest, but how good it would be if they could be.

See more: and see more of her work at


Marika Samek's piece entitled 'Awaken' was inspired by wildlife sound recordings of her native Poland. Her response to these is expressed through an installation which, in her words, transforms "the organic, clear form of wood and translucent film applied on acrylic into a shimmering world of light, shadow, and brilliant colour. It is a metaphor for how Sound - something assumedly invisible - can integrate with other senses and create beautiful Vision in the form of a vibrant picture." The video highlights the art work, accompanied by the sounds that inspired it.

See more at: or see more of her work at


Zongkai Wang took the imaginative step of not being inspired by specific sounds, but by the expression of the sound collection in catalogue form. His visual solution to representing the variety of the sound collection was to express its contents in the form of a grid. As he argues, "Similar to the role of vibration plays in sound generation, a grid system could be a significant aspect in graphic design. Rhythm and tension are produced by arranging the two dimensional spaces in the form of a grid." The striking results, so very different from the traditional look of online catalogues, suggests that graphic designers know more about how to visualise knowledge than librarians may do.

See more at: or see more of his work at


Amine Gebrehawariat was inspired by the World & Traditional Music section of the Sounds website to produce a series of posters that both express and promote the different musical sounds of Acfrican nations, including Uganda, Botswana, Benin and Kenya. He says of his work: "I wanted to show the distinction between sounds from the different countries. Using the patterns, I manipulated them to visualise the beat and rhythm." Amine is interested in working in campaign advertising and he says he can "strongly visualize the posters being placed in public spaces, for example public transportation where they’re accessible to a mass audience."

See more at:


Wai Hon Chan was inspired by the many sounds of water to be found on the Sounds website. He devised ideas for a water soundscape, based on the Tao concept, through which people in urban spaces might be able to programme the sounds of nature via a system of 'water movement cards' to create an harmonious environment. The images depict the stages of how such a 'Waterscape' might be produced while being visually harmonious in themselves. As with some of the others, he is interested in a practical outcome to his graphical interpretations. The British Library could be doing much more to make its sounds heard in public spaces, we are being told.

See more at or find more of his work at

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It has been really enjoyable working on Sound & Vision. The directions in which the students took the simple brief of creating graphical expressions of whatever inspired them on the Sounds website have surprised, intrigued and indeed inspired us. Around forty students from the course chose to work on the Sounds website idea, and it is particularly pleasing that this is part of their coursework and will help contribute towards their final degree.

The most gratifying aspect has been how each of the students took on the idea of visualising sound with such enthusiasm, and with such a variety of interpretations. We do not have to visualise sounds to appreciate them, but the visuals that sounds inspire can lead us to appreciate them in new ways.

What sounds will you see?