~ICMC 2015 - Sept. 25 - Oct. 1, 2015 - CEMI, University of North Texas
Adaptive Music Technology:
History and Future Perspectives
University of Victoria
Computer music technology opens new possibilities in the
design of new musical instruments for physically disabled
musicians. The field of adaptive music technology has been
relatively unexplored in the computer music literature.
In this paper, we provide an overview of existing work in
this field, and describe in more detail two representative
examples. Informed by this overview we propose a set of
principles for how to work with a disabled participant to
develop a new musical instrument. We hope that these principles will help stimulate and evolve future work in the field
of adaptive music technology.
The field of adaptive music technology has been growing
since the late 1980s. Before that, advances in adaptive technology (such as electric wheelchairs) and music technology
(such as the Theremin) laid the ground work for the field.
The field is important because it provides a way for people
with physical disabilities to play music they could not otherwise play . It opens up music making to many people
who would otherwise not be able to participate. Benefits of
music making for the disabled can include increased selfawareness, increased agency, and increased control .
Because it is so important to develop new instruments
that people with disabilities can play, it's key to develop a
set of considerations to use when making a new instrument.
This can be done by evaluating cases of pre-existing adaptive musical instruments and how they were developed, as
well as by surveying some of the literature about adaptive
Adaptive music technology can be defined as the use
of digital technologies to allow a person who cannot otherwise play a traditional musical instrument, to play music
unaided. The term assistive music technology has been used
in much literature , but the word 'assistance' implies an
external source that provides aid to a person in need. In contrast, 'adaptive' implies a constant state of refinement, and
an adjustment to the situation of the musician.
Copyright: ~ 2015 Graham-Knight et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0
Unported, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in
any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
University of Victoria
Robert Moog notes there are "three diverse deterninants
of musical instrument design and musical instrument structure. The first is the sound generator; the second is the interface between the musician and the sound generator; the third
is the... visual reality of the instrument ." It is useful to
look at the technologies that have led up to the design of the
adaptive musical instruments listed in Table 1.
Perhaps the single biggest development that has made
adaptive music technology possible is the advent of MIDI in
1983. This allowed for rapid and simple transport of musical
commands. Shortly after that development instruments such
as the Soundbeam, which uses a sonar beam that triggers
MIDI events when interrupted, and the Magic Flute, which
triggers MIDI notes using a breath pressure sensor, began to
be introduced. Other adaptive musical instruments that use
MIDI include the Head=Space, the Doozaphone, the Jamboxx, the Yamaha WX5, the Canstrument, the Dimension
Beam, the MidiCreator/MidiGesture/MidiSensor, the Optivideotone, the Synth-A-Beams, the Skoog and the AUMI.
The makers of the Soundbeam cite the Thereminovox
as an ancestor and inspiration. Indeed, the idea of a no-touch
instrument makes sense for many disabilities. Instruments
such as Moog's Ethervox have evolved from both the
Theremin and from MIDI.
Another important development for certain touchless
sensors is sonar. This was developed to aid in underwater
tracking and detection at large distances, and is used in
many adaptive instruments because it is very robust.
Some touchless sensors, such as the Microsoft Kinect,
use infrared light . The Kinect contains an infrared
transmitter and, right beside it on the camera, a receiver.
When the light is emitted, it bounces off three-dimensional
shapes, then returns to the sensor. The angle of refraction of
the light allows the Kinect to compose a three-dimensional
image of the world in its view.
Breath pressure sensors contain a membrane that has a
pressure differential across it when blown into. The ones
made for the use of disabled humans typically have a range
of 0 to 1.5psi. Quadriplegics often lose lung capacity due to
inactivity, so breath pressure sensors incorporated into instruments may actually increase lung capacity with use over