Chris Watson & Marcus Davidson - Cross-Pollination

CD in digipak - 2 tracks - 48:20
Art Direction: Jon Wozencroft
Cover image: Yusuke Murakami

Track Listing:
1. Chris Watson "Midnight at the Oasis" 28:03

The piece is a 28 minute time compression from sunset to sunrise in South Africa's Kalahari desert and features the dense and harmonic mosaic of delicate animal rhythms recorded in this remote habitat. "Midnight at the Oasis" was first performed at the Marquee in Parliament Street, York, on 13th September 2007 as part of Sight Sonic's contribution to the BA Festival of Science. The Kalahari desert is a vast and open space where most of the wildlife is nocturnal. After sunset the dunes, grasses and thorn bushes are patrolled by an emerging alien empire - the insects. Midnight at the Oasis' presents an unseen soundscape from this beautiful and hostile environment.

2. Chris Watson & Marcus Davidson "The Bee Symphony" 20:00

A project conceived by Chris Watson originally for "Pestival" in 2009 to explore the vocal harmonies between humans and honey bees in a unique choral collaboration around and within the hives of an English country garden. Recorded live at The Rymer Auditorium, Music Research Centre, University of York, England on December 17th 2010 by Tony Myatt, using a Soundfield SPS200 microphone recorded onto an Edirol R4 (surround version) , and 2 x Neumann U87 microphones via Grace Microphone Preamplifiers, recorded onto an Edirol R44 (stereo version). Composed and arranged by Marcus Davidson using recordings made by Chris Watson & Mike Harding, and diffused through a 4.1 Genelec system by Chris Watson. The Bee Choir: Dylan de Buitlear, Lisa Coates, Steph Connor, Lewis Marlowe and Shendie McMath.

Marcus Davidson writes: "The first thing that struck me about the bees was how tuneful they were. During the day, their pitch was always based around A an octave below 440, the note we tune orchestras to. I found that the bees formed chords around the A, which varied depending on their mood. I spent time notating these bee chords, or note clusters, and as the bees sing easily in the human vocal range, I then scored the actual bee music for choir.

The sound of humans singing bees was strangely engaging. I thought it was reminiscent of Aboriginal music, perhaps showing how in tune with nature the native civilisations are. In fact, all the chords and 'tunes' in The Bee Symphony are taken from actual notes sung by the bees in the field recordings. The score was written so the choir sings exactly with different aspects of the bee song in real time, so hopefully we indeed have humans singing in harmony with bees!"

With thanks to Peter Boardman (the event producer), Tom Emmett, Celia Frisby & Bridget Nicholls, who originally commissioned The Bee Symphony.

Reviews:

Tokafi (Germany):

Nature speaks for itself: Illuminates the parallels between environmental sounds and man-made music.

Cross-Pollination brings two pieces together that use the environment as a source of musical material. The first, a solo endeavor by British electroacoustic musician Chris Watson, constructs a contextual window in which nature speaks musically for itself and, in the process, offers a sonic snapshot of a day in the South African desert. The second pairs Watson with British composer Marcus Davidson for an electroacoustic choral composition that uses the sounds of a beehive as source material. Together, the two compositions make a powerful statement about the inherent musicality of nature while delivering a highly enjoyable album of innovative music.

“Midnight at the Oasis” is 28 minutes of mesmerizing field recording. Watson traveled to the Kalahari Desert of South Africa and spent a day (from sunset to sunrise) recording the sounds of the environment. More a sonic collage than a composition, the piece is a seamless condensing of time chock full of natural musicality. The sounds of insects and birds create strangely consistent polyrhythms over backdrops of rain falling, rumbling thunder, and breezes rustling the brush. As the recording progresses, we hear the rhythmically consistent calls of unknown animals that, in the last third of the piece, give away to the droning buzz of insects and strange, high frequency birdcalls. The second half of the piece in particular is strangely reminiscent of modern electronic and electroacoustic music. The sounds take on an almost synthetic quality and the often rhythmically even, layered sounds of birds and insects makes for a minimalist sound.

“The Bee Symphony,” a composition originally conceived by Watson for London’s 2009 “Pestival” (the International Insect Arts Festival), is a remarkably innovative and musically effective concept piece. Davidson transcribed Watson’s recordings of bees and used the transcription to create a 20-minute choral piece. Though at times the piece brings to mind Penderecki’s microtonal choral music or Ligeti’s textural clouds of sound, it’s difficult to think of any vocal piece quite like this one.

Davidson built chords for the choir based directly on the sounds of bees - allowing voices to separate by microtones and gliss up and down together over droning notes all while maintaining a powerful compositional curve. Watson blended the choral sounds with the sampled bee recordings, using the sounds of the insects as the piece’s beginning an end. During the composition, he subtly arranged the samples around the live voices, making for a somewhat unnerving but strangely natural sonic hybrid. The composition’s most powerful moment occurs near the ¾ point, when deafening tape noise suddenly overtakes Davidson’s climatic choral chords, sending vocal soloists scurrying downward in microtones.

“Midnight at the Oasis” and “The Bee Symphony” work as conceptually powerful companion pieces. The first, a time-lapse snapshot of the South African desert, lets nature speak for itself and in the process, illuminates the parallels between environmental sounds and man-made music. The second brilliantly uses the environment as a template for composition, then weaves the source material (bee sounds) and the end result (high brow choral music) together, making for a wildly inventive blend. Together, the pieces make for a startling innovative album that pushes the boundaries of both electroacoustic music and contemporary classical composition. [Hannis Brown]

The Liminal (UK):

Cross-pollination is the germination of one species using seed from another. More specifically, the name of this album comes from an event that was held on the South Bank a couple of years back, which sought to combine human voices with the sounds of insects to produce new musical hybrids. As part of this, the sound recordist Chris Watson and the composer Marcus Davidson created ‘The Bee Symphony’, which took recordings Watson and Touch’s Mike Harding had made at bee hives, and set them in a choral context. The production of this piece came at a time of increased focus on the relationship between bees and humans, thanks to the worldwide spread of Colony Collapse Disorder, the causes of which are still unclear, but which are more than likely man-made. A quote is famously (if perhaps erroneously) attributed to Albert Einstein in which he was purported to have claimed that if bees were to entirely disappear from the planet, then humans would be extinct within four years. Without their role in the pollination process, the plants which we rely on for food (or to feed the animals we rely on for food) could die out, with terrible consequences. It is an extreme example of how one species can not just make convenient use of another to prolong the life of its genetic material, but actually be entirely dependent on another for its continuation.

A version of ‘The Bee Symphony’ recorded at a later performance in York is is one of two pieces on this new CD released by Touch. The above context aside, there is a clear musical logic behind the work, with Davidson finding that the insects on Watson and Harding’s recordings “sang” in clusters around the note of A during the day, dropped down a semitone as the day progressed, and rose back to a stronger unison A when their hive was threatened. And so ‘The Bee Symphony’ begins with the bees buzzing tunefully and rhythmically amongst birds in the morning, human voices gradually mixing in – the singers are not imitating the bees, more finding their own harmonies, making notes and sounds that fit, from long fluctuating sequences to short clipped yelps. The symphony becomes noticeably darker and more sluggish later, the voices sliding down that semitone, the sound of the bees (the “drone drone”, if you will) now processed, becoming increasingly muffled and indistinct. Finally, both bees and humans are silenced. ‘The Bee Symphony’ isn’t just a third of an hour in the life of a bee, it is an entire life cycle in twenty minutes, and a stark warning about the fragility of ecosystems.

You can read similar themes into the other piece on Cross-Pollination, which is entitled ‘Midnight At The Oasis’. It isn’t a cover version of Maria Muldaur’s hit from 1974, you may or may not be pleased to hear, but rather a set of recordings from the Kalahari desert. Watson is famous for recording sounds that you just wouldn’t be able to hear with your own ears, but on ‘Midnight At The Oasis’ he is going further, to create an entire sonic event you couldn’t ever actually experience, by layering and concatanating an entire night’s worth of recordings into a continuous thirty minute piece (he did something similar with his rainforest installation ‘Whispering In The Leaves’ at Kew Gardens last year). Despite temperatures which can reach into the high forties celsius, the Kalahari is surprisingly full of nature, though its presence is felt more obviously in the welcome cool of the night. Flies dance wearily between the last rays of that raging-hot sun at the start, to be joined by birdsong and the onset of what is to become a very intense burst of insect stridulation. The desert floor seems to be teeming with an incredible variety of species, each with their own distinct sound, and the recordings are rich: full of different frequencies, and different pulsations. Some Japanese monks believe that the voice of Buddha speaks through crickets: listening to the immersive ‘Midnight In The Oasis’, I can certainly hear why they would choose to meditate to these sounds.

However, one thing you don’t hear on ‘Midnight At The Oasis’ is any human activity. You might think that was a given, because of the harshness of the location, but in fact the Kalahari desert is home to the San bushmen, one of the oldest genetically distinct races of human on the planet, with their own sonically fascinating language of click consonants. These people have long been completely dependent on the desert, on its climatic cycles, and on its vegetation and wildlife. However, this balance is under threat, with the Botswana government forcibly and illegally relocating them from their ancestral homeland so that they can make more money through exploiting its tourist potential. A tribe can live for millennia in the most unforgiving of conditions, and amongst some of the most dangerous animals on the planet: ultimately, their enemy is not nature, but other men. As ‘The Bee Symphony’ reminded us, perhaps the delicate harmony that exists between humankind and the environment is one that we should be leaving undisturbed.

Norman Records (UK):

Chris Watson is pretty much the lord of recording the natural world. He ventures all over the planet armed with his microphones. For the first recording here 'Midnight At The Oasis' he presents a time compression from sunset to sunrise in the Kalahari desert. Most of the wildlife in this habitat is nocturnal and so these recordings represent a scene one could never really see. Perhaps a tiny glimpse under the moonlight but I imagine it is dark to say the least. And so these recordings transport the listener to the remote habitat where all these delicate insect rhythms can be heard. The second recording was composed and arranged by Marcus Davidson using recordings made by Chris Watson. The project was originally conceived to explore the vocal harmonies between honey bees and humans, the people involved in these vocal parts have been dubbed 'The Bee Choir'. The bee sounds were captured around and within an English country garden and are absolutely magnificent. As with all of Chris Watson stuff it really does get as close to the action as possible. The mixing with the human vocals works a treat and makes for a unique listen. [Ant]

VITAL (Netherlands):

What on earth am I doing inside the house? The sun is bursting, with a totally friendly temperature, which scream: walk! walk! walk! But no, I am inside, listening to music. Music made with the use of field recordings to be precise, as is certainly the case with the first piece by Chris Watson. Entirely recorded in the Kalahari desert, from sunset to sunrise, but then trimmed down to twenty-eight minutes. A remote area, where most of the wildlife is awake at night - with lots of insect chirping and buzzing. Its almost an electronic piece of music, which I guess is exactly why this is such a great piece of music. With much of the field recording artists who merely capture the environment, Watson takes it all a step further and actually composes with those sounds into quite a captivating piece of music. No by looping sounds, or putting on fancy plug-ins, but merely a process of editing and fading. Simple but difficult in order to create such an overwhelming mass of sound. And masses of sounds is also what's happening on the second piece, which is by Watson and one Marcus Davidson. It explores the vocal harmonies between humans and honey bees. Watson is here responsible for the field recordings used (which he did with label honcho Mike Harding), while Davidson gets the credit as composer. The bee choir consists of five human voices, who buzz like bees. If you are melissophobic then this will surely be a scary piece. A lovely CD of music derived from nature, as well as an interaction of human activity and animal sounds. Now its time to go out and the hear the real action. [FdW]

peek-a-boo (Belgium):

Cross-Pollination is an experimental album that contains two compositions based on the combination of electronics and the sounds of insects, which were sampled especially for these recordings. I have to think immediately of The Insect Musicians, the masterpiece by Graeme Revell from the eighties, where this Master himself sampled tons of insect sounds to create a melancholic experimental masterpiece. Would these men make a similar treatment? The first composition is "Midnight at the Oasis". Chris Watson creates a quiet 28 minutes long symbiosis of diverse sounds he recorded during one night in the Kalahari Desert. During a night because the insects there are most active at that moment. This piece is a beautiful, quiet sound collage where you can daydream, thinking about the many strange sounds that those insects create. I must say there’s a resemblance with Revell's masterpiece from the eighties. Despite the beauty of this composition, it is especially the second piece,"The Bee Symphony" that tempts me a lot. Chris Watson & Mark Davidson work together to create a harmonious balance between electronics, bee sounds and a (human) choir. The interplay of vocals and samples of bees intensifies as the 20 minutes long song progresses. The intense threat currently posed by the song does make me think of some compositions by Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind (though they are structurally different, the same intense threat is created, compare for example, with the intro of Kubrick's The Shining). The intensity of this composition requires you just to listen. When I listen to this music, I almost automatic stop reading, stop writing, stop cooking or any activity. This bee symphony absorbs my attention in a rarely seen manner. It is a true gem that I often will listen to. [Ward DE PRINS]



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Chris Watson & Marcus Davidson - Cross-Pollination


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Track 1:  Cross-Pollination






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