Published: October 11, 2021
Synchronized Beats Blend Swimmers With UT Music Students
The subtleties of everyday sounds typically pass unnoticed.
The slap of flashcards hitting the ground, a leather lanyard snapping against itself, the scratch of a pen writing on paper or the ping of a metal water bottle being flicked — it’s not exactly the soundtrack that comes to mind when you think of a graceful water dance. But the 23 students in MUS 108, led by instructor John Nichols III, think otherwise.
In a collaboration with the Tampa Bay SynchRays, a community synchronized swimming club, the students in Nichols’ Recording and Electronic Music class are creating AquaChoreoSonics. Synchronized swimmers choreograph a production to a soundtrack of experimental music, and they’ll perform in UT’s pool on Sunday, Oct. 17, 1-2 p.m. Guests are welcome to listen from the pool deck or under the water.
The music will be played underwater, as well as through speakers in the UT Aquatic Center for the audience. What is heard above water is more robust and layered with more water-type sounds than what is heard under, which Nichols said is to raise awareness of the biophony — or collective sound produced by all living organisms — and how that soundscape has musical components to it.
While the sound on land is different than water, Nichols said that the sound underwater is remarkably clear. He was swimming at the city of Tampa’s Interbay Pool in late August when he heard music that way for the first time. Curious, he struck up a conversation with the group responsible — the SynchRays — and this unique partnership was launched.
“This is a whimsical project that happened serendipitously. It gives the students something to work toward, to exhibit their work, to get them excited about being creative and using their new skills in experimental and electronic music,” Nichols said. “It’s experimental music on every level — we’re experimenting with the collaboration, and the students experimented with making the recording and with how to make their pieces. It’s definitely going to be interesting.”
Nichols asked students to bring in several items from home that would be recorded to create their own authentic music — one-minute segments that would be stitched into several longer pieces of about three minutes. It’s a method of art creation called objet trouvé, “found objects” in French. The leather lanyard and flashcards were brought in by Connor Costello, a first-year biochemistry major who hopes to be a physician assistant one day.
“What I find to be the most interesting part of this class is learning about the hardware and techniques musicians from the past used to create sounds no one had ever heard before,” Costello said. “The music our class is making is very unique and unconventional. The fact that it is going to be played for synchronized swimmers only makes this project even more different. I have never seen, heard of or done anything like this before but, I am glad to be a part of it.”
Most of the students in Nichols’ class are new to experimental and electronic music, which he finds thrilling.
“They are completely fresh, which is exciting, so they can access their creative flow right off the bat,” Nicholas said. It was something intentional he wanted to do with the course, which also touches on history, synthesis, acoustics and background sound. The students are utilizing sound editing software (Audacity, Logic Pro, Pro Tools, FL Studio and Premiere, among others) at digital audio workstations in the new Ferman Center for the Arts.
“They are accessing creativity while developing the skills that would be used in a professional field such as audio engineering or sound design,” Nichols said. “It’s useful and practical, as well as theoretical. It’s been really fun.”