I’m Sam Morgan, a musician and producer based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington in Aotearoa New Zealand. I have a degenerative eye condition, which has meant that attending shows and going to gigs has become increasingly difficult over the past few years.
I’m also having to work out what it means for me in the coming years. If I’m to lose my sight, how will I continue making music in such a computer-focussed space?
Mum says I’ve always gravitated toward music. In fact, my first memory is reading a kids’ sound book, pressing the guitar picture/button, and being enthralled by the sound of the strumming through its tinny speaker.
Fast track a few years, I made the move to Te-Whanganui-a-Tara to study a Bachelor of Commercial Music.
But my time as a student wasn’t typical, because at age nine I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. At 17, my parents sat me down to discuss the reality of this diagnosis. Dimly lit bars aren’t the greatest environment to work in when your eyes don’t adjust in darkness, so naturally I moved toward a controlled environment like a recording studio.
But I started to wonder, how will I record my music with a computer if I can’t see the screen? Will I need to spend thousands of dollars on dusty analogue equipment because of their tactile design? I decided to focus my honours research project on the intersection between music technology, accessibility, and education.
How music technology education could be more accessible
One thing I noticed was a lack of educational material on how to use accessible music technologies. I ended up working alongside an aspiring music producer who is blind, exploring how music technology education could be more accessible for blind or low vision people. This became the early steps towards this podcast.
Able Audio aims to bring to light the exciting work people are doing in this space, elevating the voices and concerns of disabled people in music technology. In each episode, I talk to a different music technologist about their practice, their background in music, and how their work intersects with the world of disability.
Researching disability and music technology, I found that resources are limited and people are spread all over the world. This makes it hard to connect kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face).
This podcast aims to spread the kōrero of disability and music technology and provide more representation to disabled and non-disabled people through the guests on the podcast.
I had the opportunity to talk to some really exciting guests in the podcast, some who I’ve looked up to for a long time, and others who I’ve been newly excited about. In one episode, I talked with music technologist Chris Ankin. Chris is blind and does a lot of work with Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol keyboards as an accessible MIDI controller.
He runs a website called KK-ACCESS, which provides resources on how to get started with the Komplete Kontrol and his advocacy aims to encourage music technology companies to make their products increasingly accessible.
Musicologist, researcher and academic
In another episode, I talk with Dr Anthea Skinner. Anthea is musicologist, researcher and academic with lived experience of disability who works at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
As a child growing up with disability, she discovered that the school band was a place where she could compete on a level playing field with her non-disabled peers and make like-minded friends.
Anthea’s work at the University of Melbourne aims to help disabled people access the benefits of music education. Her latest research project, the Adaptive Music Bridging Program, is connecting disabled students with the latest in adaptive music technologies so they can enjoy the art of learning a musical instrument, regardless of disability.
As well as talking to Chris and Anthea, I was lucky enough to kōrero with Megan Steinberg, Matt McLaren, Amble Skuse and Gareth Pring.
I hope this podcast is another step towards whanaungatanga in the disabled music community. It is apparent that this meaningful mahi often stands alone. Everyone deserves to have the opportunity to experience the joy that is making music and new music technologies provide a more equitable opportunity for this to happen.
Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi. With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive.
Welcome to the Able Audio podcast, brought to you by the New Zealand Music Commission with support from Arts Access Aotearoa.