VRIMM: VR Inclusive Music Making, Northern Ireland

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


Virtual Reality technology is starting to be more affordable, and users have commenced investing in relatively low cost VR goggles to experience virtual worlds. Most music VR experiences currently available allow the user to watch concerts or go to music festivals in virtual reality. Many of the VR apps are passive experiences where you immerse yourself in a virtual world and see others making music, for example MelodyVR or VRTIFY, where you can watch concerts in 360-degrees, or TheWaveVR which allows you to experience music festivals in virtual reality.
Few VR apps engage the user in a hands-on fashion. The Music Room is one of the exceptions as it allows the user to play a musical instrument, but it requires an expensive VR set-up.

One of the main issues with these VR apps is that they are designed for able-bodied people to use them. This means that you need to be able to use the hand controllers, which requires precise control, to trigger sounds or to navigate the VR menu etc., and you need to be able to see!
In our past project we worked with disabled musicians: one of them is blind and the other, Marie-Louise, has cerebral palsy (CP). Marie-Louise is bound to a wheelchair and her upper body movements are limited. She can mover her arms but not always in a controlled way.
We were keen to develop a VR instrument for Marie-Louise, who is an eager musician, but who cannot access this emerging technology (VR) easily, as it is mainly designed with able-bodied people in mind.

As part of the last funded project, we worked with a US software developer who makes instruments in VR (EXA Infinite instrument). On our recommendations he re-designed a virtual drum in such a way that Marie-Louise is now able to play the drum with her limited arm movements. We are continuing to adopt the VR instrument for Marie-Louise to access it more easily and independently. This VR instrument currently only runs on high-end, expensive VR equipment.

For this Follow-on project we are interested in further designing instrument that can be used in VR, especially for systems that are more affordable. The main goal is to create a music VR band /group where disabled and able-bodied musicians can make music together, using VR. For this, it will be important to build VR instruments that are informed and designed with disabled musicians in mind and that run on less expensive VR systems.
The stand-alone, wireless Oculus Go for instance currently costs £250, as opposed to the high-end HTC Vive which retails closer to £500 and needs a high spec computer (ca. £2k) to run it.

Our vision is to bring together our local (Northern Ireland) maker /designer /coding community and together with the project team from the previous project - which we are now expanding to include a local maker space called Farset Labs - we will run monthly workshops with this designer community. During the workshops, designers and coders will find out about the VR instruments which we have already developed. Our team and three selected external specialists from within the VR field will then support and train the designers over 4 months to develop a VR music instrument for a more affordable VR platform and which puts disabled musicians at the centre of the design process.

The aim is to have designed a viable prototype virtual musical instrument, in the form of a VR app, that runs on affordable VR platforms, which has been specifically designed from a disability perspective and which will enable both able-bodied and disabled musicians to make music together in VR - a project which we call VRIMM - VR Inclusive Music Making.

Planned Impact

The project has been designed with the 'problem owners', disabled musicians, at heart. Impact in this proposal is woven throughout, and planned as follows:

Societal Impact:
Impact on inclusion is a significant element of this proposal. Our focus on disabled musicians demonstrates a commitment to quality of life, which we believe can be achieved through the inclusive approach and the social model of disability perspective that are at the core of our "Performance Without Barriers" Research Team.

Empowering disabled musicians through co-creation in the design of a Virtual Reality music instrument, VR app:
Co-creation is ensured through monthly maker/design workshops, in which musicians work with the team, the additional partner, FarsetLabs, and a local maker community.
By developing a new VR music instrument, designed from a disabled musician's perspective, we aim to create more affordable VR music applications.
We will run collaborative music making sessions, bringing disabled and able-bodied musicians together, using the newly designed VR music app. Through this collaboration we hope to raise societal awareness of disability and the issues that disabled musicians face.
The interchange between disabled musicians and makers/designers will have a positive impact on how future living solutions for disabled people might be designed. Indeed, the PI's "Performance without Barriers" project showed that an interface designed as part of a music performance (a modified joystick on a musician's wheelchair), ended up helping the disabled person to better navigate their daily routines at home.

Impact on the Economy:
The disability equipment market worldwide is estimated to increase to over 8 billion U.S. dollars by 2020 (Statista). Sales of disabled equipment in the UK have increased by 92.6% over the last 10 years; thus, the need for designing environments that take into account people with disabilities, is growing.
By sharing design processes through written guidelines and the free VR app we hope to stimulate discussions on inclusive designing and reach a global audience. Our project will have a significant impact on exposing how new equipment could be designed; thus, contributing to potential wealth creation.

Impact on People:
The project has an impact on the people outlined above. Also, through the free app we will develop a community of 'early adopters' (people trialing the VR app); thus, impacting not only on local musicians, but on a global online community, which will inform the future design of the VR app. There will be a significant element of skills developed both by the research team (including the PDRA) and by the musicians (co-designing VR instruments).

Impact on Knowledge:
The FoF will bring previously funded research into a community beyond academia; it will create knowledge through the design of a VR instrument, through evaluation of experiences during workshops and through written guidelines.The project provides new insights into design processes of VR musical instruments, distributed through free app download. We also gather experiences of the musicians and designers through interviews, critically reflecting on our design methods. Design guidelines will be promoted on the PI's "Performance without Barriers" website, with visitor clicks monitored by Queen's Comms team. The guidelines will be written for a general readership, including listeners, musicians, concert programmers, interface designers, and artists.

Overall, the impact is on musicians and designers, but also on concert / festival programmers, and other creative fields wanting to engage with VR. Through our inclusive working methods, the project will also impact on organisations working in the area of disability and well-being and those considering policy for disabled people.
Ultimately the project could inform the ways in which disability statuses may be transformed through the use of new technologies and design methods.


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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: https://tabulamusica.ch/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Pressemitteilung-Zukunftsmusik-2019-1.pdf https://www.facebook.com/pg/tabulamusica/posts/ 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. 
URL https://tabulamusica.ch/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Pressemitteilung-Zukunftsmusik-2019-1.pdf
Description Our first bespoke VR instrument for a disabled musician with cerebral palsy was showcased in Hamburg at the European EUCREA event (https://www.eucrea.de/eucrea/) in https://www.eucrea.de/images/downloads/Programm_Symposium_D_8.pdf https://www.eucrea.de/symposium/symposium-programm 
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. 
URL https://www.eucrea.de/images/downloads/Programm_Symposium_D_8.pdf
Description We built the first inclusive musical instrument for a disabled musician to play an instrument in a VR environment.
Exploitation Route Others could build on the VR environment and develop further instruments for other disabilities.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education

Description A public concert and symposium, which raised awareness of disability and emerging technologies was held. The work has also led to showcase events for public audiences in Germany and Switzerland. The research has led to two new collaboratively funded PhD studentships, which commenced in 2020./2021 One of the new PhD students is designing inclusive, accessible virtual reality music environments for people with brain injuries, the other is designing inclusive, accessible virtual reality environments for people with dementia.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

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
URL https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/future-tuesdays-presents-performance-without-barriers-tickets-1452147...