Soundhouse Music Alliance and the re-birth of the Banana Keyboard

The Soundhouse Music Alliance, the music products industry charity, has spent most of its energy this year reinvigorating the Soundhouse Music Alliance Special Access Kit featuring the Banana Keyboard.

Soundhouse Music Alliance Chairman, Adrian Alexander with the Banana Keyboard

For those unaware, this instrument, it was originally developed by the Soundhouse Music Alliance 23 years ago, giving access to music making for people with disability, through connection to a computer, where any sounds, scale patterns or audio loops can be assigned to the 16 large keys and 8 switch inputs.

These features allow for the use of adaptive switches already used by people with disability to now trigger musical sounds. The banana keyboard was designed to fit across a wheel chair.

This flexibility provides music therapists and music teachers working in a variety of settings to design inclusive and engaging music activities which are age appropriate.

The project was placed high on the Soundhouse agenda this year as a result of some ground-breaking work done by Music Therapists running the Accessible Music Program at The Channel, at Arts Centre Melbourne (ACM).

Two issues had arisen since the original creation and distribution of over 100 banana keyboards to schools and other facilities in several states of Australia, as well as internationally including Ireland, China, Singapore, New Zealand, and the United States.

Firstly there was a desire to employ wireless technology to upgrade the keyboards, and secondly the original software written for Windows XP had clearly become obsolete.

Through generous donor support from The Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Charitable Trust  through Arts Centre Melbourne, a wireless version of the banana keyboard has been designed, produced and successfully tested.

Two of these units are used extensively in The Accessible Music Program at ACM.

Further exploration by ACM staff running the Operator program at The Channel revealed that the Banana Keyboard could be easily controlled by Ableton Live, and a range of activities and sound sets have been successfully programmed by music technology specialist Benji Miu .

This revelation opened the door to other facilities being able to use the extensive programming features of Ableton Live, and also allow facilities which are now Mac based to use the Banana keyboards.

Soundhouse Music Alliance then made contact with Ableton in Australia, and received overwhelming support with training of teachers and therapists, and site licensing for schools participating in the training program.

The first of these training days was run on Dec 6th at The Channel, Arts Centre Melbourne. It was led by Ableton registered trainer Davey Norris, with additional support from several of the Arts Centre staff who have pioneered the development of the SAK application of Ableton

Participants were delighted by the range of possibilities the Banana Keyboard and Ableton Live integration had to offer.

The day signalled a new dawn on the possibilities for future music making for people with disability.

The SMA endeavours to continue development in 2 ways.

Firstly, with ongoing Ableton support, we hope to roll out further training days, the first potentially being Sydney in early 2019.

Secondly, we are seeking to provide wireless upgrades to 20 facilities using the Banana Keyboards in 2019. This will be dependent on financial support to meet those aims.

AMA members wishing to contribute to providing people with disabilities, access to making music, can do so by making a donation to Soundhouse in their annual charitable efforts using this DONATE link. SMA is a registered charity and all donations are fully tax deductable.

Soundhouse Music Alliance is the music products industry charity.