For many of us, isolation is disconcerting and challenging but for wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson, it is something he actively seeks, so he can fully immerse himself in a place and capture its unique sounds in his recordings. In this series, Chris recalls five extraordinary quests to locations around the world in search of isolation and wild sounds. Producer Sarah Blunt
This year’s programme features a huge, world-class surprise concert. Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (winner of an Academy Award for Best Original Score for the film Joker) invites audiences to Peiraios 260 for a live performance of her Grammy-winning soundtrack for the acclaimed HBO television series Chernobyl. Recorded in a decommissioned nuclear plant in Lithuania, Guðnadóttir’s haunting soundscapes will now be recreated live against the backdrop of the Festival’s beloved industrial venue at Peiraios 260.
We are investigating the fine art of Field Recording in the latest issue of Electronic Sound and we have a superb double CD – more than two hours of brilliant music – to accompany the magazine.
So what’s the allure of capturing the sounds of the world around us? Why do people do it? How do they go about it? And what do they do with their recordings? We’ve talked to many of our most innovative field recordists for this month’s cover feature, including Haiku Salut, Erland Cooper and Langham Research Centre. We meet one-time Cabaret Voltaire man Chris Watson, a leading practitioner of the art for decades, and Simon Fisher Turner has some great tips for anybody who is just starting out. We also get a history lesson courtesy of Lawrence English from the Room40 label and have a rummage around the 4,500 field recordings on the Cities And Memory website.
Elsewhere in this issue, the new LoneLady record is irresistible, as is our interview with her. Richard Norris drops in for a chat about the three albums he’s releasing (yes, that’s right, three whole albums) and we hook up with Sunroof, aka Mute boss Daniel Miller and ace producer Gareth Jones. Oh, and you might need to sit down for this next bit, because we have let a guitarist in. It’s OK, though, because it’s the most excellent Will Sergeant from Echo & The Bunnymen, whose side hustles totally belong in our world.
We’re bundling this month’s Electronic Sound with ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Field Recording’, a double CD which we’ve put together with the help of the Cities And Memory website. The two discs feature more than two hours of beautiful music, with contributions from the cream of the current crop of field recordists, including Chris Watson, Kate Carr, Roberta Fidora, Leafcutter John, Elif Yalvaç, Simon Fisher Turner, Erland Cooper, Lawrence English, Haiku Salut, Langham Research Centre, Georgia Rodgers, Dave Clarkson and many more besides. ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Field Recording’ is an astonishing listen, so miss this one at your peril!
As with all of our releases, this CD is strictly limited and only available to Electronic Sound readers, so make sure you grab your copy right away.
SHORTLY BEFORE SUNRISE, THE SPIRITS OF THE NIGHT DANCE THEIR LAST DANCE
KONZERT IM MORGENGRAUEN
CHRIS WATSON, MAURICE RAVEL, SALVATORE SCIARRINO, VIRGINIE DÉJOS
Chris Watson Morgenchor (2021) spacial sound piece (World Premiere)
Maurice Ravel Gaspard de la nuit
Salvatore Sciarrino De la nuit
Shortly before sunrise, the spirits of the night dance their last dance. When Maurice Ravel wrote his ghostly pieces Gaspard de la nuit he was constantly confronted by the imminent death of his father. His walk along the border between this life and the next moves back and forth between seriousness, grotesque and mythical fantasy, but it is characterised most of all by an almost superhuman, transcendental virtuosity.
The young French pianist Virginie Déjos not only confronts Ravel’s ghosts but also the spirit behind these ghosts: in a short composition by the Italian Salvatore Sciarrino entitled De la nuit, he stirs up scraps of memories from Ravel’s Gaspard, dreamily and at breakneck speed, only to make them vanish again in a moment as if into nothingness.
Both of these compositions are embedded in a concert installation commissioned by the Ruhrtriennale from the British sonic artist Chris Watson – a founder member of the electro-industrial band Cabaret Voltaire and a sound recordist on David Attenborough’s famous nature films for the BBC – who will use soundscapes recorded shortly before, during and after sunrise to draw horizontal and vertical axes through the historical strata past and present of the Ruhr and its sister region in the North of England and connect them both through sound.
An installation at Snape Maltings 2 June – 31 August 2021
Relic is an installation by the artist Maggi Hambling and sound recordist Chris Watson, presented by Britten Pears Arts at Snape Maltings.
Each artist in their own practice responds to the melting of the polar icecaps: Hambling through her series of Edge paintings first shown in 2017, and Watson through his location sound recordings. In this collaboration, the audience is confronted with the gradual, man-made disaster through expanded senses of sound and vision. As if on the threshold of a dream, chaos clashes with order, night meets day, primordial forms rise out of the dissolving icecap to confront the visitor with our destruction of the planet.
After co-founding the influential Sheffield industrial band Cabaret Voltaire in the 1970s, Chris Watson turned to field recording. He has had an illustrious career as a sound recordist with both solo work and commissions for organizations like National Geographic and the BBC Natural History Unit. His solo albums for Touch include Weather Report (2003) and El Tren Fantasma (2011), both classics in their genre…
BBC Radio 3
Saturday 30th January, 11:45am| Monday 1st February, 10:00pm
Kate Molleson talks to Scottish writer and poet Jackie Kay about the extraordinary life of the pioneering blues singer Bessie Smith, and asks what Bessie’s blues can tell us a century on.
Kate also hears from American composer Meredith Monk about the recurring nature of the big themes of her work, from plagues to dictatorships, and we hear about the piece she’s currently working on, Indra’s Net – 10 years in the making and a work dedicated to humanity’s relationship with nature.
Plus, as part of the BBC’s ‘Soundscapes for Wellbeing’ project, we look at how natural and musical soundscapes can affect mental health, including a groundbreaking study by the University of Exeter called ‘The Virtual Nature Experiment’, which explores how digital experiences of nature might impact wellbeing. Kate is joined by Alex Smalley from the University of Exeter, the sound recordist Chris Watson, and composer Nainita Desai.
Producer: Matthew Dover
The international passengers edge slowly towards Bruxelles Midi, their faces pressed against the train windows as they pass Station Chapelle, not knowing whether they are there yet. Is this where we get off? No. This is a ghost station, so the engine staggers onward, wheels grinding, stop/start, giving way at signals to the faster traffic coming in the opposite direction.
Hearing not so much the sound of the suburbs but the unvoiced anxiety of those who fear they might miss their onward connections, to Paris, Antwerp, maybe beyond even Amsterdam, passengers reach up for their luggage…
Feeling that they’ve mislaid something, they look around, above and below but cannot work out what it is maybe they have lost. Something’s been taken away, leaving uncertainty or worse, but most shrug and start the next phase of their journey. Things have to be done.
We start the New Year…
Next is Chris Watson’s contribution to Touch: Displacing, the continuing annual subscription designed to reflect and describe our current state and raise funds for the contributing artists. Chris Watson’s contribution is an extension of his ongoing exploration of mechanical sounds, a forward momentum from the “Deepcar” recording on “Touch Movements” (Folio 002, 2017) and an echo of his earlier work with Cabaret Voltaire.
Chris writes: “Bruxelles Nord, Central et Sud, a ghost station on busy tracks with no departures. Long past electromagnetic bell pulses signal the transit of nocturnal freight, the wagons battering a loaded beat through the underpass. Thalys, TGV and ICE, displaced international passengers on empty platforms, voices searching for an urban fox or lost human soul.”
Recorded in Brussels 2018. Produced in Newcastle upon Tyne November 2020
Wildlife recordist Chris Watson and spatial audio sound artist Prof Tony Myatt begin a three-part journey to the Sea of Cortez hunting for the song of the largest, and possibly loudest, animal that has ever lived – the blue whale. It’s also an animal that Chris has never managed to record. Will this trip change that?
According to Chris Watson, the man behind your favorite wildlife soundtracks, we’re just becoming better listeners
From Ross Island to Galapagos to the mythical isle of HyBrasil and beyond, world renowned sound recordist Chris Watson teams up with Writer/Presenter Luke Clancy, Composer Irene Buckley and Actor Kathy Rose O’Brien to journey across an atlas of remote islands.
Islands fuses documentary and drama to make a journey not usually possible – especially in these days of the pandemic – as Chris and Luke imagine stepping across the frozen lava at Ross island, Antarctica; taking in the rarefied atmosphere of the Alcedo volcano on the Galapagos islands and listening to an incredible symphony of Bearded Seals under the ice at Svalbard, Norway. The programme merges chronicles of island life by Luke, with Chris’s stunning archive of natural history, accompanied by a haunting soundtrack created by Composer Irene Buckley.
The programme draws on live performances by the team at Skibbereen Arts Festival (2020) and at the International Features Conference hosted by RTÉ Documentary On One (2020).
Islands was funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland with the Television Licence Fee.
Writer: Luke Clancy
Actor: Kathy Rose O’Brien
Sound Recording and Sound Design: Chris Watson
Sound Supervision: Ruth Kennington
Composer: Irene Buckley
Producer: Kevin Brew
Series Producer: Kevin Reynolds
Group Head Drama & Comedy: Shane Murphy
Ephemera is a new multi-arts festival based in Warsaw, presented by Kraków’s Unsound.
Although this inaugural edition has been limited in size due to the pandemic, it nevertheless indicates the bold concept – a festival where music, dance, theatre and visual arts reverberate with one another across the city, presented with Warsaw’s vital cultural activists, organisations and institutions.
Hildur Guðnadóttir presents Chernobyl (feat. Chris Watson & Sam Slater)
Icelander Hildur Guðnadóttir is no stranger to experimental music fans, but has now received wider recognition for her score to the hit TV series Chernobyl, for which she was awarded an Emmy and Grammy, as well as her Oscar and Golden Globe-winning score for Joker.
The live presentation of the music of Chernobyl is much more than “just” the brilliant score. The performance is a unique, layered experience, incorporating recordings from Chernobyl’s sister power plant Ignalina in Lithuania, as well as Hildur’s voice, to create an immersive multichannel work for industrial spaces.
To present the piece, Hildur is joined by Sam Slater and field recordist Chris Watson, artists who helped realise her vision for the TV score. The innovative lighting is by Theresa Baumgartner, and spatialisation by Francesco Donadello, helping craft the sound that comes from all around the room, sometimes so soft it doesn’t feel amplified, sometimes so loud it feels it could push you over.
Due to the pandemic, this is now only one of two Chernobyl live shows taking place internationally this year, with the harrowing music having taken on new layers of meaning. Taking place in a former printworks, the show will be presented according to very strict rules to ensure that it is as safe as possible in respect to COVID-19, rules that will also become a part of the experience itself, an experiment in how live music can be presented in 2020’s harsh reality.
Chernobyl Live is commissioned by Unsound, Dark Mofo, the Barbican London and Rewire.
A Sheffield Sound Map by Chris Watson
(2020 stereo version)
Chris Watson is a BAFTA-winning sound recordist whose work has taken him to furthest reaches of the globe. In 2013 we commissioned him to create a work about Sheffield, his home city.
Chris made recordings all over Sheffield, from the outskirts at Blacka Moor to busy Fargate and from Forgemasters to the vast drainage tunnels under the Station. Inside the Circle of Fire invites us to listen to Sheffield’s unique soundtrack of people, industry and nature, and remember the waterways that continue to flow through it, from its borders in the Peak District all the way to its bustling heart.
Chris has generously revisited his original work, which used ambisonic technology to create a fully immersive soundscape in the gallery, turning it into a stereo experience that is best listened to using headphones. The work is accompanied by photographs taken by Alan Silvester, Digital Producer at Museums Sheffield.
David Lindo is The Urban Birder – broadcaster, writer, speaker, tour leader and educator. His mission is to engage city folk around the world with the environment through the medium of birds.
He is the author of The Urban Birder, Tales From Concrete Jungles, #Urban Birding and How To Be An Urban Birder.
He has regular columns in Nature’s Home (RSPB), Bird Watching Magazine (UK) and recently, Bird Watchers Digest (US). Plus, he has written countless articles on urban birds, urban conservation and wildlife in general for many websites, publications and magazines and plus, the forewards to several books. He is a regular television and radio presenter and has been featured on the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 in the UK as well as other TV and radio channels around the world including CBS in the United States.
David was recently named as the 7th most influential person in wildlife by BBC Wildlife Magazine.
“In the golden hour of evening light I fixed my favourite microphone array under a stand of ancient oaks and recorded in a surround format throughout the night and across the dawn. It was warm, dry and flat calm as I gathered a continuous long form piece within the woodland of stillness, drama and song as the night flowed into sunrise.”
A 9-hour dusk-til-dawn field recording from Holystone Oak Woodland in Northumberland as captured in binaural sound by Chris Watson. Experience it in real-time from 21.15 – 06.15 BST this Friday/Saturday June 12/13 exclusively through the Isolation Room YouTube channel (now available)
Put on your headphones…
Celebrated sound recordist Chris Watson has been using lockdown to explore some of the extraordinary wilderness locations a short trip away from his Northumberland home. At the top of his list is Holystone oak woodland in Northumberland National Park. Over one night at the start of this month Chris headed out with his recording equipment and a bivvy bag to capture the songs, sounds, and atmospheres of this ancient sacred forest.
The Sylvan Space is an continuous 8.5+ hour recording from sunset to sunrise, beginning in the magical ambience of the gloaming, through arcane animal activity in the short summer night, into the glorious early light and a tumult of birdsong. .
Roe deer bark, bat wings flutter, woodcock display on their roding flight, and somewhere a distant rifle rings out as warning to would-be poachers. There’s much activity in the ultrasonic range as Pipistrelle bats gorge on insects all around the mic. At 03.34 the first bird, a redstart, breaks the stillness and heralds the long and glorious choir of voices comprising the peak of the year’s dawn chorus.
The Sylvan Space will be played in real-time from 21.30 thru to 06.00 this Friday/Saturday June 12/13 exclusively through the Isolation Room YouTube channel
Chris Watson is one of the world’s foremost sound recordists with a particular and passionate interest in the sounds of animals and habitats from around the world. As a composer and sound recordist Watson specialises in creating spatial sound installations, which feature a strong sense and spirit of place.
His television work includes many programmes in the David Attenborough ‘Life’ series including ‘The Life of Birds’ which won a BAFTA Award for ‘Best Factual Sound’ in 1996, and as the location sound recordist for the BBC series ‘Frozen Planet’ which also won a BAFTA Award for ‘Best Factual Sound’ (2012).
Isolation Room is a YT channel dedicated providing the very best of binaural (aka ‘headphone surround’) recordings during lockdown. We are extremely happy to be able to add this unique field recording by Chris to our recent catalogue of live musical collaborations with Jónsi & Alex Somers, John Luther Adams as played by Oliver Coates, and Icelandic singer-songwriter JFDR. Further music collaborations with Mount Kimbie, Anna Calvi and Jockstrap are coming soon.
Outside of lockdown, Isolation Room works as Loss/Gain to stage real-life surround sound events, presenting new ways of experiencing work by artists such as Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Anna Meredith, London Contemporary Orchestra, Rival Consoles, Claire M Singer, Todd Dockstader, Colin Curry Group and others, interpreted for d&b Audio’s multi-channel Soundscape system. Watch this space.
Loss/Gain and Isolation Room are founded by veteran music manager John Best and sound artist David Sheppard.
New York Times, June 3rd 2020
Albums featuring chattering animals and roaring weather systems have blurred the boundaries of music and chance, new age and noise.
by Christopher R. Weingarten
In celebration of International Dawn Chorus Day, we have teamed up with sound artists Chris Watson and Pascal Wyse.
With human society slowing down, the dawn chorus is louder than ever, especially in the urban environment of North London. Chris and Pascal have produced a narrated sound piece from the dawn chorus, recorded live at OmVed Gardens on the mornings of Friday 1st and Saturday, May 2nd 2020.
Garden, Exhibition Space and Food Project in North London: www.omvedgardens.com/
On land and underwater, animals use sound to communicate. This is against a rising tide of man-made noise. What happens if you can’t hear or be heard? Can anything be done?
Wildlife sound recordist and sound artist Chris Watson talks to Michael Berkeley about how his favourite music is inspired by the natural world.
20 new and exclusive tracks recorded by Touch artists. A photographic counterpoint,
the view from Hampstead Heath during the London lockdown. Touch: Isolation is a subscription project that will evolve over the coming weeks. Click here to subscribe.
A time to support independent music while it still exists!
“Please keep your distance, the trail leads from here…”
The cancellation of gigs and festivals has already severely impacted our artists creatively and financially. In addition it has denied you, our audience, the opportunity to see them play and support them. The notion of ‘independent music’ might, in effect, be pushed deeper into the self-isolation mode it is already struggling to break free from. We don’t need studios to the same extent, but we do need a stage, a physical reference and if not, a mental space with which to question the drive to online existence.
We set out to respond to these challenging times in a creative and helpful way. The idea is to present Touch: Isolation whereby a new exclusive track from one of our artists, each with a bespoke photograph/cover image, is presented on a regular basis over the coming weeks. All the income received is collected from your subscriptions and put in a kitty, the proceeds of which are then divided up between the contributing artists.
These new and exclusive interventions will include works by Oren Ambarchi, Richard Chartier, ELEH, farmers manual, Fennesz, Bana Haffar, Howlround, Philip Jeck, Bethan Kellough, Daniel Menche, Anthony Moore, Yann Novak, Zachary Paul, Claire M Singer, Geneva Skeen, UnicaZürn, Mark Van Hoen, CM von Hausswolff, Chris Watson, Jana Winderen and others to be confirmed – all expertly mastered by Denis Blackham.
We invite you to take this unique opportunity to support the artists, without whom there would be no alternative to corporate art… support the industries which realise the artists’ creation – the uncredited producers, designers, software developers, distributors, vinyl cutters, mastering engineers, friends and family etc., who all symbiotically depend on the other to bring their works to fruition…
The subscription costs £20 for 20 (or more) tracks – please support the artists by investing in the Touch: Isolation project, and expect surprises – good ones for a change.
Social distancing. Actual space. If you can get out, you have to get out. Escape velocity – from Brexit, then somehow prevent institutional meltdown? The UK shows the way, in a method that beggars belief.
The photographs were taken on Hampstead Heath during the early days of the UK/London lockdown, 25 March 2020, primarily in West Heath and the area around Golders Hill whose open space minimises the problems of social distancing. The weather, being superb after weeks of high winds and heavy rain, seemed a metaphor for regeneration and recovery, with the trees coming into bloom – in defiance of the scene we witnessed 33 years earlier after the Great Storm of October 1987 when, in the days that followed, the Heath looked like an arboreal graveyard.
The objective is to find a sense of quiet celebration, to look at the balance between the detail and the scaling force of open spaces. Let’s hope they can remain open.
To make 20 (or more) record covers in less than a week for sound and music we had yet to hear, and to then match the photography to each artist’s contribution… If this seems somewhat in the style of the children’s game, ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’, then perhaps that’s more apt than pretending we know how everything fits together at this juncture.
This might also be seen an opportunity to give an early documentation to the mental state of 2020, remembering the year 2000 and the threat of the ‘millennium bug’, this may well become known as the year when x melted into y, to avoid z.
Roughly a dozen years ago, life went broadband. Today we see our reliance on digital systems like never before.
‘As a dwindling member of the generation that lived through and served in the Second World War I think in some ways this is much worse. It was possible to live in a country area and apart from rationing see little of the war. Bombing was spasmodic and haphazard, and our defences were really good. After a year, there was very little chance of an invasion and much of life – sport, theatres and radio, continued as before. Restaurants and hotels remained largely open, rationed according to turnover.’ David John Harding, b. 1925.