Mermaid In A Car Crash

I never imagined I’d be buying swimming goggles for my work as a sound engineer

But job opportunities in Tasmania have been unique

How does music sound like under the water?

We set up shop in a swimming pool as part of the MONA FOMA 2023 summer festival to find out.

Two underwater speakers and amplifiers courtesy of the Olympic Synchronised Swimming team, a small mixer and a playback device playing the work “Floors of Heaven” by Leon Vynehall on repeat.

40 minutes of ambient electronic music composed specifically to be played underwater

I recruited Daniel Castro from Volta Acoustics to come down and jump in the pool with me to give it a test.

Daniel came with some specialised underwater measurement equipment courtesy of Arup Melbourne

He wrote about the process here

The goal was to measure the loudness and set limits to mitigate the risk of hearing damage to members of the public, while making sure the music is heard throughout the pool

The public swimming pool in Launceston Is a place of wonder.

A community asset on the banks of a river in towering gorge made of igneous rock.

It’s a place of gathering for the community during hot summer days, people moving between bathing in the scorching sun on the grass and sitting in the shade under the generous trees

We were guests in a public space. Unlike the winter festival, which intruded the homes of thousands of people unannounced, the music under the water was communicated to the public and people were given the opportunity to opt out if they didn’t wish to participate

It was a polite intervention in the public space

As part of the testing and measurement process, Daniel and I wanted to play music that we both know to have some reference point.

We played So What by Miles Davis

I never heard music like that before

It was like I was swimming inside the trumpet of Miles Davis.

It was as clear as the water

We discovered that if we block our ears with our fingers the clarity of the sound does not change.

This made for interesting conversations around how sound travels through water and how the fact our bodies is mostly made of water contributes to the way we precive sound underwater

I heard a bunch of kids talk about energy travelling through water, but amongst the enchanted faces of curious pool goers beaming with wonder, perhaps the most striking feedback came from a family.

The mother approached me as the sun was setting

“Thank you, the kids had a really nice day”


Her little boy, who was about nine chimed in:

“I actually hated it”

“It was like noise, it sounded like a car crash, why can’t you play real music?”

“What’s real music?” I asked



His little sister then interjected

“I thought it was beautiful”

“I was meditating, I imagined I was a mermaid”

Launceston Gorge Swimming Pool