Ever seen a musician play a hydraulophone, a crystallophone or a rotacorda? Underwater? Well Sydney Festival is offering you the chance to experience these peculiar new instruments when it presents AquaSonic, an underwater concert by Danish group Between Music.

Nanna Bech in AquaSonic. Photograph © Charlotta de Miranda

AquaSonic is one of three performances announced today by Sydney Festival as a taste of what is to come in the 2018 line-up. The other two are The Town Hall Affair from the world-renowned New York-based Wooster Group, and an Irish variety show called RIOT.

AquaSonic features five musicians who submerge themselves in five large aquariums to play custom-made instruments and sing – all entirely underwater. “I keep calling it human whale music,” says Sydney Festival Artistic Director Welsey Enoch of the haunting and yet melodic music that emerges.

The creation of the work, which premiered in May 2016, took 10 years of experimentation with scientists, deep sea divers and master craftspeople, leading to the development of a series of very strange instruments. These include a water organ called a hydraulophone consisting of modified gongs and cymbals, a rotacorda, which was inspired by a hurdy-gurdy and has six strings that can be plucked like a guitar, and a modified version of a glass harmonica called a crystallophone. The group also had water-resistant violins made, and developed a singing technique using air bubbles in the mouth. AquaSonic plays at Carriageworks, January 6 – 9.

The Wooster Group will make its Sydney debut with The Town Hall Affair – a theatrical reimagining of the 1971 documentary Town Bloody Hall, which captured a raucous debate between Norman Mailer and leading feminists including Germaine Greer, played by Maura Tierney (ER, The Affair), Jill Johnston and Diana Trilling. Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, co-founder of the experimental troupe, the play combines live performance of real-life dialogue along with video footage from the documentary.

Reviewing it in New York in May this year, The New York Times called it a “very timely and time-bending new mixed-media piece that’s churning up decades of sexual discontent” and a “witty and deeply stimulating exercise in cultural archive-diving”. The Town Hall Affair plays in the Sydney Opera House, Drama Theatre, January 7 – 13.

RIOT is an acclaimed Irish variety show “that melds high art and trash culture in a disorderly cocktail of partying and politics”, as Sydney Festival puts it. A mash-up of theatre, variety, dance, music and performance art, RIOT won the Best Production award at the 2016 Dublin Fringe. The cast includes famed Irish drag queen and gay rights activist Panti Bliss, comedic acrobat dance performers Lords of Strut, and former Riverdance leads Up & Over It among others. RIOT plays in the Meriton Festival Village, January 5 – 28.

The full 2018 Sydney Festival programme will be announced on October 25.