Here’s Oscar Seager one of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage volunteers talking about his experience working on the Drake Sound Archive Collection.
Since volunteering in the Screen and Sound department of the National Library of Wales on the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project from February of this year, I have listened to numerous different audio clips on the Drake Sound Archive. These clips, while mainly focusing on business-related topics as they took place in the Cardiff Business Club, surprised me on the variety of talks that took place.
Many clips that I have listened to were recorded in 1998. However, more recently, many clips have moved to the 21st century. The topics that were mainly covered in this period were in relation to the Euro and the concerns that people faced in uniting under a single currency in terms of trade. However, other clips covered other topics that gave an interesting insight into things that I would never have come across in my academic studies in my History course including filmmaking (which was surprisingly discussed by Richard Attenborough) or the more random discussions such as the benefits of alcohol upon the body (discussed by Dr Thomas Stuttaford). While I had a fundamental understanding of what was being discussed in any clip, to be able to listen to a professional in that line of work discuss it is of significance to me.
However, it is not simply the fact that these clips are interesting that make my involvement in the UOSH feel worthwhile but also that these tapes have no longer been set aside but are now being made available in the British Library catalogue for others to listen to, truly unlocking our sound heritage for everyone to take full advantage of! Seeing my own work appearing on the library catalogue brought about a moment of pride and accomplishment to me as I was actively contributing to a historiography and also gaining valuable experience for my MA in Archive Administration at the same.
This post is a part of the Story of Wales series, which looks at different aspects of Welsh history, and how today’s Wales remembers, and shapes it. Subscribe to the blog on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.
Wales is often described as the country of song. But where did our musical tradition begin, and how did it develop?
Our new exhibition Record: Folk, Protest and Pop’ explores the musical tradition of Wales throughout the centuries – from the crwth to Catatonia – using various items from The Welsh Music Archive and Screen and Sound Archive.
Nia Mai Daniel from the Welsh Music Archive tells us more …
Although Wales is known as ‘The Land of Song’, we don’t have a great memory of early musical works. The folk tradition is an oral tradition, with harpists and balladeers travelling around the country, entertaining people in markets and public houses, and committing the melodies to memory.
By the eighteenth century folk melodies were recorded on paper, and many notable collectors compiled these at a later date; it is thanks to the tireless work of individuals such as Nansi Richards, J Lloyd Williams and Meredydd Evans that our folk tradition was saved and protected.
The establishment of the Welsh Folk Song Society in 1906 and the revival in the folk tradition in the 1970s, when folk singing coexisted with popular music, have also contributed to preserving the tradition.
One of the main figures in the evolution of music in Wales was Meredydd Evans, or Merêd, who spent his life contributing to Welsh life and culture as a collector, historian, musician, editor, nationalist and passionate campaigner for the Welsh language.
Merêd and his wife Phyllis Kinney collected songs which had been in danger of disappearing, and believed that the tradition could not grow and adapt without giving life to these songs which he discovered in old manuscripts and musical scores.
As well as his work as a collector, Merêd was also a gifted performer, recording an important collection of songs for the Folkway Records label in New York in 1954. For a decade from 1963 he was head of BBC Wales’ light entertainment, where he worked tirelessly to create popular Welsh light entertainment programmes.
“It’s about time we have more extreme singing in Wales today, more screams and wild drums…” were the words of a member of the first Welsh rock band, Y Blew, which formed in 1967.
The Wales of the 60s and 70s was a country that saw political agitation as well as musical ferment. Folk and pop music became tremendously popular, and the first Welsh language record label, Sain, was established in 1969. But what pushed Welsh music onwards was the ‘protest’ song. Rather than composing love songs, these young Welsh artists would take their guitars to the local pub and sing satirical and political songs.
By the 1980s a new group of bands and record labels emerged, ones that created a very different sound compared to the pop music usually heard from the country’s stages and radio waves. Groups such as Anhrefn, Datblygu, Llwybr Llaethog and Y Cyrff were experimental and revolutionary.
During the 1990s many Welsh language groups and individuals started to produce work in English as well as in Welsh such as Catatonia, Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci. The breakthrough into the English language music scene led to a growing interest in Welsh language culture and music across the world.
By the late 1990s and early twenty-first century the Welsh language was expressed through a variety of styles, from hip hop, reggae and ska, and returning back to its traditional folk roots.
Today, the music scene in Wales is alive and well, with an abundance of talented artists writing, recording and performing in Welsh, and more independent record labels than ever before working to release Welsh records.
For the last 14 weeks as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, the Library has welcomed 10 students from the MA Archive Administration and MSc Digital Curation courses from Aberystwyth University’s Department of Information Studies to work on one of our sound collections. We would like to thank the students for all their hard work and contribution towards the project, and to Crystal Guevara for writing this Blog about their time spent with us.
Timber, forest fires, road building, and World War II stories are just some of the subjects that are covered in a collection made up of 167 MiniDiscs, each containing interviews recorded from people who worked for or around the Forestry Commission.
As part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, the National Library of Wales is working on preserving and making available sound recordings that tell the story of wales through oral histories. Dr. Sarah Higgins, professor at Aberystwyth University arranged for ten students in the post-graduate Archive Administration course to help the Library work on a project called the Story of the Forest.
I was one of ten students that got to work on the project and I found that my appreciation for the people who had started the work for this story grew from admiration to urgency so that more people could hear and learn from the experiences of the forest workers who transformed the landscape of rural Wales.
The majority of these recordings are in Welsh, the remainder being in English. To place you somewhere in the timeline of history we’re talking about mid-Twentieth Century Wales. Due to a high demand for timber, the Forestry Commission bought slate quarries and farms to transform those areas into plots for forestry farming. Naturally, this meant an adjustment in lifestyle and some people adjusted well to it while others longed for the way that things used to be. The people who were a part of these changes weren’t interviewed until 2002 and 2003 by a team of interviewers who were motivated to get on record the rich details of this time of transition and change.
Because the interviews were recorded on MiniDiscs, they needed to be rescued from becoming completely inaccessible, since so much of the technology around MiniDiscs has already become obsolete. So, our job as archive students was to digitise the recordings on the MiniDiscs, catalogue all of the interviews, transcribe them, and then put together an online exhibit to showcase some of these interviews along with old photographs provided by the interviewees. To get all of this done we got to work with some of the Library staff. They gave us guidance on what to do and we in turn strategized the timetable and roles and responsibilities.
Everyone on the team got to perform unique tasks and we sought to rotate everyone through all the necessary jobs to get a chance at trying different things out. Each task required a different learning process and each one was vital to make these stories publicly available.
During the digitising I was able to appreciate having technology that allowed us to continue preserving these stories. While transcribing, I got to hear first-hand the core of what we were doing. Listening to the interviews, was insightful and eye-opening. They contain stories about forestry policy, road building, nursery work, farm life, and other topics like Land Army Girls, Prisoners of War, and life post-World War II. Then, while cataloguing we strived to do things meticulously, but efficiently to create useable information that would help future users navigate through the collection.
To become more connected with the project and feel the real human connection with the interviewees and their stories, we organized a trip to Corris. Corris is one of the places mentioned often in the oral histories and only a 40-minute drive from Aberystwyth. While we were there, we could see for ourselves the different types of trees in their separate sections, covering the hills. We took pictures of our visit to include in the online exhibit and add our own perspective to continue telling the story of the forest.
It was a great journey beginning to end. As we are only aspiring archivists at the moment, we relied heavily on the knowledge of all the library staff helping us work the technology and understand the metadata standards. Alison Smith, Berian Elias, Rhodri Shore, Gruffydd Jones, and Elena Gruffudd were especially helpful. That in and of itself was a lesson applicable in how to help and educate people who are learning to use archives.
To see these oral histories start off in a cardboard box and now find them searchable on the British Library catalogue brought a great sense of accomplishment for the entire team.
17 of these stories are now available to listen to online on the People’s Collection Wales website, along with more detailed stories about the specific process of cataloguing, digitising, transcribing, and work on the exhibit.
As International Conscientious Objectors’ Day is taking place across the globe today – 15th May, The National Library of Wales’ Screen and Sound Archive would like to draw your attention to a short film available on the BFI Player entitled Defending This Country Only Means Attacking Another. The title was taken from a Peace Pledge Union [PPU] placard seen in the film which was shot by Mr J. Fred Phillips, a cinema operator in Brynmawr from 1923 to 1958. He was also captain of the Monmouthshire Golf Club, Abergavenny, and husband of Pollto Williams, a finalist in several national ladies golf championships at Llandrindod. Other placards indicate the PPU beliefs: Mass Murder is No Defence of Liberty and Peace is Indivisble – We Seek Peace on Earth, Goodwill to ALL MEN. Hand-crafted placards that have a drawing of a blood splatter on them accompanied by the words Munitions from Ebbw Vale suggest that this could be a protest against the opening or operation of such a factory in the area. The Society of Friends (Quakers, pacifists) had set up projects for the unemployed (e.g. boot and furniture making – see also the film Eastern Valley on the BFI Player) in Brynmawr and area during the 1930s but many of the unemployed found work in munitions factories in Ebbw Vale during WWII. Or, given that the PPU undertook a Carlisle to London peace campaign in 1938, could this footage show a campaign visit to Ebbw Vale?
The Peace Pledge Union [PPU] was initiated in 1934 by Canon Dick Sheppard who had been an Army Chaplain during WWI. He wrote a letter to the newspapers asking men (as women were already active in the peace movement) to sign a pledge if they were sickened by what looked like the stirrings of another war: ‘I renounce war, and I will never support or sanction another.’ He was overwhelmed by the response. The movement included women from 1936. Today, the PPU is the provider of the white poppies worn on Remembrance Day. Such poppies were first worn, at the instigation of the Co-operative Women’s Guild on Armistice Day, 1933 (Armistice Day became Remembrance Day after the Second World War). Many of the women had lost loved ones during WWI and despaired at on-going preparations for further war. It was also felt that remembrance should include all the non-military victims of war too. The pledge today is as follows: ‘War is a crime against humanity. I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war. I am also determined to work for the removal of all causes of war.’
Mary Moylett, Cataloguer (Film) Screen and Sound Archive
The National Library of Wales is one of the 10 Hub partners across the UK participating in the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project, which is funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the British Library.
The British Library and the 10 Hubs will digitally preserve half a million rare and at risk sound recordings, and make 100,000 available online.
From September 2018 until September 2021 the National Library of Wales will digitise, catalogue and assess rights for 5,000 sound recordings from Wales. They will include a range of subjects from oral history, lectures, dialect to Welsh pop and folk music.
The aim is to transform access to sound collections in Wales making them available online and on site at the Library. In order to fulfil this, we will be working with some of our partners in Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, Swansea and Tredegar.
We are looking for volunteers or students who wish to gain work experience to support the project.
We have a range of activities on offer from creating inventories, help prepare digitisation work and content research. Training will be provided.
If you have an interest in learning more about Welsh history and sound recordings, keen to learn and develop new skills why not join our warm and friendly team.
The HTV Wales archive is a significant record of Welsh popular culture, politics and history captured on both film and video and it constitutes a large part of the Screen and Sound Archive. An archive of that size and age will have an assortment of conservation challenges, especially in the area of restoration. By far the most common problem with old tape is Sticky-shed syndrome (SSS) or hydrolysis. SSS is symptomatic of the breakdown of the tapes’ polyester binder due to absorption of moisture.
The tell-tale squealing of the tape as it passes over the playhead and the accumulation of dirty deposits upon the guide and playhead indicate a tape has SSS. A tape with SSS will, amongst other issues, exhibit ‘crabbing’, i.e. the moving from side to side of the moving image, and if not treated continued playback could further damage the tape.
So how do we restore that believed lost episode of ‘Gwesty Gwirion’? The answer may surprise you! The standard practice is to bake the tape at low temperatures for relatively long periods of time, such as 130 °F to 140 °F (54 to 60 °C). Strictly speaking we don’t ’bake’ our tapes but instead use a commercial food dehydrator that removes all moisture from the tape pack. How long we do this to the tape will depend on the severity of the SSS; up to a week we’ve discovered is time enough. We have been successful with the majority of the tapes that have undergone the process, with many lost gems brought back from the brink of oblivion. You can see some of them on the ITV Wales YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCT2NfMee-YxsGaH852qTx3Q or view them at the Library.
Unlocking Our Sound Heritage is a five-year project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the British Library. The project is part of the ‘Save Our Sounds’ programme which aims to preserve and provide access to sound recordings across the UK. Ten Network Audio Preservation Centres have been established across the UK and will receive funding for three years to deal with the threat facing sound recordings. These institutions are:
National Museums Northern Ireland
Archives + Manchester
Norfolk Record Office
National Library of Scotland
University of Leicester
The Keep in Brighton
Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
National Library of Wales
London Metropolitan Archives
The project will focus on digitising and preserving rare unique sound recordings, those that are under threat of physical deterioration and those at risk of being lost because the playback equipment is no longer available.
The British Library will lead the project, sharing skills and supporting hubs across the UK to preserve their own unique and rare sounds while making them available to the public.
By the end of 2021 the National Library of Wales will have digitally preserved and provide access to unique and rare recordings from our own collection and from partners’ collections across Wales.
The recordings will be used in learning and engagement activities and will raise the profile for collections for Sound Archives across the UK. By the end of 2021 more people will have engaged in sound recordings and a new website will allow listeners to listen and explore a selection of online recordings.
October 21st is International Home Movie Day, and our collection here at the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales is a great place to explore a wealth of such films dating from the 1920s onwards. Once upon a time, Home Movies were seen as personal accounts of daily life, and due to their format only viewed by a small number of people, but modern technology has made it so they can be shared. We have recently digitised over seven hundred of the films in our care, many of which are now available to view for free on the BFI Player here. It’s almost like you’re looking through someone’s window, only the window is someone else’s camera lens.
Our collection ranges from home movies depicting the deeply personal, to celebrating the wider community. They are all humbling for the care, effort and cost which the filmmaker must have incurred, but most importantly they offer something that is very real and (largely) unedited.
These home movies offer an opportunity for investigation, reflection and hopefully inspiration. Although the method and media has changed drastically in the following years, our drive to capture and share our lives has become – seemingly – evermore insatiable. The home movies of yesteryear recorded on Super 8, projected on living room walls and stored in attics, are now recorded on phones, projected through social media and stored in the cloud. Perhaps one day we will have a department dedicated to preserving Snapchats, Instagrams, Tweets and Facebook live posts of specific interest to Wales and relating to its culture!
Over the Summer, the Archive contributed to a wonderful programme called ‘Wales’s Home Movies’ which was broadcast last Sunday (October 15th) on BBC Wales. It showed personal film footage caught on camera, and interviewed the people that were in the films, who shared stories of the days that had been captured. If you missed it, or would like to view it again, it is available on the BBC iPlayer here until November 14th. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to be inspired (almost) daily by our collection, and you are always welcome to visit us in person at the National Library of Wales to see how we care for these precious films, and safeguard them for future generations.
A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.
Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.