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“Technology is my life. Without it, I am stuffed,” said Jessica Irwin in a segment on the ABC’s 7:30 Report that aired last week. Born with cerebral palsy, Irwin is a professional photographer, but on Saturday night she realised her dream of playing music. Thanks to technology developed by biomedical engineer Jordan Nguyen, she made her debut performance at the Sydney Opera House. “Being able to play music using Jordan's creation is amazing, a dream come true,” she said.
Using an instrument developed by Nguyen, Jessica Irwin performed with the Australia Piano Quartet, who are Ensemble in Residence at the University of Technology, Sydney. The world premiere of Whispering Pectoriloquy, co-written by Nguyen and the Quartet’s violinist Rebecca Chan, saw Irwin playing music using her eye movements in a performance at the Sydney Opera House’s Utzon Room.
Irwin performing with the Australia Piano Quartet
“The software allows a person to control the computer with their eyes and basically play our music device that we custom-made with Jess,” said Nguyen in the ABC’s report.
“Before I met Jordan, playing music for me just wasn't an option due to my cerebral palsy,” said Irwin, “I have to admit I am very new to classical music, but there is a love for this genre brewing in me, for sure. I love its creativity, but I also love its strictness when it comes to posture that you need to have when playing.”
“I thought with this composition that I would try to kind of reflect some of the things that I'd learnt during my medical degree,” said Chan about Whispering Pectoriloquy, “Music is, I suppose, the greatest form of communication for us. It transcends language.”
“To be able to play music after you have been dreaming about it for so long is just magical,” said Irwin. “To have musicians playing alongside you, and to have them responding to the melodies you are playing with your eyeballs is absolutely amazing.”