Project: Emergence of a context for musicking with children with ASD.

This project is a long-term collaboration with two non-profit organization and children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) design a social context that support the development of an inclusive musicking context, where the Accessible Digital Musical Instruments (ADMIs) developed and used were no longer at the center of our solutions, and became one element among others in this ecosystem.

Context of Accessible Digital Musical Instruments design

Over the last two decades, the field of digital musical instruments (DMI) has seen the development of accessibility to music-making for people with health conditions or impairments [1] .This research field is called Accessible Digital Musical Instrument (ADMI). Frid [2] in a systematic review of ADMIs, describe these interfaces as “accessible musical control interfaces used in electronic music, inclusive music practice and music therapy settings”. Similarly to this definition, Lucas [3] proposed two sub-categories of ADMIs: “performance-focused instruments” and “therapeutic devices”, although the distinction between these categories is not entirely clear-cut.
Scholars have noted that the development and design of ADMIs frequently prioritize physiological needs and often rely on the medical model of disability [2,4]. In this case, disability is seen as the result of some clinically observable physiological impairment, that would require an appropriate “treatment” [5,6].
Recently, research on ADMI has moved away from the strictly medical model of disability to a more comprehensive approach that incorporates social and cultural factors. This shift aims to enhance the understanding of how these factors contribute to disability and to inform the design of instruments that better integrate these considerations. Specifically, in the case of designing musical instruments for and with people who might alternately be labeled neurodiverse, learning disabled or having special educational needs (SEN) [7,8,9].
However, a tendency remain by taking a technological-focused view of the issues of access to music [1]. What is perhaps lacking from the picture is to move the focus from ADMIs to taking into account the wider social and structural aspects that come into play in enabling access to music for disabled people. In that sense, Harrison [9] observed the overlooking of insights derived from a more community-oriented perspective, which is prominently featured in much of the disability studies literature. Lucas [3] argues that describing the inclusive musicking ecosystem as perpetually in flux highlights the importance of embracing this dynamic nature to support its longevity.

Considering wide networks of (mainly human) stakeholders

To address some of these issues and thus move towards a context for musicking conducive to the expression of people with neurodiversities, this contribution tends to rely on entanglement theories [10] that acknowledge the intimate inter-dependencies within socio-material arrangements and understands humans and things through their relation and distributes agency accordingly. This relational ontology, also described by Barad [11] as “web of scientific, social, ethical, and political practices”, has already been explored (in different terms) to study musical performance and digital musical instruments. For example, Waters [12] takes an ecosystemic view of musical practice to describe musical instrument as “not an object but a process; a dynamic system in a constant state of change”.

Working with associations to develop a context for musicking

In line with the political conceptions of disability that have emerged from the Disability Arts, the association with which the issues explicited above has been explored through a long-term collaboration, called Brutpop [13], develops alternative musical practices with disabled people. In this practices that we call “Brut music”, the technology and the ADMIs developed are rather seen as as one of the components enabling access to musical practice without expertise and embedded in a specific context. We believe that Brut music represents a valuable practice for designing musicking contexts tailored to specific situations. This approach leverages sonic outputs derived directly from the environment, bypassing the need for traditional theoretical musical knowledge

In this project, we thus seek to explore this idea by first studying how interaction designs for musical expression, dedicated to children and young adults with ASD, can be shaped through the co-agency of the social contexts, the different actors (researchers, caregivers, children), and the technology involved. Secondly, we study how the adoption of a research-action methodology and the development Brut music practices can potentially help to design a social context that support the development of an inclusive musicking ecosystem.

To study these questions, the project developed a long-term and on-going collaboration with two non-profit organizations and non-verbal children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) in order to explore together through a series of workshops (where illustrations and examples are available here), different forms of Brut music practices. This study engages users “in the wild” context [14], where the practice paradigm is characterized by activities in situ, involving people and artefacts as part of their daily practices and organizational routines. In our project, the interfaces developed and used were no longer at the center of our solutions, and became one element among others in this relational mesh.
We took a broader view to seek to set up a space where experiences of musical expression could emerge, in an attempt to highlight guidelines or socio-material design recommendations that could benefit in other socio-cultural environments and more widely to research into ADMIs.