Bionic synthesis: artists make music with a prosthetic arm, eye motion
Accessibility in music can mean expanding expression beyond what is normally physically possible. For one artist, that means jacking a prosthesis as CV – for another, overcoming paralysis to make music with eyes alone.
Bertolt Meyer was already producing and DJing, even with a birth condition that left him without the lower portion of one arm. But he hacked his arm prosthesis to jack control voltage straight into his modular – connecting to synthesis more directly than most before would even imagine.
In the case of Pone, a seminal French hip-hop producer, the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) left the artist without muscle control of his body. Using an eye interface, he has managed to publish a book on the disease.
But he has also turned to music production, connecting open, hackable eye tracking solutions to Ableton Live. The eyes act as a (very slow) mouse – in this case, the screen-and-pointer GUI paradigm of the software is an aid to accessibility. Inspired by Kate Bush, he has made an instrumental album called Kate & Me entirely using his eyes.
And … wow – it’s everything you’d expect from a hip-hop innovator like Pone, astonishing as you think of the effort that went into production. It’s a testament to the power of musical imagination, and the potential of that imagination to connect in any way it can with the outside world.
The album is a free download from the album site:
Check the release party:
The Guardian has an extensive article on his story. There’s some sobering information, too – like the lack of French insurance support for the condition.
Pone: the paralysed producer making music with his eyes [The Guardian]
There’s not nearly enough attention paid to accessibility in the music tech industry. It’s not some novel edge case – it hits right at the core of what music technology for expression is fundamentally about. (And even accessibility defined in narrow terms is bigger than you think – so for instance 1 in 20 KOMPLETE KONTROL users take advantage of features for the visually impaired.)
I wrote about this in a blog story for Native Instruments, which deals with their products but also a lot about the process for developing these features – it’s relevant to anyone reading here who makes music products. (And even though this deals with vision accessibility, there are lessons relevant to other matters, too.)
It’s also worth reading Ashley Elsdon’s writing on the topic, like this story for us:
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