Wet sounds

On Sunday, I looked at the cumulus-accumulating London sky and decided I was not going to be fazed by the Great British Summer, picked up my swimming gear and headed down to the London Fields’ lido to enjoy the launch of an odd exhibition of ‘underwater sound art’. Wet Sounds is a gallery of aquatic compositions created by a bunch of sound artists from around the world, piped through underwater speakers in various swimming pools around the UK for the aural enjoyment of swimmers and splashers. The sounds are only audible when the ears are submerged under water, so when swimming normally, i.e. not diving, one can hear a cacophony of air sounds – giggles, kids’ screams, birds, winds in the trees, thunder – head up, mixed with strange, dolphin-like submarine noises, head down. Up, scream in my left ear, down, muffled electronica in the right one, up, blow-dry shout, down, wet whisper. I kept bumping on other swimmers and wished I could be within the safer zone of the swimming lane reserved for the Channel4 crew. For the whole time I was there, I saw no-one using the lane and secretly planned a submarine attack to make it my listening base.

I chickened out. James had found a quiet corner so, feet up and head half-immersed, I joined him for a 3-minute long contemplative experience. A voice was muttering some inaudible words – someone said they heard an exchange reminiscent of Eastenders. Whatever it was, it had this background airport quality, this strangely meditative humming of the waiting crowd only interrupted by the musical tone of a loud-speaker announcing a probable flight delay. Washed-up with TV soap. A whole choir of singing bells and tubular sounds suddenly came resonating in the pool. I could not catch the name of the artist and later guessed it was ‘The Aquabelle’ by Tamara Tyrer. I could then hear some long whistling noise, wind instruments blowing their melodies through the wet molecules of water, the light touch of musical notes on a piano – a chamber quartet performance? The voice of a woman came caressing my eardrums, and the elongated vocal sounds she made, coupled with tinkling vibrations, seemed to travel from far, passing me by to go bouncing against the 4 walls of the pool. Sound travels 4 times quicker in water than in the air, but the underwater sounds I was perceiving were paradoxically extended, as if they were made of elastic and invisible pulls were stretching them, making them vibrate even more intensely as bodies passed in and out of them.

As soon as I pulled my head out of the water, the damp airport symphony ceased, and my ears started to hurt intensely, freezing in the cold wind. I looked at my fingers and they had already turned white-blue so I quickly got out to dry. The sky was now charcoal grey and I could feel the rain dropping on my nose. A few courageous heads were still submersed in the pool. We crossed London Fields, entered The Pub at the corner of Broadway Market and ordered some hot rum with our chilled beers. Soon the sun appeared through the wide bay windows and warmed our memories at the poolside. One sure thing about the Great British Summer, said James, our listening experience would have been dampened had it been a scorcher weekend. Wet Sounds, touring the UK for the next 2 weeks, is planning a grand finale at the London Fields lido on 19th July, with live sound performance by Nurse with Wound, Andrew Lilies and Le Couteau Jaune – not your usual entertainment for the Saturday crowd. With the weather forecasts on the high from mid-July onwards, I’d recommend.

Wet Sounds at the London Fields lido from 6th to 19th July and around the UK, see website for touring dates http://www.newtoy.org/wetsounds.html


~ by lavivette on July 7, 2008.

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