The voice I hear this passing night…

Following Nemorino’s post on a visit to the John Keats house in Hampstead, here is Iain Logie Baird In The Science Museum Group Journal, on the earliest broadcast recording of a nightingale, duetting with the cellist Beatrice Harrison (above): “The introduction in 1923 of a new microphone, the Marconi-Sykes magnetophone, marked the beginning of new era of radio broadcasting in Britain. The fact that one of the first outdoor radio broadcasts, cellist Beatrice Harrison’s duet with a nearby nightingale, was possible at all was due to the new microphone’s unprecedented sensitivity. But the strikingly improved sound quality also made the British Broadcasting Company’s broadcasts more emotionally compelling, contributing to their efforts to attract a wider public. The 1924 broadcast would become a milestone in the transition from amateur radio towards a more professional form of radio, and is a fascinating event in itself since the mixture of new technology and innovative content created a highly emotive experience for listeners. As nature became part of the content of this new information environment, it also tended to become a work of art. Like any artwork, the broadcast acted as a trap for attention, and by defining a new formal representation, laid claim to a refinement of human perception. The cultural effects resonated with the natural purposes of a Nightingale’s song – to attract the attention of a mate, and mark territory, like nature calling for an echo of her own voice.”

Keats naturally had his own take on the enchantment of the nightingale’s song:

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
         No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
         In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
                She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
                        The same that oft-times hath
         Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

2 thoughts on “The voice I hear this passing night…

  1. What a great idea, to broadcast a duet between a cellist and a nightingale. Having a proper microphone would be essential for this, I’m sure. I used to work as a radio journalist, and had a good microphone which I used for recording interviews, but it turned out to be inadequate for recording bird calls, waves and other natural sounds.


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