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In this talk I will present results from fieldwork with musicians, libraries, and educators, investigating the use and design of music notation for blind and visually impaired musicians.
For blind musicians, braille music notation remains the most common method of reading and writing music. First described by Louis Braille himself, it uses the same system of raised dots as literary braille but repurposes them to transmit musical information. Various other notation systems, however, are also available. If musicians retain some sense of vision they may use magnified or otherwise modified staff notation, and since the 1990s, ‘spoken scores’ have become available, which read out sheet music analogous to audiobooks and audio magazines. These diverse forms of notation exemplify that all media rely on remediation in order to represent their contents (Bolter & Grusin 1999).
Moreover, it makes clear that such patterns of remediation are intimately connected with the needs and abilities of the envisaged user. However, there are many different ways to be blind, and people’s abilities and disabilities can be strongly interrelated. Using notations designed for blind musicians, therefore, is always partly a negotiation of the relation between a musician’s physical impairment and the social construction of their (dis)abilities. As such, notation for blind musicians challenges our views of music notation and musical literacy. Responding to Peter Szendy’s conception of musical arrangements as ‘mutations of bodies’ (2008, 55-56), I propose to rethink the relations between music, musicians, instruments, media, and notation in order to recast musical performance more generally in terms of relationality and interdependence rather than freedom and autonomy.