Immersion and Inclusive Music Technologies, 2017

A saxophonist wearing a VR headset
Franziska Schroeder plays her saxophone while immersed in a virtual environment.

Overview 

In 2017, Performance without Barriers expanded their research into accessible digital musical instruments by investigating how emerging immersive/virtual reality (VR) technologies could be leveraged by disabled musicians. VR technology at the time was primarily designed for non-disabled people. Furthermore, gestures associated with instrumental musicianship – for example, plucking, blowing, bowing – were not widely utilised in VR environments. Several questions needed to be addressed, such as how might disabled musicians interact with such technologies and what music might they produce?  

Marylouise McCord, a physically disabled musician from the Drake Music Project Northern Ireland, and James Cunningham, a visually impaired multi-instrumentalist from Queen’s University Belfast participated in the project. Using a HTC VIVE system running EXA: The Infinite Instrument, they collaboratively designed custom virtual accessible digital musical instruments to be used in performance with the Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble. The project culminated in an immersive VR piece, entitled  “Embrace”, and a final performance showcasing the newly developed instruments. 

In an effort to reduce the overall cost VR-based accessible instruments, Performance without Barriers partnered also with Belfast-based makerspace Farset Labs. Through this partnership a community of technologists were enlisted to explore the development of VR-based accessible instruments on cost-effective systems such as the Oculus Go. The collaboration took the form of weekly workshops over a period of four months culminating in a maker-showcase. 

This research project also involved the facilitation of a public symposium debate on policies surrounding the inclusion of disabled people in the arts. 

People 

  • Matilde Meireles 
  • Franziska Schroeder 
  • Karen Rafferty 
  • Marylouise McCord 
  • Damian Mills 
  • James Cunningham 
  • Andrew Bolster 

Partners 

Research Outputs 

Performance without Barriers: Improvising Accessible Digital Musical Instruments. Koichi Samuels and Franziska Schroeder. Contemporary Music Review. 2019.

How we’re designing musical instruments with the help of disabled musicians and VR. Franziska Schroeder and Matilde Meireles. The Conversation. 2019

Acknowledgements 

This project was generously funded by the Research and Partnership Development initiative for the Next Generation of Immersive Experiences offered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council