The Recorded Talks of John G. Bennett
At Sherborne House, between October 1971 and December 1974, more than 450 cassette recordings were made of talks by Mr. Bennett to public audiences, various groups of students and other groups of people. Most of these recordings were preserved, although some original recordings were sent out to group leaders overseas, and have since been lost. When The International Academy for Continuous Education closed its doors for the last time in August 1976, Elizabeth Bennett entrusted all the remaining recordings, as well as some 120 recordings made prior to the Sherborne experiment, to the care of Robert Fripp.
These recordings represent a very concentrated source of teaching material. The lectures to the general public are self-explanatory and contain a universal message of the Work. The other recordings were presented to specific audiences. Some were lectures delivered to special groups of people who invited Bennett to address their group as a guest speaker. For example, he spoke on several occasion to groups at the Beshara Centre at Swyre Farm, Gloucestershire. There are also recordings of two lectures to members of the Wrekin Trust, when he was the guest of his old friend, Sir George Trevelyan. The actual Sherborne House recordings are made up firstly of general lectures given to the entire group, either as a whole or on three successive days to three separate groups. Some of these are generally relevant, such as his lectures on the Sermon on the Mount; Language, Gesture and Ritual; others relevant to anybody who is familiar with Gurdjieff’s work and the Fourth Way.
The majority of the recordings however were made at the bi-weekly theme talks. These are on specific topics set for study during the week, and observations made by student from their experiences. These are the recordings that present the greatest challenge. The students’ remarks very specific, and personal; are often unintelligible or even inaudible; there are many incomplete or partial sentences.
Robert undertook the task of editing, mastering and publishing some of the major recordings, and 55 were eventually released on audio cassette as the Sherborne House Tapes. Many of the original cassettes have 90 minutes of record time, and had been used to record two or more sessions, with one session continuing straight on from the previous session. This has made for problems in editing. Since then, the whole catalogue of recordings has been transferred onto digital media in two formats for safety, and the original cassettes and boxes preserved in a temperature-controlled archive. The contents have been catalogued and all available information recorded. Over the course of some years, many of these recordings were transcribed to text. Where transcriptions of these were made, they were verbatim, and in the unedited form the transcriptions are very hard to read. But only about 20% of the total recordings are rendered into text. We have received poor photocopies of the transcriptions which are uncorrected and exist in the condition in which they came out of a manual typewriter 40 or more years ago.
So now there are two projects underway: firstly, the task of editing the previously unreleased recordings, which requires special technical skill, combined with a knowledge of the content so that file changes can be recognized. This is both laborious and specialized, and Robert has selected specialists to complete this work.
The second project is to make clean, edited transcriptions of the recordings, suitable for distribution and publishing. This is a two stage process: the first step is to listen to each talk and transfer the speech to text. Experiments have been made using computer speech-to-text programs for this, but the results have been disappointing, and we have resorted to manual. The second step is, having made a text file, to edit carefully for improved clarity and ease of reading. Incomplete sentences must be finished where possible, or removed if not needed to convey the meaning. Inaudible or unintelligible speech must be salvaged or reconstructed where possible. In the past, work has been done by Bennett’s pupils of long-standing. While he was alive he corrected the texts himself, but since then it has been necessary to compromise as well possible for clarity. Some editors have made radical interpretations, while others have ruthlessly cut anything which they found unclear or unnecessary. Some of the transcriptions were compiled and edited by Anthony Blake to make up the Sherborne House Monograph series of publications, some of which are still available in printed form.
Ultimately our intention is to make it possible to listen to the recordings while following the edited text, and so the latter must closely follow the former, while remaining clear and readable. Using newer versions of Microsoft Word, it is possible to edit text and keep track of all edits so they can be cross-checked by a fellow editor. Anybody who has the time and inclination is invited to collaborate on the transcription work, which is definitely a rewarding and valuable task.