LONDON — As the audience at Cafe OTO, a venue here, settled down to hear Neil Luck introduce his ambitious new piece, “Whatever Weighs You Down,” bemused smiles flickered across many faces.
The evening’s performances had already featured an intriguing selection of musical technologies, including sensor gloves, text-to-speech software and recordings of bird song processed by artificial intelligence.
So when Luck launched into a low-tech étude, raucously inflating a balloon while gasping into a microphone, audience members couldn’t help but laugh.
A dark humor punctuated “Whatever Weighs You Down,” a bizarre, violent 40-minute work for piano, video, electronics and sensor gloves. It was the centerpiece of an evening that presented works made with Cyborg Soloists, a multiyear, 1.4 million-pound ($1.6 million) project, led by the pianist and composer Zubin Kanga, to advance interdisciplinary music-making through new interactions with technology.
“Whatever Weighs You Down” is one of several experimental works that recently premiered in Britain and Ireland that show the rich musical possibilities when disability and neurodiversity are incorporated into the creative process. These works also point to newly developed technologies as both malleable tools for expressing diverse perspectives in experimental music, and as potentially enabling greater accessibility to composition, which traditionally has been a rarefied and exclusive world.
In recent years, increasing attention has been paid, particularly in Britain, to making classical music more accessible. This includes the widespread adoption of what are called relaxed performances in concert halls — where audiences are allowed to make noise — and the creation of professional ensembles for disabled musicians, such as BSO Resound, part of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and the Paraorchestra, which is based in Bristol, England.
For “Whatever Weighs You Down,” Luck worked closely with the Deaf performance artist Chisato Minamimura, who in the piece appeared on a video screen and used sign language to retell her own dreams about falling, one of the main themes of Luck’s work.
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In “Whatever Weighs You Down,” Minamimura wanted to express a deaf perspective on sound and music. “I have hearing loss, but I can feel things — I can feel sounds,” she said in a recent video interview via an interpreter. …….