Ten years ago no one believed that the “insane” idea of Laila Skovmand to play music underwater could become a reality. Of course we all know about the singing of mermaids and sirens, many recall the story of Sadko who entertained the Sea King with melodies on the gusli (a traditional Russian multi-string plucked instrument) - but those are plots of magical story tales. In real life, it didn’t occur to anyone that underwater singing and playing of instruments could be as comprehensive as “normal” music. The path of coming-to-be for the Danish project AquaSonic was quite long. Many years were spent polishing the extremely hard performance techniques. Scientists from leading universities worked on the creation of instruments that would be able to produce sounds in a water environment. The world premiere of AquaSonic (the way it is today) took place in 2016 in Holland. The team of Between Music (that is how the artists of AquaSonic call their group) proved that the unity of science and the arts makes human possibilities infinite. Visitors of the Diaghilev festival could see that for themselves on May 16 and 17 at the Perm academic “Theater-theater”.
Photo by Edward Tihonov
Hydraulophone, crystallophone, rotocorda, carbon violin, percussion instruments, singing bowls – with such a mix of instruments you may think that you will hear some sort of ethno fusion. However,no. Everything is changed by one element – water. It is hard to think of a name for the genre that may characterize AquaSonic. There are no analogies of this project! Water becomes both the place and the meaning of the aqua-concert. All of the performers have their own aquarium. On opposite sides of the stage stand the “water-houses” of the singers Laila Skovmand and Nanna Bech. Besides being the author of the project idea, the composer and a vocalist, Laila is also a hydraulophonist. It is from the sounds of the water organ that the “show” begins: the concert-hall is immersed in total darkness; unstopping pulses of womb-like roars surround the audience, forcing them to feel an almost primitive fear of the powerful hidden forces of nature. The first musician whose shadow gradually becomes visible in the greenish-blue glow of the central aquarium is the violinist Robert Karlsson. Soon after the mist disappears it becomes possible to identify Morten Poulsen (the drummer) and Dea Maria Kjeldsen (the percussionist). Due to the efforts of the technical crew - Adalsteinn Stefansson, Anders Boil, Roman Komar and Claus Madsen – a captivating canvas knitted of flexible plastic lines, mysterious musical combinations and innovative stage constructions is unveiled before the viewers. Lights and sounds are all closely interconnected. The color spectrum constantly changes depending on the combination of performers in the spotlight and the character of their melody and rhythm: an all-embracing golden glow softly comes after a dim haze through which you can barely see the silhouettes of the peculiar aqua-instruments.
One of the key episodes of the performance is a spontaneous “solo” of raging water bubbles chaotically circling in huge tubes near the edge of the stage. Water becomes a lawful participant of the musical happening. Water is also alive! Lines from the song “Voda” (“Water”) of the Russian group “OdnoNo” come to mind:
“You are transparent like the eternal Truth,
Clear like a sensitive conscience,
Truthful like the last confession,
The thoughts of people I will wash with you.
AquaSonic sparked various reactions among the audience. Composer and music critic Anton Svetlichniy (a prize-holder of the Diaghilev festival “Resonance-2017”award for music critics) expressed the opinion that “if all of the same would have been played without aquariums, a certain uniqueness would be lost, because musically it is quite a melancholic post-everything reminding Sigur Ros”. He is sure that “in the making of such projects a big role is played by marketing. The idea of the project is clear, is easy to formulate in a few sentences, and at the same time there is nothing equivalent to it and unlikely anything similar will appear in the near future.”
Aylen Pritchin (the young virtuoso violinist that played the Violin concerto of Alban Berg with the MusicAeterna orchestra at the opening of the Diaghilev festival) noted that he sees nothing negative in the marketing component of such experiments. Most likely many academic musicians agree with his impression of AquaSonic: “Of course it is hard to compare something like this with the symphonies of Mahler, for example – these are things of a different order and a different conception. But such works can broaden the borders of the fields in which we can create something new. That is where inspiration arises”.
Fortunately, after the concert on May 17 all those who wished could personally ask the artists questions about AquaSonic at the Festival club. The energetic host of the meeting Alexey Kisilev and the charismatic interpreter Alexey Malov were able to organize an effective communication process between Between Music and their fans. In about an hour everyone was able to learn how musical instruments function underwater (much is said about the technical characteristics of the instruments and aquariums on the website of the project www.aquasonic.dk, so we will not describe them here), and come to a deeper understanding of what the project is about, what is its “philosophical meaning”. While commenting on a remark about the contrasting emotions that are triggered by the concert, Laila Skovmand formulated a fundamental thought:”All emotions that arise under the influence of AquaSonic are part of life. Life is what I wanted show”. We can expect that in the next few years Between Music will help us understand even more about life as it is. Robert Karlsson shared the information that AquaSonic will become the first part of an epic tetralogy in which presumably the path of human evolution will be shown. We will see how reptiles originate, then mammals, and how they will eventually prepare the platform for the emergence of us– creatures with a conscience and intellect.
The possibility of carrying out such a grand project could be doubted if we would be speaking about a different group of artists. However the team of AquaSonic is unique not only because participants of it could achieve what seemed impossible. “It’s just the most amazing crew of people. Everyone - technicians, performers - is very passionate about making the project work and it just lifts the spirit!“ shares Line Nordentoft, the producer of the project. It should be added that all of the AquaSonic performers fill their lives with music outside their aquariums as well: Robert and Laila have tried to master Tuvan throat singing techniques (and visited the Altai mountains on their way to the Siberian teachers); Nanna and Dea compose their own songs, have their own groups and release albums; Morten is so passionate about the idea of finding new ways to make and transmit music that a separate article should be dedicated to his explorations and achievements in that field. The most important thing that all of the participants of AquaSonic have in common is a true respect of the arts and an understanding of the power of music. Shortly after exiting the Festival club, those who just moments ago awed minds by talking of unusual technology and global plans froze in an honorable silence while listening how a delicate young girl played J.S.Bach on the yellow festival piano in the Theatrical Square.
When answering the question about where the final part of the future cycle will be shown, Laila laughed and said that “probably in space.” Let’s not forget that in every joke there is a portion of truth. You think that apple-trees will not grow on Mars and musical concerts will not be given there? Remember that science is constantly evolving. We have not long to wait for the Mars SpaceX mission. And it is not long before new breakthroughs from the creators of AquaSonic will come.
Dasha Tcherkassova, press-office of the Diaghilev Festival