Tod Machover and Adam Boulanger were invited to TED 2008 to introduce their work in the session entitled, How do we Create. They were in good company, as Dan Ellsey gave a moving performance of his piece, “My Eagle Song.” Despite severe cerebral palsy, the technology developed by Boulanger processes the line Dan carves using his head movements. That line is analyzed into expressive control of an one of Dan’s original Hyperscore compositions.

I think a statement of Tod’s sums up the foundation of the work quite nicely:

“We all love music, but it’s more powerful if you don’t just listen to it but make it. Everybody in the world has the power to be part of music in a very dynamic way. At the Media Lab we’ve been engaged in an approach called Active Music. We started by making hyperinstruments that have all kind of sensors built in, so the instrument knows how it is been played. We asked ourselves: why can’t we make instruments like those for everybody — and that produced the Brain Opera, and Guitar Hero. Music is very transformative, can change your life, your body, your mind. Music, even better than words, is a powerful way to explain who we are. If I was playing cello here I could share things about myself that I can’t do in words. Music is a very powerful interface”.

This is the theme that binds everything that we do in our research, and in the end, is the perspective that can break down the boundaries to discovering how a person like Dan Ellsey, despite severe physical disability, has sufficient expressive and creative control to deliver a moving performance.

On the technology side, Ph.D. candidate, Adam Boulanger:

We’re all expressively handicapped. The breakthrough with Dan was realizing that he had this wealth of expression, and it was our fault as technologists that he didn’t have access to the structure that would allow him to communicate as an artist. Technology can provide that structure for anyone. We just need new tools, and new design processes to look at that creative potential that we have as a population.