This is the second of two blog posts on my work with BBC Performing Arts Fund fellow Bram Harrison a.k.a DJ Eyetech. Bram describes himself as living with ‘locked in syndrome’ and we’ve been working together to enable him to make music on his EyeGaze computer.
At the time of writing my previous blog post Bram had chosen and was beginning to use E-Scape software to compose music independently, with the aim of creating some original music for use in hisEyeLife Radio Show. E-Scape is a multi-track MIDI Sequencer that’s been built from scratch with accessibility in mind. Having been accessible to switch-users for years, E-Scape’s creator Dr. Tim Anderson is now developing the software further, to make it functional for EyeGaze users. Tim worked closely with us, implementing Bram’s suggestions for how the software could be made more accessible to his needs.
The film at the bottom of this page shows Bram using E-Scape to compose a short piece of music on his new Powerbox 7 computer via an Alea Intelligaze EyeGaze system, that he controls using only his left eye. I’ve intentionally left each section of the film quite long to try and give a sense of how long things actually take in Bram’s situation. While my previous blog post detailed the problems that Bram had been experiencing with other EyeGaze systems, the new Powerbox/Alea combination is great, and seems to work really well for Bram.
In the film, Bram uses The Grid 2 software to open E-Scape, and then navigates the full-screen E-Scape menus using ‘dwell-clicking’ to choose an instrument, enter notes, change their pitch, create chords, play back and stop the music. Not shown in the film but equally important is the fact that Bram also has control over naming and saving the E-Scape project, as well as quitting E-Scape to return to The Grid 2 via a ‘Q’ button on the right-hand side of the screen.
Between June and October 2014 Bram independently composed more than 10 short pieces of music using E-Scape. I visited on six occasions during this period and it was really exciting for me to return each time to discover the new music that Bram had created since my last visit. Some of these pieces are used as ‘beds’ in Bram’s latest EyeLife Radio Show, also created as part of this BBC Performing Arts Fund project. The show was broadcast on Phonic FM on 22nd November 2014 and is available to listen again via Bram’s website here:
A key aim of this project was to give Bram full, independent control over creating music, and to some extent this was achieved, as demonstrated in the film. However, to spare Tim’s blushes I’ve edited out the computer crashes and other issues that occurred while Bram was using E-Scape. Although E-Scape was the only software that could meet the brief, it didn’t prove to be completely stable on Bram’s computer. But, it’s important to acknowledge that Tim Anderson isn’t working with a big budget and a team of beta-testers – it’s just him, striving against the odds with very limited time and resources. Software that’s simple to use requires a lot to be a lot going on in the background, and it’s hugely demanding to expect one person to iron out all potential bugs. I think Bram demonstrates that E-Scape has real potential for EyeGaze users, and it would be great to see some significant financial investment to develop it further.
One of the things we hoped to realise through this project was to give E-Scape control over a wider and more modern sound library than General MIDI. The nice folks at Native Instruments donated a copy ofKontakt 5, which could be a fantastic resource for Bram and other EyeGaze users to access from E-Scape. However, time was against us, and so priority had to be given to more basic functional concerns such as EyeGaze friendly menu layouts, rather than adding in new stuff. There’s lots of potential for future E-Scape / Kontakt developments though, so fingers crossed and watch this space…
The opportunity to work alongside Bram through this project has been a huge pleasure. I’ve learned a lot about the potential, as well as the pitfalls and challenges of creating music on EyeGaze controlled computers and am proud to have played a small part in the latest installment of the EyeLife radio show.
Thanks to the BBC Performing Arts Fund for funding this project.