I would recommend anyone interested in location recordings to listen to this interview [https://soundcloud.com/snyk-dk/chris-watson-interview-the-art] with Chris Watson on Danish Snyk Radio. Chris Watson, who recently opened his new sound installation in the Millenium Gallery in Sheffield, can justifiably be called one of the world’s foremost sound recordists. He has worked with field recordings of the natural world and wildlife since the 1980s, and is well known for his work in the field with Sir David Attenborough. His work as a sound artist (as differentiated from his work as a sound recordist) is approaching the status of modern classics.
In the interview, Watson discusses the difference between hearing and listening with the deep understanding of someone who has made it his life’s work. He describes how time has made him ever more careful about pressing ‘record’, and how important active, dedicated listening is – not just for sound recording, but for a better understanding of our world. “We hear everything,” he says, but “listening is a learned function.” He goes on to describe how he approaches ambient sound recording as wide-angle, multi-channel sound that captures the relative distance between the multiple sound sources and the microphone. His vast library of location recordings from the natural world spans the entire range between ambisonic recordings and individual feature sounds recorded in mono – sometimes in almost disturbing, extreme closeup.
These recordings are used to create the sound ‘vistas’ he is famous for, and he is careful to make the distinction between sound acquisition and application. As a listener, you get the sense that he approaches the acquisition or recording of sound with profound humility: there, the act of listening that precedes recording is described as a creative act in itself. He refers to the application of sound in compositions or installations as a creative act of another order, led by imagination, and he spends a lot less time dwelling on this than he does sharing the passion he obviously feels for the humble act of deeply focused listening. Perhaps this is what lies behind the reason that his work is so engaging to such a broad range of audiences.
Carina Westling writes a range of articles about music and location recording.
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