Discussing the ‘spirit of place’ and the art of listening with BBC natural history sound-recordist Chris Watson, and environmental writer and musician Rob St John. Recorded live from Port Eliot Festival 2014 for The Nest Collective Hour on Resonance 104.4 FM
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.
Free sonic paintbox app featuring Chris Watson’s sound recordings – available from September
Chris Watson has been working in collaboration with arts collective The Nimbus Group to create a new immersive sound painting app featuring Watson’s precise and stark sound recordings of the natural world.
Nimbus uses experimental approaches to transport users to places and experiences including: the inside of an animal carcass as it is being eaten, a Mozambique Nightjar singing on the banks of the Zambezi, and a family of elephants sleeping in grassland on the Massai Mara.
Nimbus will be available for free download from The Nimbus Group website from 10 September 2014.
The Society is proud and honoured to welcome the acclaimed wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson as its President. Chris is well-known across the world for his recordings which have featured in many natural history programmes on radio and television including the BBC’s series ‘Frozen Planet’ with David Attenborough which won a BAFTA Award for ‘Best Factual Sound’ (2012).
Minute of Listening is an exciting and innovative project that has the potential to provide all primary-aged children with the opportunity to experience sixty seconds of creative listening each day of the school year. By downloading a simple application to their laptops, desktops or interactive whiteboards, teachers can bring a wealth of sonic resources into their classrooms.
For a full list of contributors:
This book is now for sale in the TouchShop, where you can find more information and track listing on the CD, including a track recorded by Chris Watson…
The Acoustic City consists of a series of cutting-edge essays on sound and the city accompanied by a specially commissioned CD with field recordings, compositions, and music. The book will comprise five thematic sections: sound mappings including cartographic and conceptual approaches to the representation and interpretation of soundscapes; sound cultures including specific associations between place, music and sound; acoustic flânerie and the recording of urban sounds (including bats, birds and urban nature) as well as reflections on the “auditory self” with links to cultural history and literary theory; acoustic ecology including relationships between architecture, sound, and urban design; and the politics of sound extending to human well-being, noise abatement, and the changing characteristics of ambient sound. This innovative essay collection will be of interest to a wide range of disciplines including architecture, cultural studies, geography, musicology and urban sociology.
Chris Watson is probably the world’s most famous field recordist. Without a doubt he has more recordings of animal sounds than we could listen to in a lifetime, However, we’re straying slightly off of animal recordings and into Watson’s collection of natural sounds – and how they ended up as one of the most unique and exciting sampled instruments: Geosonics by Soniccouture. Designing Sound chatted with Soniccouture’s James Thompson about the project.
CORNELIA PARKER, LEMN SISSAY, CHRIS WATSON – ANNOUNCED AS 2014 FELLOWS FOR FOUNDLING MUSEUM’S 10th ANNIVERSARY YEAR
The Foundling Museum has announced the appointment of the 2014 Foundling Fellows, joining the Fellowship in the 10th anniversary year of the Foundling Museum in London and also coinciding with the 250th anniversary of the death of William Hogarth, whose donation of paintings to the Hospital laid the foundations of the collection of the Museum.
You can read the full press release here
In an exclusive interview for BBC Radio 4, David Attenborough talks to Chris Watson about his life in sound.
Monday 16 December
One of Sir David’s first jobs in natural history filmmaking was as a wildlife sound recordist. Recorded in Qatar, Sir David is with Chris Watson (a current wildlife sound recordist), and is there to make a film about a group of birds he is passionate about, The Bird of Paradise. It is in Qatar where the world’s largest captive breeding population is and it is in this setting Chris takes Sir David back to the 1950s and his early recording escapades, right through to today where Sir David narrates a series of Tweet Of The Days on Radio 4 across the Christmas and New Year period.
Presenter/ Chris Watson, Producer/ Julian Hector for the BBC
Chris Watson, who has worked on Attenborough’s Frozen Planet and Life in the Undergrowth, shares a remarkable insight into sound recording, some exclusive clips – and his feelings about music in wildlife shows.
“…The most extraordinary sound of the week was actually something so common and heard almost every day even by those mired in the inner city. Chris Watson, the sound recordist who to great effect spends days and nights outdoors making wildlife programmes, took his recording equipment into Newcastle’s Central Station. One evening, at dusk, after all the commuters had gone home, he picked up a single melody, the song of a blackbird. As Watson explained, ‘The song rolled down on to the track and filled the southern entrance to the station,’ echoing through the vast Victorian amphitheatre. This is why we keep listening — odd moments of pure sound, instant connection.” [Kate Chisholm]
You can hear an interview with Chris on Danish radio SNYK (in English)
SNYKradio is a podcasting service based in Copenhagen. They cover contemporary music and soundart.
Last weekend Chris Watson performed at The Copenhagen Field Recording Festival, they met up with him and talk to him about the art of listening.
By Ian Youngs
Chris Watson went from influential 1970s band Cabaret Voltaire to recording sound for David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries. Now the leading audio recordist has captured the sound of Sheffield for a “sound map” of his home city.
Chris Watson hears things that other people do not.
Well, we hear the same things. But Chris Watson listens…
Insight Into Sound and video clip can be found at Southern Star
CREATE A SENSE OF PLACE
Geosonics is a colloboration between legendary field recordist Chris Watson and Soniccouture.
Hundreds of hours of recordings, from some of the worlds most extreme and inhopsitable enviroments, combine to form a library of rare sonic artefacts that cannot be found anywhere else.
Using this unique collection as a starting point, we created a wealth of sound design material – waves and textures which, when layered and combined with Watson’s original recordings, create the most fluid, organic soundscapes ever heard.
The product page where you can buy the instrument
NB: Here is the intro discount code : YA6ARGHW
This needs to be entered into the discount code field at checkout, and the product will be reduced to £99 / €110 / $120. This offer will end 24th August 2013
FULL PRICE £119 / €129 / $120
On 6 May David Attenborough will launch Tweet Of The Day, Radio 4’s new year-long celebration of the wonder and poetry of birdsong. Just before the Today programme, early risers will be treated to a different call or song of a British species, followed by a fascinating story of ornithology specific to the tweet in question.
In Britain there are now 596 species on the official bird list, of which 286 are recorded as rare. The BBC will be collaborating with brilliant wildlife sound recordists such as Chris Watson, Geoff Sample and Gary Moore to track down the songs of some of these much-loved birds, from the nightingale to the swift, the greenfinch to the garden warbler. The series will begin with the cuckoo – the song of the male is familiar to many, but how many of us can say that we have seen the bird itself?
“Technically it’s so beautiful; it’s beautifully recorded. I think he does what an artist should do, which is take something every day and make you hear it or see it differently. I could listen to this anytime of day or night, I could listen to it heartbroken or grieving… so beautiful, so inspiring. It paints pictures in your head and yet it’s barely music. This record can make you see beauty in the everyday.”
Easter Eggs Live
Sunday 31 March
The first of the two main programmes as Mark Evans explores the weird, wonderful world of eggs. The eggs are due to hatch. Jimmy Doherty examines bugs, and Lucy Cooke investigates frogs.
Easter Eggs Live
Monday 1 April
The second of the two main programmes exploring the wonderful and often weird world of eggs, from clown fish to emus. Mark Evans updates viewers on the animals that have hatched overnight.