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Chris Watson

Chris Watson is one of the world's leading recorders of wildlife and natural phenomena, and in his album ‘Weather Report’ he edits his field recordings into a filmic narrative.


On a personal note, he had been invited to hold a seminar at the university I was attending, and although my degree was focused on the composition of acoustic music, I was intrigued by the subject of the seminar (it was billed as a ‘master class for field recordings’).  Most of the people that brought in recordings were non-academic, which made the event less stuffy.  At one point during the seminar, Chris was asked to analyse a recording-and the extent to which his ears could determine details in the recording was mind-blowing. It was from this seminar that I realised for the first time that field recording was a musical art that requires the same amount of perception and sensitivity; the same kind of ear that one needs to write music.. 

His 2003 album, 'Weather Report' is named in The Guardian’s ‘1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die’list-check out the page here.


Brian Eno  

Brian Eno is a critically acclaimed composer, producer, writer, musician and singer, and as a solo artist, is noted as one of the principal innovators of ambient music (although he is not the inventor).  Ambient music is best described as low-volume music designed to modify one's perception of a surrounding environment. One of his best-known works of ambient music is on his album: Music for Airports, the music of which was designed to be continuously looped as a sound installation, with the intent to defuse the intense atmosphere of an airport terminal.

Eno is widely considered to be one of popular music’s most influential artists because he has “forever altered the ways in which music is approached, composed, performed, and perceived, and everything from punk to techno to new age bears his unmistakable influence.” [1] He has produced numerous albums including David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy, and collaborated with bands and individuals such as Devo, David Byrne, U2, Laurie Anderson, Coldplay, Paul Simon, Slowdive, and others.


Kaija Saariaho 

There are very few composers that are lucky enough to have their work described using the adjectives ‘luxurious’, ‘mysterious’, and ‘exuberant’, yet Kaija Saariaho’s work more than amply fulfils this objective. She is one of the best-known living composers working in the field of both electronic, acoustic music (and a combination of both), and has won numerous awards for her work.

She was born in 1952, in Helsinki, Finland. She began her musical studies in Helsinki, and then moved to Freiburg where she studied with Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber. It was during her studies and research at IRCAM in Paris that she began using electronics and live music in her compositional process. Her characteristic feel for nuanced textures and timbre are made manifold in such pieces as her chamber work Nymphéa (Jardin secret III) (1987), which is for string quartet, live electronics, and spoken text, as well as Petals (1988) for cello and electronics. Although chamber works comprise a great deal of her oeuvre, since the mid-nineties she has begun to demonstrate the need to express her ideas through larger forces and broader structures in operatic, oratorio and concerto forms. Her opera L’amour de loin was premiered at the 2000 Salzburg Festival, as well as the Sante Fe Opera in 2002, and the English National Opera in 2009.

Her awards include the Grawemeyer Award in 2003 for L’amour de loin, and the Prix Ars Electronica in 1989 for Stilleben and Io.



Mos Def

To be honest, I was never really much of a hip hop fan when I was younger (and shorter)-the music that was being endorsed by radio and television- particularly in the early 90s, was violent, harsh and angry. And popular: I could understand the impetus for some of this music, but that didn’t mean I had to like it.  In the early 1990s, a new underground form of socially conscious hip hop appeared, spearheaded by such groups such as A Tribe Called Quest, KRS-One (and others), but these groups were eclipsed  in popularity by gangsta rap.  Mos Def, as well as Talib Kweli, Common, Little Brother, and others helped socially aware rap music experience something of a comeback in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  It was nice to have a choice (finally), but it was sad that the kind of music that Mos Def produced has never really gained the widespread popularity that it deserved.  Along with Talib Kweli, Mos Def signed with Rawkus Records and formed the group Black Star.  They released an album in 1998 called Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star, featuring the hit singles, Respiration and Definition, which would go on to be featured in VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of Hip Hop.





The iPod and other types of portable media players have completely changed the way we relate to music-which is why I have included this type of product in this list.  More than any other type of innovation, the portability factor in music appreciation has, I think, created a lasting and profound effect on the way music is marketed and consumed. Music can and has become a product that is meant to ‘enhance our lifestyle’, and ‘uplift our mood’; it is also used to discourage young people from loitering in particular areas (and other forms of social control).Music listening and appreciation are human abilities that have been downgraded into marketable commodities that are easily digested.  Similar arguments have been made for earlier types of non-portable recording devices; but at least you were still forced to be in one place while listening. It is the portability of these new devices that create great promise and great danger, I think. The positive outcome of further developments in this technology appears unlimited, and it is already obvious that the technology has made it easier for musicians and other artists to interact with a global network of people never before possible.  As a musician and composer, this is an astounding development. But there are dangers as well, and the ramifications of how all artistic human behaviour will be profoundly affected by the new medium remains to be seen.[2]


Damien Hirst

The next two entries are included in my top ten of 2010 because they both appear to epitomize two (of the many) aspects of contemporary art: that of art-as-commodity and art-as-political entity.

Damien Hirst is one of the best-known and most easily recognizable of the Young British Artists (YBAs) of the later 20th century.  His most iconic piece was part of a famous series in which dead animals (including a shark, a sheep and a cow) are preserved-sometimes having been dissected-in formaldehyde.  The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 4.3 m tiger shark immersed in formaldehyde in a vitrine became the iconic work of British art in the 1990s, and this work, along with Mother and Child Divided (1993), recast fundamental questions concerning the meaning of life and the fragility of biological existence.  For Hirst, the vitrine functions as both window and barrier, seducing the viewer into the work visually while providing a minimalist geometry to frame, contain and objectify his subject.[3]   The controversy that has surrounded Hirst from the beginning is multi-faceted.  The latest is focused around his ‘For the Love of God’, which is a widely successful piece involving a diamond encrusted skull that sold for more than $100 million US to a group of investors in 2007-just before the global financial meltdown. Critics have stated vigorously that Hirst is far too concerned with profit, and that his art exemplifies the worst form of selling-out and that his reputation is based not just on artistic excellence but on how well he markets and sells his art for a high-end audience.  To me, the fundamental challenge of Hirst’s work is bundled in the historical conflict between high art and the marketplace.



Kara Walker re: (My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love)

It would be unfair of me to offer a critique of this particular work of Kara Walker based entirely in a political or ideological platform. But for the sake of brevity, it must be so.  As an artist, Walker is focused on the political and historical reverberation of African slavery within the American continent.  Her exhibition My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love, tackles history and memories that some would prefer remain repressed because it dares to portray the violently negative, including rape and mutilation, and other power relations and their consequences.  What makes the exhibit even more poignant (but no less visceral) is the use of silhouettes, a technique for which Walker is best known. This type of design is a cut-out, drawn or inked portrait against a light background to create the effect of a shadow, and gained popularity in England during the 18th and early 19th centuries.[4]  By featuring such imagery on the international state and using it as a backdrop for a range of cultural and social dynamics, her work reminds us that the slave trade itself was a multi-layered enterprise of national and global proportions with continuing significance.[5] The irony of using a form that on the surface appears to be always formal and elegant to create horribly grotesque and unthinkable situations remains patently obvious.  Is her work reducible to only its political and social aims? I believe that it transcends this; but to me, the fundamental challenge of Walker’s work is tied in the continuing fractious dialogue and uneasy relationship between people, and the repercussions of their history together in the United States. 



 Frank Gehry (1929) is a Pritzker Prize-winning Canadian architect now residing in Los Angeles. His best known and most significant works include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Basque country, Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, Dancing House in Prague, Czech Republic, and the MARTa Museum in Herford, Germany. Gehry is one of the very few living architects whose works not only appear to embody the zeitgeist of the contemporary world; that is, his works retain a deconstructed aesthetic that seems to fit well with the increasingly disjointed culture to which they belong.[6] I think that his works also succeed in creating a new type of ‘classical’ form that breaks the expectations of conventional contemporary architecture and has changed the way we relate to the built landscape.



The Dardenne Brothers

Rosetta (1999) was the first film of the Dardenne brothers that I had seen.  I enjoyed it: this film is a  portrayal of a young woman who has so much promise, but  is betrayed by her own illusions and dreams, and  is stuck in the gritty, post-industrial landscape of the city she lives: her life is beautifully and honestly portrayed by the filmmakers.  Both Luc and Jean-Pierre are critically-acclaimed filmmakers who produce, write, and direct their films together.  Since 1996, they have created a body of work which places them clearly at the fore of contemporary Belgian cinema and among the world’s most critically respected filmmakers as well.  In their earlier films La promesse (1996) and Le fils (2002) the Dardennes have also created highly naturalistic and stark investigations into working-class life in Belgium. There are very few filmmakers living who can create the type of modest, yet realistic portrayals of people at the fringes of society, and not over- romanticise the narrative of the story.


Michael Haneke re: Caché 


It is centrally concerned with how we ‘turn a blind eye to the world around us,’ but it also questions the status of the film image: what are we seeing? Who is witnessing what? The film’s protagonist is a French media personality, Georges Laurent, who-along with his privileged family-is terrorized by videotapes that indicate that he is under surveillance. Georges is also haunted by his past, by the return of repressed memories concerning someone he mistreated as a child.[7]   Brilliant film: a social exposition, critique and devastating investigation into the racial and political issues coursing through historical and contemporary French culture.   


You Tube:

1/ ‘Straight, No Chaser’by Thelonius Monk 



This video was made by the videographer whilst he was stuck at Washington Dulles Airport for 12 hrs, based on the soundtrack (Music for Airports)


3/ Mos Def freestyling:

Mos Def ‘Respiration’




[2] Hormby, Tom & Knight, Dan. “Low End Mac: A History of the iPod: 2000 to 2004”

[4]Richardson, Riché Deianne. “Madame Kara Walker, notre artiste” Transatlantica, Revue d’etudes américaines. 2/2007.


[5] Ibid

[6] Curl, James Stevesn. "Deconstructivism." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Oxford University Press. 2000. 2 Oct. 2009 <>.




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“Thanks for this. I just listen to Chris Watson and spent time on his site. I highly recommend it. Here is something from him I am compelled to post. You can hear his talk on the BBC by following the link on his site listed above. 'Noise is making itself heard. Man-made noise pollution is becoming increasingly invasive in our lives; in homes, offices, parks, gardens, oceans and wilderness areas, and the effects on both humans and wildlife are causing concern. Wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson presents a personal investigation into this acoustic pollution; exploring what noise is, the effects of man-made noise on both wildlife and man, and the possible long term consequences if we don’t turn the volume down. Presenter Chris Watson, Producer Sarah Blunt”
Posted over 5 years ago
GraceAnne replies:
“Watson is a brilliant artist: except that I completely disagree with him about man-made noise! If you enjoy the sound, it can't be pollution...but I'll listen to his podcast. take care, Penelope”
Posted over 5 years ago
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