Instruments in Human ecology



Related publications:


Gilbertson, S. and Aldridge, D. (2008). Music therapy and traumatic brain injury: A light on a dark night. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.


Gilbertson, S. (2013). Improvisation and Meaning. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 8, pp. 65-74.

Gilbertson, S. and Ischebeck, W. (2002). Merging pathways: Music therapy in neurosurgical rehabilitation." Acta Neurochirurgica, 79, 41-42.

Gilbertson, S. (1999). Music therapy in neurosurgical rehabilitation. In T. Wigram & J. De Backer (Eds.), The application of music therapy in development disability, paediatrics and neurology (pp.224-245). London: Jessica Kingsley Publications.

Multimedia publications

Gilbertson, S. (2002). Light on a dark night. Music Therapy World Information CD ROM IV. Witten: Music Therapy World.

Papers and seminar presentations

Gilbertson, S. (2008). “Music therapy and computer-based facilitation”. Seminar, Centre for Comnputational Musicology and Computer Music, 26th March 2007, University of Limerick, Ireland.

Gilbertson, S. (2004). "Tools of the trade. Improvisation, Expression and Music Technology in Music Therapy." Paper presented at the 6th European Music Therapy Congress, June 18. University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

Gilbertson, S. (2000). "Six minutes long: A musical improvisation at the end of life." Invited speaker: Paper presented at the Symposium Stervensbegeleidung, Academie De Wervel. October 7. Zeist, Netherlands.

Gilbertson, S. (1996). "Music therapy in neurorehabilitation." Invited guest lecture at Berklee School of Music, October 18. Boston, United States of America.

See Publications for a full list of publications and talks

Project inertia

Whether it is for a millimeter movement of an isolated extremity following a severe traumatic brain injury, or creating an instrument for whole congregation, this project seeks to generate instruments and conceptual interfaces that reflect the human predicament and the ecological possibilities at a highly individualised niveau.

Project description

This is a continuous project that reflects my interest in the unavoidable relations between the creative process of design, use, performity, function and technologies of music instruments for individual people or groups. During a decade of working with people with severe traumatic injuries to central and peripheral nervous systems, I have been encouraged by their ingenuity, resourceful and idiosyncratic power of purpose. Of all these aspects it has been the meeting of my interest in design, anatomy and outsider technology together with this idiosyncratic power of purpose which is performed through movement, signifying through patters of perception alternative to restrictive convention that has become so fascinating for me in relation to music instruments.

My first steps together with colleagues in daily music therapy practice was to explore the many ways that conventional music instruments or parts of these instruments provided possibilities of action for patients with extreme minimal movement. From this early beginning I became interested in creating individual input devices for the analogue-digital MIDI instrument converter produced by the University of York, known as the MIDI Creator.

Based on 3d models of the physiological, anatomical and pathological determinants of the patients' dynamic range of movement (mostly fingers, hands and arms, feet and legs) I would construct wooden, clay, and composite input devices that aimed to maximise the patient's creative possibilities and include progressive openings for the dynamics of inter-professional neurosurgical rehabilitation. I was interested in all forms of potential information regarding change of movement - including temperature (with temperature sensors close to a patients' skin), light (emitted from movable torches that triggered light sensors), pressure (through squeezing objects) and movement itself (pressing micro-switches held in individualised carved wooden structures). All devices designed in the period were so individualised that most patients experience positive change to their movement possibilities making earlier devices irrelevant and these were recycled back into their separate components.

The entire phase was characterised by a low level of production skill or complexity. There was no workshop or construction equipment and this activity was often critcized to be beyond the realm of my role as a music therapist. Interestingly this work took place in the early 1990's and there had been no predecessor pioneer music therapists to define practice scope, so there didn't actually exist a formalized scope of the work of music therapists at all. I considered, and now even more than then, consider an expertise in the coordination of instrument design, anatomy, physiology and pathology to be essential, not desireable, without which a music therapist is unable to complete perform their role as a health care professional. The development of music instruments such as the Skoog at the University of Edinburgh and now distributed by SkoogMusicLtd highlights the brilliant possibilities that instruments that are designed to accomodate a larger group of musicians than previously existing instruments can.

During the later part of the decade (1994-2005) I spent working in relation to neurosurgical rehabilitation, I was interested in the technological possibilities not only in relation to active music creation and neurological illness/trauma, but also the receptive possibilities. It was the phenomena unilateral neglect (most commonly related to damage to the inferior parietal lobe, temporo-parietal junction and/or the superior temporal lobe) that led me to construct a 180 degrees loudspeaker array designed for the rehabilitation of patients. Although this was a promising approach to the utilization of the patients' spatial listening skills that contrasted their disrupted proprioceptive and visual perceptive capacities with a positive effect on a perception of the contra-lateral physical and ecological space, the explorative project ended in a box of wires, switches, loudspeakers, infra-red control lights for the loudspeakers, and the metal frame which was scavenged from a drum kit rack system and plastic cable routing tracks. It was again "outside of the box" of music therapy. One patient developed the construction and listening practice with me and reported significant effects on their vidual and proprioceptive perception during the development of the process. I remain confident about the positive role acoustic perceptive rehearsal might have for patients with unilateral neglect.

My most recent collaboration is related to the conceptualization and development of a new organ at the Nykirke in Bergen, Norway, my new home town. Early steps of the development is focussing on a spectrum of range of accessibility (for both professional organists and children with disabilities), connectability (distant professionals or those unable to vist the church physically), and sonicity (from conventional organ pipes to sound synthesis).