Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound

Season of Sound cassette

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Sound. Take the time to explore it.

Just how important have the sounds of the past 140 years been to our lives? Dive into the British Library sound archive in our free exhibition looking at the significance of sound since the phonograph was invented in 1877.

Step into your own listening booth to hear an eclectic mix of sounds from the archive including many rare and unpublished recordings. See a signed disc of James Joyce’s reading of Ulysses alongside a selection of playable stamps issued in Bhutan. And meet 16-year-old Alfred Taylor, whose ‘Wireless Log’ in 1922 can be compared to a modern-day vlog.

View items from our rarely-seen collection of players and recorders. Immerse yourself in our specially-commissioned audio installation by composer Aleks Kolkowski. And follow our timeline to learn more about key moments in the history of recorded sound.

Human. Machine. Animal. We tell a story of sound recording and explore the importance of sound in capturing history, how radio transformed society in the 20th century and how the way we listen has changed as new technologies have emerged and old ones become obsolete.

Interested in helping to preserve the nation’s heritage? Donate to Save Our Sounds, a programme to digitise our sound archive and store the sounds safely so that they can be accessed forever.

Part of a Season of Sound, celebrating the Library’s sound archive. Audio installation supplied by Bowers & Wilkins.


Name: Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound
Where: Show map      How to get to the Library
When: -
Opening times and visitor information
Price: Free
Enquiries: +44 (0)1937 546546