The Interval #9, British Library edition

Welcome to the ninth edition of The Interval – VocalEyes’ weekly selection of accessible cultural experiences, available remotely until  venues re-open their doors. This week’s edition has been compiled by Chandan Mahal and Charmaine Wong from the British Library.

British Library and the Sound Archive

The British Library is home to the nation’s Sound Archive, an extraordinary collection of over 6.5 million recordings of speech, music, wildlife and the environment, from the 1880s to the present. However, the nation’s sound collections are under threat, both from physical decay and as the means of playing them become obsolete. Since 2017, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Library has been partnering with archives across the UK to digitise, preserve and share their unique audio heritage as part of the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project.

The team have been working to raise awareness about aural heritage and to delight people with the many stories and lesser known histories brought to life through the power of sound. The rare and often unique recordings provide an opportunity to transport listeners to different places and times.


As part of this project, the Library have just launched a brand new digital resource called Coast, which is an exploration of the tales and accounts found along our shores. Why not break away from the 24-hour news cycle to discover the origins of mermaids or fishermen’s superstitions, or perhaps relive a beloved seaside holiday? If you’re keen on wildlife, why not listen to the surprising mating call of haddock or Atlantic Puffins or the sorrowful calls of Atlantic Grey Seals? If music is more your cup of tea, then you should definitely check out What Shall we do with a Drunken Sailor?, a sea shanty from the 1800s, or the classic music-hall tune from the early 1900s, All Aboard for Margate. Coast will appeal to anyone – from families, to naturalists, to anyone with even just a bit of curiosity.

Also at the British Library

The British Library has many other sound-rich resources available. British Library Sounds is a great place to start, where there are over 90,000 recordings to experience. Looking for something more curated? There’s a lot more to discover with something that will appeal to everyone.

If you’re an art connoisseur, visit Voices of Art to hear artists, such as David Hockney, Elisabeth Frink and Frank Bowling, as they talk about their lives and their work.

Are you a nature lover? The Language of Birds explores everything from birdsong to calls and mimicry. Keep your ear out for Alex the talking Grey Parrot.

An avid reader of women’s history? Listen to the voices of the women at the forefront of Britain’s Women’s Liberation Movement or celebrate the belated birthday of feminist hero Mary Wollstonecraft in this special podcast.