The ‘Performance without Barriers’ research group (PwB), based at the Sonic Arts Research Centre at Queen’s University Belfast has been exploring the potential of sonic arts practices and music improvisation for enhancing social inclusion. To date, the group has focused primarily on research activities related to the inclusive potential of providing access to music improvisation for people with physical disabilities via the use of digital technologies. In this paper we discuss the critical thinking behind our work which draws together the social and connective functions of music making, the open and relational practice of music improvisation, and technological solutions utilising open, adaptable and accessible digital technologies. Three case studies, taking place between 2015 and 2018, are discussed. In this article we argue that activities in music improvisation have inclusive potential for opening constructive dialogues between performers, their instruments, and people of different backgrounds and abilities. Furthermore, as we have approached our research activities reflexively, we ponder the contradictions, dilemmas and points of learning we have discovered when engaging in inclusive improvisation work between university researchers and musicians with diverse abilities.
This text critically reflects on the higher education public engagement training program, entitled 'Big Ears – sonic art for public ears'. The authors detail the objectives and aims as well as the benefits of this initiative for the enhancement of the student learning experience. We consider Schmidt's (Schmidt, 2012) notion of mis-listening and Christopher Small's concept of 'musicking' (Small, 1998), and develop a critical argument on how public engagement has changed researchers' views and attitudes about their own research. The text explores how the creative interaction with a young audience has had great impact on the students' learning experience as well as on their employability/transferable skills, because Big Ears stresses the importance of pulling practice as research away from the academic argument of why artists should be supported inside an institution, and into the realm of the real – what to do when making art, how to make it relevant and applicable to audiences.
Digital musical instruments and interfaces can be designed to enable people with disabilities to participate in creative music-making. Advances in personalized, open source technologies and low-cost DIY components have made customized musical tools easily accessible for use in inclusive music-making. In this article, the author discusses his research with the Drake Music Project Northern Ireland on making music-making more inclusive.