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Berklee apps reveal disabled children’s musical skills

By Mark Baard
April 4, 2011

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Prototypes
Not every child can play the piano or bring a guitar to life. But given the right tools, even a severely disabled child can make music, students and professors at Berklee College of Music have discovered.

This week, researchers from the school’s Music Therapy and Electronic Production and Design departments will demonstrate the apps they developed to turn iPhones, iPads, Wii remotes, and other gadgets into instruments that require little in the way of fine motor skills to play.

They will present the apps, tested with help from students at the Kennedy Day School in Brighton, at the daylong Music Therapy Technology Symposium tomorrow.

The apps make it possible for someone with limited mobility to wield a device like the Wii remote like a rock star.

“Very little gestures with a Wii remote can be dramatic,’’ said Richard Boulanger, professor of electronic production and design at Berklee, of Nintendo’s rugged wireless remote.

“A small turn of the hand can bring a crescendo.’’

Using off-the-shelf gadgets, and software that its tech-savvy music therapists could master, Berklee’s researchers crafted the apps — including the TheriPad Suite and U-Tapia, which use the iPad Apple Magic Trackpad — to suit the capabilities of patients at the Kennedy Day School.

The musical apps can also double as tools that gauge a patient’s progress. While patients are controlling the music’s tempo, pitch, and tonality by touching a tablet or moving their arms in front of a camera, their therapists and doctors can use biosensors to measure muscle movements, changes in heartbeat, and brain activity, said Boulanger.

After visiting with patients at the Kennedy Day School — where they learned more about the patients’ limitations — the Berklee researchers realized they had to return to their laboratories and modify their apps, Boulanger added.

The Kennedy Day School visits are also the reason why one archaic game controller, the joystick, is making a comeback — at least among music therapists.

“We didn’t think ‘joystick’ originally,’’ said Boulanger. “But we quickly realized that many of the kids are already experts at using joysticks for controlling their wheelchairs.’’

Speakers

Diamonds add sparkle to PC sound

I’m not what you’d call a style-conscious person. I once wore sweat pants to teach at a fashion design school. But I also recognize that some people are particular about every little thing that contributes to their overall appearance.

If that’s you, then your attention to detail probably extends to the aesthetics of a laptop.

Enter the Hercules (www.hercules.com) XPS Diamond 2.0 USB Speakers, made by Guillemot Corp., which says they will make your PC (or Mac) more glamorous.

OK.

I do like that the diamond-shaped speakers are powered by their USB connection, so there is no need to plug them into an outlet. Their small size — 3.5 inches across — is another plus, and the speakers slip into a black velvet pouch that is sold with them.

The XPS Diamond Speakers will be available this month, according to Guillemot, and will cost about $40.