Wednesday 15th July was the digital premiere of Platform 4’s 2018 hit Invisible Music. We managed to catch up with creator and artistic director Catherine Church for some insights into the show’s inspiration and development:
How have you been finding lockdown? Have you been tearing your hair out or enjoying the slower pace of life?
I have been busy with this project! We were lucky to get emergency funding from the Arts Council so in between home schooling I have been working. I have loved the quiet though, going for walks into the hills and not hearing the motorway was eerie but beautiful.
Invisible Music might be little different to the usual National Theatre or Andrew Lloyd Webber offering – what can audiences expect when they tune in?
Ha! It is a headphone, digital meditation. On tour in 2018 we would describe it as a ‘live concept album’ – or a piece of ‘gig-theatre’. The concept being hearing loss. Voice, sound, and music are all layered together to create 15 short, diverse, musical movements looking at different aspects of hearing loss. It sounds terribly ‘worthy’ but it isn’t at all – it’s beautiful, immersive, unexpected and intriguing listening.
It’s something of a personal project for you – can you tell us a little about the inspiration, and how you developed that inspiration into a fully-fledged production?
I had just finished a very large-scale project called Memory Points which was inspired by my work with people with early onset dementia. It was a promenade performance and ended up at the Southbank Centre – where audience members got to walk around the site and in the tunnels underneath the Royal Festival Hall, they go to dress up and do lots of fun stuff, ending up on stage themselves having tea and cake and being serenaded by a singer and a 5 piece band.
I didn’t know what to do afterwards, so I thought a sound piece would be a good thing to extend my work with the same players in the band, and my mother had written a poem called ‘Surreal Existence’ about how she experienced the world with hearing problems.
It really struck me, I never realised how much she was lip reading; we use a little bit of her poem, with her reading it, scattered through the music. I started to go to her lip reading classes and meeting the participants and then when it felt the right time, started to interview them too.
The aural experience is integral to the show. What’s the process of working with Pete Flood (Musical Director) and Jules Bushell (Sound Designer) like?
We have worked together for many years, Pete and I worked on Memory Points together whilst he was still in Bellowhead, and Jules and I have been partners in sound for 24 years now! It was great – Pete is incredible at creating, and most importantly arranging the music so we sound good – he even makes me sound good on the clarinet! Jules is brilliant in the band and engineering the sounds and layers….
Invisible Music was originally live gig-theatre. How have you found developing it into a digital experience?
We were lucky that Barret Hodgson who created the visuals had already conceived them for the live performance, projected on a wide, thin screen behind the band. To transform them to a small screen was definitely a smooth process – doing the subtitles was the bit that took the time!
Plugging in with headphones gives an intimacy to the piece I really like – it feels almost like you are listening in – overhearing them speak – it is a privilege.
And finally – there are many unexpected ways that coronavirus is making life more isolated for people with hearing loss (face masks that prevent lip reading, and the impossibility of phone calls, for example). What are you hoping the impact of raising awareness through Invisible Music might be?
Well – to raise the awareness of how many people rely on lip reading – all these people are creating a magic act every day, which many of us do not realise. The universality of many of things covered in the piece is something after lockdown we can all identify with – hearing birds clearly and loudly, the surreal nature of shopping, isolation and confusion – all themes people with hearing loss experience everyday.
If you’ve enjoyed hearing about Invisible Music you can catch the digital show from 15th July onwards here or on the websites of many participating theatres (for a full list see Platform 4’s website).