Chris Watson is one of the world’s greatest nature sound recordists. From the North Pole and South Pole to the forests of Congo and deserts, he has done some of the most unique and challenging projects in capturing the sounds of wildlife and natural phenomena — from the song of bearded seals under the Norwegian fjords to the groaning of ice in an Icelandic glacier. The British artist talks to Grin about why the act of listening is so vital to keep our world green, and to keep us joyful and sane…
„Ich habe im Laufe meiner Arbeit festgestellt, dass es Orte gibt, an denen eine besondere Atmosphäre herrscht, eine besondere Klangfarbe oder ein besonderer Rhythmus“, erklärt der britische Klangforscher Chris Watson. Der Peterlunger-Teich auf der Seiser Alm ist so ein besonderer Ort, sagenumwoben und inmitten einer viele Jahrtausende alten Kulturlandschaft gelegen. Ausgehend von der Bergstation der Seiser Umlaufbahn wandert das Transart-Publikum gemeinsam mit Martha Silbernagl dorthin und lässt sich von Chris Watson in eine Klangwelt der Vergangenheit zurückführen, als die Dolomiten noch der Meeresboden eines riesenhaften Ozeans waren.
Nach der Performance führt die Wanderung zurück nach Compatsch, wo das diesjährige Abschlusskonzert des Festivals stattfindet.
Monday, September 5th at 8 pm
Imaginary Journeys to the Elephants’ Graveyard
With Carlos Casas, Chris Watson & Joyce Poole
Walk through the exhibition spaces and in the garden (screening, installations, conference, concert)
Duration: approx. 1h15
Carlos Casas’ movies are at the crossroad of documentaries, fictions, visual and sound arts. For this Nomadic Night, the Catalan filmmaker has chosen to bring the audience inside the making of his next film entitled Cemetery, a visual and aural experience inspired by the mythical elephants’ graveyard. At once an action movie, an experimental film and a science-fictional documentary, Cemetery is a sort of initiatory trip, an acoustic Noah’s arc paying equal tribute to Tarzan and to La Région Centrale by Michael Snow.
During this Nomadic Night, conceived as an exclusive insight into this project, spectators will engage in a quest for aural and visual remnants of the mythical graveyard using photographs, drawings and research documents pertaining to the film. The event will be punctuated by a conference on the language of elephants and by a concert inspired by the film’s soundscape.
With the exclusive participation of Chris Watson during one concert – founding member of the post-Punk band Cabaret Voltaire in the 1970’s, sound recorder for “Life” the BBC documentary series by Sir David Attenborough, he is one of the main figures of field recording today.
With the intervention of Joyce Poole, researcher specialized into the social and cognitive behavior of elephants and cofounder of the NGO “Elephant Voices”.
No assigned seats.
Compass is a brand new sound installation from world renowned wildlife recordist Chris Watson and acclaimed Northumbrian poet Linda France. Specially commissioned by Cheeseburn, and located in four different places around the grounds, visitors are invited to listen to a lightly orchestrated soundscape of birdsong, wildlife, weather and original poems – each composed to the specific setting, the time of day and the season.
Chris Watson and Linda France visited Cheeseburn frequently over one year to create this exciting new installation, where a world riven with migration and change finds a compass in the sense of soon itself, the poetry of everyday listening. Visit the Formal Garden, The Courtyard, The Potting Shed and the Stable Loft to experience Compass this August Bank Holiday weekend.
15-19th August 1.45pm
A series of five illustrated talks which explore our relationship with Rivers. Additional sound recordings by Chris Watson
Monday 15 August: A Salmon struggles on a weir as writer and naturalist Paul Evans reflects on Sabrina and the fish of no return.
Tuesday 16 August: Alan Read, Professor of Theatre at Kings College London recalls a childhood influenced by the Essex estuary.
Wednesday 17 August: Martin Palmer, Secretary General of The Alliance of Religions and Conservation reflects on the significance of rivers in religious stories and traditions.
Thursday 18 August: The relationship which writer and essayist Kathleen Jamie has with the River Tay changes when some Bronze Age swords are dredged out of its waters.
Friday 19 August: The sounds of the River are captured by Chris Watson when he follows the course of the North Tyne from the summit of Peel Fell in Northumberland to the sea at Tynemouth.
London, as You’ve Never Heard It Before by Alex Marshall
Homo Faber: A Rainbow Caravan
‘The Great Circle’ is an Ambisonic sound installation taking the audience on a journey from Northumberland to Aichi overland via a Great Circle route.
Exhibition: 21 June – 24 July
Free in The Gallery, Mon – Sat 10:00-16:00, Sun: 11:00-16:00
The Gallery Tyneside Cinema is delighted to present The Town Moor – A Portrait In Sound, a sound installation by Chris Watson, one of the world’s most esteemed and successful wildlife sound recordists.
The starting point for the exhibition is material recorded for a BBC Radio Newcastle programme, for which Watson documented one year in the life of the Town Moor, capturing the sounds, birds, beasts and people in the ‘green lungs’ of the city. The material has been reworked and new recordings added in order to create an exhibition in The Gallery using 3D ambisonic sound to make an immersive sound work, and a ‘dark’ cinema experience. You are invited to experience the piece as if it was an image-less’ film, using the sound narrative provided by the seasons to create an acoustic picture of the Town Moor. The exhibition gives you the chance to discover the importance of sound within the cinematic experience.
The exhibition runs from 21 June – 24 July in The Gallery on the third floor of Tyneside Cinema.
The Monocle Weekly:
“Restaurateur, writer and food specialist Henry Dimbleby discusses the virtues of London’s food markets, typographers Nadine Chahine and Malou Verlomme of design agency Monotype explain their new font ‘Johnston100’ and Chris Watson, the pioneering musician and sound recordist for natural history programmes, tells us about his new event ‘The Town Moor – A Portrait in Sound’.”
The Creators Project
“Watson was a founding member of experimental Dada-influenced band Cabaret Voltaire, and as a sound recordist has worked on numerous Sir David Attenborough-narrated nature docs like Life in the Undergrowth and Frozen Planet. Now he’s chosen to turn his expertise and microphone-wielding skills to the moor, capturing its micro and not-so-micro-sounds…”
Several times a year, Chris leads sound recording courses organised by Wildeye, a UK-based company which specialises in wildlife film-making processes, including sound recording.
The courses have recently been extended to include overseas destinations, including France, Sweden and Iceland, but they take place twice a year in Norfolk, on the east coast of England. The courses are almost always over-subscribed, so it is recommended that you sign up to their newsletter…
300 Copies on Vinyl. Also available as WAV, FLAC and MP3
Distributed by Kudos. Released 8 March 2016.
Giacinto Scelsi Duo for Violin and Cello
1. Part 1
2. Part 2
Performed by Aisha Orazbayeva and Lucy Railton
Recorded by Peiman Khosravi
Mixed by Peiman Khosravi and AIsha Orazbayeva
1. Invertebrate Harmonics – Chris Watson
2. Honshirabe – 本調
Performed by Joe Browning
Recorded by Chris Watson at Urchin Studios London
We have now made available selected editions of Chris’s Touch catalogue on Bandcamp, complete with pdfs of the booklets and CD artwork:
Stepping into the Dark (1997)
Compact Disc edition no longer available
“In recent years I have noticed that some of the locations I visited as a sound recordist displayed remarkable and particular characteristics. These may be sparkling acoustics, a special timbre, sometimes rhythmic, percussive or transient animal sounds. Without a doubt, playing a recording made at one of these sites can recreate a detailed memory of the original event. Also, as others have described, there is an intangible sense of being in a special place — somewhere that has a spirit — a place that has an ‘atmosphere’. These recordings avoid background noise, human disturbance and editing. They are made using sensitive microphones camouflaged and fixed in position usually well in advance of any recording or animal behaviour. The mics. are then cabled back on very long leads to a hide or concealed recording point, the aim being to capture the actual sound within each particular location without external influence. Sites are discovered by researching local natural or social history, by interpreting features on a map or through anecdote and conversation with people about their feelings for or against particular places. The author and researcher Tom Lethbridge identified the sources of several spirits within the topography of the area. I suspect that this also includes flora and fauna, local time of day, the weather and the season. The following recordings are the atmospheres of special places.” [Chris Watson]
Outside the Circle of Fire (1998)
Compact Disc edition no longer available
The purr of a leopard close up against a baobab tree, waiting. Whales surfacing, breathing in cold air. Coll starling imitate the noise of farm machinery from the hollow ring of a ruined bothy. The rattle of wood over a black stream… Chris Watson’s second CD is a dramatic contrast to the spacious atmospheres of “Stepping into the Dark” (Touch TO:27, 1996). Featuring 22 close-up recordings of animals, birds and insect life, “Outside the Circle of Fire” enlarges our awareness of the sound universe, intimate with voices from the past. There is an intensity here that television pictures cannot conjure.
Weather Report (2003)
The weather has created and shaped all our habitats. Clearly it also has a profound and dynamic effect upon our lives and that of other animals. The three locations featured here all have moods and characters which are made tangible by the elements, and these periodic events are represented within by a form of time compression.
This was Chris’s first foray into composition using his location recordings of wildlife and habitats – previously he has been concerned with describing and revealing the special atmosphere of a place by site specific, untreated location recordings. For the first time here he constructs collages of sounds, which evolve from a series of recordings made at the specific locations over varying periods of time.
El Tren Fantasma (2011)
Compact Disc edition no longer available
Vinyl edition – “The Signalman’s Mix” still available
“Take the ghost train from Los Mochis to Veracruz and travel cross country, coast to coast, Pacific to Atlantic. Ride the rhythm of the rails on board the Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México (FNM) and the music of a journey that has now passed into history.”
El Tren Fantasma, (The Ghost Train), is Chris Watson’s 4th solo album for Touch, and his first since Weather Report in 2003, which was named as one of the albums you should hear before you die in The Guardian. A Radio programme was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday 30 Oct, 2010, produced by Sarah Blunt, and described as “a thrilling acoustic journey across the heart of Mexico from Pacific to Atlantic coast using archive recordings to recreate a rail passenger service which no longer exists. It’s now more than a decade since FNM operated its last continuous passenger service across country. Chris Watson spent a month on board the train with some of the last passengers to travel this route. As sound recordist he was part of the film crew working on a programme in the BBC TV series Great Railways Journeys. Now, in this album, the journey of the ‘ghost train’ is recreated, evoking memories of a recent past, capturing the atmosphere, rhythms and sounds of human life, wildlife and the journey itself along the tracks of one of Mexico’s greatest engineering projects.
Vinyl LP + Download + bonus track, “Čuoika”. All downloads are 24 bit recordings by Chris Watson.
Design by Philip Marshall
Photography by A K Dolven
Cut by Jason at Transition
A1. Gufihttar (underworld fairie)
A2. Gadni (spirit of the mountain)
A3. Neahkkameahttun (from the other side)
Yoiking is the ancient chanting practise of the Sámi People – the indigenous peoples on the top of Europe. Yoiking originates from time immemorial – legend tells that it was the faires and elves of the arctic lands that gave yoiks to the Sámi People. Yoiking was an important element of the religious rituals in pre-christian times and has survived both christianity, imperialism and the fact that Sámi areas were confiscated by the states of the north; Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia.
Ánde Somby is deeply rooted into the yoik tradition. He comes from the eastern part of the north Sámi areas and in the tundra tradition of the reindeer herders and from the valley tradition of arctic farmers. His yoiking is both quite technical as well as melodic – Somby is at the same time an innovative yoiker. All the three pieces on side A are his compositions. His signature as a yoiker is an expressive style performed on the borders of the human voice.
The title of the work refers to the fact that the migratory birds that have made it to the arctic for their breeding season are an important part of the record. With the assistance of a local crow they break the arctic silence by singing and calling. The title also makes a more subtle reference to the sound flying from the echoing mountains.
The project itself has three inspirations; the yoiks were given to the humans from the fairies and elves. This gives an emphasis on that yoiks are of the earth. The second inspiration is that there is a war against fairies and elves going on; in Norway that war was waged by the national poet Henrik Wergeland in the song Nisser og Dverge and has continued with stripping the earth of its soul and giving free license to aggressive exploitation. The emphasis is asking the fairies and elves if they still are doing good. The third inspiration is the European myth about Narcissus and Echo; Echo does not find her love as Narcissus rejects her, but she is given an eternal voice. Yoik and Echo meet in this work as echo yoiks along together with the underground energies.
The recordings are made by Chris Watson, the world famous sound artist and leading field recorder. The recordings took place in Kvalnes, Lofoten mid June in 2014 in a moment while the arctic winds had a little rest. Chris Watson has also done the post production. A K Dolven took the photos for the project and has been instrumental in developing the concept. Thanks also to Tony Myatt.
BBC Radio 4, Tuesday evening , 22 Dec 2015 – 5 Jan 2016 at 21.02
(repeated Wednesdays at 15.30)
Presenter Chris Watson
Producer Sarah Blunt
“Life would have no meaning without us listening”
In this three-part series, we meet individuals whose professional lives and/or personal lives are focused listening and interpreting the sounds they hear. The first programme focuses on human speech; words, dialect and language. In the second programme we meet individuals who listen to the sounds of places and spaces as we explore the world of echolocation and reverberation, and in the third programme we meet three individuals for whom listening is much more than an aural experience; but something much deeper motivating their work and their lives.
A series of sound rich stories commissioned by the Guardian to reinvent the forest fable. Each piece is set in a particular British Woodland and was recorded on location with award winning sound recordist Chris Watson and Pascal Wyse. The series is sponsored by The Woodland Trust and features new stories from Ali Smith, Alan Garner, Evie Wyld and Alec Finlay.
Produced by Alannah Chance with original recordings and sound design by Chris Watson and Pascal Wyse
1. Written by Ali Smith
In the first of a series of exclusive sound stories inspired by the UK’s woodlands, the award-winning writer weaves a spellbinding tale from an encounter between a boy and a strange green child
2. Written by Alan Garner
In the second of our series of exclusive sound stories celebrating Britain’s forests, Alan Garner reads his own tale of a newcomer who finds ‘ancient noise’ beneath the choked underlife of of Cheshire’s woodlands
3. Written by Alec Finlay
In the third of our series of exclusive sound stories celebrating Britain’s forests, the Scottish poet and artist Alec Finlay reads his tale of a mythical submerged woodland
4. Written by Evie Wyld
In our fourth exclusive sound story celebrating Britain’s forests, the Granta young British novelist Evie Wyld reads her unsettling tale of marital tension at the end of times
Winners of the Creative Awards are Ed Harcourt, Robert Edwards, Chris Watson, Michael Narduzzo and ICP Studios, Belgium…
A new age of surround sound: spatial audio at the frontiers of contemporary art, technology and science
Professor Tony Myatt – Inaugural Lecture with special guest performer, Chris Watson
Prof Tony Myatt presents a lecture, illustrated with spatial audio demonstrations, about the concepts, art and practice of contemporary spatial audio. Tony will discuss loudspeaker technologies, recording, live performances and presentations, in the context of contemporary audio practice and will illustrate his unique methods of perceptually informed sound spatialisation, based on the creation of information-rich sound environments.
Following the lecture, Tony will be joined by one of the world’s leading recorders of wildlife and natural phenomena, Chris Watson, to present a post-lecture, live, multi-spatial surround sound performance.
“To close your eyes was to lose yourself in a virtual environment of birds, church bells, foxes, distant road traffic and the ever present aural horizon of the sea.” (The Guardian)
Stepping into the Dark [TO:27D] is now available as high quality audio download.
Originally released on compact disc in 1996, Chris’s first album for Touch, the tracks are the atmospheres of “special places”, recorded with the use of camouflaged microphones.
12 Tracks – 59:43 – Download
PDF Booklet + text file inc. liner notes and images
The tracks are the atmospheres of “special places”, recorded with the use of camouflaged microphones.
“In recent years I have noticed that some of the locations I visited as a sound recordist displayed remarkable and particular characteristics. These may be sparkling acoustics, a special timbre, sometimes rhythmic, percussive or transient animal sounds. Without a doubt, playing a recording made at one of these sites can recreate a detailed memory of the original event. Also, as others have described, there is an intangible sense of being in a special place — somewhere that has a spirit — a place that has an ‘atmosphere’. These recordings avoid background noise, human disturbance and editing. They are made using sensitive microphones camouflaged and fixed in position usually well in advance of any recording or animal behaviour. The mics. are then cabled back on very long leads to a hide or concealed recording point, the aim being to capture the actual sound within each particular location without external influence. Sites are discovered by researching local natural or social history, by interpreting features on a map or through anecdote and conversation with people about their feelings for or against particular places. The author and researcher Tom Lethbridge identified the sources of several spirits within the topography of the area. I suspect that this also includes flora and fauna, local time of day, the weather and the season. The following recordings are the atmospheres of special places.” (Chris Watson)
Tracklist and notes:
1. Low Pressure
0810h 6th October 1994
Wind wherever the sound recordist operates is an obvious nuisance. Just as it is with turbulent seas and fast-running water, it is relatively simple to make a recording that captures the generalised bashing and cashing of the elements, but this results in white noise that describes nothing of the detailed ebb and flow as witnessed. The remarkable thing here, in Glen Cannich, was that i could walk through the foci of these wind sounds within a few paces, as if being part of some great instrument. The blast here was so strong that it took some time to fix the microphones securely – I felt surrounded by the full force of the elements being channelled through this site, and wanted the recording to reflect the bent-double posture and sheer physicality I was experiencing. I cabled back 50 or 60m to a sheltered position and managed to run the tape for almost ten minutes before the microphones were blown over.
2. Embleton Rookery
0600h 7th May 1983
The churchyard looks out to the sea and across to the castle at Dunstanburgh Head, the vertigo cliff face forming a curve to create what was once a remote deep water harbour, used by Tudor monarchs. Maybe shipwrecked sailors have returned, reincarnated as the rooks that have chosen upon the old stone church in Embleton, whose name itself gives off a particular hum. Is it that the rooks are only rooks, and they sound dark to us because the Black Birdhas so many associations with malevolence and ill-omen? Lethbridge might have said that the birds come here, largely due to this always pagan site having obvious associations with the strong atmosphere of its ley lime and ritual past. Today, cars file past on their way to a family picnic on the promontory.
Go there at dawn, or last thing at night, out of traffic hours, and another sound takes over. The acoustic of the place spins the parliament of the rooks through the cold air, its stillness, and into the timeless chaos, as always, driven on by the ringing of the bells.
3. The Crossroads
0620h 27th March 1994
This morning the conditions were just right. This crossroads at Smalesmouth in the Kielder Forest, I am told, connects two of the ‘old straight tracks’ upon which Scottish drovers would herd their livestock south across the open hill. Today, the forest clearing is home to a host of bird, both resident and migrant. Here, however, end of March, the birdsong comes from local voices at the peak of their activity. So at our usual site on the junction of the forest tracks, recording began just after the light came up. The cold, dry air was full of detail, this isolated spot quickly reanimated by the ringing song and calls of chaffinch, robin, wren, songthrush, siskin and crossbill…
4. River Mara At Dawn
0615h 16th September 1994
A looping curve up river is edged with lush riverene forest. The location is spectacular, but its splendour has to co-exist with an oft-repeated stress on being vigilant; one does not wander alone on foot about the Maasai Mara.
Having set the mics, I cabled back some distance to the Land Rover and started to record. Eventually, building with the heat, were the convergent sounds of swirling water, black kites, wind through the surrounding vegetation and a blanket covering if flies.
5. River Mara At Night
2130h 16th September 1994
The same evening, Francis asked one of the other Maasai guards to take me back up river. Nightfall brings more danger. The hippos, who spend the day in the river, come out and graze on the vegetation, and can be very threatening animals… more people are killed by hippos than they are by lions.
The ‘atmosphere’ had changed. Listening for the wooden chimes of tree frogs, we were met by heavy rhythm, a wall of nocturnal sound. Moths and night flying beetles are being hunted – you can hear the deep octaval roar as they come close to the microphone. The metallic sounds, I suspect, are the acoustic calls of bats.
6. A Passing View
2350h 3rd April 1992
Today, Fai – a local fisherman, took us into the huge mangrove forests at Los Olovitos by canoe. We had spoken about some of the special places in the mangroves and in the early afternoon we stopped at a resting place bordering the lake. It was hot, humid and very quiet. I cabled some mics out into the water’s edge with the idea of returning before dawn the following day. Curiosity forced my return that night when I heard and recorded these mechanical sounds of fishing bats in the darkness. Afterwards, in torchlight, I could watch these beautiful, long-legged russet coloured animals trawling for small fish feeding on the surface of the water.
7. Bosque Seco
0540h 6th April 1995
I left the camp at 0500h this morning and followed the winding path east towards my marker. Within the forest it was still very dark and quiet, with rising warm dry air. Just as the light was breaking through the canopy, I found my site at a fork in the path. I rigged up the tape recorder. The temperature began to climb like a jet off a runway. The acoustics changed, the orchestra awoke and the forest found its rhythm.
2230h 16th May 1994
During the late afternoon I cabled the equipment out into the marsh from a track. At 2000h I went back to listen out for the evening chorus of snipe. On the ground, they are cryptic birds and will choose their spot, usually reedy and damp, close to their very well camouflaged nestling places in tussocks and long grass.
The evening was quiet until the point at which the light dramatically changes and colour vision vanishes. At this hour, the snipe will perform. In an amazing ritual and localised aerial display, they dive vertically like guided missiles towards the water, the sound of their tail feathers buzzing through the air.
9. The Blue Men Of The Minch
1400h 30th July 1994
I was fortunate enough to borrow a hydrophone from the research station at Cromarty. Five metres beneath the surface of the Moray Firth and directly over a particular deep water channel, common seals roar during their diving displays. Within a 1km radius of the hydrophone, bottle-nosed dolphins navigate and hunt using echo locating clicks. Occasionally they communicate with their unique signature whistles.
10. High Pressure
0550h 25th February 1994
On the hilltop, there was no shelter this morning from the intense biting cold – or a feeling of growing anticipation. The hard dry air gripped the trees and margins of the pool – now frozen, with only one small area of water by the mics.
Daybreak revealed a small constricted community of coot, mallard, widen and teal.
1740h 5th October 1993
Observing from a hide over the previous two days, the cranes have followed a similar path towards their roost out on the waters of Udarser Wiek. In particular, they seem to favour a narrow channel to navigate east to west – flying in low over the end of a thin spit of brown reedy marshland where earlier this afternoon I concealed the mics.
In Greek mythology, Hermes is said to have envisioned the Greek alphabet by watching the beating wings of cranes as they passed by his line of sight. Their calls and signs remain across the centuries…
12. The Forest Path
0625h 7th October 1994
It was raining hard – there was cover under the edge of a large dark section of mature plantation. Gradually, out from the background, came the crook of distant stags. A rich, velvet acoustic rolling down through the trees and suspended in a low clinging mist.
Many of the tracks will be used for the forthcoming iOS app, Nimbus, was launched on September 10th 2014 in Brighton.