Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The British Library Archive of Recorded Sound

It's been a while since the last post, and I'm slowly going to try to blog more.

Yesterday I was reading about major updates to the online sound archives of the British Library. This is an amazing collection. Access to the collections varies according to geographic location; more files are available to residents of the United Kingdom, and even more to those who are associated with a UK institution of higher learning. Over 23,000 sound files are available to everyone.

The archive includes spoken word and musical recordings, and includes both field and commercial recordings. The files can't be embedded, so links are provided instead.

My favorite part of the collection is the archive of world and traditional music. Of particular interest are 952 recordings from Decca's West Africa yellow label series. These are commercial recordings, made between 1948 and 1958, and include many rare performances that are unavailable elsewhere.

Here are Adeolu and his Rio Lindo Orchestra from this series:


The archive also contains 244 ethnographic wax cylinder recordings, made between 1898 and 1919. The sound quality is poor, but they are well worth hearing.

Here is the beautiful and disturbing "Death Wail", recorded in 1898 during the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait, which is located between Australia and Papua New Guinea.


Mr. Seagalman calls horses, cows, sheep, and fowl. (UK, 1910)


This is the blog for the Sound Archive, which features a Recording of the Week.


The archive also contains a collection of regional sounds and dialects from many locations in England, This recordings are interesting not only for their preservation of dialects, but because they are also oral histories, and provide a record of a way of life that no longer exists.

A resident of Cheshire discusses traveling through the area with his threshing machine. This was recorded in 1966. The speaker was 76 at that time.



  1. Neat neat Bob !

    Thanks :>) Cyndybobyndy

  2. Thanks! I do have a feeling that you won't be playing "Death Wail" on your show however:).

  3. Oh man, thanks for sharing this! If I do remember correctly, The Beatles used this or something very similar to create Revolution #9. That one always gives me the creeps for some reason.




  5. Thanks for your comments Vanessa and Pedro:).

    Vanessa - I rememeber hearing Revolution #9 for the first time, without knowing anything about it. It gives me the creeps too.