GFF blog: Sound artist Joel Cahen on experimental music project Wet Sounds

GFF blog: sound artist Joel Cahen discusses experimental music project Wet Sounds

Adrian Moore and Eric La Casa join Cahen for a surreal swim as part of the Glasgow Film Festival

The Wet Sounds event at North Woodside Leisure Centre was one of those experiences where you don’t know exactly what it’s like until you’ve been – and judging by both the capacity audience inside and the disappointed punters being turned away at the door, there are plenty of people eager to find out. The project is the brainchild of sound artist Joel Cahen. ‘I just thought it would be a good idea to hear sound underwater, and do some unique sound gallery art events. It started out as a sort of ‘listening gallery’ idea, and then that grew into inviting musicians, doing underwater performances, using lighting and so on. It’s been a process.’

The process results in the audience donning their Speedos and swimsuits and floating around in the eerily-lit pool while sounds and songs are played both above and below water. Above the surface, the large echoing chamber of the swimming pool makes the sounds come across as a cacophonous racket; dive underwater, though, and the sounds take on a remarkable clarity. If you’re not much cop at holding your breath, you can easily float on the surface with your ears submerged, and absorb the sounds that way; however, the more adventurous diver is rewarded with atmospheric sounds that become clearer the deeper you go, and sound vibrations that occasionally tickle against the skin. The sounds played largely stick to an otherworldly theme; add to that the underwater lighting, tubular flotation devices and bodies floating around above and below you, and it all adds up to a very strange experience.

‘I’ve always liked surreal sounds anyway,’ says Cahen, ‘and I figured there were enough venues around where you could listen to proper music. That’s a more sociable kind of music, whereas surreal music encourages more of a deep listening response, which is why I think it’s more appropriate for a swimming pool. Also, when you’re in the water, it’s different: it’s a more personal experience, you feel isolated and on your own. So I think surreal music suits it better.’

Cahen is not alone in his desire to experiment with sounds below water. Wet Sounds’ appearance at the Glasgow Film Festival is part of a wider UK tour, with Cahen being joined at each venue by different collaborators. ‘[Electronica composer] Adrian Moore is here, using a piece of software he created, which is kind of intuitive to his movements, and [French sound artist and composer] Eric La Casa is generating more aquasomatic, electro acoustic stuff,’ says Joel, gesturing to the two boffins operating a sound board while the crowd splash about beneath them. While this collection of experimental innovators might seem more suited to events such as Instal (and its sister event, Uninstal), it's appropriate that Wet Sounds should take place as part of the Glasgow Music and Film Festival – the whole experience feels very cinematic, bringing to mind everything from European avant-garde dream sequences to tripped out sci-fi movies. If you’re still struggling to picture it, well, you’ll just have to try it out for yourself.

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