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.
Thursday 13 February, 7:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Suitability: 14 Yrs+
Sonic Arts Research Centre
Queens University Belfast
Belfast BT9 5HN
Experience a sound journey to the Antarctic and the South Pole, with sound recordist and musician Chris Watson. This audio-visual tour includes recordings made during the BBC series Frozen Planet – the sounds of glaciers calving, Adelie penguins, orcas hunting, and Weddell seals singing under the sea ice – and concludes at the South Pole, at the location of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated journey in 1912. The sound journey is accompanied by narration from Chris and images to illustrate the locations.
This event is part of Antarctica Insight, a UK wide cultural programme marking the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica.
“Our Artist in Residence for Nature Unwrapped, Chris Watson, has created a sound calendar of environments from the northern hemisphere. In November and December you will be hearing sounds from the Tunabreen glacier on the island of Svalbard. Come early to enjoy the installation beginning half an hour before the performances in Hall One.”
Chris writes: “At latitude 78 degrees north, the progress of the Tunabreen glacier on the island of Svalbard towards the Arctic Ocean is fractional in winter. The movement of this massive river of ice is imperceptible but not silent. The sheer weight of freshwater ice at the head of the glacier shifts and grinds everything in its path and my hydrophones, fixed deep into a narrow crevasse, reveal an uncanny heartbeat-like pulse.
Further towards the ocean, house-sized blocks of ‘pressure ridges’ fracture, and their subsequent vibrations seem reminiscent of 1960s pioneering electronic music.
Finally, the freshwater shards mix and merge with the frozen slush of coastal sea ice and create a waveless coastline, below which bearded seals sing their haunting songs in the blackness”
This sound installation can be heard from 13 November until the end of December 2020 ahead of all Nature Unwrapped concerts taking place in Hall One. Access to the installation requires a concert ticket for the relevant main event in Hall One.
On the 27th March 2020 the fourth annual organ reframed returns to Union Chapel with a programme packed full of innovative music. Alongside headline performances, the two-day international festival will also feature talks, masterclasses, an interactive soundscape and family-friendly workshops.
organ reframed launches with three new works composed and performed by artists known for redefining their fields: Anna von Hausswolff renowned for her gothic organ creations, enigma Abul Mogard a synth visionary, and Ipek Gorgun a composer of energetic, textural masterpieces. All three works for organ, electronics and the London Contemporary Orchestra will push Union Chapel’s sonic possibilities to the extreme.
The Saturday afternoon will see the chapel transformed by sounds and rhythms echoing the seasonal shift of the Highland year. This free installation by Chris Watson and Claire M Singer will feature the wind, weather and animals of Scotland. These sounds will interact with the organ played by James McVinnie, Katherine Tinker and Jacob Lekkerkerker.
The festival concludes on Saturday evening with the world premiere of Voci del Vento by Chris Watson and Claire M Singer. This collaborative work will combine organ, field recordings, modular synths, the London Contemporary Orchestra and Choir to transport audiences on an epic journey from pole to pole.
Chris Watson, is a founding member of the influential experimental music group Cabaret Voltaire. He is famously known for his recording of wildlife sound for David Attenborough’s documentaries and his ground-breaking work on Grammy nominated Chernobyl, with Hildur Gudnadottir. His 2003 release Weather Report was voted as one of the 100 best albums to hear before you die by The Guardian.
Speaking about the festival Chris Watson said, “I’m thrilled by the prospect of bringing the natural world into the musically inspiring environment of Union Chapel and collaborating with Claire M Singer for the next Organ Reframed”. Claire M Singer is known for her experimental approach to the organ and for her critically acclaimed releases on the prolific label Touch.
organ reframed is brought to you by Union Chapel Project, in partnership with the London Contemporary Orchestra and Spitfire Audio with generous support from Arts Council England and the Institute of Physics.
Tickets and full line up information are now available from Union Chapel
Part One: The winds catching the conifers – and the secrets of the dawn chorus, Aug 26 2019. Chris Watson, president of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society, joins David Oakes in this episode of Trees A Crowd
Part Two: If a podcast is recorded in a forest, and no one is around to hear it… Sept 9 2019. Chris Watson, president of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society, joins David Oakes in this episode of Trees A Crowd
DL Download – 1 track – 5:28
Release date: 1st July 2019
Photo by Chris Watson
1. Glastonbury Ocean Soundscape 5:28
Ocean Soundscape, as played on the main stage at The Glastonbury Festival on 30th June 2019 immediately prior to Sir David Attenborough’s address, describes a journey from the Antactic to the Arctic…
Songs of marine mammals, including bearded and weddell seals, recorded and composed by Chris Watson.
A signalman on a remote stretch of East Yorkshire railway is visited by a lone traveller in this drama-documentary written by poet Ross Sutherland. Inspired by a Charles Dickens ghost story, and featuring nature recordings by renowned wildlife recordist Chris Watson.
The Oxmardyke Gate Box is one of the last in the UK to use antiquated mechanical bells to carry semaphore-style messages up and down the line. Soon this system of “absolute block signalling” will pass into history, as computers take over. The bells, like the humans who listen for them, will no longer be needed.
In this feature fusing fact and fiction, the poet Ross Sutherland visits Oxmardyke to meet Dave Beckett, one of the last operators to use the bells. From their elevated position, the pair gaze out over the hinterland near the muddy Humber estuary. It’s an area of villages with Anglo-Saxon names: Gilberdyke, Broomfleet and Saxfleet, with remains of the monastery where the Knights Templar would return after international travel. The flat, reclaimed land has an eerie quality, accentuated by a strange local phenomenon known as a temperature inversion (where high density cold air becomes trapped by warm wetter air) causing sound to carry further, meaning passing trains loom larger and echo further than they ordinarily would.
Writer: Ross Sutherland
Contributor: Dave Beckett
Producers: Jack Howson and Joby Waldman
Sound Design: Chris Watson and Steve Bond
A Reduced Listening Production for BBC Radio 3
Venture south and explore large-scale public art in Tasmania’s Huon Valley. Project X will present a series of major artworks in the Huon, with the aim of bringing visitors back to the south in the wake of the bushfires that recently ravaged the island.
Project X will open at Dark Mofo 2019 with Hrafn: Conversations with Odinby Chris Watson and The Wired Lab. More info about Project X artworks will be announced soon.
A DarkLab project, supported by the Australian government and the Tasmanian government through Tourism Tasmania, and Mona. DarkLab acknowledges the support of Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, and Events Tasmania.
The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish with Plants: A Festival on Plant Intelligence
11-17 Stoke Newington Road London N16 8BH
Sunday 19th May 1-11pm
Chris Watson, Salmo salar – The Three Realms, on location Croquet Head, commissioned by Serpentine Galleries and L-Acoustics on the occasion of The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish, 2019.
“Most people who bother to think about plants at all tend to regard them as the mute, immobile furniture of our world—useful enough, and generally attractive, but obviously second-class citizens in the republic of life on Earth.” (Stefano Mancuso)
The Shape of a Circle in the Mind of a Fish with Plants is a multidisciplinary festival that brings together artists, scientists, writers, anthropologists and musicians for talks, performances, screenings and listening sessions that raise and address some of the most urgent questions facing all of us.
Wildlife recordist Chris Watson begins a three-part journey into the sonic environment of the ocean, celebrating the sounds and songs of marine life and investigating the threat of noise pollution
Does a second feel the same for a fly, a bird, or a swordfish, as it does for me? Geoff Marsh drills into the science of time perception within and between species.
After a devastating earthquake, Nga, an old elephant and probably the last of his kind, and Sanra, his mahout, embark on a journey to find the mythical elephant’s graveyard. A story of discovery and mourning in which the spectator becomes the protagonist, the film follows the duo as they are stalked closely by a group of poachers, who begin to die one after another under mysterious circumstances.
Carlos Casas’s Sanctuary offers a mesmerizing sonic and visual cinematic environment that immerses the audience in the sounds, textures, and hues of the jungle. Projected on the mega-screen in EMPAC’s Concert Hall, and featuring live Ambisonics, Wavefield Synthesis, and infrasound to induce a deep sense of physical closeness with the elephant, Sanctuary presents a unique sensorial experience that collapses the boundaries between art, nature documentary, and adventure film.
Chris Watson collaborated with the bioacoustician and elephant communication expert Joyce Poole to record the acoustic sphere of elephants. Tony Myatt developed the infrasound speaker and implemented the spatial audio. Both will perform live on the speaker systems installed throughout the hall. This is the US premiere of the project, which was previously presented at the Fondation Cartier, Paris; the Tate Modern, London; and the Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels.
Okeanos takes the audience on an auditory underwater journey around the globe. Years of recordings from pole to pole will be performed with three audio systems in the Concert Hall: a dome of 64 loudspeakers used to project sounds around the audience in an Ambisonic environment, a Wave Field Synthesis array, consisting of hundreds of small speakers placed above the audience, and a custom-built infrasound speaker used to create the lowest frequencies, which can be more felt than heard. The composition will include songs, signals, and vibrations from the smallest crustaceans to the loudest and largest animals ever to have existed.
Chris Watson and Tony Myatt will perform a version of the work specifically developed for EMPAC’s Concert Hall and its audio systems. This new version will also integrate sound materials recorded on the Northeastern coast of the US and humpback whale recordings from the Silver Banks (Dominican Republic).
Shadows and Reflections: the annual collection of postings in which our contributors and friends consider the events that’ve shaped the past twelve months. As we begin the new year, Chris Watson looks back on 2018
CHRIS WATSON, making audible the inaudible
Words by Meritxell Rosell