'Weather report' by Chris Watson
by Ian Simmons
[ cdreviews ]
Chris Watson started out as a member of Cabaret Voltaire, but jumped ship early on and reinvented himself as a wildlife sound recordist par excellence, now best known for his work on numerous David Attenborough series. Up to now his CD releases have simply been selections of isolated sounds of particular creatures or natural phenomena - library recordings basically, this, though, is much more ambitious. For Weather Report Watson has put together three collaged soundscapes representing a diversity of natural environments where the mood and feel of the place is heavily reliant upon the weather. Ol-Olool-O condenses 14 hours on Kenya's Masai Mara into 18 minutes, while The Lapich takes the four-month slide of autumn into winter in the Scottish Highlands and again compresses it into 18 minutes. The final piece, Vatnajokull, explores an Icelandic glacier on its 10,000 year flow down to the sea. Out on the Masai Mara, the sounds ripple with life: restless hyenas wheeze, a lion pants after attacking prey, thunder cracks and rain torrents, discussed by two Masai, in the single, brief human interjection on the whole disc. The piece is a testament to Watson's supreme skill as a sound recordist - every sound is luminously present, vivid, real and three dimensional, it is as if the weather and the organisms are in the room with you, a deep, rich and involving experience. As you move through the disc, life recedes. In Scotland, the autumn begins with birds and water, but as the months move through, rain and wind become the dominant tones in the environment as colder, more inhospitable weather gradually takes over. These environmental changes are evoked subtly and sensitively, by someone who clearly has an ear highly attuned to the nuances of the natural world. By the time Iceland is reached, signs of life are almost entirely absent - the sound that Vatnajokul opens with is extraordinary, the grinding creak of a moving glacier, sinister with implicit menace and completely inhuman in nature. These eventually recede, to be replaced by an entirely arresting sustained moan, the origin of which I couldn't even begin to hazard - the desolate alien ice landscape is made fantastically present and real here, purely with sound.
Recordings of natural phenomena like this have become so closely associated with New Age tosh, that it takes some considerable effort to distance oneself from that legacy. That Chris Watson manages to produce such beautifully recorded works of subtlety and beauty without once ever going near New Age cliché is a considerable achievement. This CD is a marvellous way to transport yourself instantly to different worlds, skilfully and magically evoked.