Customer Story: Tiny movements can create expressive music!

Elin Skogdal from the SKUG Centre in Tromso, Norway shares her experience of working with Apollo Ensemble to develop a new block for the Ensemble software.

Some of our students only have one tiny movement of their head, which they can use to perform music by using a Press or MIDIsensor (from the old MIDIcreator system). This normally operates as a continuous controller or plays a scale of notes. Using the ‘Variable to Switch’ block in Ensemble Designer, we can set a position as a trigger point to act as a switch – so when the student reaches the trigger point they can play a note, chord or phrase.

However, when playing most traditional instruments a musician can decide if they want to play louder or softer e.g. by blowing or pressing harder or softer on their instrument. But using just a switch to play, this has so far not been possible… Hurray! Now it is!

In October 2016 SKUG undertook a project with Dr Tim Anderson to address the challenge of developing a single switch which can provide expression. After some thinking and testing together, we contacted Apollo Ensemble with our requirements, and they agreed to take on the task of creating a new ‘Inflection’ block. They very impressively managed to make the first version for us in only a few days, and we could then start testing it – exciting!

Now our students using a Press sensor, MIDIsensor or Tilt sensor, can perform music with expression. A student can both play a note and also give it expression with the same tiny movement. The Inflection block interprets the speed that the player moves near the trigger point, to affect the timbre and loudness of the note. It takes some practising getting used to being in control of expression, but it immediately gives more life to the music. Tim was also elated, as he had had the idea in mind of interpreting the speed of movement within our music software for many years, and to see it actually working, and in a far simpler way, was thrilling!

The inflection block uses the change of direction to trigger musical events, rather than a set trigger point at a fixed position. We found this to be a lot better for people with small movements and/or little control over their movement. Before we needed to adjust the sensors all the time to be in the right position for them to hit the trigger point. Now any movement within the range of the sensor will work!

So, a big THANK YOU to Apollo Ensemble for creating better possibilities for performing music with expression for musicians with severe disabilities!