Chris Watson on Noise



Last year I interviewed sound recordist Chris Watson on the subject of noise for a piece exploring the use of birdsong at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.

Chris is one of the worlds leading sound recordists and is well known for his work with the BBC Natural History Unit, including the recent Frozen Planet series.

There was a lot of interesting discussion during this interview about the nature of noise pollution and the considerable threat it poses to our quality of life. Worrying still, it appears that our noisy modern world is drowning out the natural soundscape and interfering with species of wildlife that rely on sound for communication.

What seems to be most alarming is that we’re largely ignoring this problem – our world certainly isn’t getting any quieter – and with more of us living in urbanised environments, noise pollution is fast becoming a significant health problem.

As only a portion of this interview was included within the Alder Hey piece, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the additional material. The interview was recorded at FACT in Liverpool, back in April of last year and explores some of the causes and concerns towards noise in the modern world.

Additional info

  • Further reading on the health effects of noise: a WHO report on the burden of disease from environmental noise
  • Nature on BBC Radio 4 is recommended listening if you want to hear more of Chris and his stunning wildlife recordings.
  • Touch Music also releases sound work by Chris, you can browse his collection here.

Alder Hey’s Dawn Chorus

Image: Elisabeth Carolan

Our response to sound and noise are influenced heavily by the psychological associations we have with them. Hospitals and their internal soundscapes obviously carry very negative connotations and in the case of young children these negative associations can lead to increased levels of distress and fear. However the reverse of this is also true, certain sounds can have very positive associations and the effect of listening to these sounds can be very positive and powerful.

Several weeks ago, I was walking down the central corridor of Liverpool’s Alder Hey children’s hospital when I became aware of the sound of birdsong. As I continued down I could hear quite clearly the sound of a single blackbird gracefully chirping through the din of the chaotic hospital. As I focused on the sound I found that it brought with it a sense of calm and I begun to lose the feeling of unease that I tend to experience inside hospitals. However, there was no sign of this little bird or any other wildlife inside the hospital, save from the colourful murals adorned across the corridor walls. I quickly realised that what I was listening to was a very special sound installation; playing out the wonderful recordings made by BAFTA award winning sound artist Chris Watson.

I’d come to Alder Hey specifically to talk with their Arts Coordinator Vicky Charnock to find out how the hospital had been experimenting with sound to improve the experiences of their young patients. I also got chance to speak with Chris Watson, the creative talent behind the installation and he explained to me why he chose to bring the sounds of a local park within the walls of this hospital.

The Dawn Chorus installation forms part of the larger Sonicstreams project which is a creative collaboration between Alder Hey and the Foundation for Arts and Creative Technology (FACT); the project aims to creatively explore the impact of sound on the human body.

You can listen/download the radio piece below: