BrailleNet

11th European e-Accessibility Forum
e-Accessible Culture

19/06/2017, 9am-6pm
Cité des sciences et de l'industrie, Paris

 
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Breaking down physical and societal barriers to music-making through technology

Gawain HEWITT
Drake Music
gawainhewitt@drakemusic.org

Speaker's information


Gawain Hewitt

Gawain Hewitt is the National Manager for Research and Development for Drake Music, a national charity which works to make music making accessible for disabled people through technology. A composer and music technologist, Gawain likes to work in the areas where technology and art meet. As an educator he specialises in working in non mainstream settings, including with children expelled from school, young offenders, disabled children and those considered to have special educational needs (SEN). Gawain has worked in a wide variety of schools and educational settings including SEN schools, Pupil Referral Units, as a University Lecturer and as a tutor and leader of community projects. Seeking to share and develop practice throughout his career, Gawain has taught and supported new professionals, as well as providing CPD within schools and at training courses in partnership with, among others, The Royal Academy of Music, Wigmore Hall, Drake Music, Sound Connections, Trinity Laban, Serious and Community Music. In 2013 Gawain was a contributing author to the Music Mark book Reaching Out: Music education with ‘hard to reach’ children and young people.

 

Summary


Drake Music is a non-profit organisation based in the UK which works with disabled people to make music making accessible. This is done through teaching, training, supporting artists and designing new musical instruments.

Three projects illustrate Drake Music's work in this field and the importance of working with disabled musicians. Rather than focusing on the technology and the idea that the makers can solve problems for disabled people, these projects demonstrate that involving disabled musicians as co-designers from the outset can lead to really exciting developments.

In around 2012 Drake Music's was approached by a professional musician, Kris Halpin, who had an established career. His Cerebral Palsy was beginning to seriously impact his music making for the first time and this was causing him to question whether he could even continue as a performing artist. Initially the team explored iPad apps, Skoog and the Soundbeam, but none of these met Kris' needs or expectations for control and expression. Drake Music R&D was collaborating with the team behind a wearable music technology called the MiMu gloves at the time and it quickly became apparent that the MiMu Gloves were exactly what Kris needed. Designed by a musician (Imogin Heap) they were, by design, adaptable, allowing for precise calibration, and allowing for Kris’ impairment, and indeed for subsequent changes to his access needs. The complexity of the MiMu Gloves was a key factor in their success; like lots of musical instruments they are hard to learn.

Drake's R&D programme, DMLab, was gaining some profile through this work with Kris and its hackathons programme, and in 2015 conductor and composer James Rose got in touch. James has Cerebral Palsy and conducts using his head. He needed a better baton with which to conduct, as the existing designs were too cumbersome, imprecise and inelegant. James wore glasses and it made sense to try and attach a baton directly to his glasses. The early prototype was made out of mains electronic components glued to an old glasses frame. The final version was 3d printed as a beautiful bespoke baton that fixes to James’ glasses frame using magnets. This marked a significant turn in James' career and is a clear example of how good design can remove the barriers faced by disabled musicians and allow them to succeed on their own terms.

The third project was developed with John Kelly, a musician, writer, actor and active campaigner for disability rights who suffers from a rare impairment that has made him a full time wheelchair user. In February 2015, John came to a meeting with what would prove to be a revolutionary idea. John has been playing guitar on and off for most of his life, but his impairment had prevented him from fretting the strings. Since 2012, John has been using an iPad, and then an iPhone to play guitar, using Apple’s Garageband app, and Thumbjam. John’s innovation was to combine the concept of Garageband’s virtual guitar with a physical guitar body and actual strings to gain in sensitivity and expressivity. Through a series of hackathons, the team made a guitar which responded to the vibrations of the strings, but allowed for note and chord selection using a phone interface. It was a moment of success for the team, but also an emotional moment – John’s lifelong dream had been realised – he could play guitar on an instrument that had the potential to match his musical vision.

All three projects show that a relatively small financial investment can make a huge difference to accessibility for disabled musicians. Working directly with disabled people is the only way to help them to achieve their artistic vision. It is important to resist the urge to solve access issues for disabled people, and instead to reach out and listen, co-design and collaborate. This approach has led to surprising and industry leading-results for Drake Music, but far more importantly, to equal opportunities for musicians with disabilities.

Watch Gawain Hewitt's presentation on YouTube. For subtitles, please use the CC button, and if you require a transcript do not hesitate to contact us at contact[at]braillenet.org.

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