Sound Artist Chris Watson Maps the Aural Landscape of Sheffield, England

City Terrain, International
Thursday, October 31, 2013
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Sheffield City Center (Courtesy Tim Webber / Flickr)

Sheffield City Center (Courtesy Tim Webber / Flickr)

Sound recordist Chris Watson has returned home for his most recent project: creating an aural map of the contemporary landscape of Sheffield, England. Two years ago, the Guardian reported, Museums Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery asked Watson to undertake the project, mapping the noises of a town he has not lived in for thirty years. Over the past 18 months, the audio artist made a series of ambisonic recordings of the natural and urban environments of the city. The result is a 36-minute sound journey, Inside the Circle of Fire: a Sheffield Sound Map, on current exhibition at the Gallery.

Well-known for his wildlife recording work for the BBC and Touch, Watson cites inspiration for the project as the multiple rivers that run through the natural landscape of the city. “Rivers have not only created and channeled the habitat but they have charged both the industrial development and a lot of the leisure [in Sheffield],” he explains. The sound of these waterways, therefore, was “crucial” to the audio.

But, like most modern cities, Sheffield’s natural aural landscape is polluted by the sounds of industry and traffic: the built environment and its occupants. Steel mills, airplanes, and the Megatron railway station are as much a part of Sheffield’s map as its forest wildlife and Yorkshire moorlands.

Transporting listeners to each environment through the soundscape, Watson’s piece leads a virtual journey through contemporary Sheffield. “Hopefully [Inside the Circle of Fire] stimulates people’s imaginations and strikes them in quite a personal way,” Watson said, “Because a lot of the sounds will be familiar – whether it is the sounds of birdsong in the Ecclesall Woods or downtown Fargate on a Friday night.”

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