| Children at Manovikas Kendra try out the instrument. Picture by Aranya Sen
The yellow rays, coaxed by nervous fingers, are a harp under her touch.
There are no keys, no strings, not an instrument in sight. But there is music, and smiles on the faces of girls and boys who have never dreamt of making such magical harmony.
OptiMusic (OM) is an instrument, in theory, similar to a synthesiser. It creates sounds of 127 instruments, and can be tuned to make melody with the help of computer programmes. But unlike the conventional instrument, it requires only the smallest movement to produce sound. The rays from elevated lights hit the ground. When interrupted by a reflective surface, the rays bounce off sensors, producing music with the help of a computer.
Designed by the UK-based team as a musical instrument, OM has evolved as a tool to work with challenged children. Now, British Council has brought the technology to India and a two-day workshop-demonstration was held at Manovikas Kendra with children, educators and parents.
“We designed the instrument mainly for performances and have installed a few units in science museums and theme parks,” explains Mishka Klotz from OM. “But over the past three years, it is being used in schools for differently-able children,” adds Klotz, conducting the workshops in Calcutta and the Capital with Gautam Ghose, a Delhi-based musician working with the Council to promote the tool. The Calcutta sessions have involved NGOs like Calcutta Social Project, Mentaid, Indian Institute of Cerebral Palsy, Don Bosco Ashalayam and Vivekananda Education Society.
A flick of the finger or a twitch of the leg is all it takes to work the machine.
“When the children see they are creating music, it gets them motivated and boosts their self-esteem,” adds Klotz, whose partner Guy Sigalov invented the system in the 80s. With a repertoire including roaring jungle cats and trumpeting elephants, burps, snores and traffic sounds, OM can be used to educate as well as entertain and empower.
Saturday’s session proved to be “very emotional” for the facilitator. A girl with little control over one of her hands came up to participate in the session. As she realised that it was she that was producing the music, she controlled her actions that much better. “Everyone has a sense of rhythm and harmony,” stresses the Briton. “The sense that they, too, can control music is what empowers them,” says Ghose. Besides the emotional response to overcoming hurdles between mind and body, the physical action can also work as physiotherapy.
But the technology does not come cheap, at £5,000 per unit. The British Council has plans of making the facility available to special-needs groups. As teachers Debapriya and Anima of Rehabilitation Centres for Children conclude: “We could use such a system in our schools, given the diverse backgrounds our students come from. It would help them open up.”