Digit Music

Finalist category: Accessibility Award


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Accessibility Award, Finalist, Winner, 2019

Control One, created by Digit Music,  was developed in response to the need for a non-instrument alternative for severely disabled people to create music. The only product of its kind, it allows physically disabled people to create music without having to learn an entirely new physical skill.

The journey started five years ago, when Si Tew, creator of Control One, was the lead artist on the Able Orchestra. Able Orchestra is a project created by Nottinghamshire’s Inspire Youth Arts and co-produced with Orchestras Live, working with students with physical disabilities using iPads and various Midi controllers to create music. It became clear that some students in the group could not participate fully in the creation of music. Their restrictions in movement made adapting to a tablet, or keyboard interface a difficult task. They asked the question: ‘If a young person uses the joystick of an electric wheelchair to explore the world every day, then why can’t we use this dexterity to control music?’

Control One removes restrictions from music creation. It is similar in design to an electronic wheelchair controller, however, sends digital data to interact with music software, rather than to control movement. The device enables people with restricted movement to perform complex musical phrases. Students are able to work independently, using the controller to switch between instruments, genres and tempos, or in groups by selecting different instruments to play collaboratively. By using an array of audio and MIDI processing techniques it’s able to quantize certain musical elements, giving the users free reign to explore the sound, without ever playing out of time. It also uses open tuning techniques to lock elements into key. This allows the user to concentrate solely on their creative output. Schools using the device will have access to new sounds that will be updated monthly. Many able bodied musicians are inspired by the music they hear and create novel pieces based on current trends. Control One gives physical disabled musicians the opportunity to  do the same.

The device was developed in collaboration with disabled young musicians, all part of the Able Orchestra. Every time an adaptation is made to the controller, or music is added to the software library, these students continue to give their feedback. Jess Fisher recently won ‘Emerging Artist’ at The Mighty Creative awards held in Nottingham. Her talent was discovered through playing her own compositions using Control One. At the awards ceremony she commented, “When I was younger, if someone had asked me if I’d do something in music I’d have given them a no. Now it’s a definite yes.”

The impact the device has had in schools so far has been incredibly positive for both students and staff. Schools have shown an interest in using the devices regularly in the classroom and we are developing a programme of learning to promote class collaboration and creativity. The aim is for Control One to facilitate the teaching of the National Curriculum for Music in SEN schools. This would enhance the lives of students who are currently unable to study music in its full capacity, as well as helping teachers deliver a well rounded, inclusive curriculum. Looking ahead, they would like to develop a scheme of work covering all National Curriculum objectives in Music, alongside specialist cross-curricular topics, e.g. Space; Science Week; Volcanoes.

The team has almost completed the next stage of research and development – which included an improvement in the button array to align it more closely with professional music production equipment. Once these buttons are setup they we will work with a number of physically disabled young musicians to test the devices. Once everyone is happy then they will make Control One Ensemble available for schools to buy.

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