The Soundhouse Music Alliance is a not for profit organisation, with DGR tax deductible status, which has grown over a 30 year period. Its aim has always been to encourage community members to become creators of music rather than passive consumers.
Many key partnerships with schools and cultural organisations, state education authorities and specific provider groups have been forged over this period to broaden the range of programs supported through Soundhouse Music Alliance.
A very significant long term program developed by the Soundhouse Music Alliance has been the Special Access Kit Project using the Banana Keyboard. This was first invented in 1992 to assist those with disabilities to be able to access meaningful music making. The cornerstone was the design of the Banana Keyboard as shown below.
The curved design went through several development stages, but was designed to be able to sit across a wheelchair. The large scale of the keys meant that those without fine motor control are able to produce coordinated musical sounds, and other sounds chosen to suit the activity being undertaken.
The keyboard shown in the picture also allowed switches to be connected to further enhance accessibility. For example, a student without hand movement could have a switch fitted to the headrest of a wheelchair, and thus participate in a music group by triggering the sound of a bass drum, or the bark of a dog at the appropriate time in a sound story.
Over 100 of these units have been placed in institutions for use by music therapists, and over the years many of these have been rendered unworkable because of software issues. At Soundhouse we have been funding a program to locate and offer software upgrades to make these valuable instruments usable again. The response has been overwhelming and we are working to get this program to fruition.
SOUNDHOUSE MUSIC ALLIANCE AND THE RE-BIRTH OF THE BANANA KEYBOARD
The Soundhouse Music Alliance (the music products industry charity), has spent most of its energy this year reinvigorating the Soundhouse Music Alliance Special Access Kit featuring the Banana Keyboard.
For those unaware, this instrument was originally developed by the Soundhouse Music Alliance 23 years ago, to give access to music making for people with disabilities. It is designed to fit across a wheelchair and connects to a computer, where any sounds, scale patterns or audio loops can be assigned to the 16 large keys and 8 switch inputs.
These features allow for the use of adaptive switches already used by people with disabilities to trigger musical sounds. This flexibility provides music therapists and music teachers working in a variety of settings to design inclusive and engaging music activities which are age-appropriate.
The project was placed high on the Soundhouse agenda this year as a result of some ground-breaking work done by Music Therapists in the Accessible Music Program at The Channel, at Arts Centre Melbourne (ACM).
Two issues had arisen since the original creation and distribution of over 100 banana keyboards to schools and other facilities around Australia and overseas (including Ireland, China, Singapore, New Zealand, and the United States).
Firstly, there was a desire to employ wireless technology to upgrade the keyboards, and secondly the original software written for Windows XP had clearly become obsolete.
Through generous donor support from The Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Charitable Trust, through Arts Centre Melbourne, a wireless version of the banana keyboard has been designed, produced and successfully tested.
Two of these units are being used extensively in The Accessible Music Program at ACM.
Further exploration by ACM staff running the Operator program at The Channel revealed that the Banana Keyboard could be easily controlled by Ableton Live, and a range of activities and sound sets have been successfully programmed by music technology specialist Benji Miu.
This revelation opened the door to other facilities being able to use the extensive programming features of Ableton Live, and to allow Mac-based centres to use the Banana keyboards for the first time.
Soundhouse Music Alliance then made contact with Ableton in Australia and received overwhelming support with training of teachers and therapists, and site licensing for schools participating in the training program.
The first of these training days was run on Dec 6th at The Channel, Arts Centre Melbourne. It was led by Ableton registered trainer Davey Norris, with additional support from several of the Arts Centre staff who have pioneered the development of the SAK application of Ableton
Participants were delighted by the range of possibilities the Banana Keyboard and Ableton Live integration had to offer.
The day signalled a new dawn of possibilities for future music making by people with disabilities.
The SMA hopes to continue development in two ways.
Firstly, with ongoing Ableton support, we hope to roll out further training days, the first potentially being in Sydney in early 2019.
Secondly, we are seeking to provide wireless upgrades to 20 facilities using the Banana Keyboards in 2019. This will be dependent on financial support to meet those aims.
If you would like to help us to provide disabled people with the tools to make music, you can do so by making a donation to Soundhouse using this DONATE link. SMA is a registered charity and all donations are fully tax deductable.