Acoustic Arts was commissioned by Prior’s Court School in Berkshire to create an outdoor music area for young people with autism and additional learning difficulties. The project was extremely challenging as the installation would have to take account of the wide age range (5-25) and the very specific educational, physical and social needs of the students.
To launch the consultation process, Acoustic Arts set up a temporary musical playground in the grounds of the school. The staff led a series of exploratory workshops with the students to observe how they would interact with the equipment and with each other. The invaluable insights gained from these sessions informed many aspects of the final design including the tuning of the instruments, colour scheme, choice of materials and layout.
The chosen design consisted of a number of tuned percussion instruments arranged within a 9m diameter circle. All instruments could be played by hand or by using inbuilt actuators so that no loose beaters or sticks were needed. The various drums, chimes, xylophones and wheels were mounted on freestanding frames concreted into the ground and could be accessed from all sides.
Careful management of sight lines and spacing between instruments allowed students to interact without infringing on each other’s personal space. Each instrument was designed to engage different parts of the body. Actions included spinning, rocking, tapping, scraping and swirling, using everything from hips to fingertips. Tactile and visual stimulation was provided by the use of contrasting colours and textures. Following the interest shown by students in the prototypes, the wheels and spring-mounted drums were built with clear polycarbonate plates to display the intriguing mechanical movements.
The music area was officially opened by Rick Jupp, former drummer from the band Elbow and Ambassador of the National Autistic Society. Feedback from staff at Prior’s Court was extremely positive and the robust designs have stood up well to daily use.