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Invisible Music: Variations on a Theme – Platform 4 and Regional Theatre Websites

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Creator: Platform 4

The rapid development and use of sound design have notably enhanced the theatrical experience in recent years, moving away from raw sound effects to creating an entire landscape that is as fundamental to a production as set and costume. Platform 4 in association with the Memory Points Band have taken this a step further, using an extraordinary combination of sound, music and graphics to create a ‘digital meditation on hearing loss’.

Invisible Music: Variations on a Theme is a 45-minute film divided into a dozen chapters each considering or partially recreating the effect of hearing loss for a wider audience by combining different types of sound created by Jules Bushel with Peter Flood’s music, and the testimony of the Winchester Lip-Reading Group, who openly discuss their experiences and frustrations. An immersive experience, it is supported by Barret Hodgson’s visual design

This Platform 4 creation is a huge technical accomplishment, an orchestration of several complex elements that reflect the nature of each segment and the words provided by the interviewee. An early chapter repeats the phrase “Invisible Music” for several minutes until the beginning and end of the words become indistinct. Over and around this, a jazzy double bass sound is played alongside a graphic that dives into the words, stretching them and losing their meaning.

It is a clever and thoughtful approach that happens throughout the production, and a section called Underwater is equally fascinating in suggesting the effects of hearing loss – water sounds sit within a composition that includes a heartbeat thump as the charming Winchester Group explain how silly violinists looks when you cannot hear what they’re playing, while the listener hears a piece composed for the violin. This builds to a cacophony of muffled voices in which only selected sentences are fully audible twisting into whistling, echo and feedback as the experience becomes more intense.

Barret Hodgson’s graphics range from simple line drawings of wave patterns that undulate and broaden across the screen to rolling recreations of the aisles of Sainsbury’s stocked with produce as one of the contributors explains how calm and cosy Supermarketland seems when the busy stressful sounds are muted, as though fellow customers are gliding or wearing slippers, the 60s slow tempo jazz defining the mood.

Platform 4’s piece is varied and complex, providing a range of experiences that include a scale of sound from silence and white noise to the clarity of birdsong when using a hearing aid. Sometimes it is light and hopeful, at others the music becomes sinister or fretful. “Hearing loss is the theft of intimacy”; it can be “socially isolating” and confusing when the word “biscuit” looks like “big kiss” but, as one member of the Winchester Group insists, “you can survive”.

Bushel and Flood have built their concept around the words provided, using the instruments and pitch to create an almost poetic response to the distorting effect of hearing loss. Towards the end of Invisible Music, as thoughts turn to mortality, death and religious belief, you start to wonder quite how it will end, but this voyage through a composed landscape of aural experiences is fascinating and meaningful.

Available here to stream   

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