Sept  2016  Latrobe  Valley  Express

Traralgon pianist, Michelle Stevens lost her hearing about 20 years ago and was born blind, but still, she kept playing. Over the past four years, artistic director Jodee Mundy and deaf-blind artists Heather Lawson and Michelle have created 'Imagined Touch' - a tactile and sensory performance.

On 7 September in North Melbourne an audience with altered and restricted light, using goggles and head phones as well as tactile communication, got a glimpse into the musical experience of a person with limited senses.

Michelle StevensDeaf-blind performer Michelle Stevens has a cochlear implant

Losing sight did not stop Claude Monet from painting expressive scenes of his water lily garden. Jodee said touch was the primary way deaf-blind people navigated and communicated with others. "However, in a society where touch is not encouraged, deaf-blind people also grapple with universal questions of isolation, access to human connection”. Without the memory of playing piano from the age of five years old, Michelle said it would be impossible for her to play today, but using a cochlear implant, she has been able to change the way her brain interprets sound. When she played a note on the keyboard, it was difficult for her to hear the difference between two notes.

"A person that was born deaf wouldn't be able to achieve this," Michelle said. "You're hearing through electrical signals rather than through your ear and the normal way it processes it." Michelle knows hundreds of songs by heart, but learning a song from scratch presents serious challenges. She estimated it took her two months to learn a piece by Australian-born composer Percy Grainger for the performance. With Jodee, she has also composed a piece using electronics to try to recreate her experience of sound through a cochlear implant. "The piano will sound quite electronic, and they may even find it difficult hearing the difference in pitch," Michelle said.