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> > > News: Technophonia: New Music for a Unique Ensemble
photo of two young disabled musicians

Technophobia rehearsal. Photo by Ros Gasson

A unique piece of music has been commissioned by Drake Music Scotland to highlight the musical talents of young people with disabilities and feature centre stage at the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Technophonia, composed by Oliver Searle is written for a 17 piece ensemble featuring orchestral instruments alongside state-of-the-art music technology. The commission, by Drake Music Scotland, is part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and will be premiered in Edinburgh before going to London’s Southbank as part of the New Music 20x12 weekend of performances in July.

Chris Jacquin is one of three trail-blazing soloists in the Technophonia ensemble, who with the support of Drake Music Scotland will be using inclusive music technology specially developed to enable disabled musicians to make music. 

His instrumental set up includes a laptop that combines NOTION 3 software with the innovative Brainfingers system - a sophisticated sensor picking up electrical activity via a headband.  Chris controls how he plays the score of the music by facial jaw and muscle movement – and even his alpha and beta brainwaves - and in this way is able to perform live with his peers. 

Stephanie Forrest, who attends Braidburn special school in Edinburgh, on the Skoog and Antony Swift, from the Royal Blind School, on the Soundbeam are also part of the Technophonia ensemble, joining young musicians from the City of Edinburgh Music School who play strings, piano, guitar and drums.

Skoog is a multi-sided sensor, developed by a team in from Edinburgh University, that responds to different pressures, giving the player control over expressive elements such as dynamics. 

The Soundbeam is an ultrasonic sensor which Antony controls by arm and hand movements, using MIDI (Music Input Digital Interface) to choose different instruments to fit in with the overall sound.

“These young musicians have a remarkable talent and we have been combining this technology with music to ensure we can bring their skills to the fore,” says Oliver Searle, a composition lecturer at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. “I have been working with the young people and Drake Music Scotland to make sure that the music I have written fits the technology and I have to say the results have been quite outstanding.”

Oliver Searle was commissioned by Drake Music Scotland to write a piece for an ensemble of young musicians including the three soloists with one stipulation – his music must exploit the creative potential of the innovative music technology. 

As well as enabling the young players to display their musical talents to a worldwide audience, Oliver Searle’s piece – subtitled Microscopic Dances - shows how disabled musicians can be included in an ensemble and perform on an equal footing with their peers. Oliver’s inspiration for the piece came about as he observed the way musicians actually produce and control musical sounds.

“These tiny movements and processes, many of which are only barely noticeable, or often completely invisible to the human eye, seem to me to be a number of microscopic dances between our neural processes and motor skills,” added Oliver.

As a result, Oliver Searle came up with Microscopic Dances which includes a series of movements, each reflecting the almost undetectable movements of the musicians.

The unique repertoire includes an Invisible Fandango, Secluded Charleston, Atomic Jive, Secret Cakewalk, Portable Polka, Concealed Reel, Veiled Sarabande and a Clandestine Waltz .

Pete Sparkes, Artistic Director of Drake Music Scotland added:

“Technophonia presents a fantastic opportunity for Drake Music Scotland to bring together young musicians for a series of exciting performances as part of the Cultural Olympiad.  Working with talented young musicians, a leading Scottish composer, and brilliant technology, we are creating new repertoire for a unique ensemble.”

Performance details
Friday 15th June, 7.30pm, The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
22nd June, 7-30pm, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
15th July, 12pm, Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London

Go to DAOs listings for further details of events