Tag Archives: archive in 70 objects

SSSA in 70 Objects: Nagra III

by Stuart Robinson, AV Technician at SSSA

 

It was hard to pick a single object from our extensive collection of historic equipment to speak about in this article. I did consider writing about some of our “repeater” machines like the one mentioned by Morag Macleod which are a great example of the inventiveness shown by my predecessor, Fred Kent, but in this post I thought I would share a device that is as easy on the eye as it is on the ear: The Nagra III.

A nagra recorder. There are two reels on the top of the machine. On the front sde there are a series of dials

The Nagra recorders were designed by Stefan Kudelski, a Polish engineer who fled the war in Poland in 1939 and were named after the Polish word “nagra” meaning “will record”. Manufacturing began in 1951 by Kudeslki Company, his eponymous engineering firm based in Switzerland specialising in high-end recording equipment. The company still exists and makes field recorders and other Hi-fi equipment today (they also manufacture my all-time favourite amplifier, the Nagra VPA, which shows a similar design aesthetic).

As one would expect from the name there had been two preceding models of Nagra field recorders before our Nagra III was made, the Nagra I and II. These models are very impressive technically but still relied on clockwork winding mechanisms which suffer from poor speed control, and valve amplification circuits which required very high voltages and drew a great deal of power which is a major issue when recording in the field.

The Nagra III was designed in 1957 and was transistorised meaning lower power consumption for longer recording, and had a servo controlled motor for precise speed control, Kudelski also had the foresight to use a spring belt drive mechanism rather than using rubber or leather belts as other manufacturers did at the time, meaning a massive increase in reliability. The machines were designed by Kudelski to last 5 years in the field with no maintenance, and proof of his success is evident in the fact that there are still so many working examples of these machines out there more than 60 years after they were manufactured.

what the Nagra looks like inside the machine. There are many coloured wireds, cogs and components

The Nagra had many design features that were ahead of its time, such as 3-way speed selection (3.75, 7.5 or 15 ips) and dual equalisation (CCIR or Ampex). This along with accurate level monitoring, recording quality, portability, and the optional Pilot-tone add-on made Nagra recorders the standard for location film work for at least 30 years.

We are fortunate enough to own two Nagra III recorders and the accompanying mini microphone mixer and external speaker unit. Here it is accompanied by a Sennheiser MD421, another classic piece of recording equipment.

These were used extensively, it is hard to work out exactly how many recordings they were used for, but a quick search suggests nearly 500 in the official SA catalogue the earliest available on Tobar an Dualchais features Calum Johnston singing “Chunnacas na trì, na trì, calmanan geala” and the audio quality is still impressive to hear – note the lack of hiss or hum, and the clarity of the sibilants.

The Nagra recorders were also used to record one of the Archive’s most important works, “Cloth Waulking in South Uist”(VA1970.01,) as seen in the picture below of Peter Cooke and Morag Macleod.

(C) SSSA

This video is currently available to view on our Youtube channel:

 

It is amazing to think of the songs, tales and music that have passed through this unit’s Germanium over the past 60 years, and it is a joy to get to use it and be part of that great history. Even today people are finding new ways to use and experiment with these incredible recorders and finding new outlets for their creativity by doing so, like in the video below.

 

Thanks for reading,

Stuart Robinson,

Archival Audio-Visual Technician,

School of Scottish Studies Archives.

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SSSA in 70 Objects: A Seer Saw a Full-Rigged Ship

Response by Gill Russell, Artist

 

Material from the archives of the  School of Scottish Studies forms a central part of South West by South, An t-Eilean Fada, The Long Island: A Poetic Cartography,  an exhibition of new work I created for An Lanntair in Stornoway, and Taigh Chearsabhagh in North Uist, in 2021. 

My recent focus as an artist, explores the dynamic relationship between sea and land – ‘South West by South’ is the result of many visits to the Western Isles. Along the extent of the liminal shore the interplay of tidal currents and weather is complex and, from a human perspective, fickle, authoring dramatic, sometimes destructive, events. In ‘South West by South’ these are expressed through a ‘poetic cartography’, in an installation of large-scale prints, vinyl wall drawings, audio recordings, and maps. 

The dense interplay of sea, land, and light in the northwest of Scotland, and in particular the Western Isles has captivated me since childhood. I often imagined living there. Although I felt a deep attachment to the place and however much it inspired my practice, I came to realise that I would always be a tourist, a spectator, on the outside of an entrenched culture looking in. It was important to make connections.

I listened to sea lore stories on the  Tobar an Dualchais website, oral history interviews recorded by fieldworkers from the School of Scottish Studies Archives. The stories were hugely powerful, giving first-hand accounts of the lore of these waters – including ‘South West by South’, in which an apparition changes the course of a ship. This story was given by Peter Morrison, North Uist, recorded by Gun Forslin (SA1968.109.A3)

In another tale, a seer spies a full-rigged ship approaching from the direction of St Kilda, years before the vessel was wrecked on rocks between Heisker and North Uist – this story was also recorded by Gun Forslin, told to her by Angus MacKenzie (SA1968.110.A5)

The interviews held so much more than the words they spoke. They flooded me with intense and emotional visual imagery.  In response to the stories, I began creating large drawings on a graphics tablet. The process became utterly meditative. I drew until the stories of the sea came back to me, producing hundreds, choosing just a few. It would be impossible to replicate any particular one, as I became lost in them.  

 (click on each image to open it fully)

Seer , 2021  

 

 

 

An Lanntair May-July 2021 ( photo c. John MacLean) 

 

Audio recordings of the stories were played in the gallery at a low volume, looping continuously. 

Selected extracts from the stories were made into a booklet: ‘A seer saw a full rigged ship’ 

Through seeking permissions to use the material, and my visit to North Uist in 2019, I met Catherine and Alastair Laing from North Uist. Alastair’s father Andrew Laing had given an account of the Van Stabel, a ship wrecked off the coast of Heisker. Andrew’s father in law, Donald John MacDonald, was stationed on Heisker as the Receiver of Wrecks c.1900. Catherine also showed me her daughter Mary’s dissertation about Heisker.  You can hear Andrew Laing’s recording with Donald Archie MacDonald on Tobar an Dualchais (SA1968.150.A7)

Catherine told me a story of a man she knew, who had stood out on the headland at Tigh a’ Ghearraidh, North Uist, watching a ship floundering in the sleet and gales with her sails torn. The day we visited that same headland it was very stormy. We walked to the point where the man had watched from, and the vision in his tale came to me vividly. It led me to explore shipwrecks, in the theme of ‘Lost Ships’. 

Hundreds of ships were wrecked around the coasts of the western isles to the sea and weather, war, or navigational error. I trawled through the maritime archaeological archives from Canmore mapping, absorbed by the detailed records of events: loss of life and cargo, weather conditions, accidents. The immense journeys some of these ships made a hundred or so years ago, crossing oceans to other continents, and coming to grief on the Islands. 
 

Map for Lost Ships, 2021 

 

 

Poem for Lost Ships,  2021 

in gale force winds and snow showers

her sails torn and tattered

lying on her side

thumping heavily in six fathoms

at Aird an Runair

north west of Shilley

blown off course

back and forth

demasted

a severe westerly gale

ripped her sails

and drove her through

the sound of Monach

to the sands of Baleshare

in dense fog she struck

a sunken rock

and was holed on the Uisgeir reef

at daybreak a heavy sea breaking

all around them

struck heavily on a rock

in the sound of Monach

during a gale in the night

a brocket washed ashore

at Hanglum Headland

with iron canons

struck by a huge wave

in rough weather off Barra

St Ilfonsado sank in ten fathoms

off the Butt of Lewis

three casks of whisky

marked ‘Glasgow Distillery Company’

floated on

St Kilda was sighted

off the port bow

by 6:30 pm the light

at Barra Head 

 

****** 

 

Thanks to  

Louise Scollay, from the SSSA who pursued permissions for the eight stories on my behalf. 

Dougie MacDonald, for translation of the two Gaelic stories. 

 

Gill Russell, 2021 

https://www.gillrussell.co.uk/

 

Images are copyright and used with kind permission. Please do not reproduce.

 

Thanks so much to Gill, for sharing her process with us and letting us glimpse at how the recordings in SSSA have inspired and motivated her beautiful work.

If you would like to tell us about a project which has been inspired by the work of the School of Scottish Studies. our recorded contributors or fieldworkers, we would be delighted to hear from you. Email us at scottish.studies.archives (AT) ed.ac.uk

 

 

 

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