Motion-Sensing Music for Children with Physical Limitations 
(1997 - 2001)
In conjunction with Hasbro Childrenís Hospital and Meeting Street School

This project, to allow children with severe physical limitations to create music, began in 1997 in collaboration with movement specialist Walter Ferrero working at the Meeting Street School, in Providence, RI. The idea was to have each child create a ědanceî with whatever physical capabilities he or she possessed, and to create music based on physical gestures with the aid of a video camera and computer motion-tracking system. By mapping motion to musical characteristics, the children were able to play music simply by moving parts of their body.  Limited coordination and small movements were mapped to musical parameters to create melodies, rhythms, and shape sounds.

We worked with creative movement while experimenting with a number of simple sound mappings, including ways to produce engaging melodies and rhythms. The aural feedback provided an incentive to participate, and several staff members remarked that they saw the children move in ways never seen before. Most important, the children had fun and felt empowered to play music with their bodies. What was especially important was that every child seemed to intuitively grasp the basic concept of how the system worked right away, and many were overjoyed with their new-found musical abilities. The project ran for nine 50 minute sessions over the summer of 1997. I did three additional sessions in April of 1999 at Meeting Street School for ěSibling Day,î where special needs children and their siblings participated together.

A second grant, in 2000, enabled this work to continue in collaboration with nurses at the Hasbro Childrenís Hospital, in Providence, RI. Using a portable cart, the system was wheeled into rooms where children were confined to bed, and they were able to play music and select sounds using minimal movements. The most recent version of the system adds video processing, simple animation, and film selection, all though movement.

Several of the professional staff described the potential therapeutic applications for this technology. However, my main concern is that of an artist, to give the children an engaging participatory experience and access to the joy of making music. These projects also increase the access to arts to an underserved population of kids who, as I have seen, thrive in this artistic environment that is tailor-made to their needs.

Both projects were supported by grants from Rhode Island Council on the Arts


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