“I love that aspect of fishing for sound underwater or putting geophones or hydrophones in glaciers, or underground,” says Watson. He also speaks admiringly of a man featured in The Listeners, who records earthquakes and who captured the terrifying, chilling sound of the Japanese tsunami.
“[He was] saying so much, just with sound; the force, or some of the force, of what was happening,” recalls Watson, before adding “I also like using very small microphones in very small spaces, so you tune in to the world in a very different way, and people find that very engaging. Again that works particularly well on radio.”
One such place was the internal organ of a caterpillar, which he managed to capture, again for Life in the Undergrowth.
The only time the caterpillar makes this internal sound is when it has been taken into an ants nest, supposedly to be predated, but instead its stridulations cause the ants to feed it.
And the only way that Watson could capture that sound was with the impressive-sounding particle velocity microphone, a highly specialised bit of equipment that would never fit into an ants' nest in the wild. In the end, it was all recorded in a Bristol studio, with the caterpillar placed on the microphone to fully capture its enticing sound. Nowadays there might be screaming headlines about faked footage, then the recording process was captured on the BBC Six O'Clock News in the “And finally...” slot.
Watson often works in extreme close-up, and it was his experience working on Big Cat Diary that first led him to those intimate perspectives. He realised that while the camera crew could sit in a vehicle with their feet up and use a £50,000 telephoto lens to get a close-up of an animal's eye 50 metres away, there was no aural equivalent.
So he started to play around with mic'ing things up very closely. He'd wanted to get decent sound of vultures predating a zebra carcass and carried out a unique experiment with a Christmas turkey to check his method. The Christmas before he was due to go out to the Masai Mara for Big Cat Diaries he took the turkey carcass the day after Boxing Day – when no-one wants any more turkey – and staked it out in his back garden with tent pegs. Placing two little personal microphones in the cavity he relayed a cable back inside the house to his stereo. Eventually starlings came down and attacked the carcass, pecking it to pieces, and he got this incredible bit of close recording.
“It was a bit like the revelation of my first recording 30 years previously where I was taken into this other world that we can never be in. It was remarkably powerful, visceral recording, it was like having your skull pecked out because they were so close.”
He then transported that process to Kenya and got incredible close-up audio, from a few centimetres away, of vultures devouring a zebra carcass.