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Events, Music

This orchestra plays entirely underwater and we think it might be pure magic

A concert underwater. It’s a concept so impossibly magical that you wonder if it’s lifted straight from a child’s dreams.

But that is exactly what the mind-bending ensemble Between Music is attempting to pull off for the 2018 Sydney Festival with ‘AquaSonic’.

Five musicians plunged into their own individual aquariums, somehow managing to not only play in concert, but stay alive and afloat.

It took years of research and development with scientists, deep-divers and craftspeople to invent brand new instruments, compose hauntingly beautiful scores music execute one of the most outrageously ambitious and logistically difficult performances you’ll ever see.

We spoke with co-founder Robert Karlsson to find out more about this truly spell-binding project:

How did the idea to play an underwater concert come about, and how difficult was it to get off the ground?

Laila Skovmand, the artistic director and composer, has always been experimenting with her voice. Back in 2004, she got the idea of singing into a water surface to see if she could find some interesting effects.

She experimented with this a lot, and a couple of years later she tried signing totally submerged. She also tried some instruments at that time. It didn’t really sound good, but something about this element intrigued her.

So a longer journey started with research, experiments and collaborations with experts in diverse fields. In 2016 AquaSonic had it’s final premiere, with further improvements in 2017.

AquaSonic - Dea Marie Kjeldsen Photo by Jens Peter Engedal

Can you talk us through the logistics of a gig like this?

The tanks and equipment get shipped by a truck, or when we now go to Sydney, by sea and plane. We setup about two days before the first performance with the performance the third night.

The main reason for this long setup is to get rid of air from the water. Most often venues only have cold water to fill all the tanks.

Cold water contains more air then hot water and all this air covers the instruments with tiny air bubbles. This affects the sound and dampens the instruments. So we need to get the air out before we perform.

After the lights are rigged, we place a rubber mat which will contain a water mirror. Then the tanks are placed on top of the mat and filled.

A lot of equipment is then installed, pumps, heaters, hydrophones, sound, light.

Second day of setup we can check sound and rehearse, knowing that bubbles still are present and the instruments will sound better the third day.

AquaSonic - Robert Karlsson 2 Photo by Jens Peter Engedal

What custom instruments are you playing and how did you develop them?

Most regular instruments don’t work underwater, so we had to invent new ones, Two of them are based on existing instrument ideas and developed together with Andy Cavatorta, instrument builder from New York.

The Crystallophone is a glass instrument I play on tuned glass bowls that spins on an axle.

The Rotacorda is a string instrument where a wheel touches the strings instead of a bow.

Then we have a kind of water organ, a hydraulophone. It was invented by Steve Mann and Ryan Janzen and is the only kind of instrument that uses vibrating water to create sound.

We have a lot of percussion, created by Matt Nolan and a carbon fibre violin by Mezzo-Forte.

AquaSonic - Morten Poulsen, Nanna Bech Photo by Morten Thun

What do you want the audience to experience and feel when they see AquaSonic?

We often do artist talks after the concerts and one of the most wonderful comments we had was from a man that said, “Now I really feel inspired and want to go home and create!”

For me that is the greatest thing, that people see things in a new way, see the impossible become possible, and get touched deep down at the same time.

Aquasonic are playing at Sydney Festival from 6-9 January 2018. Tickets are available here.