Wet Sounds

Profile of the underwater sound art festival

A 5 minute read

A recent Wet Sounds in Brussels. Forthcoming shows are here

In the world of British contemporary art, where crude shock tactics have long been the dull norm, it takes an awful lot – or a beautifully simple idea – to really grab the public’s attention.

Step forward London-resident Israeli sound artist Joel Cahen, curator of Wet Sounds, a delightfully appealing new art gallery that doesn’t require anything from audiences except for a swimming costume and an open mind.

Supported and nurtured in collaboration with the cultural development team at Hackney Council, Wet Sounds is a touring gallery of sound art that is appearing at nine swimming pools nationwide, culminating in a large concert at Hackney Lido on 19th July. The idea is a refreshingly unpretentious one: to use the familiarity of your local swimming pool and the acoustic properties of water to introduce the sound art to a whole new audience.

Early 20th Soviet Noise from Velimir Khlebnikov. I know.

“When I started this project,” says Cahen from his studio in London’s East End, “I was surprised to see just how ignorant people are about sound art. I don’t mean ignorant in a derogatory way – but rather that people aren’t aware that sound art exists at all: it is just like any other art form, but one that uses sound to express its intentions.”

The wonderful thing about sound is that out of all media, sound is the most immediate, the most enrapturing: it has an immense power to change your mood. This is partly what Wet Sounds is about: enabling and encouraging people to immerse themselves in a new experience, without just seeing sound as an accessory to film, or as music for Top of the Pops.

By placing special underwater speakers strategically around the swimming pool, Cahen will transform each pool into a sound art gallery for one day.

By floating on your back, you will be able to focus on sound in a unique way. Under water, sound is totally immediate: you experience it differently than you do when it travels through the air. In water, you perceive sound not just through your ears but through your whole body.

Chris Watson on location in the Galapagos Islands

Works by sound artists from as far afield as South Korea, Turkey and Australia will be featured alongside a host of British and European contributors. Artists to listen out for include a piece recorded in the Galapagos Islands by Chris Watson, best known for his work with art punk band Cabaret Voltaire, and Klaus Osterwald, who recorded the surprisingly noisy underwater sound world in a lake outside Dusseldorf using specialist microphones. But if you think that sound art is all about running water and whalesong, Cahen’s own contribution is a lot more down to earth: “Soap” splices the theme tune from Jaws with dialogue from TV soap operas such as Eastenders.

Nurse With Wound, Beetle Crawls Across My Back

Entrance to the Wet Sounds tour is free - the only cost being the regular admission cost to the swimming pool – with one exception: the closing event at Hackney Lido on 19th July featuring a rare UK performance by legendary psychadelic improv band Nurse With Wound, who were one of the highlights at last year’s Ether Festival on London’s South Bank.

So would he recommend Wet Sounds as a fun-filled, family day out for the summer?

Just because it is in a swimming pool doesn’t mean that you should automatically bring the kids,” he laughs. “It’s the same as taking them to an art gallery – some will enjoy it, some will be bored: but the main thing is to provoke an opinion. Art galleries are not there to please, but to create a channel of communication that can show work that has artistic merit. Wet Sounds is no different.”

Wet Sounds is at Everton Park, Liverpool today; Levenshulme pool, Manchester, tomorrow and then nationwide until 19th July.

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