Music news

Virtual Reality is helping disabled people make music

Christine Williamson  wearing a virtual reality headset

The world of Virtual Reality (VR) is enabling disabled people to play musical instruments, or in Christine Williamson case, resume her creative talent.

Before the brain aneurysm the talented musician [pictured above wearing a VR headset] from Dundonald, Northern Ireland, spent her downtime hours learning new melodies on anything she could find.

"I used to play instruments all the time and then I thought that was over for me, but actually it was only the beginning,” she told BBC News.

But then she suffered an aneurysm, it changed her life, taking away some movement from the left side of the body.

Would this stop her playing music? She started to ask herself. Without having full bodily function how could Williamson continue a love of making tunes?

A lifeline was thrown by the Brain Injury Matters charity which runs a specifically designed music research programme.

Based in Northern Ireland, the initiative helps disabled people play accessible virtual instruments through Virtual Reality.

In the VR world users can tap virtual instruments to spark a melody of different sounds, even if they have limited movement in their muscles.

"When I put the headset on, I see a harp in front of me, and I can lean forward and play it, it's class," she explained.

Mary-Louise McCord [pictured above] , who has cerebral palsy, has also turned to VR to make music through eye-gazing technology.

"Sometimes my hands don't behave how I want them to and I love the options and freedom the VR gives me to experience any instrument I want," she said.

"It gives me opportunities I otherwise would not have."

The project is a joint venture between Queen’s University Belfast and Drake Music Northern Ireland.

Specifically-designed digital instruments, used in the VR world, are designed by Queen’s PhD researcher Damian Mills.

"The musicians use spatial audio technology to immerse themselves in a different reality and they are creating some interesting results," Mills said.

A recent concert staged by the charity was held at Ulster University’s (UU) newly opened Belfast campus where the musicians were joined by the UU’s Acoustic group.

Williamson performed with the world-famous orchestra on stage with her family and friends in the audience.

She said: "I just had to pinch myself performing with the orchestra.

"Being part of the VR musician group has led me on such an amazing journey."

Mary-Louise McCord also played alongside Christine and the Ulster Orchestra.

"Yes there are still stereotypes and stigmas surrounding different abilities within the arts,” she explained.

"But projects like this show that it is getting better."

[ 171 million people use Virtual Reality technology today ]

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