Danish musicians in aquariums make sounds in a silent world

Talk about fluid tunes: A group of innovative Danish musicians submerged like fish in an aquarium have created an underwater concerto with instruments specially adapted to resonate in a silent world.

Danish musicians in aquariums make sounds in a silent world
Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

In Aarhus, a concert hall at the Godsbanen culture hub looks more like a fish farm than a music set, with its jumble of water tanks, canisters, tubes, pipes and retrofuturistic objects.

One after the other, the five members of the Between Music band — Laila, Robert, Morten, Dea Maria and Nanna — descend into their own individual glass-paned water tanks for their latest project AquaSonic, where they play the violin, cymbals, bells, a crystallophone with a pedal, and a kind of hurdy gurdy with a long neck.

Hydrophones, or special microphones that pick up the sound of the music in the water, amplify the soundwaves, producing music that resembles the sounds whales make.

A pioneer in the field of aquatic music, Laila Skovmand wears several hats with the ensemble: she is artistic director, music and lyrics writer, and vocalist. She sings both underwater and at the water's surface.

Like a siren, her lips at water level, Skovmand releases a captivating chant.

“I'm an educated singer and I wanted to explore new songs. I got the idea that if I sang into the surface of the water I might get some other timbre, some delays, so I tried that,” she explains.

The group collaborates with engineers and makers of musical instruments to develop water-resistant instruments whose sounds respect the harmonies composed by Skovmand.

“There are a lot of musical limitations. There are so many things we can't play because of the struggle with the water, the struggle with the sound, but I think that what the water gives is that special kind of timbre that you can't get in air,” she says.

Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

The resulting effect is a sound closer to an accompaniment for Tibetan meditation than it is to chamber music. And it's far from other well-known tributes to water such as Maurice Ravel's “Fountains” or Luciano Berio's “Water Piano”.

While the water transports the sound, it also stifles it and slows it down considerably: the effect is a bit like playing Pink Floyd or Jean-Michel Jarre in slow motion.

Musician and producer Robert Karlsson plays the violin — made of carbon fibre — and the crystallophone, a distant relative of the glass harmonica invented by Benjamin Franklin.

Nanna Bech performs the rotacorda, an instrument inspired by a traditional Byzantine hurdy gurdy. It has six stainless steel strings which can make sound either with a sustained pulling of the string or when fingered.

“It's the only one in the world so I don't even have a teacher. And that's a shame!,” she jokes.

READ ALSO: Danish farmers brew beer from recycled festival guest urine

Skovmand also plays the hydraulophone, a type of underwater organ.

“We want to show that the impossible is possible, to discover a new element with live music,” says Karlsson.

The band spends the entire performance under water, surfacing regularly as part of the choreography to take breaths of air.

Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Ahead of the recent Aarhus concert, the ensemble spent almost six hours in the tanks in one afternoon to prepare for that night's 50-minute performance.

The water is kept at 37°C (99°F).

“We do some diving training, practicing to hold our breath under water,” Bech explains.

And she has developed a special technique to sing under water.

“I can't let the air bubbles get out of my mouth, because they will become bubbles (in the water) and that makes a lot of noise under water. So I can only make short notes.”

For Karlsson, making music in water has a magical effect on him.

“I'm actually not very fond of water personally. I can feel claustrophobic in a bathtub. But somehow when I get into this tank and am playing an instrument, I get calm and really secure,” he says.

Between Music is currently performing AquaSonic across Europe. After a world premiere in Rotterdam last year, the band is now touring Denmark, and will take part in the International Diaghilev Festival in Perm, Russia in May.


The Danish death metal band that became reality TV stars

The Aarhus band Baest is poised for an international breakthrough thanks to a recent documentary and an injection of taxpayer money.

The Danish death metal band that became reality TV stars
Baest is Sebastian Adildsten, Svend Karlsson, Lasse Revsbech, Mattias Melchiorsen and Simon Olsen. Photo: Nikolaj Bransholm
Death metal is a genre defined by growling vocals, blistering distorted guitars and blast beats. The sound is typically accompanied by dark imagery that borders on the downright evil. In a music world dominated by sugary pop and hip-hop, it’s about as far away from the mainstream one can get. 
But a young Danish death metal band is upending all of that. The Aarhus-based Baest found its way into the homes of ordinary Danes nationwide thanks to a documentary series on public television that chronicled their attempt to make music their full-time gig.
The series, ‘Den Satans Familie’, follows the young band as they leave Aarhus and embark on their first real European tour. It paints an intimate picture of the five members’ relationships, both with each other and the families they left behind while on the road. Baest only formed in 2015, so the documentary captures how members Sebastian Abildsten (drums), Svend Karlsson (guitar), Mattias Melchiorsen (bass), Simon Olsen (vocals) and Lasse Revsbech (guitar) in some ways still seem to be working out how to co-exist, something that's not always easy when crammed inside a small tour van. 
The DR3 series meant that these young, long-haired, heavily-tattooed metal dudes were suddenly reaching a much larger audience, including many who were not necessarily fans of their sound but couldn’t help but be drawn in by their personalities and their raw struggle to make it in the music business. 
But getting featured in a reality TV show wasn’t the only boost for Baest. The band was named 'best new Danish act' by highly-respected music magazine Gaffa, which also declared their debut album Danse Macabre the best metal or hard rock album of 2018.
Baest was also granted 250,000 kroner from the Danish Arts Foundation, a state-run fund for supporting Danish arts abroad. The financial boost is likely to come in handy as the young Aarhusians prepare to hit the road again in support of their upcoming second album, Venenum, which is due on September 13. 
Following the band’s standout performance at Copenhell, the annual heavy metal festival in Copenhagen, I caught up with guitarist Lasse Revsbech to talk about the band’s whirlwind success. 
First of all, I really enjoyed your performance at Copenhell. What was that like for you? 
“We’ve never played a crowd that big before, it was amazing. We’ve been building up over the past few years in Denmark, so to see where it’s gotten to now makes it all worth it. At Copenhell, we shared the stage with some fucking true legends. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. It’s insane.”
How do you describe Baest?
“Baest is an intense band, with high energy and raw power but with an enormous smile.”
How did the reality show come about? 
“Our manager was in a dialogue with [public broadcaster] DR and they decided to send a crew to cover one of our gigs at VoxHall in Aarhus. We told them we were on the verge of going on this tour and everyone just thought it would be fun to do it.”
The metal world can often seem overly concerned about image and authenticity and in the documentary you come across as this group of really nice, down-to-earth guys. Did you have any concerns about how this might affect your image? 
“We were definitely nervous about the metal community’s reaction and how things would be edited and presented but fortunately we really think that DR hit the nail on the head. There’s been such a great response. A lot of true metalheads and touring musicians have told us that it painted such an honest picture of the music industry. A lot of metal bands have a hard time with this concept of selling out but we’ve not been told once – not yet, at least – they were are sell-outs.”
You also received a grant from the Danish Arts Foundation. Isn’t it a bit crazy that public money is going to a death metal band? 
“Haha, it makes you happy to pay your taxes! It’s so Danish! But really, it’s all about people supporting people and it’s something I think other countries should do.” 
What are you hoping to achieve with the release of your new album? 
“First and foremost, we’re hoping it allows us to tour more. This autumn, we’ll be heading out for our biggest European tour thus far, as main support for an Entombed AD & Aborted co-headling tour. Entombed are one of the pioneers of death metal, so it’s insane to go on tour with those guys. 
“Even if the new album doesn’t make us explode, we hope it will get us one step closer to that. We’re a band that likes to dream big, so we want to play on the biggest stages all around the world. Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction.” 
Baest’s tour in support of Entombed AD and Aborted kicks off on October 18 in London and will take them to 28 cities throughout Europe, including a November 1 stop at Vega in Copenhagen. Venenum will hit stores and streaming services on September 13 and lead single ‘As Above So Below’ is out now. The four-part documentary on Baest is available to stream here.