Platform 4’s Invisible Music began its life back in 2018 as a piece of gig theatre, going out on tour. Thanks to the Arts Council Emergency Awards, the company has been able to transform it into an online presentation; soundtracked by the Memory Point(s) band, it also features the voices of the Winchester Lip-Reading Group and an incredible range of graphics from Barret Hodgson.
The 15 musical episodes (beginning with Tiny Islands and ending with Coming Home) explore different aspects of the challenges faced by those with hearing difficulties – 12 million people in the UK alone fall into this category. It covers a range of emotions, from the “peaceful” feeling of walking around a supermarket with fellow shoppers seemingly gliding past, to the anger of feeling like you need to apologise for not hearing things properly – and the joy of welcoming sound back into your life upon the acquisition of a hearing aid (“I didn’t realise I had been missing so much”).
Inspired by Platform 4 artistic director Catherine Church’s mother and her experiences of hearing loss, the piece is a combination of music, sound effects, and verbatim audio. In an effort to increase accessibility, Invisible Music is captioned – as well as there being a closed captions option, some of the words and phrases spoken are also incorporated into the graphic presentation, dynamically capturing the feelings behind some of the words in a variety of ways. So not only do you know what’s being said, but you can imagine the way in which these thoughts are being communicated (for example, in Angry Tango the word ‘angry’ is lit up like a neon sign, gradually moving from light pink into red as the anger rises).
There are many highlights across this 47-minute production, including the A Day In The Life-esque cacophony in Underwater, navigating from “try to make sense of this jumble” to “and I could hear only silence”. The sea shanty feel to Setting Sail (along with the lapping waves) is very pleasing, and Angry Tango is both an excellent piece of tango music and a spot-on representation of the build-up of rage.
What’s fascinating to note is the parallels between these everyday experiences of people with various degrees of hearing loss, and the general experience of a world in quarantine. We have become the Tiny Islands of the opening movement. In Drifting, Sinking, hearing loss is first movingly described as “the theft of intimacy” and later as being “socially isolating” (something echoed in Supermarketland, as the speaker frets about the pressure of being talked to at the till). And I’m sure I won’t be the only one longing for the “sense of freedom” the speaker feels when they remove their hearing aid at night – even if you unplug yourself from the news and social media, the pervading unease that rests over us all like a virulent fog is virtually inescapable.
However, putting on your headphones and immersing yourself in Invisible Music is a fitting and welcome distraction. A beautiful and thought-provoking soundscape that is a wonderful manifestation of creativity in this period of isolation.
My verdict? A beautiful and thought-provoking soundscape – enlightening and moving at the same time.