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

04 May 2018

Visual sound works from imaginary archives (part 2)

Eva del Rey and Paul Wilson, co-curators of Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound present:

(Part two of a gallery of creative responses to the British Library sound collections by students from the Graphic and Communication Design department at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts).

Florence Macleod views the archive as a repository of memory and proposes a radically retro solution to preservation of the intangible in which sonic memories are encapsulated in pods and dispensed by vending machines! Nanami Otomo proposes a memory based approach to archiving, which uses visual cues to stimulate the recall of the sounds of the past and their relationship to those other senses which informed their creation. Chika Kusumahadi is concerned about the archive’s approach to selection and its insistence on valuing the extraordinary over the everyday. Brad Gilbert imagines an archive in which lyrics from different eras are collated onto cassette tapes to provide new analogue insights into our digital past. Adam Wright proposes a gallery installation in which high volume sounds warn the listener of the dangers of a world in which big data is increasingly being used to control people’s lives. Finally, Ethan Spain leaves conventional notions of sound archiving firmly on Earth and instead looks to the Universe as the ultimate repository of broadcast sound – and the distant scene of our first contact with other worlds.      

Florence Macleod_Memory Capsule Project

Florence Macleod - Memory Capsule Project 🔊

    This project is about archiving memories through the use of individual sound capsules that play when opened. The purpose of this archive is to make intangible memories physical and forever lasting. Access to making your own sound capsule would be global, with vending machines and memory cabinets located in major cities. The archive could be both personal as well as open-access with the option to deposit your sound capsule into a memory cabinet which opens to the public so that people can take the capsules home. Either way, you are creating an archive.

Nanami Otomo_Memory Snap

Nanami Otomo - Memory Snap 🔊

    A postcard-based archive, in which you can store sound and revisit nostalgic memories through audio-visual means. It aims to create an empathetic auditory communication between sender and receiver through the sharing of personal experience.  

7D0A195F-E245-4D32-82F5-6930A972A8EB

Chika Kusumahadi - The Everyday Archive 🔊

    ‘The Everyday Archive ‘is home to a collection of household sounds and sounds of other mundane activities which often go unnoticed. Capturing the sound of everyday life, the archive is an initiative to record the ordinary.

 

Brad Gilbert_Captivation of music

Brad Gilbert - Captivation of Music 🔊

    The idea behind my work, which took its initial inspiration from listening to music, was to capture moments and moods from periods of time by collating key excerpts of lyrics that stood out to the listener, and packaging them in cassette tapes. Through having these lyrics collated together we should see a narrative forming, giving us an insight into how someone may have felt in that particular moment.

ADAM WRIGHT - UTOPIA

     The company UTOPIA delivers perfect education, but, in attempting perfection, this education creates a dystopia.

    The sound and visuals are an artistic endeavour to raise awareness of the accumulation and use of data companies like Google and Facebook. The amount of information we idly allow these companies to access is something we should be more aware of and cautious with. Capturing this compliance, this project aims to challenge these themes through the uncomfortable sound of a server room. The sounds here are designed to rise and fall like waves. The second sound is designed using the server room sound, but combined with the sounds of a Quantum computer. When listened to on high volume it is a very uncomfortable experience, and sounds almost piercing.

    The aim is to make people think more about how dangerous this amount of data could be if not cared for properly. Juxtaposed with each other, the two sounds would be situated in an open gallery as a permanent free exhibition with the visuals projected onto a black sheet of plastic. They would also be available online as a comment on the permanent nature of our digital footprint.

Ethan Spain_Fermi Paradox Archive

Ethan Spain - Fermi Paradox Archive 🔊 

    Fermi’s Paradox is the apparent contradiction between the high probability of the existence of extra-terrestrial civilizations and the lack of contact with such civilizations.

    The Great Filter is the disturbing suggestion that there is some kind of absurdly difficult step in the evolution of life - one that precludes it from becoming interstellar.

    This sound piece explores the Fermi Paradox and the Great Filter. Imagining that these hypotheses are fact, what if the only form of contact the human race ever has with extra-terrestrial civilizations is through the electromagnetic waves of each interfering with one another in the cosmos? The sounds consist of a number of broadcasted events that echo the human race's demise while gradually intensifying with sound wave interference.

With thanks to Abbie Vickress, Platform Leader, Environment and Experience Design, Central Saint Martins and Library colleagues: Vedita Ramdoss, Sound and Vision Reference Specialist, Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Listen; 140 Years of Recorded Sound and Cheryl Tipp, Curator, Wildlife and Environmental Sounds.

Go to part 1

Listen:140 Years of Recorded Sound exhibition ends on Sunday 13th May.

You can follow us on  @BL_DramaSound and @soundarchive for more news.

Visual sound works from imaginary archives (part 1)

Paul Wilson and Eva del Rey, co-curators of Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound present:

Since 2016 the British Library sound archive has been hosting show-and-tell and listening sessions for students from the Graphic and Communication Design department at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts.

This year we offered the students a tour of our free exhibition Listen:140 Years of Recorded Sound along with an introduction to the Library’s Listening and Viewing Service.

Guided by a brief from tutor Abbie Vickress, we hoped to inspire the students to develop projects in response to the sound archive collections. The brief asked students to reflect on the role of the archivist; on how sound is used in exhibitions; and how one might attempt to ‘archive the intangible’.

After two weeks of work the creative responses emerged in the form of one-minute sound pieces and video works with accompanying visual art, and one online performance. What follows is a mini-gallery of ten sound works and one video, each presented  with notes provided by the respective artists.

Michelle Lim draws inspiration from the exhibition’s display of historical recording devices and suggests that in our rush to digitise our sonic past we’re in danger of losing something equally precious – our tactile relationship with the physical world. Chang Liu and Julie-Anne Pugh both envisage therapeutic applications in which future ‘sound hospitals’ blend sound and memory to create bespoke treatments. Andrea Li seeks to preserve the endangered sounds of a once leisurely world, now being swept away in the headlong rush toward faster technology. Yuen Wai Virginia Ma and Alice Lin re-enact the ‘hit and miss’ nature of archival selection/survival, and its equally arbitrary neurological counterpart, the human brain.

Michelle Lim_The Archive of Tactile expression 

 

Michelle Lim - The Death of the Button 🔊

    The Archive of Tactile Expression exists in a future where our relationship with technology has become so intimate that it acts as our intermediary with the physical world. Everything has been virtualized, thus, we have forgotten how it feels to touch. Physical objects have been modelled and re-conceptualised into digital space. All of our motions have been reduced to the limited gestures between our fingertips and the screen.

    The Archive includes The Death of the Button - an audio-narration of the history of the push-button, an artifact that sits in the Archive. It narrates the push-button's transition from an object of wonderment in the 20th century to an intangible idea in an era of 21st-century touchscreens.  More from Michelle Lim

 

Chang Liu _ Sound Hospital

Chang Liu - Sound Hospital  🔊

    The ‘Sound Hospital’ is a place that archives coloured noises. Different coloured noises have different functions. For example, white noise can help people with concentration while pink noise can help people to sleep well….

    So, what I want to do is to provide an experience room for people in this hospital.

Julie-Anne Pugh_Music Remedies

Julie-Anne Pugh - Music Remedies: The Hangover Cure 🔊

    Music Remedies challenges modern attitudes toward well-being and the many new health trends we are adapting to, through an attempt to heal physical illnesses like hangovers without the need of painkillers.

    This 60-second sound piece is a sample of a longer composition designed to guide one out of the depths and into the light through a series of specific layered sounds.

Andrea Li_Obsolete interactions

Andrea Li - Obsolete Interactions  🔊

    ‘The Collection of Obsolete Interactions’ is one of the sound categories within the slow archive that showcases everyday forgotten ephemeral interactions that have become redundant due to developments in technology and the drive for consumers wanting things faster, stronger and better. These interactions relate to the entertainment, service and communication areas of consumers’ lives.

364F50E4-77D7-4F9C-A80F-EA84A98973BC

Yuen Wai Virginia Ma & Alice Lin - Brain as an Archive 🔊

    Brain as an Archive is a performance that shows our minds’ selective archives of memories, conversations and emotional baggage. The main objective of this project is to give authorship to the viewer in creating their own narrative. The sound of this piece is composed of a combined mix of different narratives.

Go to part 2

03 May 2018

The value of mixed media collections

The sound archive is home to over 250,000 wildlife and environmental sound recordings. Over 100,000 of these document the vocalisations of birds, while the sounds of other animal groups, such as mammals and fish, along with a growing collection of soundscapes, make up the rest. The collection covers both terrestrial and aquatic life and represents biodiversity from all over the world. It’s an internationally important resource that is constantly evolving as new recordings are archived for posterity. In a way it can be seen as a living memory bank of the sounds of our planet. The collection doesn’t end there though. Alongside these recordings can sometimes be found other treasures that complement their sonic siblings.

Recording equipment can form an important addition to a sound collection, especially when linked to significant technological breakthroughs in sound recording history. The John Hooper collection  (WA 2009/018), for example, includes a number of early bat detectors and associated equipment, including the first commercially available portable detector, the Holgate Mk 4, which was used to create the first comprehensive collection of British bat recordings.

Cropped HolgateThe Holgate Mk 4 bat detector

Common Pipistrelles hunting at dusk along the river Thames, recorded by John Hooper (BL ref 00305)

Though his name is not as widely known as it should be, Hooper was a key figure in the early days of using sound to study bat biology and ecology in the UK. Through the painstaking analysis of his recordings, conducted using a homemade oscilloscope, Hooper revealed differences in ultrasonic calls that were species specific. These variations in frequency and structure meant that bats could finally be identified by sound alone, which is pretty handy when you're trying to monitor animals that prefer to fly around in the dark.

Hooper documented his analysis by taking photographs of the sound traces produced on his oscilloscope. These images were then annotated and kept in photo albums usually associated with holiday snaps or family memories. With a focus on London bats, his work also helped rebuild post-war distribution records across the capital, rediscovering at least 4 species which were previously thought to have died out. Hooper’s efforts are all the more incredible when you consider that he was only an “amateur”.  His work as an industrial chemist for British Petroleum paid the bills, yet it was an unwavering fascination with bats that became his life's passion.

IMG_0076John Hooper analysing bat recordings in his studio

Cropped photo albumCommon Pipistrelle ultrasonic calls visualised on Hooper's homemade oscilloscope 

John Hooper’s collection of recordings, bat detecting equipment, photographs and documentation was donated to the library in 2009. As well as its own intrinsic value as an historical and scientific resource, the collection also serves as a testament to the rich British tradition of the amateur naturalist and their priceless contributions to our understanding of the natural world. 

Another notable collection is that of EDH "Johnnie" Johnson (WA 2006/03), an ornithologist and sound recordist who spent over 30 years making recordings across Europe, north Africa and the Indian subcontinent. During his lifetime he formed part of several international expeditions to remote regions of the world, helping document the flora and fauna of these largely unexplored areas. Alongside Johnson's recordings can be found daily logs, slides, observational diagrams and hand drawn maps. The following illustration is just one example of Johnson's meticulous recording keeping.
IMG_0072Hand drawn map of Morocco's Jbel Grouz mountain indicating topography & species encountered during an excursion on 22nd January 1968

Johnson's field notes, amassed over the course of his many expeditions,  are both scientifically valuable and pleasingly anecdotal, as can be seen in this excerpt from a log describing a ringing expedition to Algeria in February 1968.

'Great Grey Shrikes (L. excubitor) were found to be common and noisy wherever there were palms. Numerous territorial disputes were constantly in progress and we often saw three birds together in such squabbles. We began to notice numbers of partly-eaten dates impaled on the spines of the lower parts of the palm fronds. At first we thought that they were the result of chance spiking when dates had fallen from above, but this was soon ruled out by the fact that the spikes were, in any case, mainly horizontal, or nearly so, and the dates were spiked very thoroughly, after the manner of a cocktail sausage. At one time we saw a single shrike carrying a date. The positions of the 'larders' coincided with the favourite perching sites of the birds, in the lower parts of the crown of palm trees.'

Items such as those accompanying Johnson's recordings can help contexualise a collection, providing clues which allow us to retrace the footsteps, and thereby the experiences, of recordists who are no longer here to tell their stories.

Wildlife sound recordists are almost always absent from their recordings. No words of encouragement or praise for their recording subjects are required in order to achieve the best results. Silence and stealth is the name of the game here.  The flip side of this is that, unless the recordings contain spoken announcements, we know very little about the recordists themselves, other than their names. That's where photographs come in. A number of photographs of EDH Johnson were found in his collection, including the fabulous example below. Being able to put a face to a name isn't a necessity, but it certainly helps bring a collection to life. 

EDHJohnson_WA0603_imageEDH Johnson recording in the field 

There can be no doubt that sound collections are just as valuable as any other collection type. Though so much can be learnt from the audio alone, other ephemera such as equipment, field notes, photographs and letters bring with them stories that can help curators, and subsequently researchers, gain greater insight into not just the history and methodology associated with field recording, but also the people who made these recordings in the first place. 

Follow @CherylTipp  for all the latest news on wildlife and environmental sounds at the British Library.

02 May 2018

Oral History and the Library of Ideas

Oral History was one of the British Library's show-and-tells at the Library of Ideas, an afternoon event on 22 April aimed at students and artists interested in using the Library's collections in creative ways. All over the library stalls sprung up, covered in interesting-looking stuff. I felt a bit under-dressed to be honest. All we had on the Oral History stall was a little speaker. But I dimmed the lights and laid out some seats around the room. You listen differently when your eyes, and body, are relaxed.

Undercurrent poster

When many people think about history, they think about books and documents. And there were a lot of them on show. But history is all around us, in our own families and communities, in the living memories and experiences of people. Everyone has a story to tell about their life which is unique to them.

The first clip I played was Alfred Crundwell (C1398/022: copyright the Estate of Alfred Crundwell; used under review exemption). He's one of my favourites. He was born in Shoreditch in 1849. Alfred was 51 years old when Queen Victoria died. He was 102 years old in 1952 when he was interviewed by the woman from the BBC Home Service about Tunbridge Wells...

Alfred Crundwell on Tunbridge Wells

Alfred clearly doesn't feel comfortable being interviewed. He seems to have problems hearing the interviewer's leading questions. He isn't given any time to answer. This is an example of a terrible interview. Imagine the things Alfred could have related to us about the technological changes he had seen his lifetime and what it was like to outlive his four siblings by over 60 years. The amount of social change this man had lived through is staggering. Yet nothing useful came out of it – apart from a really good teaching tool on how not to interview. Alfred had so much more to give.

My colleague Shirley Read has been interviewing photographers for almost twenty years for the Oral History of British Photography collection. One of Shirley's more recent interviewees was the Turner Prize-winning photographer Wolfgang Tillmans (C459/220: copyright Wolfgang Tillmans; used by kind permission of Wolfgang Tillmans). In this clip, Shirley asks a huge question: why was young Wolfgang taken with the photographic image?

Wolfgang Tillmans on why photography and what it means to be alive

It is so difficult, as an interviewer, to bite your tongue at such moments. The pause is a really long one at around 30 seconds, but it feels even longer because of the weight of the silence. I can almost feel Shirley's discomfort – her job is silent but it involves an awful lot of non-verbal communication and empathetic eye contact. Shirley gives Tillmans the time and emotional space required to allow him properly to consider his answer. The oral history interview they are creating together means a lot to both of them – it's an example of shared authority, of performance even – and as a result it is a tremendously valuable historical document. The full-length interview is available in the Library Reading Rooms.

Livia Gollancz (C468/03) was a professional musician – she played French horn in the Hallé Orchestra. She died at the age of 97 in March this year. Dental problems forced her to curtail her musical career abruptly in 1953. She then spent 36 years working in her father Victor Gollancz's publishing firm, running it successfully for 17 years in an overwhelmingly male industry...

Livia Gollancz on Emmeline Pankhurst

In this clip Livia is still at the stage of her life story of talking about her childhood. Notice the introduction - 'I can't remember many details...' - and the pregnant pause after it which interviewer Louise Brodie allows. What follows is a story about Livia's grandmother, the suffragette Henrietta Lowy, who resembled Emmeline Pankhurst. The two women would swap clothes after suffrage meetings and Henrietta would go out of the public entrance, so that Emmeline could evade arrest by leaving in disguise via the back way. You might recognise a similar scene from the 2015 film Suffragette. The full interview is online.

Alexa Reid (C963/47) was interviewed for the Lives in Oil project. In this clip she remembers what it was like to be the only woman working her cleaning shift on the Merchiston oil platform...

Alexa Reid on the Merchiston Platform

When National Life Stories attempts to document an industry in an oral history project, we try to capture the life stories of all aspects of the field. The stories of oil rig support workers are every bit as important as those of the roustabouts, the drillers, the engineers and the executives. Only that way can we capture what an industry was like to live through. You can listen to Alexa's interview at the Library.

What does the word ‘workhouse’ make you think of? Victorian poverty? Poor law textbooks? This clip, from an oral history held at Manchester Central Library, is a woman being interviewed by Paul Graney in 1960 about the six months she spent in Salford Workhouse in 1920.

The woman remains anonymous because her son or daughter may still be alive. That baby would be 98 years old, and could for all I know be sitting in a Prestwich care home listening to this clip right now. The woman reads a poem she wrote in the workhouse to cope with her experience of being pregnant there, and then breaks down. It is a difficult listen. A lot of oral history is emotionally difficult, or repetitive, or boring, or annoying. Basically it’s human.

Other kinds of history – the ones people think of when they think of a library – are generally the results of already decided courses of action. A committee makes its decision, a photographer snaps his moment, even a private diarist frames her day for her very personal audience of one. Whereas oral history is simply one human being talking to another. With all the randomness and kindness and stubbornness that entails.

Oral history proves that history doesn't just mean words on a page. Our often contradictory interviews prompt creative responses as much to the emotion and personality revealed in the voices as to the historical details they document. They are the ultimate primary, unmediated, source. And people have used them in a variety of creative ways: theatre productions, films, creative writing of all kinds, sound art and many other things in between.

If you are interested in using oral history as a source for your creative work, the best place to start is our collection guides. You'll find lots of links there to our catalogue – this is searchable by name, occupation, place or date of birth. Most interviews have text summaries – these can be word-searched to pick up references to places, people or topics. Over 3,000 are available online at British Library Sounds; the rest you can make an appointment to listen to at the Library.

Drop us a line at nls@bl.uk if you have any questions, and before you re-use any of our oral history collections. We'll need to check on rights and permissions to make sure that you can re-use the material in the way you want to. There may be licensing and supply fees involved, but we are keen to help you use our collections.

30 April 2018

Recording of the week: Debussy year

This week's selection comes from Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music Recordings.

Claude Debussy died 100 years ago. Here is a recording made during his lifetime in 1915. It is a movement from his only String Quartet recorded by the London String Quartet.

Debussy String Quartet - Andante 

Claude_Debussy_ca_1908 _foto_av_Félix_NadarClaude Debussy ca. 1908

Founded in 1908, the London String Quartet initially had Albert Sammons as first violin, Thomas Petre, second violin, Harry Waldo Warner, viola (for all but the last four years when he was replaced by William Primrose), and Charles Warwick Evans, cello who remained with the quartet throughout its existence. The quartet disbanded in 1934.

This and thousands of other classical music recordings can be heard at British Library Sounds

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

27 April 2018

Linguistics at the Library - Episode 8

PhD placement students, Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell write:

Have you ever wondered how linguistic researchers find people to interview? In this final episode, Andrew and Rowan discuss the methods they use to carry out their research on the Isle of Man and Cardiff, and how these are different to those used for the Evolving English: VoiceBank collection. We also talk about the Survey of English Dialects, and how to categorise speakers when they have a mixture of accent influences.

Tweet us: @VoicesofEnglish

This week’s ‘What’s the feature?’ used a clip from:

BBC Voices Recording in Bangor. BBC, UK, rec. 2005[digital audio file]. British Library, C1190/41/13. Available: https://sounds.bl.uk/Accents-and-dialects/BBC-Voices/021M-C1190X0041XX-1301V0

References and links:

Labov, W. 1972. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Penhallurick, R. 1985. Fieldwork for the Survey of Anglo-Welsh Dialects: North Wales 1980-81. In W. Viereck (ed.) Focus on: England and Wales. 223-234.

Spoken English collections: https://www.bl.uk/collection-guides/english-accents-and-dialects

Linguistics at the Library Episode 8

23 April 2018

The Evolving English collection – what’s in it?

PhD placement student Rowan Campbell writes:

By 3rd April 2018 – which is, incidentally, seven years after the closing day of the exhibition – the Evolving English VoiceBank has reached 7,914 catalogued items. The last 2,100 of these have been accessioned by Andrew Booth and Rowan Campbell as part of their three-month PhD placement. While there are many records still to be catalogued, as today is English Language Day it seemed like an opportune moment to sketch out an overview of what we have in the collection and who is represented in it.

Visitors to the Library’s Evolving English exhibition in 2010/11 could record themselves reading the children’s book Mr Tickle (© Hargreaves, 1971) or donating a dialect word or phrase to the WordBank – and we now have 5,471 recordings of Mr Tickle, and 2,796 WordBank contributions catalogued. 1,462 visitors did both; 842 simply gave us their personal information such as location and year of birth; and some recorded themselves multiple times – perhaps they remembered new words, or decided that they did want to read Mr Tickle after all.

Our oldest speaker was born in 1914 and the youngest in 2006 – meaning that the age of participants ranges from 5 to 97! Interestingly, the gender of our contributors is heavily skewed towards female (65%). This may be in line with the gender split of those who are interested in linguistics or who visit British Library exhibitions (for example, the VoiceBank’s @VoicesofEnglish Twitter followers are 61% female), but it is still an unexpectedly large bias.


As would be expected, most participants were from the British Isles – that is, England, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, Northern Ireland and Ireland. However, nearly 25% were from outside the British Isles, with 87 other countries represented! The twenty least represented countries had only one speaker each, and include Guyana, an English-speaking country in South America with a population about the size ofLeeds.

Top 20 countries World cities

The United States had the biggest representation, making up 44% of international contributions, but we are sadly lacking voices from five states – Idaho, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and Wyoming. If you are from one of these places and want to record a contribution for us, please get in touch!

Unsurprisingly due to the locations of the recording booths, England was the most represented region of the British Isles, making up 91% of the collection. RP speakers (mainly from the British Isles but some from other countries) make up 25% of the collection overall, and are proportionately at their highest in Wales (40%) and lowest in the Republic of Ireland (1%).

Pie chart

In terms of representation within the British Isles, England is very well-covered, with speakers from every county except Rutland (the heat map shows no data around the Stockton-on-Tees area due to different regional classifications – we do have a number of speakers from here). As can be seen, Scotland and Wales have patchier representation but they also have far fewer contributors in general than England – around 250 and 100 respectively, compared to the 5,400 from England.

Heat map

There are also some surprises in the most-represented cities. The table below shows the top 16 British and Irish cities in the collection, with at least  20 contributions each – numbers in brackets refer to the city’s ranking in terms of population size*.

British and Irish cities

Immediately noticeable is the higher occurrence of Northern cities such as Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Hull and Derby, and the non-appearance of large cities such as Bristol and Cardiff, 6th and 11th most populous cities respectively. The first explanation for this is likely to be simply that there are fewer large cities in the South – in fact, only Bristol and Cardiff are in the top 20 at all. A second explanation could be that there were recording booths in some other cities outside London – Norfolk, Birmingham, Plymouth, Newcastle and Liverpool.

However, this does not explain the large difference in ranking of the Northern cities that did not have a recording booth. Instead, dialect levelling might be a concept to consider. Due to factors such as geographical proximity, greater mobility and fewer major accent differences between South West England, South East Wales and the South East and Greater London area, we might expect these areas to be more susceptible to dialect levelling towards RP. This has the potential to over-represent RP in these areas and thus obscure the location of contributors: while someone with an RP accent may have been ‘born and bred’ in Devon, their accent would be categorised as RP rather than Devon. Conversely, phonetic, geographical and social factors such as covert prestige and strong regional identity mean that fewer Northerners orientate to the South East and thus to RP – which could help to explain why Northern cities have climbed the rankings in our dataset respective to their actual population.

*It has not always been possible to be consistent regarding whether figures used are for greater metropolitan areas, urban areas, etc., as these are not always comparable, but this ranking has been arrived at based on the distinctions made in the collection categorisation system. Thus why we have Greater London and Greater Manchester, but not West Yorkshire (Leeds-Bradford) as this would require merging two cities.

Recording of the week: a continual symphony of sound

This week's selection comes from Charlie Morgan, Oral History Archive & Administrative Assistant.

Oral histories are often nostalgic; interviews tend to take place towards the end of an interviewees life and in many cases they are speaking about aspects of their life for the first time. In that respect Michael Rothenstein’s (C466/02) longing description of growing up in the Cotswolds is not unique. But the way he expresses the sights, sounds, and colours of his childhood, as well as the connections he makes to his artistic practice, make it particularly engrossing.

Michael Rothenstein was a printmaker, painter and art teacher whose work often incorporated aspects of nature and rural life – and it seems there’s a good reason for this. In this recording he speaks fondly of growing up in the Stroud Valley, describing it as a wild place with “a continual symphony of sound” where you could be almost deafened by “the birds, the sawing of the grasshoppers in the grass”. Not only is this a wonderfully vivid description, but for us who work in sound archives and are constantly advocating for the importance of sound it’s fantastic to hear someone frame their memories in this way. Still, Michael does talk about other senses too. Specifically he draws attention to the sites of nature and describes how in the summer “the air shivered with the cloud of butterflies… It was glittering, you cannot imagine how beautiful it was”.

1280px-Frampton_Mansell_St_Lukes_Church

Frampton Mansell, close to Stroud in the Cotswolds (Sourced from Wikipedia. Image credit: Saffron Blaze, via http://www.mackenzie.co

Interviewed in 1990 at the age of 82, Michael laments the pace of change during his lifetime. For him “the fields have lost their voice” and the butterflies have “vanished”. Yet if the butterflies have vanished they certainly live on in Michael’s work. Many of his paintings contain butterflies and this interview helps us to understand where the inspiration for this came from. To quote Michael’s friend Peter Muller “they have flown out of the Paradise of your infancy”. A beautiful phrase in a beautiful recording. If you think you’ve heard all there is to hear on childhood memories, think again and give this a listen.

This recording is from Michael Rothenstein’s interview in the Artists Lives collection. Artists Lives is an ongoing National Life Stories project to document the lives of individuals involved in British art, including painters, sculptors, curators, dealers and critics. This extract was published on the CD 'Artists' Lives' in 1998 and you can access the full life story interview online at British Library Sounds.

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