Sounds of the Ocean submerges audiences in an underwater concert experience

We spoke to “ocean music” specialist Joshua Sam Miller about his performance at the IMERSA Summit at Montreal’s Satopshere this weekend.

When people ask Joshua Sam Miller what kind of music he plays, he responds with “ocean music.” Not only that, but since 2018, his exploration into ocean music has changed his life, leading him to start a new multi-sensory immersive experience that connects people with life underwater during a meditative experience suited for a planetarium’s projection dome, and tour it across the world. 

He calls it “Sounds of the Ocean,” a performance that has him playing a variety of instruments live as images of marine life swim along the screens and viewers are submerged in a mind-opening experience. 

Sounds of the Ocean will play at Montreal’s upcoming IMERSA Summit at the SAT’s Satopshere. 

“At the start of this thing, I was very selective about the kinds of instruments I used,” Miller says. “They needed to sound like the sea or come from somewhere underwater. I play the conch shell at the start of the show, for example, and some sea shells throughout.” 

The instruments had to also represent the element of water, like the ocean drum or the  Djidunun (the West African water drum). Miller actually recorded the drum with a hydrophone (an underwater microphone) inside a bowl of water. This means that people can hear what it would actually sound like if they were underneath the drum’s gourd, which has an echoing effect. 

“It was an experiment with the question of, ‘What would a concert sound like with instruments that are all from the sea?’” Miller says. “From there, I included the clarinet, which was my starting instrument, the saxophone, Tibetan singing bowls and more.”

The initial idea for Sounds of the Ocean started around 2018, just before the pandemic. Miller was in Santa Cruz, California, teaching a yoga class that helped attendees connect with themselves through sound. After one class, a man walked up to him and said ‘I really like your music, so would you ever like to hear some recordings of whales?’”

It turned out that this man was Dr. John Ryan from the Monterey Bay Aquatic Research Institute, who had access to an incredible library of whale songs. 

“I’ll never forget that day because it literally changed the course of my life and allowed me to hear what it sounds like underwater and really feel these very mystical cetaceans. It just totally blew me away,” Miller says.

Miller’s connection to the ocean had always been there. About 20 years before he created Sounds of the Ocean, he would go on frequent scuba diving trips on New York’s East Coast and surf along Califronia. 

“I think my connection to the natural world led me to have those ‘aha’ moments when working on this project,” he says.  

Joshua Sam Miller Sounds of the Ocean
Joshua Sam Miller

In 2019, along with a group of musicians and a marine biologist, Miller hosted an audio only first iteration of the Sounds of the Ocean project and took it on tour through Califronia in the fall.

“I was carrying a massive subwoofer in the car up and down the coast, because many of the whales have a very low frequency in their voicings within their whale songs,” Miller says. “It was really important to me that people could hear that good quality and most places don’t have the type of sound system that would play that back.”

The show grew and grew every year with a tour in Costa Rica in 2021 and a live album concert in Uvita, that was released next to a natural world formation there called the Whale’s Tail. Miller also met a German woman there (Elise Lein), with a background in filmmaking, who is now his fiancé, setting the stage for the visual elements of the show. 

“Once I did that Califronia tour, I had a vision for this show working in other environments and spaces and I always had an idea to bring in visuals. But once I met my partner, she really brought a lot of great ideas,” he says. 

Last winter, the two were in Guatemala together, and co-directed the Sounds of the Ocean film to complement the music that had already been composed.

“We also found a way to incorporate dance into the show, which was a beautiful way to bring people back from their very meditative and mindful journey,” Miller says.

Sounds of the Ocean is meant to be meditative and mimic a scuba dive, but also leave the viewer/listener in a more contemplative headspace, especially in regards to the ocean’s health from a sustainable point of view. As a tie in, Sounds of the Ocean was also just approved to one of the United Nations’ Ocean Decade Activities.

“I really hope that people who leave this show think ‘I want to use less plastic in my life and think about my impact on the health of the planet,’” Miller says. “I really believe that if all of us commit to that, we will see a lot of positive change in the topic climate, and our planet’s health.”

Sounds of the Ocean will be performed at the SAT’s Satosphere on Sunday, Oct. 16, 7 p.m.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.