Daniel Harris Music: New Music for New Listeners
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Underwater Music I
Daniel Harris & Underwater Music Engineering

Since 1989 I have collaborated with Michel Redolfi, composer and director (1985-2000) of International Center for Research in Music (CIRM), with the development of instruments and sound systems for the performance and reproduction of Redolfi's original under water music. That is, music especially composed for playback underwater using special and unique systems to create a true multi-sensory experience underwater. The audience is supplied with floaters and in some cases snorkels so that they can easily float and enjoy the music, sights and interactivity.

Over the course of the years that we have worked together the systems and instruments continued to evolve from the first efforts in Nucelus at Coco Beach in Nice in 1989 to Chrysalis, a full-blown underwater opera with the soprano in an two ton plastic bubble half submerged in the pool at the 38e Ruggissants Festival in Grenoble, to the fully interactive systems for the five senses (including perfume sprayers) of In Corpus in Toulouse in 1994. At the 1996 Ars Electronic Festival, in Linz, Austria, we added the interactivity of the internet with viewers & listeners around the world choosing their favorite underwater virtual city where they could interact with the citizens of their city and with the citizens of the other Liquid Cities, both in the pools and on-line. We closed out the twentieth century with concerts in Sydney harbor, Sonic Waters II and North Sydney pool, Virtual Lagoon. Sonic Waters II employed low power FM transmitter to transmit the music to the FM receiver-amplifier-underwater speaker systems situated on mooring poles of the Shark Bay shark netting. Shark Bay lived up to its name when a small harbor shark made a cameo appearance and became entangled in the netting.

Nucleus, Coco Beach, Nice, France, 1989 Jellyfish, Xyclus (Yellow Triangle),
SOSNO (Underwater), 16 Underwater Speakers

Among the items one has to consider in working underwater is how humans hear in that environment. One's ears are designed to work in the medium of air. One hears sound underwater by bone conduction, specifically one's skull bones. To hear the music one must have a portion of their head in contact with the water. Of course there is a difference in the frequency response discernable to the listener than when one uses their ears. Since I began work in this area, a number of manufacturers have developed products that address the needs of human listeners. Early underwater transducers addressed the needs of military and industrial users and had minimal performance specs in the 20-20kHz band. As an aside, it is possible to perceive frequencies outside this band, but not necessarily hear them in the same way we hear acoustic sounds in the air. Since 1989 we have used speakers from several different manufacturers depending on venue variables such as water depth & volume, pool or open water, available electrical power, and cable or FM transmitted delivery to the speakers or speaker/amplifier combination. A general rule of thumb, deeper bigger water equals better amplitude and definition, as well as, more spacial sense.

As always a big concern is safety. Having people, the audience, and speakers with electrical connections in the water together can be a concern unless proper measures are taken to insure that no harm comes to the audience. The SWSS (Sonic Waters Safety System) was developed in response to our concern about the speaker systems introducing stray electrical currents in the water. The SWSS inserts a 50kHz pulse wave into all cables entering the water in the same manner as DC power is introduced into microphone cables to power microphones. The return signal is passed through a counter/comparator circuit which will instantly shut down any line that drops a settable number of pulses, usually 3, indicating a short or other malfunction.

Various underwater percussion instruments were developed. The first large instrument was called the SOSNO, after it's designer and builder, sculptor Sacha Sosno. Originally designed for Nucleus and the deep waters off Coco Beach in Nice, it was later modified for the shallower confines of swimming pools. Additionally, for Chrysalis a new frame with air bubble visual and audible effects was designed by Michel Redolfi, though Sosno's original bars were used. Hitting a metal bar underwater results in a very unsatisfying "tink," no matter how hard the performer strikes the instrument, nor how heavy the bar. To remedy this situation, I glued piezo sensors on the bars which, when struck, triggered samples or other electronic sound sources via MIDI triggers. The output of each bar was sent through a pitch-to-MIDI circuit and then mapped to a specific note which triggers a sample. The resultant audio was mixed with other sources and sent to the SWSS and then to the underwater speakers. In 2007 a new instrument called the Thevenium after it's designer, sculptor Dominique Thevenin, was commissioned. Yves Rouguisto, an inventor of percussion instruments was also engaged. The new instrument coupled with improved piezo pick-ups and preamplifing system designed by Dan Harris produced a wonderful full bell sound underwater with minimal physical effort by percussionist Alex Grillo. The similarity to the church bells of Venice at first had us confused when we heard the initial tests through the above-water loudspeakers in the pool in Venice, but this successful coincidence was to be incorporated into the sonic fabric of Città Liquida. When amplified and sent to the underwater speakers, the results were stunning, a veritable La Cathedrale Engloutie.

Alex Grillo playing the Xyclus, Nucleus, Nice, 1989

Alex Grillo playing the SOSNO, Sonic Waters, Brisbane, Australia 1991

Mixing the various sources is fraught with obstacles that mixers in a normal concert venue never have to address. In the early days I used a pair of hydrophones and the feedback from in-water crew members to adjust the levels of the mix. Since the early concerts were day-long events, speed of adjustment was not an issue. All this changed when Michel Redolfi decided to compose his underwater opera, Chrysalis. Sound sources which included the soprano, who was housed in a plastic bubble half submerged in the pool, the SOSNO underwater percussion instrument and it's sampler output, as well as pre-recorded elements all had to be made to balance in a multi pool complex. For this work I designed and built the DUCS, Digital Underwater Controller System. With this system Michel Redolfi, using scuba gear, could stand submerged in the pool and control the levels of all elements and the overall volume of the underwater sound. Each underwater encoder pot's output was routed through a counter/comparator circuit and then converted to MIDI volume information which was then sent to a MIDI mixer on the dry pool deck via a wire snake. A new wireless version is under test and development.

Michel Redolfi mixes Chrysalis using (DUCS) Digital Underwater Controller System, Alex Plays
SOSNO with air bubblers, Grenoble, 1992

Some observations on the quality of underwater music. The first time one hears Redolfi's especially composed music for underwater reproduction, one is immediately betaken with the depth of the sound, the sense of space and breathtaking timelessness. There is a genuine sonic "rapture of the deep." The genius of Michel Redolfi is in how he applies his knowledge of the human acoustics of underwater sound and intimate familiarity with the playback systems to the composing and mixing of his very original and enchanting music. This artistry really becomes apparent when one plays in a pool one of his compositions and follows it with the usual music that is piped into pools.

For more information feel free to e-mail me at underwatersound@mac.com
See Michel Redolfi's web site here.


It should be noted, that the following list is only the concerts I had direct collaborative involvement. Frequently, I was not present for repeat performances at other venues or other projects using the same technologies and equipment.

Nucleus: Underwater Musical Concert Engineering: Underwater Systems: Sound Reproduction, Communications, Underwater Musical Instrument Transducers Performances: Nice, France 1989 & Antibes, France 1990

Sonic Waters: Underwater Musical Concert Engineering: Underwater Systems: Sound Reproduction, Communications, Revised Musical Instrument Transducers Performances: Antibes, France 1990 & Brisbane Biennial, Brisbane, Australia 1992

Chrysalis: Underwater Opera, 1992 Engineering: Digital Underwater Controller System (DUCS), SOSNO Transducer System, SOSNO Air Bubble System, SWSS (Sonic Waters Safety System): Underwater Amplifier/Speaker Safety System Performances: Grenoble, France 1992: 13 performances; Lisbon, Portugal 1993: 7 performances; Amsterdam, Holland 1994: 5 performances; London, England 1994: 5 performances

Chrysalis: Main Set with Plexiglas Cocoon, Lasers & Projection Screen

Yumi Nara(Soprano) Singing in Chrysalis, Grenoble 1992

In Corpus: Underwater Multi-Media Concerts, 1994 Engineering: Improved Underwater Sound System, Video/Light Interfaces, Fragrance Dispersers, MAX Programming, SWSS Mk II Performances: Toulouse, France, FAUST Festival (Forum on the Artistic Uses of Science & Technology) 1994: 9 Performances

In Corpus: FAUST Festival, Toulouse France 1994 Sonic Rocks,
Proximity Sensors, Fiber Optic Lights, Interactive Music & Lighting

Liquid Cities: Underwater, Internet & Interactive Installation Engineering: Five Separate Underwater Playback & Record Systems, Interface to Internet, text-to-voice synthesis Synchronous CD Servo System Performances: Ars Electronic Festival, Linz, Austria, 1996, 5 Day

Sonic Waters IV, Sydney Festival, Sydney, Australia, 1997 Engineering: Wind/Solar Power Systems, Low Power FM Transmitter Station to broadcast audio to remote speaker systems, Special Amplifier System for LF Underwater Speaker, Waterproof Battery Enclosures Performance: Shark Bay, Sydney, Australia, 1997 1 Performance

The Jellyfish supports FatBoy (LF Underwater speaker), Sonic Waters IV,
Shark Bay, Sydney, Australia, Sydney Festival 2000

Virtual Lagoon, Interactive Underwater Concert & Installation Engineering: Underwater & Arena Sound Systems, Performances: Sydney Festival, Sydney Australia, 1999, 11 Performances Sonic Waters IV

Matinee Audience Triggers Music from Sonic Rocks,
Virtual Lagoon,
Sydney Festival, North Sydney Pool, 1999

Città Liquida, Venice Biennale 2006, Venice, Italy Engineering: New underwater instrument, Thevenium with improved underwater amplification system, Interactive audio/video systems running on MAX/MSP/Jitter/Cyclops routines. Fiber optic lighting, video projection, ambient sounds outside pool.

Città Liquida, Venice Biennale 2006

Ornis/The Dream Tank 2006, Nuit Blanche, Piscine Josépine Baker, Paris, France. Engineering: The new engineering for these performances was the speakers systems outside the pool designed and built by Christof Harbonnier. We gave 14 45' performances during Nuit Blanche, October 7, 2006.

Oniris/The Dream Tank: Paris, Nuit Blanche 2006

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