What we think

Conversing with David Attenborough

December 2017


On Monday I was lucky enough to help organise a public appearance by Sir David Attenborough, in conversation with his frequent collaborator and friend Chris Watson, at the British Library.

Longplayer is a 1000-year long non-repeating piece of music that began playing at midnight on 31st December 1999 and hasn’t stopped since.

These annual conversations are a way of celebrating the vision behind Longplayer’s durational aspirations, by inviting leading thinkers to bring their personal experiences and expertise to bear on the theme of long time.

This year's iteration brought together collaborators and friends: sound recordist Chris Watson and naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. It was programmed as part of the British Library’s Sound Season that has been put together to champion the Library’s amazing sound archive. 

It was wonderful to see David Attenborough speak in person about his life and career and to hear some of the early sounds he recorded while filming Zoo Quest (now held at the library). The two men have collaborated on multiple TV series together, with Chris Watson going to often-extreme lengths to record sound never heard before. Their rapport and humour was infectious – there was a lot of love in the room!

Jokes and anecdotes of their shared travels were fantastic to hear, but the most poignant part of the evening for me was a recording made of David Attenborough at Captain Scott’s hut in Antarctica in which he describes being alone in the space and feeling the presence of the long dead party of explorers.

There were references of course to Attenborough’s more recent environmental concerns, including discussion of how much Antarctica has changed since Scott’s exploration more than 100 years ago.

To me the evening was the perfect celebration of Longplayer; echoes of generations past and hints forward to those in the future.