The SKUG Centre, Norway

While the idea of using interactive light and sound to help people with disabilities gain control over their surroundings is fairly widely accepted in the UK, it is more unusual in Norway.

One place that is pioneering work in this area is SKUG, a centre which helps people to become musicians even if they are unable to play a conventional musical instrument. With a single switch or sensor, players are able to create sounds and take part in group performances for the first time thanks to Apollo Ensemble.

We talked to teacher Elin Skogdal to find out more.

Three musicians in wheelchairs playing using switches

“Most children here go to schools with both disabled and non-disabled children and mostly the disabled children don’t take part in performances. Quite a lot of children have listened to and enjoy music but have never done it themselves.”

SKUG aims to allow everyone, no matter what their abilities, to take part in music education and to perform and enjoy creating music, light and image. The Apollo Ensemble is a key part of the enabling technology.

"The fact that you can use any normal switch, floor pads, other sensors, game controllers, and now also switch boxes makes it unique and means it can cater for almost any adaption needed. That is perhaps the biggest advantage if you compare Ensemble with any other system, and for SKUG it enables us to adapt to teaching and performances at all levels."

Switches mounted above a piano keyboard

“When we have had new people here, we have had phone calls from parents who have seen what we’re planning,” said Elin. “They say, ‘My son can’t do anything’ and we say, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll find something’.

“To go from that to showing them that they can take part in a performance is incredible.”

The difference that kind of experience can make in a young person’s life is fascinating for the staff to watch – and very moving for the parents of those involved.

Elin said: “Often, as disabled people, others just see their wheelchair, but when they can play in a rock band, they feel completely different. That’s all they talk about.”

A group of mixed ability children playing using switches

SKUG is unique in Norway, where there are few places which cater specifically for children with disabilities. Because it is such a large country, travelling to its headquarters in Tromsø would be impossible for many people, but staff have found ways to reach those in more remote areas and help them benefit from the technology too.

“We were teaching one student remotely for two or three years, tutoring him and as his teacher. He lives four hours from Tromsø,” said Elin.

“The possibility of doing remote work has been good for him. He was performing with a local wind band with a switch-controlled computer, and we could send him the files to use in his performance.”

Although they were able to help one student in this way, staff believe people with disabilities would benefit from more widespread music teaching designed for them, and offered from a young age.

Elin hopes that the work she and her colleagues are doing, using the purpose-built equipment from Ensemble, will inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

“I hope it will spread,” she said. “With Apollo Ensemble, we’re showing the possibilities.

“If more people could get started doing music themselves when they are quite young and have all the possibilities of any other child, it would make a big difference.”

Members of the SKUG team

The SKUG Centre is located in Tromsø, Northern Norway. SKUG stands for “Performing Music Together Without Borders”, and the aim of the Centre is to provide opportunities for people who can’t use conventional instruments to play and learn music.

SKUG is part of the mainstream childrens art school of Tromsø (Tromsø Kulturskole), which provides good opportunities for SKUG students to collaborate with other music and dance students and teachers. SKUG have students at all levels and ages – from young children to university students.


Elin Skogdal

Elin is the Admin leader and a teacher in adaptive music technology and flute at the SKUG Centre, Tromsø.

Key pieces of equipment

Connect

An interface for existing assistive switches.

Ensemble Press

A pressure-sensitive pad for those with fine motor skills.

Ensemble Dice

A box that knows which way up it is.

Xbox 360 Wireless Controller

Wireless games controllers with joysticks and buttons.

Other equipment

DMX Lighting
E-Scape Software

Links

SKUG Centre Website

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