Caught by the River

Pistol Shrimp & Water Song

Chris Watson | 21st May 2008


This is a exciting and immersive composition based on recordings by Chris Watson, who is arguably Britain’s leading wildlife sound recordist.

Water Song captures the rhythmic beat of individual drops seeping through cracks and dripping off stalactites in the glow worms caves of Waitomo in New Zealand, the chattering gurgle of a mountain stream, to the underwater snap, crackle and pop of Pistol Shrimps, the percussive patter of raindrops tumbling down a drainpipe, the immersive surge of waves across a beach on the Galapagos islands, the powerful creaks and groans inside Vatnajokull, a vast glacier in Icelandic and the almost deafening roar of a waterfall.

Alongside this unique composition, Chris explains what first attracted him to the sounds of water, and how this fascination has developed. He describes some of his recording techniques, the astonishing diversity and quality of sounds he has captured and the emotional experience of tuning in to this watery world; from immersive and tranquil rhythms to deafening and terrifying sounds. It’s “the music of another medium”, he says.

Over the years, Chris has become increasingly fascinated by the quality, depth and diversity of sounds produced by water – from single drops, to rivulets, brooks and streams, ice sheets and glaciers to oceans and waterfalls.

Listen here

Those were the words of BBC Radio 4, where Water Song was first broadcast in 2006. I first heard it when it was repeated last year and I’ve been meaning to post this link ever since. I love listening to it, I listen to this and Roger Deakin’s “Cigarette On The Waveney” a lot. Particularly on rainy days. I think, the reason I haven’t posted it earlier is because I wanted to find out a bit more about the man who made it. The BBC blurb is alright, it tells you that he is an intersting fella who thinks a bit differently but I thought I’d try and find out more. So, one night, a few months ago, it was a Monday, I remember, I’m watching TV with my kids. We are watching a recording of the previous nights David Attenborough adventure and as the end credits roll, I see Chris Watson listed as sound recordist. That reminds me, go find out more, the Water Song guy. Credits finish and we turn over to the telly proper, BBC 1, Bill Oddie in a boat, on a lake. He isn’t alone, he’s got a guy with him who is putting microphones under the water. I knew that was Chris, it had to be, it was “one of those things”.

A couple of weeks later and I’m talking to a friend of mine who works with the band Sigur Ros. He gives me a DVD copy of a film that they have made. I read the credits and there’s Chris again. So, I bring this up with Paul, my mate, and he tells me that “yes, Chris contributed a recording of glaciers colliding”. This guy is interesting, I said. “He is. You know he was in Cabaret Voltaire don’t you?” Paul said. “This gets better” I replied.

Cabaret Voltaire formed in Sheffield in 1972. There were three of them until Chris left in 1982. I would have seen Chris on stage, performing with them at the Sandpiper club in Nottingham in 1978. I’ve only just remembered that. The Cabs, as we called them, were great.They recorded for Rough Trade and Factory. These days they get called “electro pioneers” . I’d not heard anything like them before. They were into Burroughs and Ballard and The Stooges and Delia Derbyshire (I’m guessing here). “Sound” was very interesting to them.

So, that was a surprise. Even bigger surprises were to come a couple of months later.

Chris is on the wish list for our book, our anthology of writing on rivers. Of course he is. I get his phone number and give him a call. We talk. I hurriedly try to explain who I am and why I’m calling; “blog, book, interview, fishing, rivers…”. “Sounds interesting” he says, sounds like he means it too. “Do you know of a film maker called Hugh Miles? I did the sound on a series of programmes for him a while back”. Surely not. ‘A Passion For Angling’, it was called”. Next we are on to Roger Deakin. I explain that our book is gonna be the same format as RD’s “Wildwood”. Chris knew Roger. He did the sound recording for the great Radio 4 broadcasts, ‘The House’ and ‘The Garden’ (also, see post of 28 December) and my favourite, ‘Cigarette On The Waveney’…….

So, Chris is a hopeful for the book but didn’t have time to meet for an interview as he was just off to The Cairngorms for Springwatch. But talking to him really lifted my spirits. This guy who has been involved in our Holy Grails made me very happy. That in itself would have been enough, but instead the week got dafter…… but more on that later. (JB)

Chris Watson website