Disabled student playing music

Disability Innovations: An orchestra trying new things

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We are having a tech fortnight to focus on technology, including guest bloggers, like Rebecca. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is Able Orchestra?

The Able Orchestra is a project in which young people with varied needs and abilities, collaborate with professional artists in order to create extraordinary live performances. Creating multi-sensory experiences for audiences, the collective adapt the use of technologies, to help realise innovative methods for people to perform audio-visual content.

Started and developed by members of the County Youth Arts Team in Nottinghamshire, the project works with various groups and organisations to achieve their performances. Over an intensive period of days, artists Si Tew, Rebecca Smith, Ronika and Angus Mcleod work alongside groups, to create all component parts of the content.

How does it work?

Using recorded sounds and visuals from the young people’s environment, rich textures of material are captured, layered and further manipulated. Using software such as Ableton Live, Resolume, Quartz Composer and Madmapper, audio-visual aspects of the performance can be triggered, manipulated and even created live. “We may take something as simple as a bleep from the young persons wheelchair, or the sound of them dropping sticks from outside. But we then take that source material, and further work with it, to create something truly unique and with its own identity” – Si Tew, Artist.

The use of ipads with midi-controller apps such as Lemur, permit custom controlled instruments to be built. Light beams, physical pads, button, dials and a host of accessibility options allow for adaptive control of the content, regardless of the user’s mobility, movement or dexterity. “Our aim is to help enable freedom of expression through means that the young people may not have experienced before. Over the course of the sessions, we develop and create digital interfaces, to enable those with the most profound disabilities to contribute equally” – Rebecca Smith, Artist.

Always looking to push creative possibilities, the group have recently collaborated with musicians from the BBC Concert Orchestra to create a mixed traditional and electronic live performance, with behind the scenes footage available. “It’s a really exciting and new experience. This is my first real experience of music and it turns out you don’t need to actually play an instrument.” – Jessica Fisher, Participant.

The possibilities are endless

The collective are currently in the process of experimenting with new devices and processes to further enhance their work. These include wearable technologies, conductive paint and the live manipulation of scents to create a fully sensory experience . “We simply use the technology in order to make high quality, (sometimes complex) processes, very accessible, hands-on and expressive. Most importantly, it must always be fun and leave a smile on our face” – Rebecca Smith.

Discuss technology on our community.

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