Chris Watson is a founding member of the early 70’s Sheffield synth pop outfit Cabaret Voltaire, though to be fair during his involvement they were a little less synth poppy and a lot more experimental weirdo. In 1983 Watson left to form the Hafler Trio, an art project of steadily revolving members anchored by Andrew M McKenzie, that used techniques like music concrete, montage and cut ups to create their unique sound. Yet it’s the next step in his evolution that is perhaps the most interesting. In the early 90’s a growing fascination with field recordings led him to work with the Royal society For the Protection of Birds and into television sound production. These days he is a freelance sound recordist for film TV and Radio, working regularly for the BBC, with a particular interest in wildlife and nature recordings. In parallel with this activity he has been releasing his material in varying forms for the Touch label in the UK for the last 16 odd years. Perhaps the best evidence of his love of the natural world is 1998’s Outside the Circle of Fire (Touch), which contains 22 intimate recordings of everything from the purring of an adult cheetah to the rattle of Deathwatch Beetles. He used techniques like tying two omnidirectional microphones to the carcass of a zebra to record the sounds of vultures tearing at the flesh. He speaks of 24 hours later hopping on a plane to the UK, wiping the blood off the mic, and attaching it to the lapel of an English MP for a BBC interview.
Watson’s fascination is about putting the mic where the ear can’t reach to uncover sounds that could never otherwise be heard. He speaks of dropping mics in lakes, digging them into sand, embedding them in bees’ nests, you name it, he’s tried it.
More recently he has begun to edit his sounds. Perhaps the most successful is 2003’s Weather Report (Touch), which collapses recordings of Kenya, Iceland and Scotland, blending and editing time to create new narratives. The Guardian listed it in its top 1000 albums you need to hear before you die. He won a BAFTA in 1998 for his work on The Life of Birds and regularly works with David Attenborough, most recently on The Frozen Planet. His latest album is El Tren Phantasm (Touch), a nostalgic soundtrack to a train journey through the heart of Mexico from the Pacific to the Atlantic on a railway that no longer exists.
Watson is coming to Australia as part of Liquid Architecture, Melbourne’s longstanding festival of sound art and culture. Liquid Architecture 13: Antarctic Convergence is their first themed program, designed as a means of “investigating the philosophical, social and environmental ramifications of the growing human presence in Antarctica.”
Alongside Watson, the festival will host works from numerous artists from disparate disciplines whose practice has taken them to the frozen continent. People like Scott Morrison, whose AV release Ballad(s) For Quiet Horizons (Room40) from last year was nothing short of extraordinary. There’s Argentinean video and installation artist Andrea Juan, Douglas Quin a US sound designer who recently worked on Werner Herzog’s Encounters at The End of the World, French artist Anne Colomes, and New Zealand sound and video artist Phil Dadson. Everyone’s favourite laser (or giant Theremin) dude Robin Fox will be there along with Melbourne sound artist Phil Samartzis who recently visited Davis Station in Eastern Antarctica to document the effects of extreme climate and weather events on the human condition. Room40 honcho Lawrence English, no stranger to Antarctica will also perform. Liquid Architecture is a different kind of festival, placing as much importance installations and sonic experiences as live performances. It begins on the 28th of June. Check http://www.liquidarchitecture.org.au.