Underwater Music: Tuning Composition to the Sounds of Science

Stefan Helmreich

in The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780195388947
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Underwater Music: Tuning Composition to the Sounds of Science


This article attempts to audit underwater music. There are two primary venues for underwater music: field settings of the ocean and lab settings of swimming pools. For the field tradition, underwater music emerges from the noise of the Cold War, revealing the songs of whales and harboring evidence of global warming, of sea creatures under stress, etc. For the lab tradition, the pool is a stage to realize the aesthetic of Cagean modernism. It becomes a space to play with meanings of water. While the field setting is “wild” and entangled with nonhuman sounds and the lab setting is more social, cultural, or anthropocentric, artists working in both settings seek to evoke an “immersive” experience. In both settings the transductive properties of water must be managed to invoke water as a material accomplice in this enterprise, this aim of soaking listeners in the sublime surround of sound submerged.

Keywords: underwater music; ocean; swimming pools; sound submerged; water

Article.  10457 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Sound Studies

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