Chris Watson’s Project X

Venture south and explore large-scale public art in Tasmania’s Huon Valley. Project X presents a series of major artworks in the Huon, with the aim of bringing visitors back to the south in the wake of the bushfires that recently ravaged the island.

During Dark Mofo in 2019, DarkLab revealed a brand-new immersive sound work by renowned composer and sound recordist Chris Watson called Hrafn: Conversations with Odin. Co-presented by The Wired Lab, it employed a spatialised multi-channel L-Acoustics sound installation based on Syva colinear source, which audiences experienced each evening as day transitioned into night.

Staged deep in the ancient Eucalyptus forests of southern Tasmania, Watson’s artwork is centred around an intimate field recording of some 2,000 ravens gathering at dusk to roost. The inspiration to create such a unique sound work came to Watson whilst visiting Anglesey in North Wales during late autumn, when birds were gathering for winter. A gigantic roost of ravens descended into the forest, an experience that fascinated Watson with its accompanying sounds and chords emitted by the birds.

Novatech Creative Event Technology (Novatech) became involved through event organisers Luke Hutchins from Dark Mofo and producers Sarah Last and David Burraston, both from The Wired Lab, as they had worked together on previous projects, deploying Syva as the perfect accompaniment to Watson’s singular artwork.

Image credit: Chris Watson and DarkLab

“The uniqueness of this project was that Syva was rigged off 15 hand-picked trees,” recalls Novatech audio systems technician, Michael Wickens. “The 15 Syva boxes were arranged in two rings: an inner ring of four, rigged at a height of 25 metres and an internal diameter of 15 metres, and an outer ring of 11 Syva rigged at 15 metres with an internal diameter of 25 metres. The ultimate aim of this installation was to have every speaker sit at the same geographical distance from the centre of the listening field.”

Syva was chosen for the vertical directivity of the cabinet which allowed the Novatech team to steer audio into the listening plane, making sure no energy was wasted or lost through environmental factors such as tree canopies. Aesthetically, Syva’s slim profile perfectly blended into the surrounding environment.

To help deal with the unusual setting, L-Acoustics Soundvision software was utilised for this immersive installation. It allowed Watson and Dark Lab to see a visual representation of their calculations as well as any anomalies, which could then be discussed and rectified before installation. Soundvision was also used as a visual reference for the arbourists, who were physically rigging Syva to the trees; the highest tree climbed was around 40 metres and had a diameter that narrows to around 200 millimetres at that height. Wickens worked out the angles in advance to ensure the system gave the best coverage; this meant that riggers only needed to climb each tree once, hanging the speakers in the perfect position, without the need for adjustments.

Read more: Ravishing success for L-Acoustics on ‘Hrafn: Conversations with Odin’