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Sound Artist Creates Acoustic Portrait of City Park Life

British sound artist Chris Watson turns a year's worth of field recordings on an ancient moor into cinematic sound art.


Photo credit: Courtesy BBC Newcastle/ Kaleel Zibe and Jacky Longstaff

At the center of the city of Newcastle in the north of England lies an ancient grazing common that's larger than New York City's Central Park. It's a place that has seen political demonstrations, fairs, witch hangings, and plenty of nature doing its thing. It's also the setting for a new piece by sound artist Chris Watson.

Watson was a founding member of experimental Dada-influenced band Cabaret Voltaire, and as a sound recordist has worked on numerous Sir David Attenborough-narrated nature docs like Life in the Undergrowth and Frozen Planet. Now he's chosen to turn his expertise and microphone-wielding skills to the moor, capturing its micro and not-so-micro-sounds.

Chris Watson: The Town Moor - A Portrait in Sound is an "acoustic portrait" of the Town Moor from recordings Watson took over the course of a year, 365 days and their changing seasons presented as a 40-minute piece. Although presented in a cinema, there's actually nothing to watch, instead listeners sit in the dark in The Gallery at Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle, their ears taking in an immersive 3D ambisonic narrative, their imaginations doing the rest.


Photo credit: Courtesy BBC Newcastle/ Kaleel Zibe and Jacky Longstaff

For a man who's managed to capture the sound of an ant walking (for Life in the Undergrowth) Watson's ear is very finally tuned to the sounds most of us ignore. So his sound recording equipment—hydrophones, bat detectors, lapel microphones—captures a transportative soundscape that has everything from the hum of flies on cow dung to drones flying over the moor, the dawn chorus of birds, cattle, bats, soccer fans cheering and chanting from a nearby stadium, water dwelling insects mating, grass swaying, and the thumping music and screams from the fun fair that comes every year to the moor.

"It's a seasonal piece. It's a spatial sound composition of a year in the Town Moor," Watson notes. "I'm particularly interested in capturing spaces, habitats, and also the animals and the people that inhabit those spaces and working with it creatively."

Chris Watson: The Town Moor - A Portrait in Sound is on now until July 24 in The Gallery, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. Visit Chris Watson's website here.

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