Today is St Cuthbert’s Day. I must admit he wasn’t a saint I’d heard of before coming across Chris Watson’s work.
Watson has had an interesting and highly varied career. Formerly a member of the post punk group Cabaret Voltaire, he turned to recording the natural world. Many of the bird songs on the RSPB website are recorded by him. He also has created soundscape recordings. Like Gordon Hempton his work both documents vulnerable soundscapes and draws our attention to what we are losing.
A few years back he released In St Cuthbert’s Time, an attempt at sonic archaeology to reconstruct what the Holy Island of Lindisfarne might have sounded like at the time of St Cuthbert. From Boomkat.com:
Celebrating the exhibition of the Lindisfarne Gospels at Durham Cathedral, Chris Watson has researched the sonic environment of the Holy Island as it might have been experienced by St Cuthbert in 700 A.D. ‘The Sounds of Lindisfarne and the Gospels’ manifests a remarkable tapestry of location recordings made on and around the small island off the Northumbrian coast – a place of pilgrimage for Christians and familiar to busloads of schoolkids across the North East – where Eadfrith, the Bishop of Lindisfarne wrote and illustrated the titular Gospels during the late 7th C. and early 8th C. Each part reflects a particular season – ‘Winter’ is defined by cold, hard, constant North Sea winds and the sound of migratory flocks; ‘Lechten’ by busy bird calls and a strange unidentified, almost human-like woop and sploshing waters; ‘Sumor’ is a panorama of crickets, deep moos, bees, and cuckoos surrounded by water; ‘Haefest’ again by cornucopia of bird calls, and swooshing, almost industrial/industrious textures. You’ll have to use your imagination, but we’d reckon he’s vividly succeeded his aim to “reflect upon the daily and seasonal aspects of the evolving variety of ambient sounds that accompanied life and work during that period of exceptional thought and creativity”. It’s a blissful, evocative, thought-provoking listen – so typical of Watson at his very best