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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Music app enables creativity

A local institution is using new software developed by a UNM employee to help individuals with disabilities compose music.

Peter Ward, who goes by the mononym Panaiotis, is the research assistant professor who developed Bandojo. He said he originally intended to use the software as a tool for studying harmony.

Over time, Bandojo developed into a consumer product designed to make musical composition accessible to everyone.

The software is available on the consumer market as well as to institutions, such as Adelante, a local nonprofit agency that supports hundreds of New Mexicans who have mental, physical and developmental disabilities, disabled veterans and the elderly.

Anna Zollinger, arts coordinator at Adelante, said they have been testing Bandojo within their Arts & Animals program for about a month. The software has provided her with a breakthrough tool, she said.

“The idea of having this program that our clients can utilize at any time and in their own way, without me having to stick my nose in, is more than just fun, it’s more than just art — it’s revolutionary,” she said.

The clients’ reactions to Bandojo has been positive, Zollinger said.

“We have a client who rarely communicates with me; he is very withdrawn into his own world,” she said. “He sat down with it one day and I showed him a couple of things and then he wanted me to go away. He was so absorbed — he created a couple of his own compositions and asked me to show him how to play them back and he just beamed. He was just so enthralled with the music that he had created and he actually talked to me several times, which is completely out of the ordinary.”

Bandojo is working to determine the benefits of musical engagement through its collaborations with various institutions in New Mexico.

“I expect the benefits to individuals with mental and physical disabilities will vary from person to person,” Panaiotis said. “Measuring the benefits and potential outcomes is something that we hope to document over time through our relationship with Adelante and other organizations.”

Travis Kellerman, chief executive officer of Bandojo, said the company is in the process of developing a version of the software that will make music composition accessible those with paralysis and people with severe disabilities.

“For example, if someone were able to simply move their eyes — if they had paralysis or cerebral palsy throughout their body — they could still use the software,” he said. “With current eye-tracking devices we can integrate with, we can map that to our engine and to our platform. So as long as they can move some part of their body they can control the software.”

The enterprise version, Bandojo Pro, is used as an educational tool as well as a form of therapy for adults and children, and is available on Mac and PC, Kellerman said. Another version of the software, Bandojo, is available on iPod and iPad.

Panaiotis, who is also a composer and performer, said he is ecstatic that his creation is being used to make music composition a possibility for everyone.

“My music and artistic works are intended to enrich the lives of those who experience them,” he said. “I am thrilled that I can reach those who may not otherwise have the opportunity to create their own music.”

Mychal Miltenberger is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. Contact him at news@dailylobo.com.