The Haptic Baton: For Visually Impaired Musicians

Marina McLerran

Editor, McLerran Journal

Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX

 


Imagine a device that allows all musicians to participate in a musical ensemble, regardless of visual impairments. The haptic baton does exactly that by connecting the conductor to visually impaired musicians.  

Who is Vahakn Matossian?

Based out of his London studio, Vahakn Matossian is a musician and inventor whose primary goal is providing quality musical experiences to people of all ability levels. Matossian has a degree from the University of Brighton and a Master’s in Product Design from the Royal College of Art. In a 2018 interview with Kazutomo Ryuko from the Inspired Series (Yamaha Corporation), Matossian explained that the primary inspiration for his work stems from the musical education provided to him by his parents from early childhood, paired with his father’s participation in the British Paraorchestra. Both Matossian and his father, Rolf Gehlhaar, noticed a disparity in the available instruments and technologies for musicians with various disabilities and decided to work together to create a more inclusive musical experience for all (Ryuko). Examples of recent inventions include Matossian’s Hi Note, “a hands free expressive musical instrument,” and Touch Chord, “a touch-sensitive breath-controlled mini keyboard (Human Instruments).” These projects earned Matossian a place on the MIT Technology Review (Spanish Edition)’s “Innovators Under 35” list in 2017 (Lence, 2017).  About his personal motivation Matossian shared, “I want to create instruments […] and a better world for people out there that want to create music but physically can’t” (Ryuko).

Matossian is also the co-founder/director of Human Instruments, “an organization which researches, designs, and develops high quality musical instruments for people with physical disabilities (Human Instruments).” The organization works closely with the British Paraorchestra and hopes to bring “about a shift in music culture as powerful as the Paraolympic games” (Human Instruments).

What is the Haptic Baton?

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The Haptic Baton is a recent brain-child of Human Instruments and their team, who have been working since 2017 to develop a way for visually impaired musicians to participate in a traditional ensemble setting. Initial support for the project was provided by the British ParaOrchestra, the Korean Orchestra, and the Korean Ministry in Education (IEUM). The simple invention involves the placement of a small microchip into a traditional conductor’s baton which pairs to a pair of small wearable devices intended for the musician with visual impairment to wear on their wrists or ankles. When the baton is moved, the musician’s device vibrates and buzzes in high definition stereo, allowing the conductor’s gestures to be physically felt. In this way, it is possible for musicians with all degrees of visual impairment to follow the conductor in real time like their sighted counterparts; effectively removing a major barrier to equal participation in professional musical ensembles. The prototype of the device has already been supported by large international corporations like Shure and is being tested with live ensembles by the British ParaOrchestra (Cool Blind Tech). Conductor Charles Hazelwood shares that he believes the invention “is a gamechanger and has the potential to level the playing field for blind and sighted musicians” (Telegraph). Matossian, is excited to help usher in a new era of professional music-making with this new inclusive technology, referring to it as “a challenge to the major orchestras of the world” to welcome players with various levels of visual impairments. He would also like to thank, on behalf of Human Instruments, the many people who have contributed their time and talents towards creating a working prototype of this device including Charles Matthews (Co-Developer), Rolf Gehlhaar, Kyungho Jeon (Percussionist and co-developer), Charles Hazelwood (Conductor) and all of the ParaOrchestra and Friends team, Ewan Campbell (Conductor), Kate Risden (Violinist), Liz Hargest (Flutist), Takashi Kikuchi (Violinist), Kevin Satizabal (Pianist), and Abby Baker (Violinist).

Human Instruments is a non-profit organization that welcomes community support and donations. To get involved, or for further information, visit the official donations page here.

 

Watch the BBC documentary about the Haptic Baton here

 

 

Sources

Editors. (2019). Hi-tech batons allow blind musicians to follow conductor for first time. The Telegraph.

Telegraph Media Group Ltd. <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/01/15/hi-tech-batons-allow-blind-

musicians-follow-conductor-first/>

 

Editors. (2018). New Conductor’s Baton Sends Wireless Signals Enabling Visually Impaired

Musicians to Play as Part of Traditional Orchestras. Cool Blind Tech. Cool Blind Tech, Inc.

<https://coolblindtech.com/new-conductors-baton-sends-wireless-signals-enabling-visually-impaired-

musicians-to-play-as-part-of-traditional-orchestras/>

 

Interview completed between Marina McLerran and Vahakn Matossian through email.

(February and March 2019). 

 

Lence, Esther. (2017). Inventors Under 35: Vahakn Matossian. MIT Technology Review.

Massachusettes Institute of Technology. <https://www.innovatorsunder35.com/the-list/vahakn-

matossian/>

 

Ryuko, Kazutomo. (2018). Inspired Series. Yamaha Corporation. Recorded interview with Vahakn Matossian.

Provided to McLerran Journal by Mr. Matossian. <https://www.yamaha.com/en/stories/>

 

Matossian. (2019). About. Human Instruments. <https://www.humaninstruments.co.uk/about>