Hy Brasil: Wildlife sounds of a mythical island

Sound recordist Chris Watson reveals all about his imaginative sonic depiction of a fabled island and its wildlife. 

Chris Watson records sound on a beach, Galápagos Islands.

Sound recordist Chris Watson reveals all about his imaginative sonic depiction of a fabled island. 

What: Hy Brasil 

Where: Howard Assembly Room at Opera North, Leeds

When: 28 February–15 March

Cost: Free

Why did you create Hy Brasil?

It was inspired by a painting I saw of a seascape in Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane.

I was intrigued by the title (Hy Brasil) and the image of a mysterious island that may, or may not, exist out in the Atlantic ocean off the Irish coast.

When I researched the island I was fascinated to discover it appeared on Spanish navigation maps in the 15th century and there were accounts of strange animals living on the island. 

I wondered how such a place might sound.

What species can people listen out for when they visit the installation?

Humpback whales exist in the the deep Atlantic waters around Hy Brasil and orca pods are patrol just offshore.

On the rocks and skerries there is a large colony of grey seals. As you hear the haunting voices of the females hauled out on the rocks at low tide you can understand where the stories of sirens and harpies came from.

Sunrise on Hy Brasil is greeted by the roars of black howler monkeys across the forest canopy and a tropical sounding chorus of migrant birds blown onto the island by the prevailing westerly winds.

Great frigate birds and blue footed boobies chatter and growl in their communal nesting areas above the waterline.

High above the treeline after sunset the air is filled with the shrieks and cackles of shearwaters and petrels, which are returning to their partners nesting in the rubble and scree.

What locations did you visit to record the sounds for Hy Brasil?

Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Venezuela, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, the Galápagos Islands, Madagascar and Borneo.

What is the Hy Brasil experience?

The sound installation puts the listener in the same position as the microphone that made the recording.

I hope visitors hear the island as if they were exploring it themselves. Hy Brasil is a soundscape to inspire the imagination. 


Find out more about Hy Brasil

Chris Watson works for the Natural History Unit, Bristol, and records sounds for BBC Radio Four programmes. 

He has also recorded sounds for BBC natural-history TV series, including Frozen Planet, The Life of Birds, The Blue Planet, Life In The Undergrowth, The Life of Mammals and Life in Cold Blood.

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