|Zane Van Dusen: Unlocking the Power of Music
Since his freshman year at Rensselaer, Zane Van Dusen has played in 13 bands and he founded 11 of them. A vocalist who also plays five instruments, the New York City native has been expressing himself through music for years. Now he has combined his lifelong passion with a keen set of technical and computing skills to create a device that allows all people, regardless of physical mobility, the opportunity to experience music’s positive effects.
The resulting project called an adaptive use musical instrument was a true labor of love.
As a senior majoring in electronic media, arts, and communication and computer science, Van Dusen worked with an interdisciplinary group of students led by Pauline Oliveros, a world-renowned musician and distinguished professor of the arts at Rensselaer. The team designed and implemented a computer interface that tracks the movement of a user’s head to allow them to produce electronic sounds and compose music on a virtual keyboard in both solo and ensemble settings.
The device provides a much-needed outlet for creative expression for people with extremely limited mobility, particularly individuals with severe cerebral palsy (CP) a neurological disorder that permanently affects body movement and muscle coordination and has the capacity to render people unable to speak or move. It also has therapeutic benefits, according to Van Dusen.
“We recently tested the adaptive use musical instrument in a clinic and noticed that many of the children were more focused on their movements because they were motivated by the sounds they were creating,” he said. “One child played the instrument for almost an hour, even though it took a lot of effort for him to keep his head up that long.”
Beyond musical communication, Van Dusen sees potential for the device to allow users to create verbal exchanges: “The interface could be adapted to create speech software, allowing those who suffer from CP to form full sentences, rather than just yes or no responses.”
His project, “Adaptive Use Musical Instruments for the Physically Challenged,” placed second in the applied category of the 2007 Undergraduate Research Forum and Awards.