Immersion and Inclusive Music Performance

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Arts, English and Languages


The professional music world, specifically that of Western classical music, tends to be white and male, and most certainly: it does not include many disabled musicians.
Even recently (March'17), Joshua Kosman (The San Francisco Chronicle's music critic) wrote 'Classical so white and male: Time is overdue for diversity', urging orchestras world-wide to become more inclusive and to address the lack of ethnic and gender diversity among performers. Kosman had examined schedules of orchestras and found that in the San Francisco Symphony's 2017-18 season with music by more than 50 composers only one female composer was featured. Kosman does not even talk of the need to include disabled composers or performers !
It is timely to rethink attitudes towards inclusion and disability in Western Classical music performance.
Our research team wants to understand the issues that disabled young musicians face, and by designing immersive music performance experiences for abled and disabled musicians we allow for an interchange of ideas and performance experiences.

More research is needed to establish the best design criteria and methods for immersive environments that would enable, for example, a wheelchair bound pianist to experience being an 'able-bodied' performer. There are many talented young musicians who play instruments to a professional standard but, due to a disability, do not feel that a professional music career is an option for them. Disabilities (i.e. deafness, or hypochondroplasia, a form of short-limbed dwarfism) do not preclude people from becoming musicians.

It does, however, mean that these musicians approach their instrument and learning of music in different ways (the deaf musician learning through body sensations; a musician with hypochondroplasia having to alter instrumental positioning). The profoundly deaf percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, female and disabled, is a rare exception in the world of classical music and a great inspiration for many aspiring, disabled young musicians.
While other arts fields attempt to widen their activities (Northern Ireland's Replay Theatre: is an outstanding example for making inclusive shows for people with profound and multiple learning difficulties), the music world tends to lag behind.
Our research team will explore some issues that disabled young musicians face.
At the start of the project our Drake Music partner, with over 25 years' experience in the area of music and disability, will identify 3 physically disabled musicians who want to collaborate with 3 able-bodied professional musicians, selected from Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble (HRSE), Belfast's only contemporary music ensemble. HRSE is known for their visionary programming, musical flexibility and inclusive ethos. For this proposal, we will not work with severe mental disability as this would require a larger scope and different support system.

Our technical partner, immersive content designer BeAnotherLab, will develop, through participatory design methods, immersive technologies that allow disabled and able-bodied musicians to experience the reality of another. Throughout two intense workshop phases, disabled musicians experience work in a professional music setting, while able-bodied musicians experience what it means to be a disabled musician. By co-creating immersive experiences, through the use of for example Virtual Reality (VR), we put disabled musicians at the foreground, driving the development of the immersive experiences. Our aim is to allow for an exchange of disabled and able-bodied musicians and for the wider public to experience the social exclusions that disabled musicians face in our society.
The final showcase will be a combination of a concert, an immersive experience installation, and a public debate about the research, design processes, prototypes, and about the potentials for future audiences and developments in the performing arts.

Planned Impact

This proposal responds to the AHRC's call for creating new immersive experiences in the area of music performance. Impact lies in addressing a real-world problem: the social exclusions faced by disabled young musicians. An interdisciplinary team of researchers with three industry partners will design bespoke digital content for immersive environments that emulate aspects of being, able-bodied and disabled, in a music performance context. The 'Audience Agency' is our advisor and will support our debate on audience experiences.
Our research questions have been designed to understand performance experiences, generated from being in immersive environments. We ask what novel forms and techniques of performance might arise in the exchange between able-bodied and disabled musicians. As digital technologies enable our experiences to become more immersive, our proposal seeks to understand and contribute to the area of inclusive and immersive music performance, addressing how immersive experiences might impact on how we consume and co-produce music. Our final showcase aims to bring existing and new audiences to experience immersive design and music, developed throughout the 8-months project.
Through close collaboration with all partners, we impact young musicians affected by a disability. The solutions that emerge from the research represent an impact in the use of new technologies in music performance, but can have wider applications, such as for use in healthcare, medicine, and other art forms.
Impact in this proposal is embedded in the research design as follows:
1. Empowering musicians affected by a physical disability through collaboration and co-creation of immersive experiences, based on their specific disability and their approach to their instrument.
2. Enabling disabled musicians, by means of newly designed immersive content, to gain an understanding of what it means to be an able-bodied professional musician. And vice versa, to provide the experience for an able-bodied musician to 'step into the shoes' of a disabled musician. Such exchange of experiences, facilitated by bespoke design of immersive content, can in turn lead to changes in attitudes, impacting on able-bodied, disabled musicians and the public.
3. Communicating personal lived experiences of disabled musicians to a wider audience, as done during the final showcase. This will contribute to raising better societal awareness of disability. Our collaboration with a professional music ensemble (HRSE) allows us to disseminate new immersive content and experiences.
4. Providing new insights into the design/design processes of immersive content for performance environments. Our final showcase and public debate as well as specialist publications will impact on general listeners, musicians, music programmers, designers, artists and a range of other researchers.

As the UK positions itself at the forefront of the creative industry sector, producing and distributing novel digital creative content, services and experiences, we see our research as vital in providing new insight into design processes for inclusive music environments. We do this by putting disabled young musicians at the heart of our inquiry, allowing for an exchange of stories, ideas and methodologies while producing innovative immersive content in a music performance setting.
By designing novel ways of presenting music to listeners we aim to impact on and entice new audiences into music performances.
Our team brings personal vision and creative thinking, making this proposal particularly suited to the AHRC's remit of 'growing creative and commercial opportunities of the future'.
Music Performance, disability and immersive technology design are in need of research informed by the experience of the disabled people themselves and through our participatory design methods we can provide palpable advances in knowledge and understanding in the area of immersive music performance.


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Title "Performance without Barriers" showcase concert at "Zukunftsmusik" event in Bern/Switzerland 
Description In November 2019 our partnership team "performancewithoutbarriers" was invited to Bern/Switzerland to showcase and perform with the VR instrument at the "Zukunftsmusik" event: A keynote talk was also given. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact Our invited showcases have led to discussions with a documentary team based in Belfast, and we are currently pitching a documentary idea around the idea of VR and inclusive music making. 
Description Our first bespoke VR instrument for a disabled musician with cerebral palsy was showcased in Hamburg at the European EUCREA event ( in 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact An international symposium to which our "performancewithoutbarriers" research group was invited. This invitation led to further invites to Switzerland in November 2019, to the event "Zukunftsmusik" in Bern/Switzerland where we also showcased and performed with the VR instrument. A keynote talk was also given at both events. 
Title Project Website 
Description A website with all documentation, including workshop photos, videos, instrument designs: 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact general audience resource 
Description We have developed a new way of using VR to enable a musician with limited movements to have her own VR instrument.
Exploitation Route The instrument can be expanded, adapted to suit other disabilities.
Sectors Creative Economy,Healthcare,Other

Description The VR instrument is being used by Drake Music NI and specifically by one of the musicians with cerebral palsy.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Creative Economy,Healthcare
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description An all-island event that gathered students, practitioners, policymakers and researchers to discuss disability within the arts. It provided an opportunity to network and explore interests in establishing further exchange of practice and research collaborations across the island.
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a guidance/advisory committee
Description VRIMM: VR Inclusive Music Making, Northern Ireland
Amount £31,937 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/S010505/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 06/2019
Title A New VR instrument for disabled musicians 
Description Using EXA Infinite Instrument we adapted the VR environment to enable a musician with cerebral palsy to be able to play the VR instrument 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The disabled musician was able to play in a concert using her instrument - alongside professional musicians 
Description Inivted Tals, 'Performance Without Barriers'. Virtual Reality Musical Instruments @Future Screens NI. An exploration of Infinite Instruments with Zach Kinstner, CEO Aesthetic Interactive. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact 'Performance Without Barriers'. Talks on working with Virtual Reality Musical Instruments @Future Screens NI.
An exploration of Infinite Instruments with Zach Kinstner, CEO Aesthetic Interactive
Franziska Schroeder (Invited speaker) & Damian Mills (Invited speaker)
23 Mar 2021.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Showcase and Public Debate on Immersive and Inclusive Music Technologies 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A final showcase concert and public debate on disability, the arts and emerging technologies
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description TedX Style talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Invited talk at the Queen's Film Theater (QFT) for the 4th Industrial Revolution Challenge on VR and the Arts 4IRC VR challenge.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018