Flow State is an immersive sonic bathing experience that uses bone conduction technology to deliver audio through the water and into your bones.
Darkness envelops the Birrarung (Yarra) River as your boat glides across the still water, away from the city and into the night towards Herring Island.
Having showered and changed into the “waterproof but cosy” costume you’ve been provided with, your guide leads you to a bathtub.
You strip naked and plunge into the warm water. The bathtub acts as a speaker, sending sound waves through the water, penetrating your entire body with sound.
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Light, sound and sensations intermingle as you float, creating a sensory experience which probes the layers of your consciousness and obscures your awareness of space and time.
This is Flow State, an immersive sonic bathing experience happening as part of RISING festival.
Created by artist, musician and educator Sara Retallick (MOD CON) and musician, writer and creative research scholar Amanda Roff (Harmony, Time For Dreams), it’s a conceptual work which unquestionably stands as the program’s most exclusive and intriguing offering.
Using bone conduction technology to deliver audio through the water, sound vibrates the bones, particularly those within the base of the neck and skull, to create a full-body listening experience.
“If you envisage the ear canal, the information – the sound waves – is coming through the bones of your ear and sinuses and skull rather than through the air, as it normally would,” explains Roff.
“You don’t hear from one ear to another, you hear everything at once, and it also makes it difficult to locate where the sound is coming from because you don’t hear it directionally,” she says.
Retallick, Flow State’s Lead Artist, has spent the past few years investigating underwater sounds with the ambition of creating an experiential work, such as this.
“She was interested in making sound performances that had physicality and involved the body more than just the ear,” says Roff.
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Teaming up with Roff to bring her vision to fruition, everything fell into place when the pair were approached by RISING Creative Director Hannah Fox, who mentioned Herring Island was a potential location for hosting an artwork as part of the festival.
“When we found out about being able to access an island in the middle of the Yarra, we thought, ‘Bingo! That is the perfect spot for some outdoor sonic bathing’,” says Roff.
The location is significant to the work, with Retallick having composed the audio for Flow State using field recordings collected across the island and below the surface of the river surrounding it.
“There’s a combination of synthetic sounding things and field recordings that have been processed in some way,” says Roff.
Due to the nature of the work, which strives to offer a solitary experience, tickets for Flow State are strictly limited.
In order to make the event accessible, tickets will be issued at random through a low-cost raffle system in which bathers will be allocated a date and time slot.
Both conceptually and technically ambitious, the work strips away the noise of the city and the distraction of fellow festival-goers to allow bathers to really immerse themselves in the experience.
“It’s an invitation to listen deeply. It’s an invitation to make yourself vulnerable, both by taking your clothes off and being outside,” says Roff.
“I ‘spose what we’re hoping is that people have an adventure that gives them a heightened sense of curiosity about the landscape and then there’s a listening experience that is hopefully deeper and more exciting than what you might otherwise achieve.”