Music from the eyes – world premiere from SMARTlab at UEL


Music from the eyes – world premiere from SMARTlab at UEL

A unique new performance using innovative digital media technology has been staged by researchers at the SMARTlab Digital Media Institute at the University of East London (UEL).

The InterFACES research team, led by Professor Lizbeth Goodman and Dr Mick Donegan at UEL’s SMARTlab Digital Media Institute, has developed a new creative technology application which allows disabled people to express themselves by writing and playing music with their eyes.

Dr Donegan and his team designed a new set of communication grids and a ‘soundboard’ or ‘eye harp’ designed for use on the Mytobii eye scanning system and devised a musical interface with member of Irish band KILA.

At the premiere showcase event for the project, Mr James Brosnan – a core researcher and ‘alpha user’ of the system, who has severe Cerebral Palsy and is therefore usually limited to interfaces using his controllable physical movements via a neck switch- was for the first time able to play music using eye control.

Performing a live jam with local musician Maciej Hrybowicz, Brosnan amazed his audience with the unique tune he created by selecting different sampled melodies from the digital panel in front of his eyes.

This adds a whole new element of emotional and aesthetic cues to the synthesized voice and text that were previously Mr Brosnan’s main communication forms. What is more, the eye scanning system allows for a level of physical relaxation and comfort that he feels is much better for his health and well being.

Mr Toby Borland of SMARTlab’s MAGICbox technology studio also explained at the show how some of the creative tools required for this project were designed and produced in house, at UEL: proposing a whole new business model for assistive technology that can be both affordable and accessible to all.

The next show is scheduled for Prague, where the team has been invited to present two major research papers at the Leonardo journal special anniversary event, to be held in Prague this November. Some of Mr Brosnan’s poetry will be shared along with a full musical jam for that event, where the SMARTlab’s TRUST Project team will also introduce their work on haptics and robotics for young people with disabilities.

This phase of the InterFACES project was made possible by the Promising Researcher Fund of UEL, drawing on linked research at SMARTlab funded by BBC R&D ad NESTA, and in collaboration with the Oxford ACE Centre and Dr Donegan’s work on the European Commission’s COGAIN Project.

The Mytobii system has been on loan to Mr Brosnan from its developers in and is soon due for return. SMARTlab is seeking further support to purchase a system for Mr Brosnan so that he can continue his writing and music making, as well as for further software development of a research system to be used at SMARTlab and on mobile visits to local East London schools and hospitals where other creative people might require use of this novel communications and creativity tool.

Notes for editors:

Contact: Patrick Wilson 020 8223 2061 / 07951 797 975

The University of East London (UEL) is now a global learning community, with 20,000 students from over 120 countries world-wide. Our vision is to achieve recognition, both nationally and internationally, as a successful and inclusive regional university proud of our diversity, committed to new modes of learning which focus on students and enhance their employability, and renowned for our contribution to social, cultural and economic development, especially through our research and scholarship. We have a strong track-record in widening participation and working with industry.

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