Musician develops ‘translation’ project of scores for blind musicians

A doctoral project of the musician Rodrigo Pires de Lima allows to ‘translate’ sheet music – written music on the agenda – for blind people, using an electronic system with sounds and places them in the work.

A doctoral student in Minnesota, the 36-year-old saxophonist developed a project that integrates existing technology and combines it with echolocation, defining a biological localization capability through sounds, allowing a blind musician to play live without the use of Braille, using a headset first, and emitting a sound that is then reverberated to itself.

The idea came in 2013, when she studied in Strasbourg and met the French pianist Caroline Sablayrolles, “who is partially blind”, and in the course of that friendship she saw her “preparing the concerts, taking care of children, and using magnifying glasses and other ‘gadgets’ to read a score “.

“I thought there had to be an easier way … Later, while studying in the ‘music therapy’ department at the University of Minnesota, I developed a Ph.D., starting to develop a way to make this process faster, “he says.

Fascinated by the studies of human echolocation, which, according to their research, “were never used for music or even communication” among humans, allied this knowledge to a process of “decoding” through sounds and an electronic interface, in which he had the support of sound technician and guitarist José Grossinho.

“Electronically, what happens is that we can get a blind person to read a score, even if this is done for people who do not even have to be blind, or even have to be musicians when decoding, the score using echolocation,” he points out. Pires de Lima.

A device with a headset and microphone allows the musician to use “clicks with his mouth” to receive feedback that transforms the chords and “where he was in the score” through reverberation, in a previously established code.

In practice, it allows a musician not to waste time studying a score, even though the process is still at a “very embryonic” stage. During a concert, the other musicians also use “a metronome in the ears”.

The solution found by the musician saves the “double or more of the time” from other methods, such as braille, which uses the hands, also necessary to play. And it was tested on March 8 at a concert of her band, Electroville Jukebox.

In this performance, at Espaço criArte, in Carcavelos, the band joined Rui Batista, a visually impaired musician and director of the Association of the Blind and Amblyopia of Portugal (ACAPO), and the experience “went very well”, in what was the world premiere of the play “Daniela 3.0”, by Rodrigo Pires de Lima, the first using this method.

“Rui Batista explained to me that this could in the future be a tool that would allow mixed orchestras [with people with and without vision] and other ‘brutal’ things … It can also help overcome the difficulty in having the courage to approach other musicians to create projects because they feel difficult, “he says.

Bernardo Pires de Lima defends the thesis in Minnesota on April 30 and, in the meantime, would like to play with the French pianist Caroline Sablayrolles, to “close the cycle”, but does not close the door to continue developing the project, provided that “the necessary conditions”.

Reinforcing echolocation has “other applications,” he said he could allow, at a “very advanced” point, to study a Beethoven score “anywhere,” instead of being at home, “stopping, reading in Braille, extremely slow and time-consuming process “.

“For the style of music I do, in the Portishead wave, for example, the code has five moments, five ‘clicks’, each a chord … A language can be used in which the system is more detailed, more complex, “he says.

The application of the concept could allow “a use in dance, decoding movements instead of notes,” focusing the saxophonist’s thesis on the piece created specifically to be played with this method, a world premiere.

“I would like to explore this because it is still very embryonic.” The University Music Director told me that it was a good idea to connect the GPS to this project, and this has endless potentialities. [Blind people] making sounds], nor would they need flares, “he says.

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