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

22 September 2021

Postcards from China

Since the end of August 2021 a new British Library audio exhibition 'Listen: The Story of Recorded Sound' has been open to visitors to Pingshan Library, Shenzhen, China. It will run until 20 February 2022.

Visitors will be able to hear an eclectic mix of sounds from the British Library’s collection of over 6.5 million recordings of spoken word, music, wildlife and the environment. Recordings date from the 1880s to the present day. 

The exhibition was brought to Pingshan Library in partnership with the China-Britain Business Council (CBBC) and Pingshan Media Centre (PMC), alongside Pingshan Global Promotion Centre (PGPC), and was sponsored by the Publicity Department of the CPC Pingshan District Committee of Shenzhen (PDCPC).

This is the first time that the British Library has brought an audio exhibition to China to be experienced by Chinese audiences. Please see our Chinese-language page about the exhibition for more.

Exhibition photo - image courtesy of Pingshan Media Centre

Above: 'Listen' exhibition, Pingshan Library. Copyright © Pingshan Media Centre, 2021. Used with permission.

In a novel initiative to help publicise the exhibition, the CBBC collaborated with students from the Innovation Lab of Art and Technology, Shenzhen University. The students were invited to develop a set of 10 promotional postcards. The results were quite striking and original, and a selection is reproduced here.

Postcard design by Chen Lin

Postcard design by Feng Jiahao

Postcard design by Han Feng

Postcard design by Huang Jianhui

Postcard design by Zeng Zhixiong
Artists, from top to bottom: Chen Lin; Feng Jiahao; Han Feng; Huang Jianhui; Zeng Zhixiong. Images copyright © The Innovation Lab of Art and Technology, Shenzhen University, 2021. Used with permission.

13 September 2021

Recording of the week: I nearly went bozz-eyed when I saw this!

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

After a summer in which most of us have holidayed in the UK, I’ve been fascinated on my travels to note a growing enthusiasm for commercial products that celebrate local speech and identity. Gift shops and craft stores now frequently sell souvenirs such as tea towels, T-shirts, mugs, beer etc. featuring local phrases or playful re-spellings of everyday expressions to reflect local accents – a phenomenon linguists call ‘dialect commodification’.

During a recent trip to Ashbourne, I was delighted to spot this framed poster of ‘The Derbyshire Periodic Table’. The display replicates the layout of the conventional periodic table, but chemical elements are replaced by a local expression with a correspondingly made-up symbol and atomic number. The entry I find particularly striking is located at the bottom of the red group on the left-hand side – the symbol Bz with the atomic number 73 representing boz-eyed [= ‘cross-eyed’].

Photograph of Derbyshire Periodic table

The 1950s Survey of English Dialects (SED) documented several regional variants for ‘cross-eyed’ including glee-eyed in the North East, skend in Lancashire, squint-eyed in East Anglia and the West Country and boss-eyed in the Midlands and South. This regional distribution of boss-eyed is confirmed by a contribution to the Library’s WordBank by a speaker from Barnet, Hertfordshire, who was surprised when she moved to Merseyside to discover that speakers there were unfamiliar with the term:

C1442X02420 BOSS-EYED

boss-eyed means cross-eyed … somebody who doesn’t see straight ahead …
I live in Merseyside and I find nobody in that area will understand that word

Intriguingly, although ‘boss-eyed’ was recorded frequently in the SED across the southern half of England, there were only two localities where informants supplied a pronunciation with a medial <-z-> sound – one in Lapley, Staffordshire, the other in Kniveton, Derbyshire – a village just outside Ashbourne, which is a convincing explanation for the alternative spelling in the Derbyshire Periodic Table.

entry for bozz-eyed from the Survey of English Dialects book  SED entry at CROSS-EYED showing the form bozz-eyed in Kniveton and Lapley. Survey of English Dialects Basic Material: The West Midland Counties (1969, p.600)

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

24 August 2021

Important information for email subscribers

Unfortunately, the third-party platform that the British Library uses for email notifications for our blogs is making changes to its infrastructure. This means that, from August 2021, we anticipate that email notifications will no longer be sent to subscribers (although the provider has been unable to specify when exactly these will cease).

To find out when new blog posts are published, we recommend following us on Twitter @soundarchive or checking the Sound and Vision blog page on the British Library website where all our blogs are listed.

We want to assure you that we are actively looking into this issue and working to implement a solution which will continue your email notifications, however we do not know whether you will continue to receive notifications about new posts before we are able to implement this. We promise to update the blog with further information as soon as we have it. Thank you for your patience and understanding while we resolve this matter.

We appreciate this is inconvenient and know many people are not on social media and have no intention of being so. Many rely on email notifications and may miss out without them. As soon as we have been able to implement a new solution we will post about it here. Thanks for bearing with us.

Listen

23 August 2021

Recording of the week: Mrs Meurig Morris in a trance address

This week's selection comes from Steve Cleary, Lead Curator of Literary and Creative Recordings.

Columbia DX 265 disc label

In this week’s ‘Recording of the Week’ we feature the stentorian tones of Louisa Ann Meurig Morris (1899-1991), who was well-known as a spiritualist and medium in the 1930s.

In January 1931, she featured in the first ever filmed séance in the history of moving pictures, in the company of Lady Conan Doyle.

This recording for the Columbia label, which is different from the soundtrack of the Movietone film, was made a few weeks later, on 20 March 1931.

Here we present sides one and two in their entirety.

Listen to Meurig Morris [1CL0046884]

Download Meurig Morris transcript

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10 August 2021

Discovery of a rare Bettini cylinder recording

Richard Copeman with cylinder editRichard Copeman with his Bettini cylinder (photo © Jonathan Summers)

By Jonathan Summers, Curator of Classical Music

In February 2020, just before lockdown, collector Richard Copeman contacted me about a concert cylinder he had just purchased in Paris.  He wondered if we would like to make a digital transfer of it for the British Library Sound Archive. 

Concert cylinders are not common, although I previously wrote a blog about one here which gives details about these larger forms of cylinder produced in the early 1900s.  The cylinder Richard Copeman has is in its original green box with a hand written title on the label, but it has lost the label from the lid. 

Box imageImage of box label (photo © Jonathan Summers)

The date of 1899 is hand written in blue pencil on the bottom of the box.  The title also appears engraved into the edge of the cylinder. 

Inscription on cylinder edgeInscription on cylinder edge (photo © Jonathan Summers)

We know what the work is – Concertino in E flat Op. 26 for clarinet by Carl Maria von Weber, and the performer’s name is announced at the beginning.  However, the name of the recording company is not – Edison, and many others, always included the name of the company in the announcement.

Another avid collector came to the rescue in the form of David Mason who had facsimile copies of Bettini catalogues.  In one of these he found ‘Rouleaux de Concert a Grand Diametre’ and listed there was the cylinder of the Concertino with the performer’s name - Henri Paradis.

Henri Paradis

Henri Paradis was born in Avignon in 1861 and at the age of nineteen won the Premier Prix for clarinet at the Paris Conservatoire.  His teacher was the delightfully named Chrysogone Cyrille Rose (1830-1902) who had been consulted by composers Jules Massenet and Charles Gounod on the technical capabilities of the clarinet.  Rose was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1900. 

Bettini June 1901 pp. 16-17 Edit

Bettini catalogue June 1901

As can be seen in the catalogue, Paradis plays his teacher’s version of the Weber composition published around 1879 in Paris.  After a period in L'Orchestre de la Garde Républicaine, Paradis joined the orchestra of the Paris Opera in 1890 and did not retire from his post until 1932.  He was awarded the Legion d’honneur in 1935 and died in 1940.  From 1906 he was clarinetist in Le Double Quintette, eight of whose early recordings can be heard on BL Sounds here.  The full title of Société de Musique de Chambre pour Instruments à Cordes et à Vent was shortened to Société du Double Quintette de Paris; for the disc labels they became Le Société du Double Quintette. Mostly born in the 1860s, the group consisted of ten players plus Georges de Lausney on the piano.  The personnel were Pierre Sechiari (first violin), Marcel Houdret (second violin), Maurice Vieux (viola), Jules Marnoff (cello), Paul Leduc (double bass), Louis Bas (oboe), Ernest Vizentini (bassoon), Francois Lamouret (french horn), Henri Paradis (clarinet) and Adolphe Hennebains (flute).

Paradis’s affiliation with the Garde Républicaine and Paris Opera are mentioned in the spoken introduction on the cylinder which begins with a pitch identification, something important with early primitive equipment.  Paradis plays a highly abridged version of the score but the clarity and quality of the recording are extraordinary for something over 120 years old.

Weber Concertino Henri Paradis mp3

But what of Bettini, the producer of the cylinder?  Early recording is dominated by Thomas Edison in the United States and the Pathé brothers in France – both working on various other inventions concurrently.  Bettini was a fascinating, if relatively unknown, figure from the dawn of recorded sound. 

Gianni Bettini 1898 (Phonoscope magazine)Gianni Bettini in 1898 (Phonoscope magazine)

Born in Novara, Italy in 1860 Gianni Bettini was a gentleman inventor who had a salon at 110 Fifth Avenue, New York in the late 1890s where he made private recordings of great singers and other famous people including Mark Twain.  He was then based in Paris operating as the Société des Micro-Phonographes Bettini, 23 Boulevard des Capucines and although he brought his master recordings to Paris at the turn of the century, these were all destroyed during the Second World War.  A Wikipedia article states that Bettini cylinders are rare and that ‘only a few dozen are known to exist’.  This makes the discovery of this Paradis cylinder all the more exciting.  Not only is superior sound achieved with the larger concert cylinder, but Bettini invented some improvements including the ‘Spider’ whereby the stylus was attached to the recording diaphragm by multiple legs, hence its name.  Of course, the fact that this cylinder is not worn and in excellent condition also makes a great difference to the sound. It would appear that the cylinder was recorded right at the end of the nineteenth century, but it is not certain that the date stamped on the box is the date of recording.  It appears in the 1901 Bettini catalogue. 

It was the more widely circulated recording (both on cylinder and disc) that Bettini made of Pope Leo XIII (1810-1903) which has survived and kept his name alive in the annals of the history of recorded sound.  Like Edison and the Pathé brothers, Bettini worked on a motion picture camera.  He died in San Remo in 1938.

Thanks to Richard Copeman for discovering it and allowing it to be shared through this blog.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

09 August 2021

Recording of the week: Memories of a theatregoer

This week's selection comes from Giulia Baldorilli, Reference Specialist.

In the last year of closed performance venues, we have almost forgotten what it means to go to the theatre.

Alessia-chinazzo (576 pizel wide) Photo by Alessia Chinazzo on Unsplash

In this interview from 2008, recorded as part of the Theatre Archive Project, Barbara Silcock shares her memories as a theatregoer back in the Seventies.

From her recollections of attending pantomimes as a child to being in the Empire Theatre in Sheffield, she speaks about experiencing the theatre as sort of escapism filled with euphoria; the theatre as a place for empathy.

With the melancholic tinge of a distant memory, she recounts the wonders of being backstage at the Lyceum Theatre and the distinctive smell of theatres.

Excerpt of Barbara Silcock interview [BL REF C1142/222]

Download Transcript

The smells we experience play a crucial role in our lives: it is through smell that our memory can vivdly bring back feelings and experiences.

Her words remind me of the pure joy of going to a theatre performance, the passive-active role of being in a live audience.

It is hard not to admit that after a year of virtual performances, what I’ve missed is precisely that familiar ‘dump’ smell she speaks of.

The Theatre Archive Project investigated British theatre history from 1945 to 1968, from the perspectives of both theatre-goers and practitioners. The project was a collaboration between the British Library and De Montfort University, and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

23 July 2021

Persian choral album surfaces after four decades in limbo

Choral Music from Persia CD coverCD cover courtesy of Persian Dutch Network

Guest blog by Pejman Akbarzadeh

In 1973, the Empress of Persia, Farah Pahlavi, commissioned the choral conductor Evlin Baghcheban to establish a conservatory of music for orphaned children. In this school, Baghcheban organised a choral group called the Farah Choir. The group gave regular concerts throughout the country and in the autumn of 1978 went to Austria to record their debut album. A number of fascinating Persian folk songs were recorded in Vienna, with a plan to release them in Tehran. However, the victory of the Islamic Revolution disrupted all plans, the choir was dissolved, and its conductor went into exile. 

The master tapes of the 1978 recording session remained silent at Baghcheban's house for decades. The name of the choral group 'Farah' was a reference to the name of the former queen of Persia, so releasing an album under her name was out of question in post-revolutionary Iran. However, shortly after the death of Baghcheban the tapes were transferred to Holland, where they were restored and released by the Persian Dutch Network.

This recording has a key historical value for Persian choral music. It features the first attempt, by Ruben Gregorian (1915-1991), to arrange Persian folk songs for a Western-style choir. Gregorian published the scores of his arrangements in Tehran in 1948, but recordings of his work were not previously available internationally. In his arrangements, he tried to be as faithful as possible to the original melodies, with no intention of changing or developing any part. The rest of the songs in the Farah Choir's recording were arranged by one of the next generation of Persian composers, Samin Baghcheban (1925-2008), husband of Evlin. His style is very different, showing more interest in the use of folk melodies as a starting idea, then developed using various compositional methods. He uses imitation and drone in his arrangements as well.

The British magazine Songlines has featured a four-star review for the recording and Empress Farah has expressed delight that the 1978 recording has been preserved and become available after four decades. The album "Choral Music from Persia" plays a crucial role to raise public awareness of a little known genre in music.

For all the latest news follow @BL_Classical

 

 

19 July 2021

Recording of the week: Louis Moholo-Moholo’s first encounters with jazz

This week’s selection comes from Charmaine Wong, Digital Learning Manager for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

This week we take a look at an interview with legendary jazz drummer, Louis Moholo-Moholo.

Drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo performingSouth African drummer and free jazz musician Louis Moholo-Moholo during a concert at the House of World Cultures (Berlin, germany). Photo by Thielker / ullstein bild via Getty Images.

Born in Cape Town, 1940, Moholo-Moholo has had an illustrious jazz career spanning over 50 years. He is known for his influential band, The Blue Notes, formed with Chris McGregor, Johnny Dyani, Nikele Moyake, Mongezi Feza and Dudu Pukwana in 1960s Cape Town. Leaving South Africa to tour Europe in 1964, the sextet was characterised by their experimental and creative approach to the genre, establishing themselves as one of the most important free jazz bands of the time.

Forming a band like this under an apartheid government had its challenges, not least because Blue Notes was an interracial band during a time of segregationist policies. Also, the state of emergency imposed by the government in 1960 limited the number of people in gatherings to four. As a sextet, this was risky – and Moholo-Moholo has stated in past interviews that he would sometimes play behind a curtain when the band met.

Extract of Louis Moholo-Moholo interviewed by Denys Baptiste [BL REF C122/376]

Read the transcript for the interview.

In this extract, Moholo-Moholo provides insight into his formative musical education. His early encounters of rhythm came from running his ruler against a fence on his way home from school. The influence came from BBC Radio, playing from the naval base in Cape Town, featuring American greats such as Charlie Parker, Sid Catlett, Ted Heath and Duke Ellington. Although jazz had reached South Africa in the early 20th century, the local scene was dominated by local media controlled by the white minority.

Who could have imagined that a ruler and BBC Radio would help unlock the raw talent of Louis Moholo-Moholo?

This recording comes from the Oral History of Jazz in Britain Collection digitised by the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. It can be found alongside treasures from the sound archive, featured on our brand new website, History of Recorded Sound. Visit the site to discover more.

UOSH_Footer_2019_Magenta (004)

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