The world’s first underwater band designed their instruments with deep sea divers

Ever played music in an aquarium? No?
Image: Charlotta de Miranda

Hanson appearing to sing underwater in the “Weird” video is one thing, but actually playing music underwater? 

AquaSonic is the world’s first underwater band, an ambitious project from five Danish musicians who perform submerged in aquariums.

Hailing from Denmark, avant-garde ensemble Between Music spent years experimenting with underwater music, developing their own custom-made instruments with the help of deep sea divers, scientists, and craftspeople. 

Nanna Bech.

Image: Jens Peter Engedal

Singing and playing completely submerged in tanks, the collective first performed AquaSonic in the Netherlands in 2016. Now, they’re set to bring the project to this year’s Sydney Festival in Australia, performing from Jan. 6-9 at Carriageworks. 

“It is very challenging to play live music underwater,” Robert Karlsson, cofounder of AquaSonic, told Mashable. “This obstruction creates also a vast presence by the performers … You cannot just think of something else. And I think this is something the audience can feel.”

“Water is also something we all have in common, beyond religion or culture, beyond ‘they and us,’ which I think makes this performance speak to a vast audience — not only the regular theater or concert visitor.”

Co-founder, artistic director, composer and musician Laila Skovmand came up with the idea for the band in 2002 when experimenting with her voice. She wanted to investigate the effects of, say, singing across a water surface, so she filled a bowl with water and started playing around.

“A couple of years later, in a European artist laboratory, she got a chance to try singing totally submerged and also trying some instruments,” said Karlsson. “It didn’t sound so good, but she got intrigued and fascinated by this new element in terms of music.”

Laila Skovmand.

Image: Per Victor

And so started an 11-year journey to develop AquaSonic, which grew to five members.

So, what are these fandangled instruments and how do they work? Given Dr Seuss-like names such as hydraulophone, crystallophone and rotacorda, AquaSonic’s instruments are custom-made in collaboration with instrument makers in the U.S., Canada, UK and Denmark. 

Nanna Bech and Morten Poulsen.

Image: Morten Thun

“Some of them are based on old ideas, like the rotacorda — a string instrument where a wheel touches the strings to make them play, or the crystallophone — a glass instrument that where I play on tuned glass bowls that rotate,” said Karlsson. 

“Our hydraulophone by Ryan Janzen is a kind of water organ — the only kind of instrument that uses vibrating water to produce sound.”

Robert Karlsson.

Image: Jens Peter Engedal

Embedded with microphones, the tanks function as instruments themselves, factoring in the temperature and other qualities of the water.

So, how the heck do the musicians play underwater without scuba tanks? “We come up and breathe between the phrases,” explained Karlsson. “Some places it’s carefully planned in the composition, other places it’s more free.”

Morten Poulsen.

Image: Katia Engel

With festivals and concert halls across the world requesting an AquaSonic performance, you might not have to hold your breath too long for a show in your city.

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Marissa SafontThe world’s first underwater band designed their instruments with deep sea divers

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