A summertime serenade for the Australian pool
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A summertime serenade for the Australian pool

Artists Bek Berger and Morgan Hickinbotham at the Prahan pool.

Artists Bek Berger and Morgan Hickinbotham at the Prahan pool.Credit:Luis Ascui

You may think public pools are more or less the same anywhere in the world, whether you’re swimming in Stonnington or bathing in Berlin.

But, as artists Bek Berger and Morgan Hickinbotham discovered, that’s simply not true.

"Pools in Germany are completely open," says Berger. "It's wild ... there are no lanes.

"In Kuopio [Finland], most people don't swim - they kind of water-walk, with flotation devices."

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The pair clocked up a lot of laps at pools all across Europe during a recent 18-month tour with dance troupe James Batchelor and Collaborators.

And what they saw inspired an unusual side project that celebrates the strange choreography of going for a dip in that quintessential of Australian places: the public pool.

Compositions for the Pool puts a whole new twist on "immersive" art. Inspired by and taking place at a particular pool very close to their hearts - Prahran pool - visitors are invited to don waterproof headphones and listen to an original score while they swim.

The pair chose Prahran pool not just for its outdoor aesthetic and its centrality to the community (it was built in 1967) but because, says Berger, it’s "exactly halfway between me and Morgan’s childhood homes".

They composed the music by taking field recordings around the pool and scouring the soundscapes for melodies. They notated the melodies and handed them over to eight members of the Stonnington Symphony, who re-recorded them on their classical instruments.

The result is a 20-minute suite of music in three parts, loosely based around the concepts of entry and immersion in the pool, swimming and activity, then floating or release.

Berger and Hickinbotham have been testing out the work on their own ears in the pool every day in preparation for a series of public sessions running until Sunday.

The joy of it, says Berger, is that "everyone can find space in it".

"The wonderful thing about giving a pair of headphones to people means there is an autonomy to experiencing the performance," she says.

"People can swim laps at the fastest pace possible, they can enjoy the work that way - or they can be just having a float.

"Because you have this musical narration, everything becomes heightened. When you’re swimming with sunshine on your back, the shadows of your hand movements give a certain pattern or choreography."

They also found beauty in simply watching others swim along while listening.

"Yesterday after our swim we were sitting on the sidelines of the pool and watching other people and there was a kind of synchronicity," says Hickinbotham. "They would occasionally sync up with the composition. That was a really nice moment: it was kind of like a water ballet."

For those who can't make it down to the pool, the score will be available for download from the project's website from 7pm on Thursday.

LAAP Projects presents Compositions for the Pool at Prahran Aquatic Centre, 3pm-7pm February 7-8, 11am-4pm February 9, and 10am-1pm February 10. Free with pool entry.

Hannah Francis is Arts Editor at The Age

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