Interview: Joel Cahen on Wet Sounds

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Wet Sounds Helsinki Festival
Published 01 Mar 2018

The premise of Wet Sounds is simple: Joel Cahen creates an hour-long DJ set while a team of dancers perform. What makes it tricky is that the audience and dancers are in a swimming pool.

It's a format that the London-based artist has developed over several years and he has it down to a fine art. Because the sound is coming through multiple channels, much of it is programmed beforehand. But, as Cahen tells us: "there's a lot of space that I can play live. I have microphones going through effects, and it depends on what kind of instrument I feel like bringing. At the moment I've got this flute I really dig which goes through these pedals and sounds really interesting."

There's no real song structure, so the music is like an hour-long mixtape. Or three hour-long mixtapes, because there are different channels coming from above, around and inside the pool. By moving above and below the surface, the audience can switch between the sounds, or create a blend by bobbing on the surface with ears half in and half out of the water. Swim close to the underwater speakers and you'll be able to feel the soundwaves vibrating through the water.

And the tone actually changes as you swim around. "The sound is much richer the deeper you go, and as you get closer to the surface it kind of dissipates until you're above the water."

As well as the audio aspect, a team of local scuba divers will perform a part choreographed, part improvised routine underwater using costumes and props. Cahen's a bit unsure of exactly how it will look, because as well as being half the world away, he doesn't have a personal pool for rehearsals. But in this anything goes show, that's fine. As long as you remember to bring your bathers, the rest is up to you.

Cahen has witnessed a range of responses over the years. "Sometimes I see people dancing underwater and pulling all kinds of shapes or just kind of relaxing, so there are really different ways that people respond to it. It's not a nightclub in a traditional sense, it's just a place to listen to music and you can dance if you want."