Monday, January 23, 2012

The Musicalness of Dan Ellsey

Hyperscore is software originally intended by its creators at MIT's Media Lab as a toy for children - they would draw and paint on the monitor and music would result. But then Media Lab's Tod Machover introduced it to disabled folks like one Mr. Dan Ellsey of Boston.

Quoth this LA Times article: "Born with cerebral palsy and unable to speak, he (Ellsey) was forced to communicate with a clumsy headset that pointed to letters to spell out words. He had little control of his body movements. He was in his early 30s, had never been more than five miles from where he was born and seemed doomed to spend a cocooned life in the hospital.

The Media Lab scientists designed a more refined headset for Ellsey that not only inspired him to compose (he turned out to have interesting musical ideas) but even allowed him to perform by controlling tempo, loudness and articulation. He blossomed, and Ellsey, while still a severely affected cerebral palsy patient, has become an active participant in the Hyperscore program, performing, making CDs and teaching other patients."

You can listen/buy his album "Masterpiece," featuring such interesting song titles as "My Musicalness" and "Our Musically":


So what's it sound like? Like instrumentals using synthetic versions of familiar sounds (strings, piano, drums) in unfamiliar ways - it all sounds a little off-kilter, like a drunken jazz band playing songs that unexpectedly lurch from part to part, then stopping in their tracks to repeat a passage over and over - not in a Minimalism sense, more in the needle-stuck-in-groove sense. The un-relaxing song "Relaxation" has an insistent snare drum relentlessly pounding away irregular rhythms. My fave on the brief (17 minute) collection is the accurately-named "Thrilling Trills."
Music of no known genre.

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