How can music technology change lives? | Matan Berkowitz | TEDxJerusalem

How can music technology change lives? | Matan Berkowitz | TEDxJerusalem


Translator: Tijana Mihajlović
Reviewer: Ilze Garda Two weeks before coming here, I shared a different stage
with four very inspiring musicians: a paralyzed electronic producer,
who creates music using his eyes, a blind and autistic pianist, who uses artificial intelligence
to enhance his left-hand playing, a multi-instrumentalist in a wheelchair,
that turns him into a one-man band, and a singer, born with one hand, who could now, for the first time
in her life, play the guitar. That event was DisCoTech,
a-first-of-its-kind hackathon, dedicated to the creation
of music technology, for people with special needs. I often get asked, “What does that mean and why did you choose
to do this of all things?” The truth is, it pretty much chose me. When I was 17, I spent five weeks
in India with my father. This is not my father, by the way. (Laughter) He was just taking the picture. But at the time,
I already had my first band, and we were recording and performing
regularly back home in Tel Aviv. So I was constantly thinking about music. But it was only
during a 30-hour train ride in India that something in me clicked. You see, 30 hours is a very long time,
especially in the age before smartphones. So all I could do was read my book,
listen to my CDs, talk to my dad, sleep what felt like forever, and then find out we still had
10 more hours to go before we reached our destination. There was nothing to do but wait, just be. That was when I first started realizing
what I was listening to all along. (Train sound) The train had it own rhythm,
a mechanical beat. And my mind started focusing
on the relationship between that beat, and the sound of dripping water
from a leaking tap nearby. What was previously
an annoying background noise, started becoming
a musical part in a symphony, the symphony of the present moment, and I realized – (Sound)
everything is musical. I devoted the next 10 years of my life
to music and film, I built my career and my art
and my sense of self around these mediums, and I traveled the world with them
as much as I could. But a decade after
that first realization on the train, I started feeling
like something was missing. An inner voice kept telling me I could spend my time and energy
doing something more meaningful, something that would
directly affect other people’s lives. It was around that time
that I discovered hackathons. Hackathons are events where people
from different disciplines form groups and create together
around a specific theme or technology. Hackathons usually last
24 or 48 hours straight. They include very little sleep
and quite a lot of pizza, and they end in every group’s presentation
of what they have made. For me, hackathons were the gateway
to the world of music technology. You see, this was
the prefect context to take the “everything is musical” principle
and apply it on a whole new level. So, I started making (Beatboxing) prototypes. (Laughter) Seriously, I started turning
hats, and glasses, and gloves into instruments and converting
head movements into sound effects, and heartbeats into rhythms,
and brainwaves into melodies. I was getting hooked,
and the lines were beginning to blur. Are we playing the instrument,
or is the instrument playing us? Perhaps we ourselves
are becoming an instrument, assigning sounds
to the biological symphony that is our physical body. And how could these ideas
serve a deeper purpose? The answer came from the mind,
literally, it came from the brain, as I started working
with a technology called NeuroSteer, developed by professor Nathan Intrator
and Lenny Ridel. What they were doing
was to take the EEG readings of electrical activity in the brain and convert them into cognitive data,
making them into numbers. And what I was doing
was to take that cognitive data and convert that into musical values. So, basically, translating electrical activity
in the brain into melodies: Musical Neurofeedback. I’m going to play you a few seconds,
so you can hear what it sounds like. (Music) The recording you are listening to
is of Sefi Udi. He was demonstrating this live on stage
at an amazing event called TOM. Sefi is a paraplegic, in a wheelchair, and watching him on that stage performing music live
for the first time since his injury opened my eyes to the realization that these technologies
and these inventions could do much more than empower
professional musicians and hobbyists. They could help improve the lives
of people with disabilities. They can make music
accessible to everyone. A seed was planted. When some of these prototypes started
winning awards and gaining recognition, I started receiving emails and calls
from other people who were working on similar projects. One of them was Erez Simon, a design student who was trying
to build a musical instrument for a nine-year-old girl from Jerusalem. That girl is Raheli. Raheli is both physically
and cognitively impaired. She can only move her right hand at will
and can do almost nothing independently. Taking this into account,
we tried to create an instrument and decided to make a glove
which will act as a one-button machine, triggering an event
whenever it hits a surface. My challenge was to turn
such a simple device into a musical toy that will enable Raheli
to feel the joy of self-expression. So, I assigned three different modes
to that glove. The first mode is drum mode,
triggering a kick sound (Kick sound) followed by a snare sound (Snare sound) in a one-two-one-two pattern,
so that she could play like this. (Imitating kick and snare sounds) Now, Raheli could try
and become a drummer. For the second mode, I divided
Raheli’s favorite song into sections, so that she could queue in
the next part in time. Now, Raheli was becoming a DJ. For the third mode,
I invited Raheli’s mother to my studio and recorded her reading
two different children books. I then cut those readings into sentences,
so that Raheli could control the pacing and overall experience
while keeping her mother close by even when she wasn’t. Erez made an amazing job
designing and creating the glove itself and the project was a success, not only at school,
but also for Raheli and her family, which brings me to the present day
and the beginning of this talk. About two weeks ago, I had the privilege
of producing a hackathon myself: DisCoTech, the first event of its kind dedicated to music technology
for special needs. This was produced in collaboration
with an Israeli NPO called “Imagine”, founded with the mission
of making music accessible to the special needs population, and my own company “Shift” which focuses
on innovation for positive impact. Together, we worked for four months to assemble teams of designers,
developers and makers around four different musicians
and four different challenges. (Video and music starts) Ofer. He is suffering
from a rare neurological disorder similar to ALS. He is also a talented electronic producer. His team built a unique interface with a camera that translates
his eye movements to music. Roy is a gifted pianist,
autistic and blind. He can play virtuously
with his right hand, but is limited to using one finger
on his left hand. His team built a pedal board
and an algorithm that compensate
for this motoric limitation by adding in the notes
that he can’t play himself, creating a fuller, richer sound
on the keys. Liron is a brilliant
professional filmmaker and musician. He was injured in a ski accident
and became paralyzed from the chest down. His team turned his wheelchair
into a portable studio with a guitar, an harmonica,
a microphone, and a built-in looper, turning him into a one-man band
in a wheelchair. And last but not least, Kineret,
a singer born with one hand, but with energy and talent to spare. Her team designed
a 3D printed prosthetic arm that allowed her for the first time in her life
to accompany her own vocals without needing to depend
on anyone else by playing the guitar. (Video and music ends) (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) Thank you. At DisCoTech’s closing event, all four prototypes
were demonstrated live, making it clear that music technology has the power and potential
to change lives. For me, this journey into the future
of music has become about more than technology
or special needs. It has become about our basic rights
as human beings to express ourselves freely and fully,
regardless of any limitation. Thank you very much. (Applause)

Danny Hutson

11 thoughts on “How can music technology change lives? | Matan Berkowitz | TEDxJerusalem

  1. This is one of the best examples of applied technology in the pursuit of social benefit at a personal level I've seen. He started at the 'emphathy' stage, before design. Like the kids who attended the first Stanford AI online class from the remotest areas of the world , who blew away many of the most entitled students scores, one can only imagine the greatness which will come from these connections. A truely inspired music intertactive technologist humanist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *