Developing Musical Instruments for People with Physical Disabilities

Music Technology
Developing Musical Instruments for People with Physical Disabilities

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East London-based engineering and designing studio Bare Conductive recently developed a new digital musical instrument accessible to everyone, including those with physical disabilities. The new technology allows an artist to express himself freely through music, regardless of physical limitations. It is one of the first instruments that is accessible for all people, enabling everyone to experience the healing power of music.

Matt Johnson, at Bare Conductive, told me “the new musical medium isn’t meant for mass production, but it is an impressive manifestation that depicts just what the Touch Board plus coding can do.” Bare Conductive collaborated with Vahakn Matossian from Human Instruments to design an instrument from scratch that could both allow for real musical expression and require skill. See the video below.

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The new instrument was built using Bare Conductive’s Touch Board and Electric Paint. The Touch Board is a circuit board that converts conductive materials into something interactive. Based on Arduino Leonardo, the board allows any conductive material to be linked with downloadable MP3 files, sounds or motion sensors. This means a basic piece of wall art can become equipped with motion-triggered music.

Bare Conductive’s Electric Paint also allows ordinary objects to become extraordinary. The team of engineers isn’t giving up any secrets as to how its paint is made, but it is applied like a normal water-based acrylic paint. It dries quickly and can be removed with soap and water, but because it’s conductive, it allows you to paint wires into your own circuits. The tool was intended for rapid prototypes and works with everything from electrical materials and microcontrollers to sheets of paper and cloth.

Using these two tools, the team of engineers and designers got to work. The team used Electric Paint on custom-made wooden boards to create sensitive keys and sound effects. These were then connected to Touch Boards and coded, enabling the keys on each board to control chords and notes. The instrument also features a breath-sensitive tube that controls octave and tone. The range of sounds that can be played with the instrument enable artists to develop their own style and sound that is unique — something every musician discovers but was not previously accessible to many disabled aspiring musicians.

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The development team worked closely with various musicians to perfect the expressive technology, including composer Cosmo Sheldrake and musician John Kelly, who has a physical disability. Together, the team developed a complex product that was both accessible to Kelly and challenging enough to engage Sheldrake. Bare Conductive hopes it is just the beginning for the next generation of expressive technologies.

“As it stands we see that this instrument isn’t a product in itself, but rather it’s a demonstration of the sensitivity and robustness of the Touch Board. This sensitivity and robustness allowed us to create an expressive instrument. This is so much more than pushing a button. It requires skill to play it well, but because of this it can deliver beautiful and unique results,” – Matt Johnson of Bare Conductive

The instrument, which has not been named, will not come to market as an official product, but Bare Conductive does plan to make some of its design and coding details available to the making community, so others can benefit from the freedom this new technology offers to the world of music. Music is an incredible tool for self-expression and this initiative brings that freedom to anyone who cares to play.

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