An epic polar journey on Chris Watson’s Glastonbury Ocean Soundscape


Poor Stormzy. The young grime kingpin woke up on Sunday after one of the most memorable, defiant and defining Glastonbury headline shows in years – a peak moment for UK hip-hop and urban music that’ll be remembered for decades.

But he’d barely got his gushing thank you tweets out before the patron saint of the entire planet, David Attenborough walked on stage on Sunday afternoon to the biggest cheer of the weekend. The 93-year-old had a captive audience of tens of thousands waiting for Kylie in the ‘legends’ slot, and his surprise appearance was a goodwill bump for the rollover heads.

As Attenborough walked on, after a long string of thank yous he described the  “extraordinary, marvellous sounds” of marine animals that had just been circling around the Pyramid Stage. The sounds were captured by Chris Watson, the world’s leading nature sound recordist, who has worked on some of Attenborough’s most iconic series, including Life, Planet Earth and Frozen Planet. Watson is also a founding member of the pioneering avant-garde electronic act Cabaret Voltaire, and some of the sea mammals’ songs on the recording, along with submerged water captures, also sound like surreal electronic ambient abstractions.

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Watson isn’t ‘only’ the world’s top TV nature recordist, but his exploratory field recordings albums carry have an incredible sense of spatial depth, often with an anthropological heft – for an example, listen to his 2011 release El Tren Fantasma (Ghost Train) for a journey on a now-defunct railway line in Mexico.

Watson has just posted Glastonbury Ocean Soundscape on his Bandcamp page, and distilled from the cheering crowds and the Attenborough speech about his new series, Seven Worlds, One Planet, the piece is immersive and profound, especially when you realise the relatively short piece describes an epic “journey from the Antarctic to the Arctic”.

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