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We’ve seen it in The Little Mermaid and we’ve dreamed of what it would be like to play music under the sea, but an idea as unfathomable as bringing a concert underwater in reality, is only something Between Music has accomplished. Their most recent performance, called Aquasonic, shocked and awed spectators at Iris Van Herpen’s Fall 2017 Couture collection presentation – an artist who, like them, shares this passion for innovative and highly technologic ways of expressing creativity. We chat with Robert Karlsson, one of the performers and business director, who ironically isn’t too fond of water but enjoys the challenge and thrill of performing under its surface.
How did this insane idea of playing music underwater arise?
Laila Skovmand, the artistic director, composer and performer, got an idea in 2004. “What kind of effects could I get while singing in the surface of water?” She explored this for a couple of years and integrated it in her regular performances. Later in 2006 she participated in a European Union artist laboratory when she tried to sing totally submerged. She also tried a few instruments but realized early that if she should pursue this idea it would need long research and collaborations with experts from diverse fields. Many years went with research, try-outs and experiments, which finally led to the premiere in 2016.
Do you enjoy swimming and diving? How often would you say you spend time in water outside of this particular practice?
It is very different among us. Laila is a natural-born water woman who enjoys swimming a lot. Myself, I'm not that fond of water. Actually I get a bit claustrophobic in a bathtub. But when playing music in my tank, it makes me feel perfectly safe and confident and I enjoy it a lot.
It must take great courage and huge amounts of training leading to a performance. What amount of preparation would one have to go under to attempt something like this?  Do you ever fear the risk of drowning?
We all have trained and practiced a lot of breathing exercises with divers and yoga teachers, and of course we’ve had to develop a whole new playing technique for every instrument. To do this at the same time as you hold your breath is quite demanding. The good thing is feeling extremely present when playing.  Drowning is not really a fear, but we are very cautious about safety, since we use electricity combined with water.

You have percussion, strings and vocals. What kind of instruments do you use to play in the tanks?
Most of the instruments are custom made for this in collaboration with instrument inventors in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and Denmark. Some of them are based on old ideas, like the glass harmonica, a glass instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin. Andy Cavatorta, from New York, made an underwater version for us. Some are completely new, like the polysynaptic hydraulophone by Ryan Janzen, from Canada. It’s a kind of water organ that uses vibrating water to create sound.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Do all Between Music players come from a traditional musical training?
All the musicians in Between Music are professional musicians, educated in Denmark, but from quite a different background: classical, rock, pop, world, jazz, folk, etc.
In 2013 you invited your audience to join you in a public pool during a performance. What was this experience like? Do you think that your music can be best appreciated submerged underwater or through your speakers?
It was an interesting experience, but not very successful. It is hard to control such an environment, to make everyone in the audience have a good experience. So we decided to go with a traditional setup on a stage, where we can control sound and light and give every person in the audience a good experience.

Recently, you performed at Iris Van Herpen’s latest haute couture show, titled Aeriform. What was your experience working with the designer like?
Very inspiring! Iris Van Herpen shares our passion for dedicated craftsmanship and collaboration with science. And working with her and her crew was a beautiful experience. It was also new to us performing in a kind of installation setup, placed in a circle with no safe back, and a very intimate contact with the audience. It is definitely something we will explore more in other contexts.
Is there any genre that Between Music would like to explore and play underwater that you haven’t yet?
Creating Aquasonic has demanded a lot of trial and error, and we had to abandon a lot of ideas that were not possible. Composing for underwater is very demanding and needs constant rewriting and re arranging due to all the obstructions. But we plan to invite composers to write a small piece to play in their country when we tour.
Aquasonic is also the first part of four, in a piece inspired by human evolution. The next piece steps on ground and evolution that creates instincts and reflexes. Third piece is about emotions, and last piece about human intellect. We hope that the next pieces won't take ten years each to develop.
Do you think that your Aquasonic project will inspire others to start creating and playing music underwater?
The oceans are rising, so… 
Where do you hope to see Aquasonic in the future?
We are building a lot of tours now and get a lot of requests. So we hope that Aquasonic will tour for many years from now.

Words
Andrea Toro
Portrait
Katia Engel
Photos
Christoffer Brekne, Jens Peter Engedal, Katia Engel, Morten Thun, Per Victor

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