Sensory Score performers. Photograph: Eleonore de Bonneval
Rehearsals for the Sensory Score. Photograph: Eleonore de Bonneval

What colour is music? And what does music taste like? BittterSuite attempts to answer these questions by creating immersive classical music performances that utilise all the senses.

It started out when musician Stephanie Singer was passing through Brixton tube station on her way to work, and could hear classical music being piped out of the station’s PA system. When she asked a member of staff, she was told it was to keep the passengers calm.

Singer went away resolved to challenge people’s perceptions of classical music and to make them listen to it more actively.

Her idea was informed by Singer’s fascination for graphic notation and her research into syneasthesia – where two or more of the five senses usually experienced separately are involuntarily joined together. “But it is more about cross-modal perceptions and putting an emphasis on one of our senses at a time in a unified sensory experience,” she explains.

This month, BitterSuite is teaming up with emerging composer Tanya Auclair for a blindfolded and immersive concert at Rich Mix called The Sensory Score. Performers interpret the music and convey it to the audience by stimulating their senses.

There will be bespoke tastes by gourmet chef Adam Thomason, perfumes by Sarah McCartney and a tactile experience choreographed by BitterSuite.

“I felt like a child being cuddled,” says one audience member at BitterSuite’s performance of Debussy’s ‘String Quartet in G’.

For composer Auclair, the idea of letting Singer and the performers have the freedom to interpret her music however they liked “felt like a real gift”.

Blindfolding the audience is essential to the experience says Singer. “Everybody relies on their sight. That is real. But if you take it away it gives you more room to play.”

The blindfolds mean audience members are more likely to let their imaginations free, explains Auclair, as there no visual distractions. It makes them hypersensitive to the all other senses too, including touch, taste and smell.

The relationship between the 30 performers and 30 audience members is very intimate, with each person’s experience different. Singer says that as a performer you can “feel the person straight away and can tailor it accordingly”, building a sense of trust with them.

She recalls being told by one audience member that it was the first time he had been touched like that in seven years. 

“He was very emotional,” she says.

The Sensory Score is at Rich Mix, 35–47 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6LA on 31 July
richmix.org.uk

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