The BrutPop collective and the LFO fablab created BrutBox, a creative music tool that is tailor-made for disabled people. A fine example of collaborative prototyping between artists and makers for a good cause.
Nantes, special report (words and photos)
There’s nothing like a collaborative project to motivate the DIY troops, who are often dispersed. Especially when it comes to the delicate issue of human disability. The BrutBox project, initiated by the experimental music collective BrutPop and LFO, the fablab of the organization Réso-nance numérique in Marseille, allows people suffering from physical or mental disability to make music through light, touch, motion and even their own brainwaves using control boxes that are very simple to operate, albeit full of sensors.
Demonstration and explanation of BrutBox:
“With these people, we need to limit the amount of information and work step by step,” says David Lemoîne, lead singer of the band Cheveu and member of BrutPop, while presenting this musical ergotherapy project to an audience of educators and others at the Scopitone festival in Nantes. He first realized this during the Ateliers Méditerranée workshops organized by BrutPop, seeing how old hacked synthesizers and beatboxes were too complex for the participants. Hence the idea of creating an “all-round” tool, adapted to various types of disabilities.
For Lemoîne, meeting the LFO fablab was decisive at this stage of the project, “by paving the way for us to be able to make the instruments of our dreams”. Developed in collaboration with Anthony Pillette, fabmanager of LFO, the interface for creative sound-making is as simple as a game console. It allows an individual or a group to use various types of sensors simultaneously, as if conducting an orchestra of electric sounds. The fabmanager adds: “From the very beginning, BrutBox was designed in open source. We used a relatively old software called Pure Data that lets you make music through modularity and interaction with the physical world by creating boxes and buttons.”
Assorted with pedals, microphones and DIY musical instruments, the boxes don’t require any particular skill in either electronics or music to be installed. They’re ideal for intuitive manipulation by their target audience, as well as for the people around them providing medical and emotional support.
“The idea is to take the disability out of the institutions.”
Antoine Capet, BrutPop
Antoine Capet, musical therapist and specialized educator, points out the political benefits of a project that is inexpensive, open and accessible to all (to make). “BrutBox is initiated by two organizations, but we receive help from all over France, from fablabs and the open source community.”
The organization behind Scopitone’s programming, Stereolux, offered the BrutBox team members a week in residence during the festival so that they could fine-tune their prototype. They used this time productively to design the laser-cut boxes and make software improvements, as well as calibrate the sensors and gestures that would activate the music.
The next step is to assemble all the documentation, currently hosted by Réso-nance, into a dedicated wiki to encourage the maker community to enrich the project.
All documentation of the project is on the Réso-nance wiki