Review: Sydney Festival’s Aquasonic is an exercise in extreme music

Danish group Between Music’s Aquasonic was one of the more intriguing inclusions in this year’s Sydney Festival program. Billed as the ‘world’s first underwater band’, the group performs with purpose-built instruments while completely submerged. The team apparently developed the show for over a decade, generating optimal conditions for water acoustics and creating the soundscapes.

The first thing to notice is the lack of breathing apparatus; there’s no air tanks or scuba gear in sight. Each performer stays submerged for up to 2 minutes while performing, with a number of breaths deftly choreographed into the score. The music itself is ethereal and airy, performed on instruments such as the Crystallophone (a kind of glass piano), a wind-up gramophone-like contraption called a Rotacorda, and a range of bells and percussion. The addition of vocals gives it a primitive feel yet strangely forward thinking; kind of like Bjork jamming with a group of Tibetan monks, but also quite oddly cinematic.

With such strenuous work, it’s inevitable the show can’t go for too long, but the group manages to add in a few tricks and vignettes to keep the show afloat (excuse the pun). A segment involving bubbles being blown into a series of cylinders was probably a low point, however in essence this is a show about limitations, and what those challenges provide. Working in extreme conditions, the group manages to pull off an extremely listenable experience, however the lighting design by Adalsteinn Stefansson really takes the show into profound territory. Keeping the theatre completely black for opening, he works with light to really make the audience feel like they’re underwater, with vision not always completely clear through the process.

Seeing the show on one of the hottest days in this season’s current heat wave, I couldn’t help but feel the show was essentially a statement on global warming, and how evolution might deal with creating art under new conditions and cultural frameworks. While this may be a case of a reviewer’s prescription, it was nevertheless a profound experience.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Aquasonic enjoys performances at Sydney Festival through Tuesday, 9th January. Tickets and more details can be found HERE. The reviewer attended the performance on Saturday, 6th January.