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Chris Watson's remarkable sounds of an inner space

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Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 18:14 UK time, Thursday, 16 June 2011

Guest blogger: Sound recordist Chris Watson describes how he captured the remarkable sounds of an inner space here at Ynys-hir.

The woodlands around Ynys-hir have been a rich source of sounds for all the films and features I have recorded during this series of Springwatch. However over the past few days as the dawn chorus begins to fade in the tree canopy for this season I've been exploring the unique sonic potential of another really special habitat here on the reserve.

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Over the past few years I've been recording sounds in our sea, oceans and freshwater with hydrophones (underwater microphones) and I was keen to try them in the waters of Cae'r Berllan, the pool and marsh directly in front of the studio. I love the idea of using my hydrophones to 'fish' for sounds beneath the surface and for me there's always a great sense of expectation as I lower these devices into the water as to what I might hear below.

On Tuesday afternoon the weather conditions were perfect. It was sunny and warm around the lake and marsh and virtually flat calm. On a small footbridge crossing a narrow drainage channel I dipped the hydrophones through a layer of duckweed and into about 60cm of sluggish brown water.

It was very quiet in the nearby marshland and birch scrub but the sounds in my headphones were astonishing! I could hear a loud, dynamic chorus of insect sounds - a rapid series of continuous rhythmic clicks and purrings. The sounds were completely enveloping and engaging as well as being so surprising given the quietness above the surface. After some research I think the main body of the sounds are being made by a species of lesser water boatmen, although this has not been confirmed.

There is so much we don't know about the acoustic communication of aquatic invertebrates and it's an area which would benefit from research. It's likely the sounds are associated with mating behaviour, so it could be described as song and from the recording there's clearly a whole community of animals down there waiting to be discovered.

As Chris described in his orchid film, although there is a function and form to this behaviour in a similar way to how those plants have evolved to enable them to reproduce, there is also an inherent beauty in the exquisite detail and patterning of these simple sounds which enables us to just enjoy listening to them. Check out the recording on the top of this page to hear.

This is the most surprising sound I have captured for this series of Springwatch, it's the remarkable sounds of an inner space, which we know so little about and it's currently happening in garden ponds, ornamental lakes and freshwaters all around the country.


  • Comment number 1.

    Thank you so much, Chris - wonderful, and truly inspiring. If we could (instead) but always hear these wondrous, beautiful, mysterious, calming sounds within and without all our hideously noisy city doors and windows ... I look forward to many more such offerings from you in future "Watch" programmes - and far beyond! (And one day I might just manage to record some natural music of my own ..!!) Perhaps we could even have a special "Spring-Off" (and Fall-Out?!) series (or at least certain dedicated programmes within the main seasonal series) called "Spring/Autumn Listen" (if only ..!). (Maybe you already do something similar on the radio .??) Anyway, here's to AW 2011 ... Best regards, TB/EB.


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