Skip to main content

Chris Watson - Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer

Chris Watson began his tape experiments as part of pioneering electronic band Cabaret Voltaire, and later co-founded The Hafler Trio. He has recorded albums for Touch Records, created sound installations across the world, recorded nature documentaries with David Attenborough and collaborated with artists including Alec Finlay and Hanna Tuulikki. He is currently working on ‘Whispering In The Leaves’ for 2008’s AV festival in Sunderland, UK.

What’s going on in the garden?

I was commissioned to do a sound piece for the Winter Garden in Sunderland. It’s similar to the sorts of places I remember in Sheffield from when I was a kid. All these rich Victorian philanthropists who didn’t know what to do with their money sent out their people to collect specimens and showed them for public benefit in what were basically massive public greenhouses. As soon as I walked in it reminded me of plants from a rainforest, where you hear more than you see, except it was as if someone had provided me with a set. I’ve done two pieces using sounds from rainforests, one for sunrise and one for sunset. Both are about twenty minutes long, where the sounds are compressed in the way that time-lapse photography is. It’s the best way to interpret what I record, because with television and film you rarely get a chance to use your imagination. Here you can literally immerse your audience in the sound of a place.

In at the deep end?

I’m also doing this piece with Nurse With Wound called ‘Wet Sounds.’ The last two years I’ve recorded sounds of the ocean for a commission from National Geographic. So now people can go into a swimming pool and hear sounds from the Pacific, including some really nice recordings of killer whales. A lot of people say they want to swim with dolphins, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who wants to swim with whales.

What’s the frequency?

With sound installations, curators are still at a very early stage in terms of dealing with sound properly, and when it’s bad it’s really crap. How something’s presented is crucial. It’s the same as if a painting is lit badly. It kills the experience.

From industrial urban to back to nature. How did you get here?

From aged eleven when my parents bought me my first tape recorder I’ve just been doing the same things, really. In Cabaret Voltaire I became more interested in sounds outside the studio that those inside. It was that fascination that was the deciding factor why I left, through a gradual sense of detachment, and being able to hear things outside that sounded more beautiful, strange and immersive. Industrial was never a term Cabaret Voltaire used. Our major influences were Stax, Tamla Motown and early German stuff, but the industrial tag was never important. It was only later when we met people like Kraftwerk we realised there was this subliminal connection. Funnily enough, my next album for Touch is full of industrial sounds recorded on a train journey in Mexico.

What was Cabaret Voltaire’s experience of ‘playing’ Edinburgh Film Festival in 1975?

We weren’t there. We sent a film and a sound tape, which were deliberately unsynchronised. Most of the staff didn’t know what to do with it. It was an extreme, but it was an extreme which was exactly right for the time

Nature or nurture?

I’d like to think people are risking more in terms of what they listen to. There’s enough music in the world. Now we have to learn to listen. This morning I was coming out of a shop on the high street, and there was a mistle-thrush singing, and with all the traffic noise it was a moment of beauty.

What else do you listen to?

Late Junction, Radio 3, Larry McCrae. John Lydon summed it up when he said that there’s decent music and there’s rubbish.

Favourite album covers?

I’m biased, but I love Jon Wozencroft’s covers for all the Touch Records stuff. It’s so sympathetic, and immediately strikes a chord which encapsulates the work. I like all the Soul Jazz covers as well, the vibrancy of the colours.

What art is on your walls?

I’ve got originals by John Steel, who’s a Northumberland National Park Ranger, and does paintings of natural history. There’s also an old Cabaret Voltaire poster from a gig we did with William Burroughs at Plan K in Belgium.

What’s next?

I’m working on a piece in the Italian Alps, I’ve a co-commission with Matthew Herbert, and am working on a film in Orferd Ness, a weird low-lying spit off the Suffolk Coast, which must be one of the most secretive sites in Britain. It’s a strange mix of abandoned Cold War technology and a wildlife reserve. I also spent five days working at FACT in Liverpool, and stayed at The Adelphi Hotel, recording the noises of the lifts and corridors. There’s a great acoustic there, and it’s full of history and ghosts. It would be great to re-create that somewhere.

‘Whispering In The Leaves’, produced by Forma at AV festival, Sunderland, Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden, February 29-March 9, with a performance on March 6; ‘Wet Sounds’, London Fields Lido, July 6

MAP issue 13, January 2008



Popular posts from this blog

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1
1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77)
3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77)
4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77)
5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77)
6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77)
7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77)
8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78)
9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78)
10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79) 
11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79)
12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79) 
13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79)
14. JOLT See Saw (6/79)
15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79)
16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79)
17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79)
18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79)
19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79)
20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79)
21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79)
22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79)
23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79)
24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80)
25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980)

1. THE REZILLOS I Can’t Stand My Baby (Sensible FAB 18/77) If it wasn’t for T…

Clybourne Park

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy Four Stars
It’s a case of whoops, there goes the neighbourhood twice over in Rapture Theatre’s revival of Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opens in 1959 in the same Chicago suburb where Lorraine Hansberry’s drama, A Raisin in the Sun, which appeared that year, is set. Here, Robin Kingsland’s Russ and his wife Bev, played by Jackie Morrison, are preparing to move out of their now almost empty des-res following a family tragedy.
Unknown to them, the bargain basement price tag has enabled a black family to move in, with Jack Lord’s uptight Karl a self-appointed spokesperson for the entire ‘hood. Russ and Bev’s black maid Francine (Adelaide Obeng) and her husband Albert (Vinta Morgan), meanwhile, bear witness to a barrage of everyday racism. Fast forward half a century, and a white family are trying to buy the same house, albeit with a heap of proposed changes which the black couple representing the block’s now much more diverse community aren’t…

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

1. THE STONE ROSES  - Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3  - Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART  - Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS  - Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY - Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!  - Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS - I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS - In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES  - Everso 10. THE SEERS  - Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND - You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS - We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE  - Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS  - Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND - In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES - Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS  - Justice In Freedom (12" Version)

1. THE STONE ROSES Don’t Stop ( SilvertoneORE1989)
The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds like it. Vocalist Ian Brown and guitarist John Squire met in 1980 at Altrincham Grammar School. With bassist …