While most Perthians were enjoying the Survival Day fireworks or continuing to pile on the snags and beers, I joined a group of curious experience-seekers drawn to HBF Stadium in Mount Claremont on Saturday evening to check out the unusual Wet Sounds show. Having no real expectations for what it would be like, we were joined in our desire to “take the plunge” and don our swimmers and snorkels for the event. Although I was half-expecting the pool to be turned into hipster soup, it was a nice blend of typical Fringe-leaning folk but with a large contingent of families of young and old alike, making for a nice community vibe.
The pool was the very deep high dive pool in the spacious indoor pool area of the complex. The lights were dimmed, with a few bright blue and green lights to provide a bit of aquatic mood, plus some lights underwater so you could see other swimmers and a handful of costumed scuba divers for a bit of show and likely for pool safety as well given the depth of the water and the mixed audience. After a brief intro by creator Joel Cahen, into the water we jumped…
The sound is provided by four above-water loudspeakers, and two underwater speakers. How these underwater speakers functioned is still a mystery to me. We were told that the lower we dove, the louder the sounds would be. And that was certainly the case, even though it was a bit hard to keep holding one’s breath and diving to the depths to experience the louder sounds. The pool also had a shallower section of 3m, and the much deeper drop-off section under the diving boards.
Throughout the 50-minute duration of the event (it started a bit late, but then again – has any Fringe show started on time yet?), I swam slowly through all the different sections, shallow and deep end, surface and benthos, trying to work out what I was hearing.
The music was largely based on a diffuse beats-based organic humming and throbbing of low sub-frequency sounds, but with fragments of melody and enshrouded in a pleasing ambient hazy drone. Samples of voices and field recordings would periodically appear and then vanish. The music was never at rest, and morphed and changed continuously. If you like a bit of non-linear avant-garde ambient music, then this would be right up your alley. If not, then there was nothing terribly jarring or annoying as the music sounded like it was meant to mirror the aqueous experience of being submerged.
Coupled with swimming around the pool to different locations where the speakers were, I still have no idea how the sound was being transmitted to the different locations within the pool, or coordinated among the many speakers. Yet, this was one of the great pleasures of Wet Sounds – to not know exactly what was happening while having the visceral experience of being submerged in a darkened massive swimming pool with other explorers.
The mood amongst the punters was of good humour, with more than a few harmless collisions at first with people who were swimming to other parts of the pool, whether swimming backwards blindly or in small playful groups, and especially coming to the surface after a dive to the bottom (sorry to those folks I crashed in to!).
Overall, after countless music gigs and snorkelling experiences, I can honestly say this was a completely unique event. “Disorientating” is a word I kept thinking while alternately floating on my back with ears in the water, bobbing on the surface to hear the above-water sounds, hanging out at the bottom holding my breath for as long as I could or hanging out on the steps at the sides near to the underwater speakers.
For the truly adventurous at heart, head to Wet Sounds for something utterly unique and special, a truly auditory and bodily experience that’s like no other.