The Clarion: The accessible musical instrument trying to find its soul

The Clarion

Music is said to be a language that transcends all others. But traditional instruments are not always as inclusive as they could be. Now, another instrument is about to open up the music scene like no other as it is officially recognised by the classical music world.

Alessandro Vazzana, 26, has been playing music since he was five years old. First the piano, then guitar and drums.

Disabled since birth, he uses an electric wheelchair and has seen a decline in his ability to use his hands. He has Fragile X syndrome resulting in a learning disability which can impact communication, but not his love for music.

When playing his instruments became too physically challenging, he was introduced to the Clarion – an entirely digital instrument which made music accessible once again.

The Clarion is essentially software which can mimic the sound of any instrument you desire and works on technology including iPads, but this doesn’t make it a lesser instrument.

Barry Farrimond-Chuong from Open Up Music is one of the designers behind it and describes the Clarion as “software in the same way that a violin is made of wood”.

“Most musical instruments require two hands and ten very dexterous fingers to play,” he told the Access All podcast. But with the Clarion, you play with the “part of the body that you have the most agency and control over”. That could be eyes, hands, joysticks or even one leg with the help of motion cameras.

“For some young musicians this is the difference between being in control or just being passive recipients of music,” he says.

Allessandro uses head movement to control a wireless pointing device. He is considered one of the best Clarion players and has already performed at London’s Barbican and with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

“I enjoy playing great music with others,” Alessandro says. “Being part of the group is amazing.”
Rather than using traditional music scores, players create their own visual representation, building up music in blocks with added nuance . The bottom of a block might be quiet, the top loud and individuals can add vibrato and other flourishes as they go, requiring skill and practice.

It might be pre-programmed, but the Clarion is played in real time with the “same sense of jeopardy that you get with a conventional musical instrument,” Barry says. “You can hear any mistakes.”

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