Chris Watson generously agreed to talk with me in the daytime following a 3am morning walk and recording event in Exhibition Park, as part of, and in preparation for, his up-and-coming sound performance. Though his face was softly weathered from the early rise, the appreciation on his tongue from having just witnessed The Dawn Chorus was palpable.
“[It] starts with The Dawn Solo. We listened to this Blackbird really close; we got a really great perspective on the sound of this bird singing. Then we moved-off around the lake and heard The Dawn Chorus develop. One of the great things about the Town Moor is it’s got this great mosaic of habitats. The next thing we’d do is go right to the edge of the grassland part of the Town Moor. There, we heard some Skylarks singing.”
Watson has developed his life intertwined with recording sound, a passion inspired in his teenage years by the pioneering practices of Pierre Schaeffer. From work with Cabaret Voltaire, throughout numerous ambitious projects with the likes of the BBC, capturing sound has been at the essence of his practice. Recently he has been inspired by a trend in ‘dark’ cinema.
“Like lots of good inventions, it’s happened in cities, certainly around Europe, almost simultaneously. I was in Copenhagen a couple of years ago, and they were doing it there. It’s like experiencing a film, but without any images. There’s a cliche in the BBC about sound - that radio is better than television because the pictures are better.”
Marrying with the enthusiasm of Murphy Cobbing (BBC Newcastle) to create an aural tribute to the history of The Town Moor, Watson recently presented and contributed to a resulting four-part radio series, which featured anecdotal description, as well as recorded environments. Having captured his contributions for this programme in ambisonic sound, Watson and Cobbing were keen to present his commission in an environment which could relay the material in its fullest capacity - a truly surround-sound experience.
“I met Elisabetta [Chloe Barker] at The Tyneside and we looked in The Gallery, and it seemed a very appropriate space for an ambisonic system.”
Utilising 16-channels, Watson’s journey of a year in the life of the Town Moor will immerse the audience, placing them where the Sound Field microphone caught the audio pictures. The terrain will be intricately remapped in sounds that come from above and below, side-to-side.
“Everybody will have different images upon hearing the sounds. The Town Moor lends itself… it’s like a real piece of theatre - everything that happens there.”
The piece starts in June, where The Hoppings descend upon the lawn, and ends the following May, with his freshly captured Dawn Chorus.
“I think listening, actively engaging with your environment, is quite a creative function - and we enjoy it! In most urban environments we’re excluded from it by noise. That’s one of the things I am looking forward to - take away visual distractions in The Gallery and just be surrounded by this environment… To just sit back, and tune into it. Take your imagination up to the Town Moor, throughout the seasons.”
Chris Watson’s ‘The Town Moor - A Portrait In Sound’ will be showing, for free, in The Gallery of the Tyneside Cinema from 20th June - 24th July 2016.