Tobias Koslowski lost the ability to play music five years ago, due to muscular dystrophy, but today he’s writing and performing saxophone with the help of the Jamboxx, a breath-driven musical instrument. The device and accompanying software allows novices and professional musicians alike to play 200-plus sounds — from electric guitar to oboe — right out of the box.
“I was missing the ability to play melodies and arrange music,” says Koslowski, 36. Now he writes his own “chill out” songs in a style similar to Café del Mar. “I am making music,” says the resident of Dusseldorf, Germany. “It really works.”
The Jamboxx is the brainchild of David Whalen, another musician who lived his first 25 years post-injury without the ability to jam with friends. Whalen, 50 and a C4-5 quad from Glenville, N.Y., had a passion with no outlet for far too long. “I had years of wanting to find a way to play music,” he says. “Seven years ago I finally had the idea to harness the computer and digital technology to make a new instrument.” Whalen is quick to point out that inspiration and support also came from Ruud Van Der Wel and the Dutch-based My Breath My Music Foundation, with whom he collaborated on a precursor, The Magic Flute.
Now that the first 25 Jamboxx units have been vetted by music-makers of all abilities, the company is looking to fund production on a larger scale. “There are people struggling to get back that part of their life, and they think the door is closed — but it’s not,” says Whalen, an unpaid volunteer who just wants to get the device out to other quads. “With the Jamboxx, you can play with good posture, use your breath comfortably — it’s a way to be physically interactive with music without being super-coordinated with your fingers.”
The Jamboxx hardware is similar to a harmonica, and each sip-and-puff mouthpiece is removable, so more than one user can share the device — in a rehab setting, for example. Software consultant Doug Hamlin also emphasizes that the program makes it simple to “play music by numbers,” like painting by numbers, if you’re just starting out. Yet it can be used to create sophisticated compositions by professionals — you can change octaves with a chin tilt, add sounds from other sources and work in tandem with MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) devices.
The Jamboxx has other applications as well. It can be used as a hands-free mouse for activities like digital painting — another love of Whalen’s — and it’s well-suited as a controller for a small but growing number of video games. But the company is focused mainly on the musical possibilities at this point. Their business plan includes funneling profits into distributing the Jamboxx to individuals and organizations that can’t afford it. “This is a very personal and passionate project for all of us,” says Mike DiCesare, president of the company and also a musician. “It’s to really empower people.”