Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Chris Watson : No Man's Land

                                            Ellen + Chris in conversation. Philip obscured

Throughout the month of September an event is taking place in Torbay. "The Tale", a journey through time and space from the streets of Torquay to the quarry of Berry Head in Brixham. Performances, paintings and installations take place at points in between.
It is all the idea of Philip Hoare, a local lad who spent his boyhood here in Torbay. Philip is an esteemed author and film-maker of oceanic life.

                                           Watery Ecstatic (Whale Fall) by Ellen Gallagher

Last Saturday Philip hosted a conversation with Chris Watson and Ellen Gallagher whose audio and visual work are part of "The Tale". Ellen's work is being exhibited at Torquay Museum (to a Chris Watson soundtrack) until September 24. Chris has his installation piece "No Man's Land" in the quarry at Berry Head. The conversation took place inside the Artillery House at Berry Head Nature Reserve. It was more or less established straightaway that the three were connected through a love of music, although Ellen had never heard Chris's work until this event. She was involved with American project Drexciya and has worked with Detroit musicians Derek May + Jeff Mills. Philip used to work for Rough Trade Records and Les Disques Du Crepuscule in the early 1980's whilst they were releasing and promoting Cabaret Voltaire.

                                            Mathew F. Riley outside the Artillery House

The conversation flowed from Ellen's work in her studios in New York and Rotterdam (The Nether-Lands), where she is based by the sea..she likes to travel out onto the ocean to seek inspirations for her art. She told the story of watching a deer drown and so discovering that the sea is unrepentant and also the history of the Dutch slave ship "The Zong" and how it was originally called "The Zorg" which is Dutch for "Care" and its massacre of slave women and children in 1781. Compelling and fascinating. Chris wove in stories of how sea mammals communicate, how the life that remained in the sea instead of crawling onto the land and never returning, communicates by telepathy and vibrations. He explained his techniques for recording their "music", referring to the sounds of the sea as music. Philip spoke of his swimming with Orca and Sperm Whale and his fear of the ocean. He swims daily but every time he enters the water he is "shit scared". And all this going on whilst the music of turtles, dolphins and whales coming from Chris's installation was surrounding the hut.

Q&A session and my esteemed colleague and occasional MuhMur Radio contributor, Mathew F. Riley asked Chris what was the defining moment when he decided to leave the path of Industrial Music and record the music of nature. Was it always a boyhood dream? Chris answered by saying the reason for leaving Cabaret Voltaire was deeply personal. The death of Ian Curtis affected him a lot. Then it became obvious through watching New Order and Soft Cell (both of whom Chris had recorded in his Western Works Studio in Sheffield) that to progress they would have to sign to a "major" label. In 1983 New Order were invited onto "Top Of The Pops" and Soft Cell were number One with "Tainted Love" and they both invited Chris along for the experience and it was there during the recording that he saw that you had to sell your soul to move "upwards", you had to become a prostitute and sacrifice too much. It was there he decided to leave Cabaret Voltaire and start a career in engineering at Tyne Tees. (A Northern television studio). It really was an ear and eye opening personal story told with eloquence and not what either of us expected.

                                            "No Man's Land" Berry Head Nature Reserve 

"No Man's Land" is a mammoth installation. An array of huge speakers hung over the quarry cliffs booming out the music of subterranean sea life. The sound of Planet Ocean. We spent about 30 minutes in the sensurround sounds looking out across the Atlantic Ocean towards Torquay and beyond. The sound of below the sights of above. Awe-inspiring. 
Events like this are rare in Torbay. I went along to meet and hear Chris Watson (being an old cab's head) and hopefully get my 7" single signed (failed....too shy), but the day opened me to the works of Ellen Gallagher and writings of Philip Hoare.
The event runs until September 24 and the installation at the quarry is free on weekends. Recommended. A great day out. 

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