I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with music and how it’s been changed by the necessity of disability. It’s a complex journey from a traditional acoustic instrument to a largely electronic landscape, but it’s by no means a tragedy.
I’ve always been intrigued by the emotional relationship between disability and technology. There’s a complex, emotive quality to the augmentation of human activity through technology by the necessity that disability can bring. An obvious example of this would be Stephen Hawking’s voice; there’s something that affects me emotionally about these huge, beautiful, human ideas being relayed through digital technology that is inherently devoid of emotion itself. This collision of human warmth and cold technology is incredibly powerful to me. It’s difficult to articulate how it makes me feel. There’s certainly a melancholic aspect to it for me, but it’s not tragic. It’s very beautiful, this kind of facsimile; a human spirit viewed through the digital glass. It has a distance to it that draws me in.
That’s why I love to use the gloves with technology like Native Instruments’ Kontakt instruments. These tools aim to give the composer all the tools to create realistic sounds such as orchestral instruments, but of course it isn’t ‘real’ – it’s a collection of expertly crafted digital tools, designed as a necessary second best to the ‘real’ thing. For me it’s anything but second best. That is the joy for me; I don’t use Kontakt strings because I can’t afford a real orchestra; I want to use digital technology. I’m not trying to trick the listener into assuming they’re hearing human orchestral players. I want to create that not-quite facsimile, the is it/isn’t ‘real’ – it’s a kind of allegory of what accessible technology means to me emotionally.
Of course, with the gloves this is literally accessible technology – that’s why I have the gloves! But it’s more than a crutch, it’s more than a compromise; this represents a part of the emotional nuances that come with disability. Playing strings like this moves me in a way a real string quartet wouldn’t; there’s a quirky melancholy, a subtle detachment that brings with I kind of pathos of human spirit relying on technology to survive. Not that I think this is better than the ‘real’ thing – but that it deserves to be seen as more than a compromise.
I had to be here to survive as a musician, but it’s a place I want to be. A place filled with complex beauty, and one that reminds of the true fragility of the things that make us human.