Cat Hope’s contemporary opera Speechless uses animated graphic notation. Graphic notation is the representation of music through the use of visual symbols in place of traditional music notation. It is then put in motion, making it animated.
The graphic score is read in performance on synchronised iPads, using the Decibel ScorePlayer application. The score ‘image’ is over thirty meters long, but the iPad provides a window to the score as it scrolls the past a vertical playhead, the point where the musicians read the score. Below is a screenshot of one moment for the 30-piece multi-instrumental Australian Bass Orchestra:
All of the elements of the Speechless score are derived from the Human Rights Commission report, “The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention” (2014). The design of the notation is derived from materials in the report: graphs, children’s drawings, photographs and even the graphic layout of the document. The colours are also sampled from the report.
The colours for the orchestral parts come from the children’s drawings, and the vocal parts use colours from the photographs in the report. There are no words in the opera.
For composer and director Cat Hope, the graphic notation is a key aspect of the work “I like to think that the orchestra and singers are ‘re-reading’ the report, re-defining the idea of a conventional libretto.”
Music Director Aaron Wyatt gives an insight into how animated graphic notation works in the video below.