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June 14, 2024

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Update 2021/10/4
Water Music

Mastering a hybrid of music, live performance, visual arts and technology - Underwater

By Suzanne Forcese

Mastering A Hybrid Of Music, Live Performance, Visual Arts and Technology -Underwater

Five performers invite audiences to view the world with a new perspective by submerging themselves in glass water tanks to play custom-made instruments and sing entirely underwater.

“Together we are able to address fundamental questions that emerge from the unexplored interstitial space between genres, between art and science, between old comfort zones and new solutions. A space where dualistic thinking gives way to subtlety, curiosity and wonder.” -- Between Music

Starting from water as the common cornerstone of life, the Danish band Between Music has conducted countless experiments in collaboration with deep-sea divers, yoga instructors, instrument makers and scientists to develop entirely new, highly specialized subaqueous instruments. The underwater concert AquaSonic is the culmination of 14 years of research. Photo Courtesy Between Music


The five-man band is each immersed in a man-sized aquarium, which is completely filled with water. Water becomes the co-player and opponent as the band’s instruments and vocal cords produce a unique sound.

The instruments created to play underwater, include a crystallophone, a hydraulophone, a rotacorda, a carbon violin, percussion instruments, and singing bowls. The singer opens her mouth and a lot of water comes in but she holds an air bubble that she sings through.

Since the premiere of AquaSonic in 2016, Between Music continues to explore human nature and what humans have in common despite differences in nationality, religion, and culture.

WATERTODAY took a deep dive with Morten Poulsen, Between Music artist and underwater drummer in AquaSonic, the band’s live performance.

Morten Poulsen’s relation to sound and performance began at age 5 when he constructed his own percussion instruments out of wood scraps. Now his artistic practice intersects sound art, artistic research, and human rights with most of his artistry expressed while submerged in water.

“Between Music was formed by singer and composer Laila Skovmand and bratsch (viola) player Robert Karlsson in Aarhus, Denmark,” Poulsen told WT. “Through the years, many artists, engineers, scientists, technicians and instrument-builders have helped shape our projects.

“We make interdisciplinary artistic productions under the heading ARS Humana which is artistic research into human nature. One of our productions is the underwater concert AquaSonic.

“AquaSonic has been a gradual process of creating, researching, and composing music for an entirely different element – water --which involved re-thinking all our notions about music, performance and science.

“With our base in Aarhus, we have been touring internationally with our large water tanks since 2016.

“Between Music is fundamentally interdisciplinary. Interdisciplinarity is even in our name. We are not only about music. Rather, we work and create in a field between music and other – particularly between art and science. These inform each other while creating an ambiguous space of wonder. We like to think of the Danish word ‘forunderlig’, which translates to ‘wondrous’ but literally means ‘too strange’.

“We like to collaborate with engineers and scientists to go to this space between wondrous and too strange and potentially find new answers to the questions on human existence.”

And... Breathe!

Bratsch player, Robert Karlsson submerged on stage in aquarium Photo Between Music

“Actually, player, Robert Karlsson didn’t like diving or even being in a bathtub, but as with the other underwater musicians in the concert AquaSonic, his curiosity took over.

“It is obviously very different to play music underwater than in air. Not only does sound travel four times faster in water but we are also completely isolated in our water tanks.”

Robert Karlsson threw his instrument to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea to launch Between Music’s collaboration with United4Rescue, a German humanitarian organization. 

Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” is performed as an underwater requiem on the bottom of the

Mediterranean. Photo Between Music

“During the pandemic, the world collectively experienced isolation in a different way and connection through internet cables across the oceans became crucial for connecting individuals. Similarly, during the AquaSonic concert, we cannot see each other, and our only connection is through these tiny underwater headphones and the wires that go between us.

“It really makes you think of the need for connection, not isolation, to grapple with the contemporary global challenges.

“Similarly, breathing has always taken on an additional layer of meaning in these times of air-borne viruses. Because beneath all the technical challenges with performing music underwater, it actually comes down to something so fundamentally human as breathing. 

“We have had training with freedivers and yoga instructors, and we are obviously very mindful of breathing effectively during the concert.

“It sometimes happens that we get so carried away with the music and the water that we forget that we don’t belong in this environment and that we have to go up and breathe.”

Poulsen muses, “Are we evolving backwards to our ancestral beings or are we evolving towards a future with rising sea levels?”

The Performance

“Setting up a performance like AquaSonic cannot be done without the collaboration of the many hands-on and off stage. Working as a collective, everyone has specific expertise to contribute. The precision comes from the individual expertise of multiple people working together. This is the same for all our productions and we have probably had more than a couple of hundred collaborators in some form over the years.

“The technicians carry much of the importance for the practical setup of our performances. Water doesn’t let itself be controlled easily. making sure that it behaves well, like getting the precisely correct temperature for the right sound, is probably the most important task of the setup.”

The Mission

“Our art seeks to create an open and curious space and create sensuous experiences that work beyond words. Even though we try not to narrow down specific interpretive meanings of our projects, we are definitely a product of our times which reflects into our work.

“I believe topics like climate change, sovereignty, the pandemic, uncertainty and confusion are present in our art, the same way it is present in all art – even in places and in ways it is not so obvious.

“Take our underwater concert AquaSonic for example – in dreams, the underwater represents the subconscious. The subconscious might be scary but it is also what drives us as humans. Taking a look at the subconscious might reveal something that we would otherwise not consider. Rather than staying on the surface level, we dive under the water, into the human subconscious, to look for answers to why we are like we are.

“We invite audiences to experience this with us, to see and hear the world with a new perspective, to reflect and question. Maybe even getting the experience of mirroring themselves and get answers from this.

“A part of our mission in Between Music is inspired by the UN Human Rights article 27, which says that everyone has a right to Art. This is not a project or a program, but an overall idea to make our art accessible to more people and provide experiences for people who do not have the opportunity to prioritize art enjoyment. In connection with our Aquasonic concerts, we strive to offer a free concert to the socially disadvantaged or others who for various reasons do not have the opportunity to buy tickets.”

What’s next?

“Between Music is currently working on our debut album which will be released together with a new live concept –AquaSonic Immersive – where we bring the audience with us underwater, through a specialized 3D sound system which we are working on with an international team of underwater acousticians, software developers and sound engineers. 

“Part of this concept is to make the audience immersed in water and to sense the space between chaos and control, nature and humanity, while also possibly dissolving the differences. Does this dualism even exist or are the lines between them blurred?”

It’s all about pushing the boundaries of the human experience.


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