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Chris Watson & Marcus Davidson: Cross-Pollination

img  Tobias Fischer

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.

By Hannis Brown

Homepage: Chris Watson
Homepage: Marcus Davidson
Homepage: Touch

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