Tag Archives: sssa at 70

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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SSSA in 70 Objects: A Superstar

Ian MacKenzie: More of a superstar than an object,  but very much SSSA.

by Caroline Milligan

Black and white image of two women in side profile, Dr K Campbell looks at her interviewee Lizzie Angus. They smile openly towards eachother

[i]

From dozens of ideas on my ‘What shall I write about for my SSSA in 70 objects blog post’ mind map I finally chose to share with you this photograph, of Kath Campbell[ii] and Lizzie Angus which I have loved and admired from the moment I first encountered it, which was probably in a Scottish Ethnology 1 lecture in my first year.

When I worked at the School of Scottish Studies (2004-2018) I would give a couple of lectures a year on Fieldwork Practice and this picture was very often the opening image for my PPT presentation.  I love ethnology and thank my lucky stars that I found my way to the School as a mature student in 2000 and for me this image encapsulates so much of what I admire about my discipline.

At its very essence, ethnology is a conversation and an opportunity to share community and pass on knowledge that we, as researchers, can collate, interrogate and then describe in order to understand our shared cultural lives. In this photograph, both Kath (ethnomusicologist) and Lizzie (a sprightly 106 year old who had been a pupil of the great north-east song collector, Gavin Greig) are  very obviously enjoying their time together: they’re leaning into each other, meeting each other’s gaze, and smiling like a pair of Cheshire cats.  This photograph, and the others discussed in this blog post, were created by my fine, much loved and greatly missed colleague, Ian MacKenzie, who was the School’s photographer and photo-archivist for the best part of 25 years.

Ian was a photographer with a splendid eye for detail who created beautiful images across a range of themes.  I especially like his portraits.  He was a sociable man who loved people, and his photographs are a lasting testimony to that.  He also possessed a great ability to notice, successfully photograph and develop images which celebrate and draw attention to distinct textures and details.  In this image of Kath and Lizzie, just look at Lizzie’s cardigan, with its heart-shaped pattern, and the heart-shaped pin brooch on her dress.  Kath and Lizzie look at each other as if through a mirror: Kath may be seeing the old woman she hopes she will one day be, while Lizzie sees the enthusiasm of youth and, perhaps, a reflection of the young woman who rests inside her own ageing body. I never tire of looking at this photograph, and always I see the sheer joy of sharing knowledge and life stories that is at the heart of many ethnological fieldwork sessions.

black and white image of adam sitting back in a chair in each hand he holds a newspaper style pamphlet. He is smiling broadly

 

[iii]

 

Another portrait by Ian which I adore is this one of singer, songwriter, antiquarian book-seller, teacher, researcher etc. etc.- the splendidly marvellous and multi-talented, Adam McNaughtan.  This portrait seems to capture the essence of Adam: his laughing eyes, always with a ready smile, but also self-effacing – he’s almost hiding behind copies of the song-sheets he takes such a delight in.  The Songs & Parodies pamphlet he holds, headed ‘The funniest book in the world’ is an entirely fitting choice given Adam’s own song-writing genius when it comes to the comedic – Skyscraper Wean, Cholestoral and Oor Hamlet being particular favourites.  This photograph says to me, ‘Life’s a laugh!’, which is exactly the feeling I have whenever I’m in Adam’s company.

For T C Smout, ‘studying photographs [can convey] an untold wealth of detail in social history, and [raise] all sorts of odd questions’.[iv] While the portrait shot of Kath and Lizzie, and the one of Adam, are beautiful in their simplicity, there are other portraits by Ian which work in a very different way, with settings which can be read like a book.  For Ian, this was clearly no happenchance.  The settings are deliberately recorded so that we can read and understand the people being photographed, as well as the time, place and space they inhabit.

 

black and white image of a group of people in a sitting roo,. a man stands with a fiddle , two others are seated with fiddles.

[v]

One example of this is Music in the Home, Forrest Glen, Dalry, Galloway, 1985.  To my mind, Ian leaves us in no doubt that the seated musician in the middle of the photograph is the most important person in the room.  All the others in the photograph seem to look and lean towards him.  Although seated, your eyes go first to him, rather than the standing fiddle player to his left, or any of the other figures on the periphery.  There’s a stillness and reverence to the gathering: the only hands visible belong to the musicians, the curtains are drawn over: this is all about the music.  I also love the textures in this photograph and can readily conjure to mind how the cold tiles on the fire surround, or the textured pattern of the wallpaper, would feel to the touch.  This textural richness is something I think Ian worked hard to reveal when he made his photographic prints.

The craft and skill of Ian as a photographic developer and printer is clear in this image.  I well remember visiting Ian in his warren of rooms in the basement at 27-29 George Square.[vi]  His darkroom, especially the lingering chemical smells, reminded me of evenings spent at the Street Level gallery darkrooms in Glasgow, painstakingly practicing the nuances required in producing photographic prints from my negatives.  I remained pretty much a novice, but I remember the thrill of producing a print which I could be proud of and which reflected the nuances of the image I wanted to reveal.  I believe working in the darkroom would have been a particularly immersive and rewarding aspect of Ian’s creative practice and this is evident in the subtle precision he consistently managed to achieve in his work.

A series of photographs which illustrate Ian’s skills as an ethnologist and his eye for texture and detail are those he made of the Gourdon fishers. In contrast to the images discussed so far, these photographs were created in a much more dynamic setting.  In my chosen image, the woman baiting the fishing lines for the next launch hasn’t time to look up: she’ll be racing to get the baited nets ready in time for the next launch and taking her eyes off the task in hand looks likely to result in injury.  Her fingers are working more quickly than the camera shutter and her surroundings are entirely functional and efficient.  You can tell at a glance that this is tough, cold, dirty, smelly work and way too important to be paused for a mere photograph.  Again, I love the contrasting textures: the startling gleam of the mass of baited fishing line in the tray, the stained buckets, the wall and doorway coverings.  We can glimpse a small table and chair in the background, maybe to allow for a short rest if work is going well and there’s time for a 5 minute breather.

This image is one which allows us to appreciate how Ian brings a painter’s eye to his photographic work.  Like Vermeer’s, The Lacemaker, this photograph contains everything we need to see so that we can understand what is essential: in this instance about both the baiter and the bait-netting task.

 

black and white image of a woman, head down, bust at work baiting lines

[vii]

 

The next photograph is another work-related one.  The photographs of Kit Sked, taken in 1987, are perhaps some of the most well-known of Ian’s ethnological portraits.  Kit was the fourth generation of the Sked family to work as blacksmith at the Cousland Smiddy, and, when this series of photographs were made, he had recently announced his retirement.  With no-one yet identified as his successor, one wonders what Kit’s thoughts were during this session or when he is moving around the workshop.[viii]

Black and white image of a blacksmith who is sitting on the edge of a fireplace, a flame behind him. TThere are chalk drawings on the breast of the chimney. Light is streaming in a window just out of shot

[ix]

Again, we’re in a functional work-space, one that has not changed for perhaps hundreds of years.  However, unlike the previous image, this space has a feeling of permanence.  This is Kit’s domain.  There’s a strong feeling of ‘a place for everything and everything has a place’ about the smiddy.  A space that is as much part of the man as the man is part of the space.  Like the fish-baiting station, the space is functional and work-ready: the fire is going strong, tools laid out, strong sunlight streams through the window and Kit’s jacket hangs such that we can believe it hangs in that exact place every working day. This time Kit meets our gaze square on.  I love his clothing and the precision of the light and the way this falls into the room and over the left side of Kit’s body.  Again, this image, like many created by Ian, is like a painting and can be looked at, considered and enjoyed time and time again.  The surface of the brickwork, Kit’s shirt, the chalk markings on the fireplace lintel and the wide array of tools (what are they for?), all merit closer attention, yet all of it can also be appreciated and enjoyed in a single glance.  Yes, Ian has left us an impressive body of work, but he also left us too soon.

I remember the occasion of Ian’s final resting which took place at Inerinate, Kintail in February 2010 on a cold, clear, bright-blue day.  I recall feeling so angry that such a lovely man should be taken so early and of being quite overwhelmed by the sad truth of this.  But I also remember feeling happy that so many lovely people had been brought north, to be together, by their love of the man.  There was a real sense of joy on that day.  Ian was a simple-living, funny, warm man who loved life.  He told me more than once that there were few things in life as good as discovering that the pear you had just bitten into was at the absolutely perfect moment of ripeness for eating.  This about sums up Ian’s approach to life and the joy he found in it.  He lived a very good, albeit far too short, life and I remember him fondly for his humanity, humour, generosity of spirit and for his great artistry and craftsmanship and the wonderful legacy he has left within the cabinets and catalogues of the SSSA photographic archive.

It has been a pleasure to choose Ian as my ‘favourite object’ from the SSSA collection and to have the excuse to set aside a little time to spend in his company and renew our friendship.  It feels like he’s given me the gift of some of his quiet joy in return and I think he’d be chuffed (if a little abashed) to be called to mind and remembered by us.

Self portrait of Iain inset on an image of autumn foliage

[x]

Grateful thanks to Louise Scollay for helping me with the images and photograph credits for a number of items included in this blogpost.

Caroline Milligan, July 2021

All Images by Ian MacKenzie,  © The School of Scottish Studies Archives.

[i] Dr Katherine Campbell and Lizzie Angus, Ythanvale Nursing Home, Ellon (Aberdeenshire), 2000

[ii] Dr Katherine Campbell was ethnomusicologist at the School for a number of years and worked on the Greig-Duncan song collection with Dr Emily Lyle.

[iii] Adam McNaughtan – song book, 1989

[iv] To See Ourselves, Dorothy I Kidd, with preface by T C Smout, NMS 1996

[v] NII/8a/8774. Neg. A6/228/19. 6 December 1985.  Gathering of Galloway musicians in the house of Robbie Murray at Nether Forrest, Forrest Glen, Dalry, Glenkens, Galloway, From L to R: Alyne Jones, Davy Jardine and Robbie Murray.  Evening recorded by Jo Millar.

[vi] Ian wrote to me in 2008, when he was coming back to work after a long period of ill health and he thanked me particularly ‘for keeping the place [his archive] company’.  Re-reading this letter, I smile at that line, remembering again the quiet calm of the photographic archive, the back door often open to the garden, the little zen garden on the wide windowsill, the frequent stream of people seeking Ian out for guidance, discussion and good company.  He was very much part of that space, as it was very much part of him.

[vii] BIII6c1/8599

[viii] The smiddy had been in Kit’s family continuously since 1882.  Kit had announced his intention to retire in 1986, and then retired in 1989).

[ix] BVIII/7/g1/8782

[x] Collage image by Colin Gateley using one of Ian’s self-portraits.

 

Caroline Milligan is Archives Assistant with the Regional Ethnologies of Scotland Project, at Centre for Research Collections. She is also Research Assistant, within the European Ethnological Research Centre, University of Edinburgh. 

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Upcoming Events Celebrating SSSA at 70

As part of our ongoing celebrations for our 70th Anniversary, we are delighted to announce some events which are coming up in August.

Fieldwork & Creative Engagement: Oral History of Port Glasgow Women

Thursday, 12 August 2021, 14:00-16:30.

Online, via Zoom.

Free, but ticketed via Eventbrite:
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/157935676861

Our two presentations are rooted in the lived experience of women in the shipbuilding communities of Port Glasgow, recordings of which are held in our collection. Through our presenters’ fieldwork – undertaken almost 30 years apart – we see the importance of fieldwork, the collection and preservation of oral history recordings. It is from this perspective we will explore the value in creative reuse of archive recordings.

Speakers:

Dr Hugh Hagan, Head of Public Records Act Implementation at the National Records of Scotland, is passionate about the shipbuilding communities of Port Glasgow and Greenock on the lower reaches of the River Clyde, particularly in the inter-war period. These towns, being removed by some distance from the large and diverse economy of Glasgow, depended entirely on shipbuilding and they developed a very particular sense of community. This was the subject of his PhD research at the School of Scottish Studies in the 1990s and he will draw on that research, specifically the role of women in these communities, in his talk.

Martine Robertson and Hannah Wood, of GaelGal Productiions, were undertaking studies at the Department of Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, when they attended a lecture by Hugh Hagan, about his Port Glasgow work. They were galvanised to revisit this fieldwork, recording new material with the family of Cassie Graham, one of Hugh’s contributors. They have also been inspired to take these stories to centre stage, lifting the voices and experience of women of the Port Glasgow community and using these recordings in their creative practice. The presentation at this event is but one postcard-sized venture into their ongoing creative piece, What A Voice.

Q&A

After the presentations we shall have a short break, followed by a chaired question-and-answer session with our presenters. Participants are encouraged to submit questions in the chat facility during the papers and the break.

This session is open to anyone who wishes to attend and those with a particular interest in collecting, researching, or creating with oral history recordings. Please register for the event via the link to Eventbrite. Joining instructions will be sent with your ticket.

colour photograph of a reel to reel machine in action. The focus over the reels is blurred to show the fast movement

SSSA at The Edinburgh International Festival

There will also be two special events centring on the work of The School of Scottish Studies (Celtic and Scottish Studies Department) and on music, songs and singers within the collections here at SSSA. These events are hosted by EIF, and you can buy tickets from the website links provided.

A Folk Song Sharinghttps://www.eif.co.uk/events/university-of-edinburgh-a-folk-song-sharing

Sunday, 8 August, Old College Quad. 15:00

An intimate intergenerational exchange of songs and their stories: three artists share their favourite songs, how they came to sing them, the story behind each song and how their interpretation evolved. Features performances from Nancy Nicolson (Scots song and story), Josie Duncan (Scots, Gaelic and original song) and Arthur Cormack (Gaelic song).

 

The Living Archive – https://www.eif.co.uk/events/university-of-edinburgh-the-living-archive

Sunday, 8 August, Old College Quad. 20:00

A range of song, music and dance inspired by material from the School of Scottish Studies Archive. Performances inspired by material from the School of Scottish Studies Archives from Kirsty Law (Scots song), Mary MacMaster (clarsach, electro harp) and Mike Vass (fiddle, tenor guitar) with Sophie Stephenson (dance).

 

To be kept up to date with the events happening for our 70th anniversary, please follow our blog here or find us on twitter https://twitter.com/EU_SSSA

#SSSAat70

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