Courtesy of Isabelle Carbonell
Courtesy of Isabelle Carbonell

When professor Anna Friz saw that UC Santa Cruz had an underwater speaker, a 50-meter pool and creative students, she figured why not put on an underwater concert? With the film and digital media department, she created the show Submerging Artists.

Submerging Artists was conceptualized in March after Friz discovered that UCSC also had a hydrophone, a microphone that can record underwater sounds. As a teenage synchronized swimmer, Friz has extensive experience listening to music underwater and is excited to bring the first-ever underwater concert to UCSC on June 7.

“Art and artistic expression can take place in a lot of unusual and everyday settings,” said Friz, a film and digital media assistant professor. “It’s sort of unusual to have a concert in a pool, but it’s also this setting that is very everyday. [I want students] to think of any site as a possibility for performance or for more extended listening.”

Water as a medium for sound works differently than air. Sound waves move faster in water, making the time between when sound hits one ear and then the other virtually nonexistent. Though this brings the listener closer to the sound because we are used to listening in air, we hear things underwater as distorted. This distortion allows performers to create sounds they wouldn’t be able to make above water.

The show features graduate and undergraduate students from film and digital media and digital arts and new media who are interested in water as a space for creative performance. Most of the pieces were composed with the underwater element in mind, using mermaids, whales and ship horns as inspirations for the pieces.

Graduate student Isabelle Carbonell incorporates ocean acoustic tomography into her piece “Tomo/veillance.” Ocean acoustic tomography measures temperatures and currents across the ocean and is one of the most reliable ways to track climate change. This technique was originally developed in the Cold War to track enemy submarines.

“Tomo/veillance” samples interviews with tomography scientists, ocean acoustic tomography recordings, and formerly classified Navy LPs, which were used to train submariners in underwater listening.

“I wanted to try and create this sonic evolution using this technology,” Carbonell said. “This technology, in some ways, has not evolved at all. In some ways it’s extremely similar to when it was first invented, but its application is completely different.”

Most pieces like Carbonell’s are pre-recorded and will be played back on the underwater speaker at the concert. But two of the pieces will be performed live. Using the underwater speaker and a poolside speaker, graduate student Ryan Page will shift the sound above water and below it to create a two-part experience for listeners.

“Electricity and water — they’re not supposed to mix,” Page said. “As a listener, you’re engaging with this thing that is potentially dangerous … But because we have this technology that you can do this with, we’re creating this experience that you wouldn’t normally have.”

Audience members are safe from electrocution, as electrical currents are kept far from the water. While listening to music underwater poses danger, audience members may notice how separation from electronics during a concert can be refreshing.

“It’s not simple to sit underwater and listen in the same way that it’s simple to walk into a concert hall and pull out your cell phone and not pay attention,” Page said. “ … When [sound] is sent through a physical medium like water, you’re more connected to the physical sensation of it.”

While performers were concerned with the audience’s mindset during the performance, professor Anna Friz is paying attention to the audience’s experience of the performance. She noted how it could change the way audience members think of listening.

“Our listening experiences are always immersive,” Friz said. “But somehow in water there’s a new piece of information because we’re in a different medium, one that we can’t breathe in but we can still see and hear in … When you’re swimming and in water, you’re still listening. A change of material doesn’t mean suddenly our senses are not useful.”

The underwater concert will take place at the OPERS East Field Pool from 1 – 4 p.m. on June 7. The event is free and open to the public.