Audio tour in time – London Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery in London has come up with a twist on the usual museum audio tour: a choral choir!

Careful research prepared music which would have been contemporaneous with the portrait sitters and their time of influence on British society.  The pieces are then sung by a specifically assembled Portrait Choir, together with voiceover by Simon Russell Beale.

“The idea is simple: this guide is a soundtrack to five centuries of magnificent portraiture – as well as feasting your eyes on the portraits, period-specific music will further transport you from 21st century Britain to the era each room evokes.” – from the introduction, Track One on the guide

Can sound and music help us seem to travel through time?


Ekphrasis! W H Auden on Musee des Beaux Arts

A delight.  W H Auden writes – and reads – his response to Breughel’s picture about the fall of Icarus, in the Musee des Beaux Arts. 1 and a half minutes.  He manages to draw out a life observation as well as describe the painting.

Living the Sound of Music

Intriguing – you can now listen to the “Sound of Music” without the music – simply the audio of what happens with the characters – storms, birdsong, phone ring…..

It looks like – and sounds like – this:

So, if you are an extreme fan of the film – or you just love living life to a dramatic soundtrack – then put this on in the background and live life as imagined in Austria in the 1940s.

Incidentally, I heard about this from Kate Young, a lady who bakes based on characters in books – from her Twitter feed – so it all fits perfectly within the remit of this blog – the arts interacting with life.  Here: cookery, writing, music, film, audio.

Kate’s book “The Little Library Cookbook” is published this October – details here:

(I now know what I want for Christmas).

Songwriter – Carly Simon

Just watched a BBC documentary on the making of the album “No Secrets” – which includes the song “You’re so vain”.  Absorbing.


We get to hear from the producer, bassist, sound engineer, drummer, lead guitarist, her manager and most of all Carly herself.  What were her inspirations for her songs?  What was it like to be at the centre of recording such a phenomenally successful album?

A great insight into songwriting and the team effort which is recording an album. And also of the personal and emotional toll it takes on the performer, in the concentrated pressure chamber of the studio. Should be watched by all wouldbe musicians.

Much of the documentary is about the single “You’re so vain” because there are so many little separate elements which made it special.  One of these is backing vocals by a very young Mick Jagger, whom Carly randomly met at a party shortly beforehand, and brought into the studio.

Carly also talks about how she was influenced by the soul stylings of singer Odette (photo featured above).  The photo on the album and its title were not chosen til the very last minute.  The photo used on the front cover was literally as Carly left the photo shoot, dressed in her own favourite clothes, to go back to the studio to work.

Much of this album and its making are indeed life and art combined – the life of one particular musician, at a particular phase in her life and in the technology of sound recording.

This one hour documnetary is available to view on BBC iplayer but only until 5 June – so watch or download soon.

Seeing with poetry (9 mins)

In this video, poet Ken Cockburn and artist Juliana Capes describe the great hall in the Scottish Portrait Gallery to a group of people with sight difficulties.  They use poetic descriptions as well as poetry in what seems to be a very successful fusion.  This and other similar events are organized by Artlink.

This film is part of Artlink’s Investigate Create project, bringing artists and audiences together to create innovative, accessible work.

Podcasteth Thou?

The human voice in its immense variation carries words to us in a bandwidth broader than black lines of words on a white page or screen.  It’s one of the oldest media in the world – predating writing – each person’s voice so unique that when we hear a familiar voice it brings all the emotional connection with that person, as individual as a thumbprint.  In the womb, it’s our first experience of the world, before we emerge into the light and smells of life and see what it is all about (and get slapped as a welcome!).

Podcasting is the welcome sound of an accompanying voice, without the pain of the slap.  It’s the more personal follow-on from radio, downloadable onto a mobile phone and carried anywhere – even places without mobile phone signal.  And because it doesn’t need to be looked at, you can listen to a podcast on knitting while driving the longest trains in Australia (according to award-winning”Shinybees” podcast by Jo Milmine).

IMG_0188.JPGListening is less taxing than reading – we can take in information, hands free.  Because of its simplicity and directness, hospital radio is available to even those feeling unwell, in pain, away from their home environment.  The sound takes us to another environment – “Pictures are best on radio” – it’s one person’s voice at your ear, telling experiences of long ago, far away, or right now (the news) bringing you into their world.  And of course this may be thousands of light years away on a Vogon spaceship where the last living human (or so it seems), Arthur Dent is listening to the excruciating second worst poetry in the universe, while a galactic Encyclopaedia lets us know what is going on.  This is the type of set up we find on the classic radio comedy sci-fi show “Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” – terrific and hilarious as a radio show – slightly leaden and unconvincing on television and film, despite advances in visual special effects.

From there, it’s just a step to a vlog – and you can be in your eighties (the inimitable “atree3”), making a quilt and talking about the big stuff – time and eternity.  As the quiltmaker says, the videomaker is making a quilt of sorts too, cutting and pulling together pieces into the overall assemblage.


If the fancy takes you to podcast, there are helpful online places to give tech advice and inspire confidence to get making – try the Podcast Host for easy to understand counsel as you go.

Where will a podcast take you – or someone listening to your voice – today?  Anywhere the podcaster likes and (this is key) has the imagination to go.