Wet Sounds at the Prince Regent for the Brighton Festival: Immersed and submerged - swimming in sight & sound

Wet Sounds at The Prince Regent. Photo by Summer Dean
Wet Sounds at The Prince Regent. Photo by Summer Dean

Light, images, music, sounds and water all played their part in a rather wonderful little Brighton Festival experience.

Wet Sounds by Newtoy, aka artist Joel Cahen, is an experimental show with surround sound, which took place in and out of the Prince Regent pool for just one evening (Saturday May 5) and sold out in less time than it would take you to dry your swimming cossie.

Wet Sounds at The Prince Regent. Photo by Summer Dean SUS-190505-175339001

Wet Sounds at The Prince Regent. Photo by Summer Dean SUS-190505-175339001

Splashing around and listening to ‘Abstract electronica’ in a large pool proved to be a big draw and the results of this experimental show justified that curiosity.

Before the show, we were lined up along the wall, on benches, of the kid’s pool, and I wonder how many people’s minds drifted back to the pre-swim verruca checks of school swimming lessons.

The topic of conversation proved not to be contagious warts but how to get the most out of imminent arty audio-visual aquatic experience.

We were reminded that sound travels 4.5 times faster in water than in air, and than under water we would still feel the music even if we put our fingers in our ears, because our bones will conduct the sound.

Wet Sounds at The Prince Regent. Photo by Summer Dean SUS-190505-175427001

Wet Sounds at The Prince Regent. Photo by Summer Dean SUS-190505-175427001

The swimmers were also encouraged to dive deep because the sounds and music under the water would be different to those above the water.

Ear-plugs were offered up to fainthearts (and it did prove to be rather loud in places) and we shuffled into the main pool for the show proper.

Coloured spotlights lined the sides of the pool area, strobing effects danced across the ceiling, and sure enough the sonic shenanigans were being pumped out of amplifiers above and below the water line.

It was curious sight to see everyone finding their way around this interesting scenario, some swam, some floated, and others did a bit of both as the electronic music became louder and more discordant, and the sounds below became ever more curious.

After some experimentation it became clear that it would be an experience best enjoyed, like most live music, with your eyes shut, and, unlike most live music, floating, with your head in and out of water.

Sounds from the deep included a hypnosis tape, some reassuring female French tones, and some less reassuring snatches of dialogue which sounded like they’d been swiped from an old British horror flick.

The freeform music above continued to defy easy classification, veering from loud percussive sounds to irrhythmic effects.

As any swimmer will testify, long sessions of swimming can become hugely meditative and relaxing, and as time progressed the combination of swimming/floating and hearing, seeing and feeling the extra stimulus created a very interesting state of mind.

The literally immersive nature of the music was aided by effect of weightlessness while floating in the water, and while not quite the return to womb levels envisaged by the artist, it was a singular and enjoyable sensation which makes the mind and body more receptive to music.

Above and below the sounds progressed, at times gentle and otherworldy, but then I’m sure I heard the sound of Martine McCutcheon in full-on Cockney Eastenders mode, but I suspect that while I couldn’t quite make it back to the womb I was at least keen to return to the late ‘90s.

Sure enough amid the noise as both soundscapes moved towards a climax we heard samples of the unmistakable Eastenders electric drum intro, and the less abstract, but amusing, offering of the Jaws theme tune.

After 45 minutes or so I didn’t want it to end. In fact, by that stage I didn’t want to ever leave the pool and was happy to live the rest of my life in contented chlorinated haze.

Later that evening i found myself searching for waterproof MP3 music players and wondering when I could back into the pool.

Wet Sounds may yet prove to be one of the most interesting and memorable experiences of Brighton Festival 2019.