CD – 3 Tracks – 54:02
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 is 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.
Ol-Olool-O -18′ 00″
A fourteen hour drama in Kenya’s Masai Mara from 0500h – 1900h on Thursday 17th Oct. 2002
The Lapaich -18′ 00″
The music of a Scottish highland glen through autumn and into winter during the four months of September to December
Vatnajkull -18′ 00″
The 10,000 year climatic journey of ice formed deep within this Icelandic glacier and it’s lingering flow into the Norwegian Sea.
Chris has released two previous solo albums for Touch, Outside the Circle of Fire  and Stepping into the Dark , as well as contributions for samplers and compilations for Ash International. His work was also used as source material for the compilation Star Switch On , with contributions from AER, Biosphere, Fennesz, Hazard, Philip Jeck & Mika Vainio, as well as two tracks from Chris himself.
Chris is possibly best known for his sound recordings for BBC TV, particularly the “Life of…” series written and hosted by Sir David Attenborough. But his preferred media are cds and the radio. He has presented several programmes; “A Small Slice of Tranquillity”, “NightTime is the Right Time”, “Sound Advice” and “Tyneside Dawn”, all broadcast on BBC Radio 4. His work has been described as “the freakiest all natural techno disc ever” by City Newspaper [USA].
Chris was previously a member of the popular beat trio Cabaret Voltaire.
As Sasha Frere-Jones wrote in Time Out, New York, in 1999: “Listen to your world. It may be more interesting than all the things you buy to escape from it.”
2. The Lapaich
This CD was one of the albums of the year in The Wire (UK), 2003
Chris Watson’s third release for Touch sees him plunge into the depths of human subconciousness. Minute sounds are sometimes amplified and extended, forging a life of their own. The three tracks are audio documentaries which serve well to show what beauty our surroundings can create. Under a hazy, humid, insect-infested environment, “Ol-Olool-O” floats through lion grunts, boar squeals, and the sharp chattering of natives in the distance. Derived from a massive 14 hour recording session in Kenya, this opener made me sticky, hot, and uncomfortable. The persistent buzzing of mosquitoes pan from left to right, giving the feeling of sitting (and sizzling) in the middle of an exotic wildland. Ruffles from bird feathers, and bellowing of animals characterize much of the first piece. After getting all sweaty, Watson cools things off with “The Lapaich,” collected from sounds taken over four months spent on the Scottish highland. Here, soft droplets of river water soon morph into a raging torrent. The collage of running water and chirping birds makes for a tranquil listen, although it’s not as interesting as the first track. “The Lapaich” carries a damp and cold mood, possessing a kind of hidden intensity within. Unlike many other environmental artists, Watson feels no need to process or drastically change the original sounds of the recordings. He instead relies on the natural interactions between the weather and its inhabitants. There is an intimate prettiness to the pieces, each evolving over long stretches of time (eighteen minutes), allowing room for change and development to occur. It almost seems as if Watson deliberatly allows for events to unfold, gradually fleshing out the layers and textures to form a carefully sculpted audio journey. Despite the strengths of the first two pieces, the strongest track on Weather Report comes at the end. “Vatnajokull,” a slow but constantly changing affair, provides the perfect soundtrack for time. Low rumbles are heard, delicately laced over icy drones and echoes. Recorded in Iceland, Watson managed to perfectly capture the sounds of colossal glaciers shifting and gliding, creating deep and hollow reverberations. With Weather Report, Chris Watson has successfully presented an engaging sonic experience, combining numerous contrasting elements interplaying together to produce a tranquil tapestry of sound. While minimalistic at parts, most sections consist of massive layering of drones. Those expecting “music” in the traditional sense may be caught off guard, but I was completely blown away by this pensive, and, at times, unsettling recording. Clocking at just under an hour, Weather Report provides a perfect escape from the noise and clatter of everyday city life. [Kevin Chong]
The Sound Projector (UK):
On his most ambitious work to date, Chris Watson takes the raw materials of his documentary recordings and goes one step further, by assembling and layering related recordings together in these three, powerful, 18-minute suites. This CD creates a profound, almost-panoramic experience thereby, surveying in sound the geophysical state of the globe today. First comes ‘Ol-Olool-O’, a collection of recordings brought back from Africa. We have the usual vivid recordings of animals, people, weather, and the sundry activity of scattered places, but sequenced together in ways that we couldn’t normally hear. Things are up close, then suddenly distant; several related sound events happen simultaneously, and do it in full stereo too. As though we were a ‘privileged’ ear moving freely through the wonders of the world and gathering in sensory information in abundance. Dans la nuit Africaine, la vie bouillonne et palpite. Here we enter the cauldron of primordial soup, communing with life in all its diverse and wondrous forms. Everything is bound in by the dramatic weather conditions, most noticeably the gathering storms whose darkening skies are all but visible, so utterly present are the sound recordings of it. Around index point 6:00, the lion’s roar ushers in the thunderstorm; it’s but one of many underplayed juxtapositions, coincidences and confluences of sound events that make this work all the stronger. 14 hours of life in the Masai Mara condensed into 18 minutes; without a doubt this track alone qualifies as the aural equivalent to Peter Kubelka’s famous micro-structured single-frame based film, Unsere Afrikareise (Our Trip to Africa).
‘The Laipach’ is a hymn to wind and water, gathered from the ‘music of a Scottish highland glen’ over a four-month period. The layered sounds are all totally in sympathy with each other, and with nature, bringing home the roaring energy of these waters. Clean air and clean waters are the abiding impression in this corner of an environmental paradise. The ‘mixage’ and editing technique again brings impossible, miraculous events to life…birdsong audible over the top of roaring waters. The drama of this work is, at times, almost terrifying; the implacable and awesome powers of nature are uncovered, and with great clarity.
‘Vatnajökull’ is the recording of ice floes from an Icelandic glacier, as it flows into the Norwegian sea. Here’s the most ‘alien’ sounds on the entire disc, mainly because they’re so unfamiliar; once again our privileged ear is witness to things we don’t normally encounter. A rare event; strange groaning, cracking and heaving over a constant hissing sound. It’s not overstating the case to say you can feel the physical properties of this huge mass of icy matter, its considerable volume amply conveyed and expressed by the in-depth, precise sound recording. A deep and mysterious experience will be thine, just through listening. The most eerie aspect of it is the strange ‘singing’ events which occur throughout, especially by the end of the piece when we’re tossing about on the ocean and an unidentifiable spectral singing hovers over the surface of the sea, causing you to believe in sirens.
With this exceptionally important release, Chris Watson confirms his unassailable position as one of the greatest sound artists alive in the world today. Clearly a man who so deeply loves our home planet that, like a latter-day 19th century explorer, he will go to tremendous lengths to seek out and bear witness to its most outlandish beauties, and bring back the materials necessary to assemble this – a detailed, living portrait of our planet’s weather, its life and eco-systems, its geography. The music he makes is always the result of a lengthy, painstaking process, one that involves travelling, listening, looking and learning, and a deep sensitivity to the mysteries of terra firma. His work benefits one hundredfold from this new compressed and layered, impressionistic story-telling approach; never has it sounded so utterly compelling, bringing the magic to life in your living room. A truly essential purchase. [Ed Pinsent]
The Guardian (UK):
Chris Watson’s Weather Report (Touch) comprises three 18-minute collages assembled from recordings of the natural world. Watson, once a member of Cabaret Voltaire, is highly regarded as a sound recording specialist, with a track record that includes many of David Attenborough’s TV series and several documentaries for BBC Radio 4. The recordings on this disc were made in Kenya, Scotland and on an Iceland glacier. There are low creaking sounds, atmospherics, wind, and sections that sound a little like barely vibrating wires. Birdsong and other animal noises are heard through the general ambience, but rarely in the foreground. Watson’s disc is less like “music” that Rose’s [the previously reviewed CD – ed.], but has a calmness and improvised pace that makes it more repeatable that the latter’s scraping and clanging… [John L. Walters]
Killer ambient album from the third of Cabaret Voltaire who became a specialist in field recordings. That’s lions, rivers and Icelandic glaciers to you and me, recorded with immaculate clarity for hours and hours on end and then edited into 18-minute minute sonic odysseys. Slowly, steadily, they reveal the beatless music of the natural world, wrapping the listener in the a profound sense of austere beauty. Light years away from ‘sounds of the rainforest’ bollocks, this is truly amazing stuff for those who have the late night listening habits necessary to absorb it. [Freddie Baveystock]
It took five years for sound recordist extraordinaire Chris Watson to come up with a follow-up to the 1998 CD Outside the Circle of Fire. Weather Report was worth the wait. Again, Watson delivers a platter of amazing sounds. He is not a field recording purist, but he doesn’t turn his prime materials into abstract sound art either. His nature recordings are left untouched, but he selects, blends and edits the sounds together to form aural storylines of great beauty and immediacy. Plus, his recording skills put you right where he wants you to be. In Ol-Olool-O that would be in the Kenyan savannah. A lion’s roar opens this 18-minute reduction of a 14-hour recording of nature playing by its own rules. The Lapaich takes place from September to December in a Scottish highland glen (again seamlessly reduced to 18 minutes). Rain is the predominant sound, but there is a lot more going on, including a number of cows [red deer – ed.] saluting the recordist. Vatnajökull the third and last piece, proposes another very different setting: an Icelandic glacier in the middle of the Norwegian Sea. The crackling of the natural ship (it really sounds like a huge boat made of wood planks), wind and the songs of seagulls form the core of the soundscape. Each different sound becomes a new character in these three stories, a character you may grow attached to. Index points mark out chapters, moments where the action is interrupted and resumes at a later point, from another perspective. In certain moments, you wonder if Watson is not playing God — come on, he did make rain fall at this precise moment, right? Weather Report is totally absorbing and one of the best listening experiences to be had in the art of field recording. [François Couture]
Once a member of English punk funk outfit Cabaret Voltaire and the equally different Hafler Trio, Chris Watson has more recently carved out a career as a freelance field recordist, with his work appearing on television, film and radio. Apparently he even boasts a couple of David Attenborough docos. Weather Report is his third release for the Touch label, a label renowned for the work of the likes of Fennesz, Oren Ambarchi and Phillip Jeck. Unlike these artists however, Watson’s palette is the natural world and unlike the work of Francisco Lopez and co, Watson indulges in no electronic manipulation and makes no attempts to remove the sounds from their context. Whilst he has previously quite neatly recorded everything from the sounds of a lion to a whale in quiet isolation, on Weather Report Watson has set his sights a little wider. Using a system of time compression he has reduced 14 hours to 18 minutes, on the first track recorded in Kenya’s Masi Mara in October 2002. Wild game, birds, humans, bugs, hungry sounding carnivores and a rainstorm all make an appearance, and the sounds are immediate and awe inspiring, telling an audio story about this specific place at this particular time. The second piece, also 18 minutes, features the sounds of a Scottish Highland Glen from September to December, beginning with the sound of rain, footsteps seemingly stepping through a creek and a dull roar, later incorporating chattering of birds and a pounding gale. This piece is so vivid that you almost want to rug up in front of an open fire to listen. The third piece again comes from a cold environment, the creaks, groans and deep low rumbling of an Icelandic glacier. The sounds here, an enduring bass heavy groan, coupled with a strange cracking are unbelievably eerie, though also perhaps also the most likely to be mistaken for processed avant garde electronics, in much the same way Alan Lamb’s wind on decommissioned powerlines apes a frosty night of sound manipulation at the Punters Club. This is no babbling brook and though the experience is no less vivid, how you respond is much less defined. [Bob Baker Fish]
After Chris Watson’s involvement in Cabaret Voltaire and his involvement in Hafler Trio with Andrew McKenzie, both quite a long time ago he started to make sound recordings for David Attenborough’s TV series and several documentaries for BBC Radio 4 and got a reputation as being a specialist in field recordings. Both his previous albums for Touch, Outside the circle of Fire (1998) and Stepping into the Dark (1996) confirmed his excellent skills as an intrepid documenter of wildlife. With Weather Report he focuses on the bigger picture, not just animals but the places in which they reside, which means a lot of weather phenomena have been included. Another aspect is that he now constructs collages of sounds and natural changes over time, though always based upon the specific location. Weather Report is 54 minuts long and devided in three equal parts. The first part entitled Ol-Olool-O treats Kenya’s Masai Mara exotic environment. In this cinematic sound setting one notices that a tropical shower of rain starts to dominate the landscape. Insects chirp and large mammals bellow in the arid heat as the thunder and promise of rain causes their frantic excitement to grow. In the middle of this heavy weather a pour animal starts to whine, as if being killed. The clarity of the recording is so fine that feels pity for it. The weather improves and the atmosphere changes with it, slowly returning to the original situation. The second track called The Lapaich shows us what the Scottish highland can sound like in the autumn and winter. Of course there is a heavy wind and the geese that have something to say about it. One can hear some water splashing, more water sounds and the complaining cows [red deer – ed.] . Unfortunately it’s not a fluid story, like during the first track. Vatnajökull, sounding like a drone piece is the darkest track on this album. The wind blowing in a microphone gives this recording a mysterious aspect. The majestic dark craking is ominous and omnipresent. This 10,000 year climatic journey of ice formed deep within this Icelandic glacier and its lingering flow into the Norwegian Sea has been translated in deep organic bassscapes and a magical deep, low, muffled roar-like the sound. At the end of the track there is also the complaining of the seagulls and the squeaks of some other birds plus the wind noises and the heavy sounds of water. This wonderful album encourages us to really listen and makes us realize that there are so many beautiful sounds out there. Chris Watson discovered and recorded this world we should be aware of ourselves. [Paul Bijlsma]
Aquarius Records (USA):
Oooh. We’re super pleased to get this new Chris Watson field recordings album (see note below). He’s one of our favorites in the realm of just going out in the world, shutting up, and listening. With really good equipment and recording skills, that is. In the past he’s brought us up close and personal with a variety of African wildlife, as well as the fauna of his native England. Now with the perhaps too-obviously titled “Weather Report” he focuses on the bigger picture, not just animals but the places in which they reside, which means a lot of weather phenomena in the mix. There’s three long tracks, each providing an aural portrait of a location over time. Kinda like time-lapse film, but the action is not sped up here, just carefully edited together. They’re all natural environments, not urban, the first (“Ol-Oloool-O”) taking you on a virtual expedition into the wilds of Kenya’s Masai Mara, one day in October 2002. The next, “The Lapaich” compresses four months of sound from a Scottish highland glen in the fall and winter. Lastly, “Vatnajokull” closely examines the slow flow of a glacier in Iceland, which sounds like a drone piece from our experimental section. From animals, birds and insects to washes of wind and rain to quiet, creaking ice, this is all pretty darn magical. Newcomers to Watson’s work should note that there’s no processing of the sound to make it “experimental music”, it’s a straight-up documentary with no additions or interference (aside from the neccessary edits). Then again, I suppose it is “music” in the John Cage 4’33” sense. And it’s wonderful sound. Amazing, vibrantly real stuff that’ll fire your imagination. If you’ve seen that amazing new documentary movie “Winged Migration” you’ve got a filmic analogy to the kind of thing Watson captures here. NB. You know, it’s a bit embarrassing, but we’ve never listed this man’s releases in our database before, aside from the “Star Switch On” disc of remixes and his contribution to Hazard’s “Wind”. Whoops! Dunno how that happened, ’cause we’re all really big fans of his work. So, at least we can offer a timely review of this, his third proper release on Touch, and perhaps retroactively review his previous efforts “Outside The Circle Of Fire” and “Stepping Into The Dark” on a future list.
Those of us with long memories may remember Chris Watson as the third member of the original line-up of Sheffield electronic punk funkers Cabaret Voltaire and later with ‘industrial’ noise scientists The Hafler Trio. Since then he’s got a proper job as a TV and radio sound recordist. Two CDs have presented his wildlife recordings, made in locations that range from the Scottish highlands to the Serengeti and documenting the activities of creatures from whales to deathwatch beetles. Weather Report is slightly different (and in case you were wondering, has nothing to do with Joe Zawinul). Here, Watson documents meterological phenomena, and has for the first time opted to edit his recorded material (or ‘time compress’ it), ending up with three 18 minute pieces sourced from hours of material. This seems like a big step; though Watson hasn’t treated his recordings in any way, this collage process hints at an artistic or editorial intent that wasn’t apparent on the earlier records. This is cinema for the ears. Episodes of rain, thunder and wind are rendered in stunning fidelity; headphones and closed eyes are essential. Watson’s way with a microphone is nothing short of awe inspiring. Animals, birds and for a brief moment, human sounds flit in and out, seemingly at the mercy of the elements and without an umbrella in sight. A strong sense of narrative, coupled with the extended lengths of these pieces makes for a much more engaging listen than Watson’s previous CDs, which despite their extraordinary contents seemed more like BBC sound effects discs than anything else. The third piece presents the sound of Icelandic ice floes cracking and melting. It’s hard to imagine that these muted scrapes, cracks, whooshes and soft, ghostly moans are the result of natural processes (there’s a very nice kickdrum sound in there that Richard D. James would be proud of), but maybe that’s only to be expected in our primarily visual culture. Watson’s work argues for the equality of the ear with the eye, and maybe even its supremacy. Listen. [Pete Marsh]
Wreck This Mess (France):
Chris Watson est un chasseur de sons. Un véritable aventurier qui parcourt, tel un ethnologue, les régions reculées de notre planète à la recherche de trésors acoustiques. Cet album est fruit de sa dernière collecte qui l’a mené sur les terres des Massaïs, au Kenya, au fin fond des Highlands, en Écosse, ainsi qu’à Vatnajökull, un glacier perdu à l’extrême nord de la Island. Trois paysages différents qu’il nous restitue, dans leur plénitude respective. Trois ambiances sonores prises sur le vif. Sans fioritures, ni effets. Chris Watson nous fait redécouvrir le pouvoir évocateur du bruit, des bruits naturels. De la savane africaine, nous percevons la chaleur étouffante, le pas mat des bergers sur le sol, les plaintes de leurs bêtes, le grondement des bêtes sauvages qui rodent, le bourdonnement des insectes… Du pays des hautes terres, nous parvient la rumeur de l’automne, puis nous ressentons la rudesse de l’hiver et ses habitants… Enfin, nous éprouvons l’immensité, le vide et le danger du désert glacé qui se traduit par du souffle, des crissements et des explosions sourdes. Issu de la scène industrielle dont il fut l’un des pionniers au sein de Cabaret Voltaire, Chris Watson s’est vu notamment décerné un prix pour ses travaux naturalistes en 2000, lors de l’ARS Electronica Festival à Linz, en Autriche. Outre ses prestations en tant qu’ingénieur du son pour la BBC et des films documentaires, il a également apporté son soutien technique à AER, Biosphere, Fennesz, Hazard, Philip Jeck et Mika Vainio ! Laurent Diouf]
This is, at long last Chris Watson’s third solo CD. Chris, at one point a member of Cabaret Voltaire and then of The Hafler Trio, is these days for his field recording work. His first two solo CDs were straight recordings, with no altering of sounds afterwards. The liner notes documented what was heard and how it was recorded. Very much like his work for Sir David Attenborough and his BBC TV programm ‘Life Of…’. Now Chris marks his second step: he composes music using his field recordings. These recordings are from one place, but recorded over varying periods of time and put back in the form of a collage. Each of the three tracks lasts 18 minutes, the conceptualism which eludes me. One piece is with sounds from Africa, one with sounds from Scotland and one from Iceland. This new work is a big step forward for Chris Watson. From the sheer documentation to composing using environmental sound. It’s hard to believe, but probably very much true, that no electronics were used in these recordings. Especially in the last piece, ‘Vatnajokull’, the wind blowing in a microphone and the closely miked sounds have an electronic character, but maybe just has to do with placement of the microphones. This is captivating stuff, which hardly sounds like a collage, ie there is no cut up technique going on, just gradual changes. Maybe his best album so far. (FdW)
Stylus Magazine (USA):
Chris Watson is a former member of Cabaret Voltaire and the Hafler Trio and a current field recorder for nature programs (including David Attenborough’s “Life of…” BBC series). Oh, and he also releases electronic music. Weather Report is his third full-length work. It consists of three eighteen-minute tracks recorded on location in Kenya, Scotland, and Iceland. The tracks consist entirely field recordings of natural sounds-animals, wind, grass, rain, ice, and water. Importantly, each track was pared down from however many hours of recordings, and the various natural sounds were selected, organized, and compiled to tell a particular story about the places Chris Watson visited. I would be lying if I didn’t give away one key point here: the first two tracks, while interesting in their own right, did not hold my attention. The Kenya track had-what else?-animal noises. The Scottish track? Perhaps rain, storms, wind? You got it. Ah, but the Iceland track-that’s the one. It was recorded in and around the massive glacier Vatnajökull, which covers 8% of the surface of Iceland. To me, this track is mesmerizing. Then again, I’m a little biased. You see, I’ve been there. In the summer of 1984, I spent two months living with a family in Akureyri, Iceland. Akureyri is located in the north of the island, at the mouth of a massive fjord. During the summer, however, I went with my “family” to the south of the island, to stay with another family at their farm near Vatnajökull. This area is on the south edge of the island. There’s a huge inlet pool that is made up in part of the Atlantic Ocean and in part from the runoff from the glacier itself. This runoff, in fact, has created the signature image of the glacier-towering cliffs of ice all clumped together as if it were created to be an ideal photo-op. If you’ve ever seen the beginning of the James Bond film, A View to a Kill, you’ll recognize these ice formations as the one Bond skis over while being pursued by Russians (or whoever the villains are in that damn film). It’s an amazing place in a country full of amazing places. So I had this image of Vatnajökull in my mind as I started listening to this album. I was expecting to hear waves, wind, drops of water, a few puffins chirping away, perhaps even some crashing sounds as ice falls into the sea. However, that wasn’t anywhere close to what I actually heard. More than anything else, Watson’s “Vatnajökull” is dominated by a deep, low, muffled roar-like the sound of an underground river that is close enough to the surface that it is audible but not visible. Amidst this roar are a variety of sounds whose origins can only be imagined: creaking, whooshing, dripping, roaring, gurgling, huffing, and crashing noises that seem to gurgle into life and sputter away, retaining an ever-present mystery. There were even some whistling sounds that seemed to be straight out of one of the worlds in Myst. And, while, there do appear a swarm of bird chirps towards the end of the track, along with a smattering of wind noises and even what I think were seal wails, I have to admit that my first impression was of wonder. It’s truly an eerie track, if only because the sounds-all natural, unedited sounds-seem so, well, so unnatural. And so the track fascinates me, if only because Watson managed to turn one of the more memorable experiences in my life into something that I not only struggle to recognize but something that is so fundamentally alien sounding that it seems to emerge from some alternate universe, a universe of enclosed spaces and impending doom. I know my impression of this album is shaped by my own personal experience, experiences no one else can possibly understand. Hence, my attempts to be objective about this album are destined to fail. But what I can take away from this work-and what I hope you, too, can appreciate-is simply the realization that the world sounds a hell of a lot different than it looks, and when an artist takes away all visual signals and forces audiences to listen and only to listen to a particular place, then we can hear things we’d never see in a thousand visits to the same location. I’ve been to Vatnajökull, but I never really heard it until I heard this album. [Michael Heumann]
Keeping an Ear to the Ground
One can’t glance at Chris Watson’s discography cursorily – at least not without avoiding a perplexed double take. As the founding member of the late-70s Sheffield trio Cabaret Voltaire, Watson experimented with a very modern, very vanguard, and – by extension – very urban palette of proto-punk/industrial noise. CV’s mix of guitar, electronics, and tape loop splicing was nothing if not rigorously structured and texturally dense. Then, following his stint in Cabaret Voltaire (and later the Hafler Trio), Watson abandoned the music industry entirely to work as a field recordist for wildlife documentaries, creating soundtracks and solo releases from unadulterated recordings that he’d captured at remote locations around the world. Although these projects are, in obvious ways, radically different from his Sheffield experiments, Watson’s close attention to the texture and sonority of sound has never wavered, whether dealing with treated electronics or the flapping of feathered wings. Weather Report, Watson’s third full-length effort on Touch, extends his evolving fascination with environmental sounds by way of three eighteen-minute pieces recorded in Kenya, Scotland, and Iceland.
Inherent in Weather Report’s unique documentation of an exotic “reality” is a key paradox: the majesty of nature is all around – capturing it in a snapshot (or field recording) on the one hand seems deceptively simple, requiring merely the snap of a shutter or the click of a recording device. In truth, however, this type of documentation requires some form of fixed subjectivity, some compression of nature’s scope into a palatable essence, some authorial emphasis on a sound or image we might otherwise miss. The more effortless and self-effacing this subjective presence is made to seem, the more difficult it is to render. Which is why, for example, in Jacques Perrin’s new film “Winged Migration,” an 85-minute documentary about the migration of birds, 250 miles of film had to be shot, using motorized aircraft, gliders, hot air balloons, and helicopter-lifted cameras that were operated by 14 cinematographers in 42 countries over a duration of four years. Or why, in the 1970s, Robert Smithson required numerous cranes, bulldozers, and helicopters to create and document Earth Art pieces like Spiral Jetty (1970) and Amirillo Ramp (1973). This paradox of natural, or “real” art is the paradox of nature itself – its materials are inescapable and at the same time inaccessible, both too large and too small to ever get our eyes, ears, hands, or minds around.
On each of his solo records, Watson combats this paradox in a similar manner as Perrin and Smithson: with technological prowess and human persistence. 1996’s Stepping Into the Dark, for example, cabled tiny, ultrasensitive microphones over great distances to capture the chirps and croaks of insects, frogs, and bats. 1998’s Outside the Circle of Fire used omnidirectional microphones buried deep inside a zebra carcass to capture the otherwise inaccessible sounds of vultures feeding on raw flesh. With Weather Report, Watson has this time opted not to share the intricate and highly technical details of his recording set-up, but the results attest to its complexity. In fact, Weather Report presents new challenges, because with it Watson sets out to capture the essence of his three locations as they shift over time in response to natural changes. Thus in order to communicate the gradual crescendo of animal and insect excitement as a storm rolls across Kenya’s Masai Mara, or the shifting rumble of water in a Scottish highland glen through autumn and into winter, Watson uses his authorial hand more forcefully, editing his material for purposes of dynamics and compression. For this reason the results are less “objective,” but the increased focus on temporal changes makes for what are often even richer compositions.
“Ol-Olool-O” compresses the fourteen-hour drama of a thunderstorm into a tightly packed eighteen minutes. Insects chirp and large mammals bellow in the arid heat as the rumble of wind and promise of rain causes their frantic excitement to grow. As the rain starts to trickle and pour amidst the panting and whining of some large, unknown beast, the clarity of the recording is so fine that, at the storm’s climax, one can discern the luxurious detail of droplets splattering onto the hard clay, and then slowly seeping into the dampening, spongy earth. Throughout, Watson is highly skilled at enabling the mind to move effortlessly between place and abstraction – at any moment one can click into the imagined specifics of an African rainstorm, or out again, to a wholly abstract collage of textured sounds.
“The Lapaich” mingles the cool, rushing sounds of a highland stream with an increasingly hostile wind and the chatter of birds. Unlike “Ol-Olool-O,” Watson seems to move all across the highland glen, so that the changes in composition are more punctuated and less fluid – the rush of water decrescendos into a whisper, a polar wind arises out of silence. The index points left scattered throughout “The Lapaich” are much too abrupt, and while the piece is compelling in small segments, it neglects to offer any kind of consistency that might allow one to get his (imagined) bearings. In this way, it’s the weakest of the selections – too forcibly abstract.
The final track, “Vatnajökull,” is, however, absolutely awe-inspiring. Described as “the 10,000 year climatic journey of ice formed deep within this Icelandic glacier and its lingering flow into the Norwegian Sea,” the deep, bass-rich throbs and creaks of the crumbling ice mass prove breathtaking. I’ve experienced the sounds of glaciers calving in the flesh, and though the effect is undoubtedly magical – a slow, majestic creaking that seems to possess no set source-point until chunks the size of football fields crash into the sea – the breaks are few and far between, muffled somewhat by one’s proximity to the fissure. Watson, on the other hand, seems to record from the very heart of the crevasse, and he captures the singing drone of the wind and the rumbling quake of the ice mass atop a lulling bed of flowing, polar water. “Vatnajökull” possesses a similar delicacy to that which John Luther Adams realized more figuratively in his The Light That Fills the World, only Watson’s document is simultaneously massive – a fragile crumble occurring on a giant scale. Eventually the mournful song of birds rises in prominence, and its high pitch contrasts nicely with the deep, enormous creaking occurring beneath the impatient squawks. Here again the punctuation of the index points is distracting, but the glorious might of the sound renders them little more than pesky and easily overlooked annoyances. That Watson has channeled the essence of 10,000 years of climatic processes and countless square miles of melting ice onto a single shiny disc is impressive enough – that, shorn of any tangible bearings these sounds defy description, is sublime.[Nathan Hogan]
Das Time Out Magazine schrieb vor vier Jahren zu Watsons früherem Album, dass wir unserer Umgebung zuhören sollen, da es interessanter sein könnte als all die Sachen, die wir konsumieren, um ihr zu entkommen. Das scheint auf den ersten Blick zu stimmen, ist natürlich aber blödsinning so was in einer Review zu einem in sich zum Konsum gezwungenen Produkt zu schreiben. Und was anderes liegt uns in Form einer CD nunmal nicht vor. Also flüchten wir doch mit Play vor dem urbanen Chaos vor der Tür. Es startet dreimal 18 Minuten lang, zuerst in Richtung Kenia. 14 zusammenhängende Stunden Originalaufnahmen drängen sich einander, erzählen fleißig und beleuchten die saftigen Tagesgewohnheiten zirpsender Käfer und knurrender Löwen. Auf Track zwei spannen sich sogar vier Monate im Dasein des schottischen Sees Lapaich über den Track. Das soziale Leben spielt sich hier schon wesentlich ruhiger ab, wird aber erst im letzten Teil, Aufnahmen des isländischen Gletschers Vatnajökull, vollends unter Wasser geortet. Das komische Phänomen Wetter (komisch, weil’s ja omnipräsent ist), um das es hier geht, ist selbst in purem Audio ständig zur Stelle. Löwen knurren nicht in Nordeuropa und Eis schabt nicht in Afrika. Das wußten wir schon vorher, aber so eindringlich gehört hat das noch keiner von uns. www.touch33.net [ed *****]
An international sonic journalist rather than a local temperature predictor, Chris Watson imbues his Weather Report with ear-travelogues from afar. A trio of lengthy audio- documentaries reveals the otherworldliness of our own planet.
The three 18-minute pieces play like a free-flowing sound-effects record, though the liner notes propose two or three “track breaks” per segment. Under a continual heat-evoking insect haze, Ol-Olool-O (boiled-down from a 14 hour recording in Kenya) hovers across a truly wild soundscape of bellowing animals, chattering natives, broiling weather and more… the leisurely (though always edgy) panoramic sprawl is occasionally interrupted by the growls of threatening lions, crazy jackasses(?), or something being mauled?!?. Birds of various feathers also make guest appearances, from lilting chirps to mournful cries. A low grumble swiftly enlarges to a raging torrent to announce the global jump to The Laibach, where four months (September through December) were spent gathering the auditory essences of a Scottish highland glen. Watery flows abound as do a multitude of avian and insect cheepers… until whipsnaking winter winds unleash with awesome force, gradually softening into a drizzling, still-quite-inhabited expanse (as evidenced by animalistic yowls and scurries). A final shift lands in even colder (in degrees and mood!) climes… from Iceland, hauntingly beautiful Vatnajökull immerses into a vastly groaning ice cavern where phantasmal currents linger, warbling like ghostly flutes. Even the wildlife is a bit creepy here, emitting unknowable communications into the rumbling atmospheres. Agitated gull squawks and a splashing ocean bring the 54:13 disc to its conclusion. Nature’s own “world music” is injected with enough surprises to keep it from being very “ambient”! So expertly-captured, Weather Report seems almost academic, like a listen-only National Geographic. If nothing else, Chris Watson’s work will remind you of the omnipresence of birdlife! Especially organic!
Bad Alchemy (Germany):
Der Field- und BBC-Soundrecorder Watson gibt hier erstmals seinen Dokupurismus auf und collagiert aus O-Tönen drei je 18-minütige Alltags-‘Dramen’, die das jeweils spezifische Klangprofil eines Ortes und seiner Bewohner einfangen. Bei ‘Ol-Olool-O’ konstruiert der einstige Cabaret Voltaire-Mann aus den Lauten von Menschen, Tieren und Wetterphänomenen im Zeitraffer einen typischen Tagesablauf im kenianischen Masai Mara so plastisch, dass einem der stinkende Löwenbrodem noch bluttriefend ins Gesicht dampft, ein Gewitterguss den Wohnzimmerboden überschwemmt und die Vögel aufs Sofa scheißen. ‘The Lapaich’ ist ein die Zeit von September bis Dezember bündelnder herbst-winterlicher Streifzug durchs schottische Hochland, gleichzeitig Travelogue und Stimmungsbild. Mit ‘Vatnajökull’ schließlich versucht Watson die knarrende Langsamkeit zu suggerieren, mit der sich Gletscher über 10000 Jahre über die norwegische Küste schieben. In minuziöser Prägnanz macht er dabei die ‘Vielstimmigkeit’ der Natur hörbar als ein Cinema pour l’oreille, das mit subjektiver ‘Kamera’ das Bewusstsein durch konkrete environmentale Szenerien und gleichzeitig durch einen fiktiven Zeitraum streifen lässt. Wie hat Watsons Kollege Frere-Jones so schön gesagt: Der Welt zuzuhören kann spannender sein als das Zeug, das man kauft, um aus ihr zu fliehen.
Blow Up (Italy):
Al suo terzo album su Touch dopo “Stepping into the Dark” e “Outside the Circle of Fire”, Watson esplora eventi atmosferici, sensazioni tattili e sonore di tre destine locations, che insieme pero danno vita ad un unico flusso sonoro di certo fascino. Dal Kenya dei Masai di Ol-Olool-O, agli altopiani scozzesi nel passaggio dell’autunno all’inverno di The Laipach, per finire tra i ghiacciai Islandesi di Vatnajokull. Watson da autentico antroplogo del suono, lascia che il suono sia, che penetri con la forza degli elemnti naturali ovunque presenti. [Gino Dal Soler]
Matiere Brut (France):
Après avoir sévi dans Cabaret Voltaire et The Hafler Trio, Chris Watson s’est peu à peu détaché de la scène industrielle pour évoluer comme ingénieur du son et travailler télévision et la radio anglaise. Weather Report est son troisième album sous son propre nom, après Stepping into the Dark (1996) et Outside the circle of fire (1998), tous sortis chez Touch. Si dans ses précédents disques, Chris Watson nous livrait ses enregistrements de terrains de façon brute, son approche a été bien différente pour Weather Report puisqu’il s’est attaché à composer trois pièces à partir de sons qu’il a enregistré dans des endroits précis à diverses périodes. Ainsi, il nous transporte sucessivement au Kenya, dans les highlands écossais et au coeur d’un glacier islandais. Le tout est superbement mis en valeur par des évolutions minutieuses, les prises de son révèlent une beauté captivante proche de la perfection, nous faisant plonger dans des mondes inconnus pourtant si réels. Magnifique. [Yann Hascoet]
Chris Watson, once part of Caberet Voltaire and The Halfer Trio, has taken his microphones and recorders and vanished into the wilderness. Since parting ways with experimental electronic music, Watson has been capturing the sonics of the natural world as a sound recorder for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. His records and contributions to compilations have been slices of elemental life, usually involving patterns of wind and animal sounds. His work teeters on the edge of the eternal dicusssion: what, exactly, qualifies as music? If you bring in Brian Eno’s moment of clarity when he realized exactly what “ambient music” was (music intended to be present but ignored), the definition gets even harder to pin down.
One can argue that the presence of a composer is necessary for a work to be considered music. Unlike other field recordings that he has done, Watson actually compresses the time duration of the recordings in Weather Report down to eighteen minutes. These three pieces aren’t accurate renderings of spacial environments; they have become artistic interpretations — encapsulated snapshots of time and space. Is it pop music? Certainly not. Is it an ambient soundtrack which colors and transforms your local space into something else? Definitely.
For eighteen minutes, I’m lost on the African plain of Masai Mara. There are lions coughing in the foreground, a group of Masai pass before the rainfall and even the deluge which spatters the ground with fat drops can’t hide the natural course of prey and predator which passes across the face of Watson’s mikes. “Ol-Olool-O” moves from hot summer day to late afternoon thundershower to the muggy cicada chorus of the humid evening. I’m a city dweller, locked into passages of concrete, rebar and chrome. I yearn for the jungles and the veldts. For eighteen minutes, I get to spend a day in Africa. This isn’t ambient music; this is active participation in some other place.
The liner notes of Weather Report are a succint mission statement: “The weather has created and shaped all our habitats. Clearly it has also had 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 these elements, and these periodic events are represented within by a form of time compression.”
While “Ol-Olool-O” compressed fourteen hours, “The Lapaich” summarizes four months of the shifting environments of a Scottish glen as the year moves from autumn into winter. Water rushes over dark rocks, a cascading river which has filled and jumped the narrow spring bed. Several varities of bird make noise from the overhanging branches. Time shifts and the ruddy banks of the river become dry and the winds begin to howl across the empty stones. The bird noises change as the summer dwellers vanish into the south and all that remains are the hardier birds, the artic avians who ride the cold drafts. As winter progresses, the sounds die away: the winds vanish and the birds roost elsewhere. Eventually, all that you are left with is the subtle sound of seasonal creep.
Glacial creep is the time frame for the final aural journey. “Vatnajökull” is the 10,000 year journey of ice formed within the dark interior of an Icelandic glacier as it slowly — oh so slowly — crawls into the Norwegian Sea. You are submerged into the groaning, creaking subterranean pit of blue-black darkness and the endless pressure of ice against ice sounds like nothing more than the creaking of ancient wood. At some point, all this compression starts a hallucination in your brain, an imagined moaning of a spectral wind as if there was breath being forced between the ice crystals of this immense glacier. Something moves in the water beside you and you can’t stop the thought racing in your head: how can there be free-standing water inside a block of frozen ice? By the time a mammoth piece calves off into the ocean and the echo of its impact reaches you, your hallucinations and mental perambulations have formed music — woodwinds blown by errant creatures who exist as barely more than a breath of cold air. The ice spits you out finally, your oubliette of impacted snow suddenly rupturing and spilling you out onto the tempestuous seas. There, lying sprawled on a flat iceberg slowly turning away from the thundering edge of the fragmenting glacier, you are discovered by the wildlife which thrives at the edge of the white cliff. The terns and the eider ducks wheel and plume over you, squawking and shouting at your sudden appearance. Seals surface nearby in surprise, blowing water and air across you in a fine spray of seal mucus and expelled water. The sun is hot above you; the ice cold beneath you. You have been born from icy darkness.
As much as I love seeing the weather, I enjoy hearing it more which isn’t terribly surprising for an aurally oriented child such as myself. Eno’s ephiphany on the nature of musical environments is the only hard and fast rule by which I listen: what you hear has an impact on your environment and on you. I can change everything by changing the music. Chris Watson’s Weather Report is my cheap getaway vacation: I can change my location without moving from my seat. This is a virtual travelogue to exotic places untouched by the din of the urban landscape. [Mark Teppo]
“The weather has created and shaped all of our habitats. The three locations featured here all have moods and characters which are made tangible by the elements, and these periodic events are represented within a form of time compression.” And thus we join Chris Watson on his continuing quest for reinvention, much as Bowie, Blowfly or Gleaming Spires’ Leslie Bohem have done before him—leaping from Cabaret Voltaire to The Hafler Trio to the Audubon Society is rather a life-affirming stretch, really. The locations: Kenyan veldt, Scottish highland and Icelandic glacier, from which you get rain and buzzing insects across a panoply of unintelligible animal sounds; birdsong and the crushing flood of water through the autumn months in the highland glen amid crushed reeds and lowing beasts; the crackling groan and flow of ice against ice reminiscent slightly of Styrofoam rubbings. Between “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” National Geographic, and audio documents like these, wildlife preservation wouldn’t have been held nearly so dear all these years. Unnerving due to its incessant tumult, the sounds on Watson’s records have been used to educate and terrify, much as humans learnt about the wild the hard way many thousands of years ago, Creationism notwithstanding. It’s all recorded with consummate skill and transparency, qualities that deftly transcend the admitted compression of time for the benefit of such a limited and artificial medium as the lowly compact disc. [David Cotner]
FOR AS LONG AS recording equipment has existed, we’ve been pointing it at hippos, shoving it down anthills, and dropping it into the sea—to learn more about animal behavior, document changes in ecosystems, or just freak out at the crazy sounds nature makes. Recent strides in digital-audio technology and the availability of smaller and more sensitive microphones have made it possible to probe further down the food chain, where sound plays just as important a role in organizing the lives of species as it does among the birds, bees, coyotes, and rhinoceri. They’ve also enabled conventional musicians to tap into the compositional potential of the natural world. Presenting 50 years of field recording’s greatest hits.