Chris Watson will perform his Nature Disco at this year's Port Eliot Festival

PUBLISHED: 15:56 22 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:24 20 February 2013

Chris Watson will perform his Nature Disco at this year's Port Eliot Festival

Chris Watson will perform his Nature Disco at this year's Port Eliot Festival

Leading wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson has travelled the globe to record the sounds of our natural world. This month, he performs his 'Nature Disco' at the Port Eliot Festival, which runs from 23-25 July, writes Anna Turns

Leading wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson has travelled the globe to record the sounds of our natural world. This month, he performs his Nature Disco at the Port Eliot Festival, which runs from 23-25 July, writes Anna Turns



Years ago, when Mr and Mrs Watson bought their 11-year-old son, Chris, a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder, little did they expect it to result in a lifelong fascination with sound. I found it amazing, and started recording everything in the house, from the fridge to creaking doors, and even my parents, recalls Chris Watson. Then it dawned on me that it was powered by batteries and I could take it outside. I used to watch the birds feeding on our garden bird table, but up until then it had been like a silent movie. So I put the microphone on the bird table and ran back indoors to wait for the birds to return, then when the tape ran out I went and got my tape recorder back. It was a transforming moment. It had previously been such a secret world and all of a sudden I could hear this place. It felt like a real privilege.


Since that moment he has not stopped listening intently to sounds. Everyday sounds, bizarre sounds, sounds coming from inaccessible places and strange wild animals you name it, Chris has probably recorded it. His career as a sound recordist began in 1981 when he joined Tyne Tees TV, and he is now one of the worlds leading recorders of wildlife and natural phenomena. Chris enjoys the variety of working in TV and film, radio and music production.


His passion is recording wildlife sounds. The natural world is full of communication, and tapping into this strengthens our connection to the natural world. Chris describes his recent trip to Antarctica for David Attenboroughs next BBC series, Frozen Planet, as life-changing and unimaginable. Working at the South Pole for five weeks at high altitudes and temperatures below 20C was a very intense experience. He captured the sounds of the frozen seas, where orcas, minke whales, and penguins travelled through the channels in deep ice.


Whereas TV and radio are just two-dimensional in stereo, events like Cornwalls Port Eliot Festival offer the chance to do something a little bit different. Sound can immerse you in a sense of place, and I enjoy creating a 3D sound environment. Following on from his success as a Wildlife DJ last year, he is returning to Port Eliot on 25 July from 1.30pm-3pm to stage his unique Nature Disco. We hear everything but we so rarely listen because we are bombarded by sound and noise in our everyday lives. Port Eliot provides an opportunity to really listen.


For his Nature Disco, Chris compiles tracks of singing birds, for example, and pieces with rhythm to make sequenced tracks. Like any other DJ, he introduces each piece and mixes tracks on stage. At Port Eliot, you can open your ears literally, and tune into sounds that can otherwise pass you by. Chris uses sounds he records on location and incorporates them with animal sounds from his own library. For example, he asks his audience to look across the river and imagine the hippos wallowing in the mud on the Masai Mara, as the sound of their grunting fills the tent.


For 2010, he is rethinking his disco but promises to keep some of the favourite elements, like the hippos. Chris loves composition and he edits the sound recordings into a narrative so his disco tells a story. The experience for him at Port Eliot is quite an unusual one. From mic to loudspeaker its a powerful process, explains Chris, as he describes recording the sound, doing all the post-production, then mixing and presenting it directly to an audience, all on location. Chris says: Port Eliot itself is a great place for sound. There is very little noise pollution and the estate is sheltered, so its a natural amphitheatre.


I was invited last year as part of the launch of Caught by the River, a book to which I contributed a chapter about capturing the sounds of my favourite river, the Coquet, up in Northumberland. This book was born out of the angling and culture blog Caught by the River. Another chapter is written by Lord Peregrine St Germans, the co-founder of the Port Eliot Literary Festival, in which he describes the merits of tickling fish on the River Tiddy, which runs past the Port Eliot Estate.


This year, once again, the dedicated Caught by the River marquee will be filled with artists, authors, bands and events. There seems to be a real following for the ideals of escaping everyday life to be by the water, whether its for fishing, swimming or just listening. Chris is really looking forward to experiencing Port Eliot again this July. I love the Cornish coast, its not unlike my home turf of Northumberland and, above all, I love the sound of the surf.



To hear samples of Chriss work go to: www.chriswatson.net, www.porteliotfestival.com

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