Chris Watson

Tone 73 Chris Watson – ‘Glastonbury Ocean Soundscape’

DL – 1 track – 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, who also took the photo.

Glastonbury Ocean Soundscape by Chris Watson

Track listing:

1. Glastonbury Ocean Soundscape 5:28

TO:27D – Chris Watson “Stepping into the Dark”

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)

Track list:

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.

8. Sunsets
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.

11. Gahlitzerstrom
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.

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TO:89 – Chris Watson “In St Cuthbert’s Time”

Digipak CD + 24pp booklet
4 tracks – 58:28
Photography: Maggie Watson
Art direction & Design: Jon Wozencroft
Sound mastering by Denis Blackham, Skye
Texts by Chris Watson, Dr David Petts, Lecturer in Archaeology/Associate Director of the Institute of Mediæval and Renaissance Studies 
Dept. of Archaeology
 Durham University, and Dr Fiona Gameson, St Cuthbert’s Society, Durham

The Sounds of Lindisfarne and the Gospels
To celebrate the exhibition of the Lindisfarne Gospels at Durham Cathedral from July to September 2013, award–winning wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson has researched the sonic environment of the Holy Island as it might have been experienced by St. Cuthbert in 700 A.D.

Track listing:

1. Winter
2. Lencten
3. Sumor
4. Haerfest

He writes:
A 7th Century Soundscape of Lindisfarne
Throughout human history artists have been influenced by their surroundings and the sounds of the landscape they inhabit. When Eadfrith, the Bishop of Lindisfarne, was writing and illustrating the Lindisfarne Gospels on that island during the late 7th C. and early 8th C. he would have been immersed in the sounds of Holy Island whilst he created this remarkable work. This production aims to reflect upon the daily and seasonal aspects of the evolving variety of ambient sounds that accompanied life and work during that period of exceptional thought and creativity.

Chris Watson – sound recordist – www.chriswatson.net
With thanks to Professor Veronica Strang, Executive Director, Institute of Advanced Study, Durham University

Notes:
St Cuthbert
Cuthbert was an Anglo Saxon monk, bishop and hermit who became prior of Lindisfarne in c. 665. In later life Cuthbert felt called to be a hermit and moved to the nearby island of Inner Farne to begin fighting the spiritual forces of evil in solitude.

Cuthbert became associated with the birds and other animals on the island and gave special protection to the Eider duck which is still known locally as Cuddy’s duck.

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TO:42 – Chris Watson “El Tren Fantasma”

CD – 10 tracks – 65 minutes
Artwork: Jon Wozencroft
Mastered by Denis Blackham

Track listing:

01: La Anunciante
02: Los Mochis
03: Sierra Tarahumara
04: El Divisadero
05: Crucero La Joya
06: Chihuahua
07: Aguascalientes
08: Mexico D.F.
09: El Tajin; El dia y La noche
10: Veracruz

“Take the ghost train from Los Mochis to Veracruz and travel cross country, coast to coast, Pacific to Atlantic. Ride the rhythm of the rails on board the Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México (FNM) and the music of a journey that has now passed into history.”

El Tren Fantasma, (The Ghost Train), is Chris Watson’s 4th solo album for Touch, and his first since Weather Report in 2003, which was named as one of the albums you should hear before you die in The Guardian. A Radio programme was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday 30 Oct, 2010, produced by Sarah Blunt, and described as “a thrilling acoustic journey across the heart of Mexico from Pacific to Atlantic coast using archive recordings to recreate a rail passenger service which no longer exists. It’s now more than a decade since FNM operated its last continuous passenger service across country. Chris Watson spent a month on board the train with some of the last passengers to travel this route. As sound recordist he was part of the film crew working on a programme in the BBC TV series Great Railways Journeys. Now, in this album, the journey of the ‘ghost train’ is recreated, evoking memories of a recent past, capturing the atmosphere, rhythms and sounds of human life, wildlife and the journey itself along the tracks of one of Mexico’s greatest engineering projects.

The radio broadcast received national press coverage in the UK:

The Observer:

It is over a decade since FNM operated its last continuous passenger service across the country but here sound recordist Chris Watson recreates its atmospheric journey with the help of the train recordings he made while working on the BBC television series Great Railway Journeys… through desert and city, but it is the rocking rhythms of the train itself that prove most memorable. [Stephanie Billen]

The Financial Times:

El Tren Fantasma (8pm) is Archive on 4’s recollection of a trans-Mexico rail journey by sound recordist Chris Watson. From desert to rainforest, hummingbirds’ wings to the boom of heat rising from the Copper Canyon, it recalls a beloved passenger train system abandoned by privatisation. **** [Martin Hoyle]

The Daily Telegraph:

Sometimes, radio can awaken the mind and sharpen the senses like no other medium. This “sound portrait” of a now-abandoned railway line that used to run between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of Mexico is a good case in point. Captured by sound recordist Chris Watson more than a decade ago, it jostles with human, animal and mechanical life, filling the room with an atmosphere that is more richly evocative of Central America than any TV travel show I’ve seen. Diesel engines thrum, cicadas chirrup and passengers chatter, sing and argue. [Pete Naughton]

About the author…

Chris Watson is one of the world’s leading recorders of wildlife and natural phenomena, and for Touch he edits his field recordings into a filmic narrative. For example. the unearthly groaning of ice in an Icelandic glacier is a classic example of, in Watson’s words, putting a microphone where you can’t put your ears. He was born in Sheffield where he attended Rowlinson School and Stannington College (now part of Sheffield College). In 1971 he was a founding member of the influential Sheffield-based experimental music group Cabaret Voltaire. His sound recording career began in 1981 when he joined Tyne Tees Television. Since then he has developed a particular and passionate interest in recording the wildlife sounds of animals, habitats and atmospheres from around the world. As a freelance recordist for film, tv & radio, Chris Watson specialises in natural history and documentary location sound together with track assembly and sound design in post production.

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TO:42V – Chris Watson “El Tren Fantasma – The Signal Man’s Mix”

12″ Vinyl + 320 kbps MP3 files of the two vinyl tracks
Cut by Jason @ Transition
Artwork & Design by Jon Wozencroft

Track listing:

Side A
1. El Divisadero – The Telegraph 7:56

Side B
2. Veracruz – The Tunnel 7:54

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Tone 43 – Chris Watson & Marcus Davidson “Cross-Pollination”

CD in digipak – 2 tracks – 48:20
Art Direction: Jon Wozencroft
Cover image: Yusuke Murakami

Track listing:

1. Midnight at the Oasis 28:03
2. The Bee Symphony 20:00

Notes:

Midnight at the Oasis: – The piece is a 28 minute time compression from sunset to sunrise in South Africa’s Kalahari desert and features the dense and harmonic mosaic of delicate animal rhythms recorded in this remote habitat. “Midnight at the Oasis” was first performed at the Marquee in Parliament Street, York, on 13th September 2007 as part of Sight Sonic.

“The Kalahari desert is a vast and open space where most of the wildlife is nocturnal. After sunset the dunes, grasses and thorn bushes are patrolled by an emerging alien empire – the insects.

Midnight at the Oasis’ presents an unseen soundscape from this beautiful and hostile environment.

The Bee Symphony: A project conceived by Chris Watson originally for “Pestival” in 2009 to explore the vocal harmonies between humans and honey bees in a unique choral collaboration around and within the hives of an English country garden. Recorded live at The Rymer Auditorium, Music Research Centre, University of York, England on December 17th 2010 by Tony Myatt, using a Soundfield SPS200 microphone recorded onto an Edirol R4 (surround version), and 2 x Neumann U87 microphones via Grace Microphone Preamplifiers, recorded onto an Edirol R44 (stereo version). Composed and arranged by Marcus Davidson using recordings made by Chris Watson & Mike Harding, and diffused through a 4.1 Genelec system by Chris Watson. The Bee Choir: Dylan de Buitlear, Lisa Coates, Steph Connor, Lewis Marlowe and Shendie McMath. With thanks to Peter Boardman (the event producer), Tom Emmett, Celia Frisby & Bridget Nicholls, who originally commissioned The Bee Symphony.

Marcus Davidson writes: “The first thing that struck me about the bees was how tuneful they were. During the day, their pitch was always based around A an octave below 440, the note we tune orchestras to. I found that the bees formed chords around the A, which varied depending on their mood. I spent time notating these bee chords, or note clusters, and as the bees sing easily in the human vocal range, I then scored the actual bee music for choir.

The sound of humans singing bees was strangely engaging. I thought it was reminiscent of Aboriginal music, perhaps showing how in tune with nature the native civilisations are. In fact, all the chords and ‘tunes’ in The Bee Symphony are taken from actual notes sung by the bees in the field recordings. The score was written so the choir sings exactly with different aspects of the bee song in real time, so hopefully we indeed have humans singing in harmony with bees!”

For further information, visit The Bee Symphony microsite

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TS02 – Chris Watson “Oceanus Pacificus”

7″ vinyl only – not available for digital download
Limited edition of 1000

Artwork & Photography by Jon Wozencroft | Cut by Jason @ Transition
The voices and rhythms of the Humboldt current around the Galapagos Islands recorded April 2006 using a pair of Dolphin Ear Pro Hydrophones onto a NAGRA ARES-Pll digital audio recorder.

Chris Watson, originally from Sheffield but now resident in Newcastle, England, is the world’s leading wildlife sound recordist. After co-founding Cabaret Voltaire with Richard Kirk and Stephen Mallinder, he left in 1981 to work for Tyne Tees Television and he also joined The Hafler Trio. He then left to become the sound archivist for the Royal Society for Protection of Birds. He is now working full time as a freelance sound recordist.
This is the first release in a new series of Touch 7″ vinyl only releases, ‘Touch Sevens’

Track list:

1. 3m
2. 10m

Locked grooves on both sides…

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TO:47 – Chris Watson “Weather Report”

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

Vatnajökull -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 [1998] and Stepping into the Dark [1996], 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 [2002], 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.”

Track list:

1. Ol-Oolo-lo
2. The Lapaich
3. Vatnajökull

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TO:37 – Chris Watson “Outside the Circle of Fire”

CD – 22 Tracks

The purr of a cheetah close up against a baobab tree, waiting. Whales surfacing, breathing in cold air. Coll starling imitate the noise of farm machinery from the hollow ring of a ruined bothy. The rattle of wood over a black stream… Chris Watson’s second CD is a dramatic contrast to the spacious atmospheres of “Stepping into the Dark” (Touch TO:27, 1996). Featuring 22 close-up recordings of animals, birds and insect life, “Outside the Circle of Fire” enlarges our awareness of the sound universe, intimate with voices from the past. There is an intensity here that television pictures cannot conjure.

Akin, IRDIAL:

“An exhilarating journey into nature’s most private sonic ceremonies. Dreamily voyeuristic. Mysterious, perplexing, shocking and beautiful all at once. The Jaguar will destroy you.”

Track list:

1. WAITING
Close up against a baobab tree, a cheetah, waiting… resting by Beobab tree. Pamuzinda, Zimbabwe, June 1994. Sennheiser mkh 416 to Nagra 4s
2. BREATHING IN COLD AIR
Breathing in cold air, Southern Right Whale
3. HORSE OF THE WOODS
Capull coille, ‘horse of the Caledonian woods’
4. SONG
Red rumped tinkerbird song
5. AT DUSK
The Maasai say hippos spend the day on the river bed telling jokes. At dusk they surface, laughing. Hippopotami emerging from the River Mara at dusk Itong Plains, Kenya. Sept. 1994. Sennheiser mkh 0/30* via SQN4s to TCD-D3.
6. WINTER FLAGS
Winter Flags on a spring tide. 20 000 knot find a roost
7. MACHINE NOISE
In the hollow ring of a ruined bothy, a starling mimics the noise of farm machinery
8. CANOPY
Dry topical contact calls follow spider monkeys through the canopy
9. SONG
Lemon rumped tinkerbird song
10. ACROSS THE IRIS BEDS
An evening chorus of corncrakes across the iris beds
11.THREAT
A lioness threatens
12. CRACKING VISCERA
Vultures taste the dry, crackling viscera inside the rib cage of a zebra carcass. Nine birds feeding on a zebra carcass. Itong Plains, Kenya. Sept. 1994. Sony ECM 77’s x 2**, 250m cable via SNQ4s to Sony TCD-D3.
13. DEEP ROAR
The deep roar of a red deer stag
14. UNKNOWN FOREST
Unknown forest duet, singing hidden in tree canopy. Dry tropical rain forest, Nancite, Costa Rica. Feb. 1995. Telinga mic and reflector to Nagra SNN.
15. OUT OF OUR SIGHT
Out of our sight, motionless anticipation, along the dry sandy banks of the Zambesi a mozambique nightjar is sucking in all the remaining light, singing amongst sandy scrub on the banks of the river Zambezi, Zimbabwe.Oct. 1996. Sennheiser mkh 30/60* via SQN4s to PDR1000.
16. LEAF LITTER
Leaf litter insect detail. Rain forest, Cameroon. June 1997. Telinga ‘Science’ capsule at 50cm to PDR1000.
17. SOULS OF DEAD CHILDREN
The souls of dead children are said to pass into kittiwakes
18. FOREST RIDE
Wood pigeon wings across a forest ride
19. SLEEPING IN WARM AIR
Elephants, sleeping in warm air, family group asleep in rough grassland. Maasai Mara, Kenya. Feb. 1996. Sennheiser mkh 30/60* via SQN4s to PDR1000.
20. RATTLE OF WOOD
Deathwatch beetles, the rattle of wood over a black stream
21. MOONLIT FOG
Tawny owls sing in moonlit fog
22. CONTACTS
Hyena contacts, contact whoops, Billashaka Luger, Maasai Mara, Kenya. Feb. 1996. Sennheiser mkh 30/60* via SQN4s to PDR1000.

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TO:27 – Chris Watson “Stepping into the Dark”


CD, 12 tracks
“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]

Track list:

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.

8. Sunsets
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.

11. Gahlitzerstrom
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.

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