Sensory tech takes centre stage at inclusive performance ensemble

Performers with a disability will soon be able to engage with musical instruments and the audience as part of an upcoming multisensory theatre experience.

Airsticks sensors integrated with the performers' props

Monash University’s SensiLab is teaming up with inclusive physical theatre company BoilOver Performance Ensemble, disability-led arts organisation Your DNA and internationally acclaimed physical theatre company 5AM to create an inclusive theatre experience that will combine high-tech audio visuals and aerial performances.

SensiLab, part of the Faculty of Information Technology (IT) at Monash University, has tailored its sensory technology specifically to the needs of BoilOver’s artists, many of whom live with a disability.

One of the innovations that will be used in the performance BUOY, are the AirSticks. These sensory-tech enhanced musical instruments look like simple drum sticks and are able to convert movement into sound and visuals. This makes the art of music creation accessible to the broader community, including those with a disability.

Dr Alon Ilsar, drummer, composer, instrument designer and researcher at SensiLab, is the co-designer of AirSticks. He explained that many people with disability are not given the opportunity to find their true musical creative outlets, particularly as the vast majority of instruments are designed by people without disability, for people without disability.

Co-developer of the Airsticks, PhD candidate Sam Trolland, said the AirSticks can be customised for the individual to promote creative musical improvisation and emotive responses for people with disability.

“We have worked with each performer to gather data about their distinctive movement characteristics. Informed by this data we have developed customised sound and light cues to sync with and suit each performer’s movements.

“The result is a performance by each artist that is specifically attuned to their bodies while assisting them to express their musicality,” Mr Trolland said.

Co-collaborator and Creative Producer of the BoilOver Performance Ensemble, Carmen Maddison, says the use of technology in this performance will foster a unique creative experience for both the performer and the audience.

“Through our work at BoilOver we aim to push the boundaries and raise the bar of what artists with diverse abilities can achieve,” Ms Maddison said.

“AirSticks have allowed our ensemble to be able to express themselves in a unique and  innovative way and enabled us to create a very physical, bold, and visually striking contemporary performance.

“The combination of high-tech audio visuals and aerial productions, featuring performers living with a disability is something that hasn’t been done before in the Bowery theatre space and we’re really excited to be able to bring this to our local Brimbank community and beyond.”

The researchers are working on several new projects with the AirSticks technology, as they continue to develop new hardware and software. These include working with Dr Melinda Smith, a dancer with cerebral palsy, on a new accessible digital musical instrument, and with the Riot Contemporary Music Ensemble in the UK on new percussion works involving several AirSticks used simultaneously.

The performance will debut on Friday 3 June at the Bowery Theatre in St Albans, Victoria.

To learn more about the performance or to register your attendance, please visit here.