Sonic Art – Opportunities for a Level Playing Field for Disabled Composers and Performers

Prof Frank Lyons
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Sonic Art is an umbrella term that encompasses electro-acoustic music and sound design which involves the use of technology in its creation and performance.
In this paper I wish to argue that, almost uniquely in the area of music, Sonic Art provides a level playing field for composers and performers with disabilities. This is due to the fact that composition and performance conventions in Sonic Art, which rely heavily on the use of sensor technologies and computer software, free practitioners from the usual musician’s prerequisite of having finely developed motor skills; to be a virtuoso requires only that a creative imagination is at work.
I will illustrate my argument with a case study of the Wired Ensemble, a group comprising musicians with varying disabilities who include amongst their achievements three separate invitations to perform at one of the most prestigious contemporary music festivals in the world, Sonorities, based at Queen’s University, Belfast. The violinist Darragh Morgan, who has performed with the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Modern and Icebreaker, recently commissioned a new work for violin and live electronics that he premiered with the Wired Ensemble in April 2004 to great acclaim. I will argue that the combination of creativity and cutting-edge technology has taken this group out of the normal circuit of disability events into the mainstream where they are accepted and appreciated on their own terms as musicians regardless of their disabilities.
I will further argue that these developments should be taken seriously by further and higher education institutions and that pathways in Sonic Art should be made more widely available for musicians with disabilities.

Keywords: Sonic Art, Disability, Music Technology
Stream: Technology in Community, Technology in Education
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Sonic Art – Opportunities for a Level Playing Field for Disabled Composers and Performers

Prof Frank Lyons

Lecturer in Music Technology and Popular Music, Faculty of Arts
School of Media and Performing Arts
Music Division, University of Ulster


Dr. Frank Lyons is Lecturer in Music Technology, Composition and Popular Music at the University of Ulster. His research interests include music technology and disability, electro-acoustic composition and improvisation using live electronics. He directs the Wired Ensemble, a new music group which combines disabled and non-disabled musicians, using cutting-edge sensor technology and software to compose and perform original works. As a composer, his work has been performed in the UK and Ireland, Europe, Australia and the United States and has been broadcast by the BBC and RTE. He is a Music Technology Consultant for arts and disability groups Share Music Sweden, Share Music UK and the Drake Music Project.

Ref: T06P0172