“How would you describe a great musician? I would say, someone with music in their head and the tools to get it out. Now imagine, you have music in your head all the time but none of the tools fit you. However, it is 2017, a high tech era and there are ways to overcome this. Take for example, the Paralympic sports. There are fantastic prosthetics for handicapped athletes but this is not the case for musicians”.
At the Emtech France conference on emerging technologies, Vahakn Matossian transmits his passion for a cause he has dedicated his life together with his father and mentor, renowned composer Rolf Gehlhaar. Vahakn is a visual artist, musician and a passionate inventor who decided to use his talents to develop instruments for musicians with limited degrees of physical dexterity. This year, he was selected by the MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 Europe for his project Human Instruments
Since the creation of Human Instruments, Matossian and his father have developed two instruments for the disabled. These electronic hardware elements aim to democratize music and make them available on a large scale. It is a big market that is completely unexplored. “18% of the US’s population has some type of handicap. From this percentage how many are musicians? We simply don’t know as today there are few solutions available”. The two inventors want to develop instruments that are more generalized and can be adapted by anyone with a handicap.
However, the problem is that while a musical instrument is usually taught at an early age, there are hardly any schools that offer lessons for disabled children. I asked them if they have considered designing musical toys. Turns out they are working on this concept as these toys can work as a good segue to sophisticated musical instruments. Matossian and his father are developing the world’s first commercially available hands-free instrument that will give its player total musical freedom of expression, with a resolution of sound as close as possible to traditional orchestral instruments.
Hi Note and Touch Chord are two devices-prototypes through which musicians breathe in order to play music without having to use their limbs. The former is primarily intended for little to no ability to move their limbs, and the latter was designed for individuals with movement capabilities but a lack of strength in their upper limbs. Some musicians, like Clarence Adoo, a trumpet-player who is paralyzed from the neck down after a car accident or John Kelly, a member of ParaOrchestra, have already tried out Human Instruments prototypes and have performed at concerts. Another ambitious project the duo wants to create is a level playing field where disabled and abled musicians can perform together.
Matossian and Gehlhaar are currently presenting their project all over the world and are actively looking for designers and companies that are interested in producing them in a large scale and is looking for financing, promotions and support for forming a group in order to continue developing new prototypes.