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Anders-Petter Andersson

Computer technology and music enrich the lives of children and youths with severe disabilities.
This is shown in Anders-Petter Andersson's research on so-called interactive music technology within Rhyme, a Norwegian cross-disciplinary research project.
Along with technology developers, composers and designers, Andersson is breaking new ground in the area of music and health.

– During the last 15 years the positive health effects of traditional musical activity – playing music, singing in a choir, dancing and listening to records – have been verified in a series of studies. Concurrently, the entrance of computers has made music available in everyday life in a totally new way via video games, social media and smartphones. The phenomenal abilities of a computer to remember and learn, means that it has the ability of a musical tool to reply and trigger expectations in the person who is playing, but also to spark curiosity in others within the environment. With the Rhyme project, we focus on how computer-based music technology not only can stimulate children and youths with disabilities to play on their own terms, communicate and learn, but also strengthen their social ties with their loved ones.

Tell me more about the Rhyme project?
– The project is a collaboration between the School of Architecture and Design in Oslo, The Centre for Music and Health at the Norwegian Academy of Music, as well as Informatics at the University of Oslo. The project is financed by the Research Council of Norway (corresponding to the Swedish Research Council in Sweden) and we work with exhibitions, design, technology development and testing with the children and their families. Thus, it is about strengthening health in children with considerable difficulties in moving around and using verbal language through design and use of at once interactive and tactile music technologies – i.e. those that one can interact with in a sophisticated manner, but also use through a simple touch. The objective is to limit isolation and passivity and we therefore start from a resource-oriented view of culture and health, which instead of focusing on illness revolves around what the person actually can manage and therefore is positive for that person.

You have produced specially designed smartphones?
– We work with children who are often isolated from the rest of the family because of their disabilities. At the same time most of the families are using social media in smartphones such as iPhone and Android. Since we want the entire family to become involved, this is facilitated by the technology so to say becoming desirable and exciting to e.g. other siblings. In technology there is thereby an unexploited social potential which can make the siblings increase their communication with each other. What we are doing is to supplement this technology, which already has sound cards and microphones, with specially designed interfaces and software. We design computer programmes and tactile interfaces in textiles, containing sensors that respond to touch, speech, light, camera, projectors with dynamic graphics, as well as mobile wireless technologies that enable you to include others that are peripherally placed in the social fellowship.
– Musically, we above all use acoustic music instruments which in many ways display great wealth, not least culturally. They provide associations to local and global music cultures and historical eras. They also inspire virtuoso musicians to conjure up unforgettable music experiences, Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson, as well as Birgit Nilsson and Esa-Pecka Salonen. Acoustic instruments do, however, have their limitations, e.g. that the proficiency and strength of the user has an impact on how loud the music appears. With the aid of computer programmes, one can enable a physically weak person to nevertheless get a powerful response, which can grow with the user's increasing ability to manage the interface.

What have you learnt from the work with young people with disabilities?
– I actually had preconceived notions of what the children and youths could manage which nevertheless were put to shame. For example, I thought that one would need to simplify the music making in order for it not to become too difficult, and include only simple sounds and harmonies. Conversely, we discovered that the problem is that simplification becomes boring over time and that it is sophisticated sounds that stimulate the children the most.
– Oliva, a girl with impaired hearing, loved to play with complex electronic noise that she liked and heard more clearly than acoustic instruments. David, with autism and locomotive impediments, when presented with the same noise, was for the first time given a tool with which he could say no to, and rebel against his mother. David's mother first wanted David to stop making noise, until she realised that he was communicating and taking initiatives on his own for the first time. Shy Wendy with Downs syndrome normally dared not say anything in class, but by interacting with software in large textiles, she could sing at the top of her voice – through her exploration of the technology, she could distort her voice so that she sounded like a parrot or a bass voice.

Personal facts

Employment: researcher on the Rhyme Project at the School of Architecture and Design in Oslo, postdoc in interactive music technology for health at Kristianstad University, lecturer in interactive sound design at Kristianstad University, as well as sound designer in the group MusicalFieldsForever
Age: 43 years
Family: wife
Research interests: music, interactive technology and health
Driving force: creating sound and music and understanding its importance for people in practice
Leisure interests: new artistic forms of expression, language, philosophy, hiking, living in the countryside

Read more: About Andersson's work on the research project Rhyme's web site: www.rhyme.no
You can also read his dissertation Interactive Music Composition by clicking here: hdl.handle.net/2077/30192

[Interview by Daniel Brodén and published 2013-03-07]

Contact Information

Centre for Culture and Health

Box 200, 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

Page Manager: Lovisa Aijmer|Last update: 4/26/2013
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