Chris Watson: Oceanus Pacificus


This is worth noting even though it’s nearly over, a short presentation of sound recordings by Chris Watson at the, Newcastle. Watson was a founder member of one of my favourite groups of the post-punk era, Cabaret Voltaire. He left CV in 1981 and shortly thereafter formed The Hafler Trio, an experimental audio outfit with whom I conducted some correspondence for a couple of years. I still have a letter somewhere signed by the group authorising me to act (creatively) on their behalf, a licence I’m sorry to say I never took advantage of beyond sneaking the name of their enigmatic mentor, Robert Spridgeon, into the Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases. Watson today is an internationally renowned wildlife sound recordist, responsible for a number of stunning CDs on the Touch label, as well as much work for television documentaries. The exhibition runs to August 6, 2008.

Oceanus Pacificus brings the sounds of the largest ocean, encompassing almost a third of our planet, into one of the UK’s smallest galleries. This unique four channel sound installation is created from nighttime underwater recordings of the Pacific Ocean.

Recorded at the depth of three metres, reflecting the exact physical dimensions of the gallery space, the installation presents underwater voices, rhythms and movements rarely heard by the human ear. The ebb and flow of the Humboldt Current creates a seductive and harmonic rhythm as cold water wells up from the depths, drawing up the sounds of life.

The recordings were made on location around the Galapagos Islands 1000km off the coast of Ecuador, using a pair of Dolphin Ear Pro Hydrophones onto a NAGRA ARES-PII digital audio recorder. The four hydrophones were fixed on a square wooden rig and suspended three metres below the surface at night to capture the voices and rhythms of this hostile environment.

Chris Watson is a sound recordist specialising in natural history with a particular and passionate interest in recording the wildlife sounds of animals, habitats and atmospheres from around the world. He is interested in the quality, depth and diversity of sounds produced by water, from single drops to streams, ice sheets, glaciers, waterfalls and oceans. He has described the sounds of water as “the music of another medium”.

He is one of the most prolific and versatile figures working in sound today. In 1971 he was a founder member of the influential Sheffield-based experimental music group Cabaret Voltaire and in 1981 was a member of The Hafler Trio. His sound recording career began in 1981 when he joined Tyne Tees Television. Since then he has worked with David Attenborough on BBC TV productions such as The Life of Birds and The Blue Planet.  In 1998 he won a BAFTA for Best Factual Recording for The Life of Birds.

He has produced various sound installations, including Whispering in the Leaves commissioned by AV Festival 08 and Forma. From 19 July – 2 November he will be presenting the sound installation Cima Verde as part of Manifesta 7 in Italy.

The 7” record Oceanus Pacificus was released by Touch in 2007 as part of the Touch Sevens series of 7” vinyl only releases. For further information please visit

Previously on { feuilleton }
Max Eastley’s musical sculptures
The Avant Garde Project

5 thoughts on “Chris Watson: Oceanus Pacificus”

  1. Cabaret Voltaire is also one of my favorite bands, they’re featured in a chapter of one of my books called STRANGE ATTRACTORS, which I expect to be reissued (in Portuguese) this year, ten years after its original appearance, by a publishing house in the Northeastern part of Brazil.
    But it is very difficult to find their albuns in Brazil, I’ve know of only two issued here so far (Code and a collectable which name I’ve forgotten). Wha to say of solo albums from ex-members… But I have a lot of imported ones.

  2. I was a big CV fan up to Code which I didn’t like much at all. I still like their early stuff a lot, with my favourite being the post-Watson album The Crackdown, especially the Crackdown single. I felt they reached a peak around that point and was fortunate to see them play live in 1983.

  3. Lucky u for having seen the guys live. But, I can imagine what a concert of CV felt like by the feeling of their albums (me, too, started losting interest after Code, although I liked ‘The Conversation” a lot. It’s good for medidation (well, in my case, at least…). And this, CV’s last recording, featured only Richard H. Kirk. Well, they’re gone but not forgotten. As Neil Young says, it’s better to burn out than to fade away (well, they did fade away a little, at the beginning of the 90’s).
    Anyway, all’s well that ends well.
    Best regards, friend

  4. I bought The Conversation but didn’t enjoy it much so took it back (the shop did half-price deals on returns). Last CV album I liked was Plasticity. Much of the later stuff sounded too much like Richard Kirk solo but I don’t mind that one.

  5. Half price deals on returns? Man, I’d had to be a Briton…
    Yeah, you’re right about that, I don’t enjoy Kirk solo very much. That Conversation works for me as medidation, or as a soundtrack to drawn, paint, write or read. But that´s about it!
    Keep in touch, friend.

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