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The initial pair of Mutual Instruments were one outcome from an extension to the AHRC funded Tangible Memories project (Manchester, 2014). For several years Dr Manchester has been focussing on accessible interfaces with little learning curve in dementia care settings. The Brigstow Institute (Bristol University) funded a follow up study to explore technology that promotes well-being in the teenage cancer ward at Bristol Oncology Hospital, a setting that proved to share several factors with the care home. Focus groups discussions with staff and patients conducted with researcher Heidi Hinder revealed key initial contextual indicators at the ward:-
1) desire for engagement and escape,
2) treatment lowering desire to deal with complex systems
3) spending long periods in isolated rooms/or ‘hanging around’ in dedicated communal areas
4) together/not together dichotomy, wanting a sense of company and engagement but not necessarily conversation
This first pair of Mutual Instruments are handheld networked instruments that create a musical chatroom where the two players can improvise musically together in a structured manner and have been designed with the following intentions:
1) to provide stimulation through musical activity (even if non musician user),
2) to create a potentially isolating/comforting environment,
3) to allow for local networked engagement,
4) to remain musically coherent with minimal learning and experience,
5) to be tangible rather than screen orientated.
Musically the instrument is built around a backing track that divided into musical phases which are designed to act as a framing device for the interaction which is limited to 4 buttons. In the current version each button simply plays a preloaded sample both locally and on the remote partner device. The composer can choose whether a sample is played immediately a trigger happens or for it to be snapped to the next beat.