E-Scape – Accessible Software for Composing and Performing Music

E-Scape (from inclusivemusic.org.uk) is accessible music software for unaided switch- or eye-operated composition and performance of music using MIDI. It is accessible to a wide range of users whatever their physical ability or musical knowledge. It can also be used by groups for playing together; each performer can use one or more switches or MIDI instruments, all operating through E-Scape.

Using this application the user can compose and perform music using a single switch however is also flexible and will allow the use of two or more switches (up to about 20!), the computer keyboard, trackball, joystick or mouse, or musical (MIDI) equipment (for example hitting keys/pads or moving with a Soundbeam or MIDIcreator). It also has integrated Eyegaze control.

When composing, musical choices and options are presented to you as E-Scape guides you through the composition process using a series of dropdown menus (see screen shot below). Notes can be selected, entered one by one into the score and then edited. To perform your composition, there are various options that allow you to play your music live using switches or MIDI equipment.e-scape dropdown menu

MIDI files can be loaded in and edited, or exported to use in other music software, for example to print out a manuscript score. Any piece of music can then be played back, or can be performed live in several ways – again with a single switch, if necessary. Because E-Scape composes MIDI scores rather than using inbuilt sound files it is compatible with almost all mainstream music hardware and software synthesizers, instruments and drum machines.screen shot showing e-scape main interface

Visually E-Scape presents a single, large clear screen. The colour and sizes of some items can also be altered, and menus can also speak automatically to aid visually impaired users or non-readers. The degree of choice and flexibility provided can be altered to suit different users.

E-Scape can serve a breadth of users, ranging from the beginner with little or no musical knowledge to advanced composers working individually or within workshop group. It is possible to use E-Scape to learn about music and to compose and perform alongside other instruments. However there is somewhat of a steep learning curve for someone who might be supporting E-Scape users with a wide range of access needs, lots of settings to get your head around. Obviously music knowledge will help but so also will experience with music technology and assistive technology. Fortunately Dr Tim Anderson, E-Scapes developer takes a very much hands on approach to supporting E-Scape users. He is quick to respond to queries and will even help out with remote support and Skype when needed. He is also open any ideas users might have in regard to new features or improvements.

Dr Tim Anderson will be talking about E-Scape and his experience working in the area of Inclusive Music at the Accessible Music Technology and Practice Seminar in the Institute of Art Design and Technology (IADT) Dun Laoghaire on Monday the 23rd of February. Click here for more details and to book your place (free event).