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I, Lord design session 4: sound and music

There's a phrase that I think a lot of survivors struggle with a lot, when hearing it in response to sharing their truths: "I feel exactly the same way." It almost always comes from a good place, of wanting to validate the survivor and let them know they're not alone. But at the same time, it never rings true. Of course you don't feel exactly the same: you're a different person, with a different life, set of values, nervous system, everything. We've often had to do a lot of work on ourselves to reach a point where we're able to put our feelings and experiences into words, and sharing those words takes a lot of emotional energy - so having them adopted by another as their own without reflection and adaptation doesn't feel like a sharing, but an unconsentual transaction.

I think many misinterpret our disappointment at this phrase, thinking it comes from a place of wanting our suffering to be recognised as greater than the other person's, or wanting to feel singular in our response. Far from it! There is so much healing to be gained from perceiving resonances of our own experiences, internal and external, from others. And while most survivors don't believe in hierarchies of traumatic experience, when we find people we perceive as having suffered "more" than us who are still able to tell the tale, the hope we gain from it is unparalleled.

I felt very silly this week. I knew that our last two survivor design workshops for I, Lord were going to be challenging for me - partly because I don't want them to end, and partly because we are using them to develop sound and music ideas for the show. Music is a core part of many faith cultures: my relationship with music both inside and outside of faith has been overhauled by my trauma responses, in a way that I thought might be quite singular, but figured I should probably make space at the start of the session for people to share their feelings around working with sound and music so we know what we're dealing with. 15 minutes will be enough, right?

An hour and a half later, we were only just coming to the end of a plethora of stories, each one of which could have been a prepared monologue on its own rather than a spontaneous gesture of identification with and variation on themes from my own reflections and others relating to them. Of COURSE that space was needed! If I needed it, why wouldn’t I have realised that others would, too? What a rich sharing it was of joys lost, found, resurfacing, redefined, reclaimed, refused… Did we all feel “exactly the same way”? Absolutely not. But I think we were all taken aback by just how many resonances we heard between stories, and this was clearly the point in our workshop journey where we needed to share with each other in this way.

From there, our sound designer Radhika Aggarwal (Rad by name, rad by nature!) introduced us to a whole host of musical instruments, most of which can often be found in spiritual practices, from which to choose. We thought back to our ideal safe spiritual spaces and experienced what each sounded like from within them. We tried playing them with just one noise at a time, then with improvised layering, then with individuals conducting to bring instruments in and out, louder and quieter.

We even created three “ballets in five movements” - meaning, three groups were each given a scenario from the play to depict in five frozen images, then perform them in sequence, while those of us watching played with what sound should accompany the telling of that story. Recordings from these improvisations will be played around with, to create the eventual sound design for the show.

We finished by reading the lyrics of the three hymns in the show, and reflecting on the storytelling impact these will have on the piece. One participant had an amazing vocal idea that we just had to record there and then. Next week we’ll experiment more with the tune, style, presentation of those hymns, as well as giving participants the chance to realise any final creations they want to contribute to our already overflowing pool of generously, sensitively, bravely and expertly created art and design ideas.

Only one more week to book tickets for the premiere performance at the Bloomsbury Theatre on 30th October at the early bird ticket price!

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