Looking back over his career, the sound recordist Chris Watson believes that the best noises he has ever committed to tape are the groans of a vast Icelandic glacier. Also firm favourites are the shrieks of black howler monkeys at sunrise and the whistles and wails of killer whales off Vancouver Island captured by underwater "hydrophones".
Now Watson is to transmit a soundscape of noises recorded in South and Central American rainforests in the gardens of a museum in the North-east. Whispering in the Leaves is a large-scale audio installation that will be hidden in the tropical hothouses of Sunderland Museum's Winter Gardens. The project is part of AV, the UK's largest international festival of electronic arts, which this year explores the theme of broadcast.
Watson has worked behind the scenes of wildlife documentaries since the mid-1980s, on productions such as David Attenborough's The Life of Birds, The Life of Mammals and the forthcoming Life in Cold Blood. He also makes radio programmes for the BBC's Natural History Unit in Bristol. His career began in 1981 when he joined Tyne Tees Television recording bands for The Tube. He was also a founding member of the electronic music pioneers Cabaret Voltaire and the Hafler Trio, and has released solo albums and collaborations with experimental musicians.
His latest project will be broadcast at hourly intervals for 15- to 20-minute durations. It features the calls and voices of thousands of species at sunrise, including hissing tree frogs and cicadas. A free live performance on 6 March will include a sound mix of the rainforest at sunset and at night, featuring recordings of a thunderstorm and ending with an insect chorus. "I transport the audience into the rainforest," Watson says. "It's like a concert, starting with a calm stillness and building to the buzz of song as the temperature rises in the jungle."
29 February to 9 March (0191-553 2323; www.twmuseums.org.uk/sunderland)Reuse content