BISA 2020 - Programme

British & Irish Sound Archives (BISA) Conference Programme 2020

Friday 27th November


Dr Janet Topp Fargion, Head of Sound & Vision, The British Library: Welcome & Introduction



Dr Clíona O’Carroll, Cork Folklore Project and Béaloideas/Folklore and Ethnology, University College Cork: What’s the Story with ‘Talk’?           

I will consider some questions regarding recorded ‘talk’, in terms of research and of the generation of community cultural heritage resources. Working with the Cork Folklore Project folklore/oral history archive, I feel a need to assert, and to create space for, the specificity of form and richness of the medium of recorded speech. This applies in academic contexts and in the public sphere, where a number of forces of expectation are brought to bear on ‘the folklore/oral history interview’ that mask or mis-assess the potential of the form in interrogating and celebrating the construction of meaning in everyday life. There is a need to fill a gap with fresh interrogation of the mechanisms and experience of listening to the conversational human voice in a mediated context (points of interest include an assumed association of exposure to human testimony and empathy, and the issue of digital abundance). It is also time to play. Up to now, we have engaged in collective listening, digital story mapping, film and broadcast/audio pieces as part of our dissemination-collection cycle. It may be time to overtly resist or subvert expectations, and develop or collaborate on more ‘non-standard’ creative interventions in order to assert the intriguing, surprising, rich, messy, valuable, human, and relationally-embedded nature of this particular iteration of ‘talk’.



Amanda House, Lead IPR Manager, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, The British Library: Clearing Copyright in Sound Recordings on Unlocking Our Sound Heritage

I manage the data protection and copyright clearance on the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project at the British Library. With ten partner organisations the project aims to make available a large number of sound recordings on a new dedicated website and media player. These range from Radio, Popular Music, Drama and Literature, Oral Histories and World and Traditional Music, all of which require varying approaches to clearance. Clearing in copyright archival sound recordings can be complex, most sound recordings contain multiple embedded rights, many of which will still be in copyright and therefore require permission from the current rights holder. The proposed presentation will outline our experience, the successes, challenges and response to those challenges in mass clearing archival sound recordings. It will seek to share the learning we have gained so far clearing copyright during the course of the project, and aim to provide practical tips for those who wish to clear their own material. The ability to provide access to archival material online has become even more important during the pandemic, where experiencing archival collections onsite it less safe and less practical. Understanding copyright is essential to reusing and sharing our archival sound collections with the wider public.


10:20               Break



Jonathon McBride, Audio Digitisation Officer for National Museums Northern Ireland: It’s Scary What You Can Do With Sound: Using Digitised Audio to Enhance Visitor Experiences of Halloween at the Ulster Folk Museum

Among thousands of archive recordings digitised in the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project at National Museums NI since 2018, many voices have been brought back to life after decades in storage. Folk traditions form a substantial part of this collection, including those surrounding Halloween as a major festival in Ulster and Irish life. This paper will explore how newly digitised audio files, held in the Ulster Folk Museum sound archive, have been introduced to Halloween-themed events in the museum’s open-air museum buildings. It will outline the process of how sound recordings were identified to enhance the storytelling experience in the Dark Side of Ballycultra tours, then played to visitors to the dimly lit buildings as a set-piece for first-person interpreters to embellish their stories and create a scare. This paper will consider both the experiential value of using sound recordings in museum interpretation, and the ethical question of how far such audio can be utilised out of original context to augment a visitor tour without compromising on the core aim of creating authentic visitor experiences. Finally, there will be explanation of how this case has inspired the UOSH project to attempt to unlock further content on its reels for the benefit of other museum initiatives, in parallel with the creation of an income-generating digitisation service for the wider archival community and the general public, as part of a general plan to create a sustainable legacy and continuity for the sound archive after the natural end of the project.



Rebekah Hayes & Vicky Barnecutt, Researchers on the True Echoes Project, The British Library: True Echoes

True Echoes is a research project centered on the British Library’s collection of Oceanic wax cylinders, which were recorded during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These audio recordings are hugely significant, representing both the earliest documentation of oral traditions in Oceanic communities and the earliest uses of sound in anthropological research.

This presentation will introduce the project and detail how True Echoes is working with Oceanic national institutions and local communities to increase the accessibility and visibility of these collections for those whose heritage the recordings represent.

We will discuss different ways in which the project is returning and centering Indigenous perspectives within the British Library’s metadata and documentation for the Oceanic wax cylinder collections, beginning the process of decolonising the collections. We will also introduce how the project is using technology like the Raspberry Pi computer to ensure that Oceanic communities are able to access the collections, especially in areas with little internet access.



Gregory Markus, Project Leader, Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision: RE:VIVE | Bringing Together the Worlds of Archives and Electronic Music         

RE:VIVE is a 5-year old initiative by The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision that facilitates the creative re-use of openly licensed audiovisual heritage material by the electronic music community. Over the 5 years, RE:VIVE has commissioned works from over 100 artists, generated access to over 1.000.000 open audio heritage items and cemented the role of Sound and Vision as a place for multidisciplinary artists to discover and re-use archival material.
Our presentation will show how RE:VIVE has become a key-player in the Dutch electronic music community. We will give examples from our several dozen re-use projects that illustrate how institutes can allow for creative re-use of their collections in ways that comply with their license status and budgets. We’ll document the ethical quandaries we’ve faced and successes while working with Dutch colonial sound archives. RE:VIVE continues to grow and while more re-use of our collection is great, there is an artistic hunger to discover more material, we hope that by sharing our knowledge, more institutes will be encouraged to engage artists close to home and make collections more available for those around the globe.



Alison Smith, Project Manager, Unlocking our Sound Heritage, National Library of Wales: Composers Create

The National Library of Wales is one of ten hubs working with the British Library on the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project. The project is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and aims to preserve rare and unique sound recordings in the UK.

During lockdown the National Library of Wales commissioned 25 composers to create a new piece of work inspired by oral history interviews that were digitised by the Unlocking our Sound Heritage Team. The presentation will show how it’s possible to bring sound archives to life during challenging times. The composers interpreted a diverse range of oral history collection from interviews with friends and family of Dylan Thomas, some of the Welsh who migrated to Patagonia and Canada at the turn of the twentieth century as well as people involved in and affected by the early years of the Forestry Commission's activities in Wales. This presentation will showcase some of the creative outputs, providing an understanding and appreciation of sound collections.


11:40               Q&A


12:00               Lunch



Martine Robertson, Volunteer with the European Ethnological Research Centre: Ethnology as Performance: Archives at Centre Stage

The Regional Ethnology of Scotland Project (RESP) is a community-based research project in which individuals from communities conduct recorded oral fieldwork. We will present and discuss a creative output form the RESP archive in which the research team, the fieldworker, the interviewee and additional collaborators to produce a short film about Mr Charles (Charlie) Horne, Port Seton. Martine Robertson - fieldworker and Creative Director of GaelGal Productions - discusses her oral fieldwork experience with the RESP, and how this has informed her creative practice. The open approach to content creation and output taken by the EERC and the scope given to fieldworkers to suggest and implement creative outputs will be discussed. Our collaboration takes the form of a 17-minute video which abstracts a cohesive, biographical narrative in Charlie’s own voice, with photographs and music identified by Charlie as pivotal in his lifetime. Our presentation will explore: the academic context, the creative processes and present “Charlie Horne the Past is still with us”.



Siân Williams, Digitisation Manager, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, Libraries, Galleries and Culture Manchester Central Library: LGBTQ+ Mixtape: An Immersive Re-imagining of BBC Radio Interviews at the Height of Protest against Section 28 and the AIDS Crisis   

In February 2020 UOSH North West presented LGBTQ+ MIXTAPE at Manchester Central Library, an evening of curated archive audio from BBC Radio Manchester and immersive projections. An edited version of the film will be shown preceded by an introduction discussing the ethical intent of this creative response to archive audio collections, technical & copyright challenges and audience impact.

The LGBTQ+ community in the 1980s took to both the streets and the dance floor in response to homophobia and police harassment. The majority of the playlist features LGBT interviewees, as important local figures who paved the way for this fight back against discrimination. Greater Manchester Police's Chief Constable James Anderton’s notorious comments against gay people ‘swirling in a human cesspit' provide the context for the fight.

The event and film explored these vital spaces of defiance by pairing key news stories with Manchester’s favourite disco tracks. With a focus on queer disco and house anthems, the music playlist was chosen to act as a contrast to the recordings, offering solidarity and positivity through music between 1979 - 1989. The tracks loop, under the archive recordings and sometimes hostile questioning, providing cathartic moments of joy and emotion.



Sheena Irving, Audio Visual Producer, Trustee of the Association for Heritage Interpretation: Film Montage

With over 35 years’ experience of producing for heritage and museum applications, Sheena Irving has produced a large body of audio-visual material covering a wide range of subjects. A particular specialty is the production of sound material derived from journals, diaries, manuscripts and other published works, and multimedia productions based on archive audio recordings, oral histories and film, including the research and identification of archive material from many sources. I propose to produce a short film which will demonstrate a range of material from audio and film archives and their resources, used in different ways, to suit the particular project, with example clips from each project.



Chandan Mahal, Learning Projects Manager, National Learning Programme, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, The British Library: Sound Archives and Musical Interpretations  

The British Library holds the UK’s Sound Archive, with extensive collections of unique sound recordings which come from all over the world and cover the entire range of recorded sound: music, drama and literature, oral history, wildlife and environmental sounds. As part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, the BL and Hub partners have been working with artists to bring new creative response to the sound archives. In 2019 -20 we worked with critically acclaimed Eritrean rapper and producer, AWATE. AWATE carried out research into the sound archive exploring themes of migration and diaspora, to produce a long narrative form composition that journeys across continents and cultures using sound archives in an experimental musical piece exploring migration and the music of people on the move over the last 100 years. The National Library of Wales during the lockdown commissioned 12 musicians to respond to their oral collections. These projects have been an exciting opportunity to see some of the sound collections re-imagined creating new musical narratives.  They have raised many issues in terms of how audio archives are being used to orchestrate new sound pieces, and the role of the artist in making new connections to our past. Presented by Learning Projects Manager in collaboration with staff from National Library of Wales, and one of the artists.



Dr Deirdre Ní Chonghaile, Artist /Curator & Dr Cillian Joy, Digital Library Developer, James Hardiman Library, National University Galway: The Prof. Tomás Ó Máille Wax Cylinder Project: Contexts, Aims, Design, Methodologies         

Tomás Ó Máille (1880-1938), inaugural professor of Irish and Celtic Studies at UCG (1909-1938), was a pioneering and prolific collector of Irish language traditions. The Prof. Ó Máille Wax Cylinder Collection at NUI Galway is the largest collection of recordings created by an individual recordist working independently in Ireland from the advent of recording technology to the mid-twentieth century. This collection of 398 cylinders has remained in NUIG in its original state since the 1930s and consists of up to 33 hours of content from all counties west of the Shannon; specifically, vocal material in Irish including speech, storytelling, and song, reflecting Ó Máille's lifelong interests in linguistics, folklore, and music-collecting. In scale and ambition, Prof. Ó Máille’s contribution to the audio heritage of Ireland is unparalleled. The potential of digital technologies presents a golden opportunity to celebrate the work of Prof. Ó Máille in a manner to which he himself would have aspired: modern, technologically advanced, and enabling cultural equity. This work-in-progress presentation discusses the design approach and ambitions of a project currently in development in partnership with the National Library of Ireland, addressing in particular the value of generating curation strategies for related archives in tandem.



Rob Curry, Fifth Column Films: Sound Archives and Cinema: A Case Study

Rob’s last two films have been built around sound archive materials from the Library of Congress, 1950s BBC collections and the Alan Lomax Archive (Association of Cultural Equity). This presentation will be a hands-on exploration of the surprising number of ethical issues that arose from the projects, including incorrect cataloguing, monetisation of materials, controversial uses in storytelling, and descendants of the original subjects unhappy with current day usage. The Lomax Archive has been running a repatriation program and our films have been part of that process, demonstrating the potential crossover between creative and functional sides of archive management. There are also interesting issues around the commercial use of materials that have been made publicly available and the implications of this for copyright etc. Fundamentally though, the presentation explores how contemporary creative endeavours can benefit from in-depth engagement with archive materials to create vibrant new work.


14:50               Break



Louise Scollay, Big Tall Wish Films: Clutching at Straws: Fragments of a Shetland Tradition

Clutching at Straws follows a photographer's journey pursuing a folklore tradition from Shetland. The film also features archive sound from The School of Scottish Studies Archive (SSSA). Skeklers were once common in Shetland at Halloween and Yule. Disguised men dressed in straw and performed in traditional drama. They visited houses at Halloween engaging in threshold exchange ritual and they were an important visitor at a wedding. What we know of this though are mere fragments. They come from written evidence, from visitors to Shetland in the 1800s who were viewing the tradition as it was dying out. It became a pursuit of children after this, but that is now gone too. Gemma Ovens came to the tradition upon seeing a 1930s photograph and decided to pursue this as a theme for her First Year HND Photography project. I was struck by Gemma's passion for this folklore custom of Shetland, I felt keenly to connect this to a fragment of the past traditions. I sought the recording of the late Brucie Henderson, storyteller from Yell. Together their voices, and Gemma's work, add illumination to this lost custom. 



Delia Dattilo, Ph.D. candidate, Ethnomusicology, University of Cagliari: Cultural and Sound Aspects of the Cries of London: Resources, Opportunities, New Practices

The Cries of London have been historically documented since the 14th century. Their rhythmic, poetic and sound features – synthesized in expressions and performances that are functional to the sale – moved between musical and verbal language and have been frequently taken into account by musicians and composers of all times (from Orlando Gibbons to Luciano Berio), who have drawn from the respective social realities in order to write creatively and in accordance with their stylistic canons (Varga 1985, Milsom 2017). Nowadays, many instances – broadsides, music sheets and other material even of iconographic nature – pertaining to a specific period (17th-18th centuries) areplaced in accessible archives (Bodleian Library, EBBA, VWML, et al.). They represent a resource, since they can be creatively read and transmitted with different purposes. Based on such considerations and given the enormous quantity of data available, it is therefore possible to believe that the Cries could be re-enacted in two different ways: 1) by creating an historical archive that includes all material concerning the Cries, from a diachronic, social and musicological point of view; 2) by developing a project of field recording in markets that takes into account cultural and sound elements in relation to a deeply changed context and, possibly, aimed at a creative use which, thanks to the cooperation of cultural institutions, could allow the narration of contemporary society through its soundscape.



Frank Sweeney, Independent Film Maker: All I Believed Happened There Was Vision

The project emerged from a period of research with the National Folklore Collection at UCD, exploring representations of the otherworld in the oral tradition. The film searches out these otherworlds in the modern Irish state, surveying free zones, data centres, utopian housing projects and large infrastructural developments. Taking the form of a travelogue we visit these sites of mythological importance and examine their role in the formation of a national imaginary.



Leslie McCartney, Associate Professor, Curator of Oral History Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks: Rediscovering the Stick Dance Songs     

The Stick Dance is a week-long ceremony held annually in March in the Alaska Interior in Athabaskan communities on the Yukon River. The name is derived from the central symbol of the ceremony, a spruce pole. The ceremony is held to mourn the passing of community members and to thank those who helped the grieving families through their difficult time. The 14 ritual songs sung during the ceremony, handed down from generation to generation, were banned in the 1950s by the Catholic Church. One song was forgotten and as the Elders passed away, the songs were no longer taught to the next generation. Recordings of all of the 14 songs were found in the archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and were invaluable for a new generation to learn the 14 songs. The Kaltag Tribal Council gave direction to the archives as to how to treat the recordings with respect and integrity by providing advice and direction of what recordings could be listened to, at what times of the year, and by whom. By working together, a process is now in place to help protect the sacred songs in a culturally sensitive way. This presentation will discuss these issues.


16:10               Q&A and closing remarks


16:30               Close