1. The three-armed drummer with superhuman skills: Robot prosthesis transforms amputee into an incredible 'cyborg' beat machine
A drummer who lost his arm in a freak accident now has a second chance of achieving his dream after being transformed into a ‘cyborg’ musician.
Jason Barnes lost his right arm below the elbow two years ago after receiving an electric shock while cleaning a vent hood in a restaurant.
Determined to carry on drumming, the student from Atlanta built his own prosthetic device using a brace and some springs that attached to his arm.
He could bang the drums by moving his elbow up and down, but couldn’t control the speed or bounce of the stick without a wrist or fingers.
Despite this, the device helped him enrol at the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media in Georgia, and it’s here that he met Professor Gil Weinberg.
Professor Weinberg hatched a plan to create a single-stick device with sensors that respond to Mr Barnes’ bicep muscles.
‘Now I can flex and send signals to a computer that tightens or loosens the stick and controls the rebound,’ Mr Barnes said.
The robotic drumming prosthesis has motors that power two drumsticks.
The first stick is controlled both physically by the musicians’ arms and electronically using electromyography (EMG) muscle sensors.
By tensing his biceps, Mr Barnes controls a motor that changes how quick the prosthetic arm moves and how tightly it grips the drumstick.
The other stick ‘listens’ to the music being played and improvises. This stick is controlled by its own motor.
It also uses a microphone and an accelerometer to sense the rhythm Mr Barnes is playing, as well as music from musicians nearby.
A new complementary beat is then produced using an algorithm modelled on the jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.
‘The second drumstick has a mind of its own,’ said Professor Weinberg, founding director of the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology.
‘The drummer essentially becomes a cyborg. It’s interesting to see him playing and improvising with part of his arm that he doesn’t totally control.’
Professor Weinberg had previously built a robotic percussionist and marimba player that use computer algorithms to improvise with human musicians.
But this prosthesis took his work a step further by adding a ‘musical brain’ into the second drum.
‘Jason can pull the robotic stick away from the drum when he wants to be fully in control,’ explained Professor Weinberg.
‘Or he can allow it to play on its own and be surprised and inspired by his own arm responding to his drumming.’
The new prosthetic has already given Mr Barnes capabilities he hasn’t had since before the amputation.
Professor Weinberg is now using a National Science Foundation grant to further develop the technology.
‘Music is very time sensitive. You can hear the difference between two strokes, even if they are a few milliseconds apart,’ said Professor Weinberg.
‘If we are able to use machine learning from Jason’s muscles to determine when he intends to drum and have the stick hit at that moment, both arms can be synchronised.’
He added that such robotic synchronisation technology could potentially be used in the future to control an embedded, mechanical third arm during time-sensitive operations.
For example, Professor Weinberg’s algorithms could be used to help astronauts or surgeons perform complex, physical tasks alongside robotic devices.
For Mr Barnes, the robot arm has transformed his skills. Because an embedded chip can control the speed of the drumsticks, the prosthesis can be programmed to play two sticks at a different rhythm.
It can also move the sticks faster than humanly possible.
‘I’ll bet a lot of metal drummers might be jealous of what I can do now,’ he said. ‘Speed is good. Faster is always better.’
2. Jerry Garcia looses middle finger in Lompico
Jerry Garcia's finger rests in county folklore
Legendary guitarist Jerry Garcia is no longer with us, but he left a part of himself behind in Santa Cruz County.
That's the story told Thursday by his cousin, Kris Clifford-Crow, manager of Santa Cruz Medical Clinic Westside office and a resident of Zayante.
She said Garcia's older brother, Clifford, cut off Jerry's middle finger on his right hand while playing with an ax and a piece of wood outside their grandparents' Lompico cabin. Jerry, who was holding a piece of wood, was 4 at the time.
It was an accident, she said, but the resulting confusion was so great that Jerry's grandparents forgot to take young Cliddord -- and Jerry's finger -- with them to the emergency room.
The finger has never been located.
Clifford-Crow, who is 20 years younger than her famous cousin, learned what happened later from relatives.
Garcia was 53 years old when he died Wednesday at a drug treatment center in Marin County. His death ended a 30-year musical career that brought him millions of fans worldwide.
Like Garcia, Clifford-Crow grew up in San Francisco. She remembers spending her summers with him at the cabin, which her grandparents owned since the 1930s. She wants to share her connection with Garcia with all the people that loved him.
"Jerry could pick up any instrument and play it," Clifford-Crow remembers her mother saying. "He was the only one in the family with musical talent."
Clifford-Crow tells another family story about Garcia's style.
One summer Garcia, then 15, and his cousins were headed to a summer dance in Lompico. Garcia brought a white blazer to wear but was unsure about the look. After sending Clifford-Crow's brother Dennis to gauge the attore of their friends and family, Garcia decided he was overdressed and refused to go.
"Jerry was a little more concerned about his looks back then," Clifford-Crow said.
Clifford-Crow said her family was very avante-garde during the '60s and not terribly concerned about Garcia's drug use. They wer more concerned with her brother's safety while he was in Vietnam.
Because of the difference in their ages, Clifford-Crow and her cousin were not close until the '60s were long gone. She re-established contact with him in 1981 and he invited her to a show at the Kabuki Theater in San Francisco. She brought a Dead-head friend, telling him only that she knew someone in the band. After the show they went back-stage.
"Jerry gave me a big hug," she said, while her friend stood speachless. "After that, he would call me whenever he played Santa Cruz."
Clifford-Crow said she was not suprised by her cousin's death.
"His death was almost predictable after abusing his body so long." she said, lamenting not onlt "the end of an era but the end of an important part of our family history."
3. Mountain Guitarist Has Lower Leg Amputated
West is expected to recover from the surgery, but will face an extensive rehabilitation period. The guitarist has a new album titled The Unusual Suspects in the can, but the disc, which features appearances by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top and Slash from Guns N' Roses, will probably not be released until after West has completed his physical therapy.
4. Hamilton bassist overcomes amputation, cancer to tour the world
Earlier that day, in June of 2014, he was blissfully unaware that he even had cancer.
Fleming, 33, had just finished recording the bass tracks for Terra Lightfoot's then-new record, Every Time My Mind Runs Wild. After 18 years of slogging it out as a musician, it finally looked like he was going to get to live his dream.
Then the phone call came.
Just before the recording process started, he'd had an MRI on his foot. Years before, he blocked a shot playing beer league hockey, and the pain never really went away. A lump had formed, and doctors thought it was a cyst.
That changed quickly when a doctor approached him.
"He started off and said, 'So, with tumours like this," Fleming said. "I didn't even know I had cancer."
No one told him. They all assumed he knew — and that's how he found out his life was about to change.
5. Victor “Moulty” Moulton
6. The Amazing Story of KISS Guitarist Paul Stanley’s Missing Ear, and the Doctor Who Reconstructed It
“My dear friend Dr. Frederic Rueckert has died at 95,” Stanley tweeted. “He truly changed my life when he constructed my right ear from my rib. God Bless You.”
In a series of five surgical procedures, Rueckert removed pieces of cartilage from the rock star’s rib cage and carved them into the framework of an ear, which was then “implanted with a series of skin grafts.”
Stanley chronicled his ear struggles in his 2014 book, “Face The Music: A Life Exposed.”
“I had nothing more than a stump on the right side of my head, and my ear canal was also closed, so I was deaf,” the 65-year old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer wrote. “That left me unable to tell the direction of sound, and more importantly, made it incredibly difficult for me to understand people when there was any kind of background noise or conversation. These problems would lead me to instinctively avoid social situations.”
Stanley hid the deformity by growing his hair long, and worked through insecurities with a therapist, Dr. Jesse Hilsen, as KISS rose to rock prominence. It was Hilsen who suggested Rueckert after reading an article on the New Hampshire surgeon. At the time, the surgery was relatively new and mainly used on kids.
“I always tried to express to Dr. Reuckert the life-changing role he was playing for me,” wrote Stanley, who was 30 when he underwent the procedure. “He was a humble man who helped countless children avoid the experience and turmoil and endlessly compounded problems I faced as a kid. He helped give me a new lease on life; I gave him a Rolex watch when he retired. I could never figure out a way to truly show him how much he meant to me.”
7. Def Leppard: the story behind Rick Allen’s triumphant comeback
Driving on the A57 near Sheffield with girlfriend Miriam Barendsen on New Year’s Eve 1984/’85, Rick Allen lost control of his black 1984 Corvette Stingray and hit a brick wall. His seatbelt came undone and took off his left arm as the drummer was thrown through the sunroof. After being told he wouldn’t play again, Allen began a lengthy recovery programme that culminated in his return to the stage in August 1986. This is the story of how he got there.
Rick Allen: Coming round in hospital after my accident, I was told that I would be there for at least six months but I had a lot of visitors including Mutt Lange, our producer, who lit a fire under my ass, and some Hare Krishnas who brought really healthy food each day. In the end I left within a month.
I’ve since learned that certain people asked the band, ‘You’re not going to let the freak show play with you onstage, are you?’ Fortunately, I didn’t hear any of that. All the same, I was regularly told that I would never play drums again and it wasn’t until Steve Clark and Phil Collen came to see me that I began to really believe otherwise. They were both so friggin’ drunk but I had been practising on a big piece of foam at the bottom of the bed, and with the help of a guy called Pete Harley, who made me an electric kit and is now sadly no longer alive, I learned to play again.
Getting back to a place where I could re-join the band had been a very tough process. At first even walking was a trial, but I locked myself away in a room at my parents’ house in Dronfield and just played and played. There were times when I thought I just couldn’t do it and wanted to curl up into a ball and give up. But I persevered.
We were scheduled to play Monsters Of Rock at Castle Donington on August 16, 1986. The band had already played three Irish warm-up gigs with Jeff Rich helping out on an acoustic kit, purely as a safety net. Jeff missed his flight for the fourth gig and I played half-a-dozen songs on my own before he showed up. At the next gig the stage wasn’t big enough for two kits so I did it alone. Afterwards Jeff said: “I guess I’m going home tomorrow’.” I did the next one, in Dublin, alone as well.
But on the day of Monsters Of Rock, it felt quite surreal. I was nervous, but I knew that I was capable of doing this. Backstage, it felt strange to be the centre of attention. Everyone from Ozzy to the Scorpions came by to wish me well and offer encouragement. Everybody was on board and knew that what was happening was unique, I felt overwhelming support. Joe Elliott and I stood in a backstage trailer and drained the better part of a bottle of whiskey between us. Nearer show-time the bubble burst. I realised that this would either be great or a complete trainwreck.
Before the show we had decided to treat it like just another gig, but without getting too cheesy, there was a vibe of overwhelming love, and I knew within a number or two that it would be fine. There was a groundswell of energy from the audience, willing Joe to say something. He had no choice. When he introduced me so beautifully, and the roar of the crowd was so loud, I burst into tears. I thought, ‘Shit… if I cry on these pedals will I get electrocuted?’ Thirty years on, that day remains in the top five moments of my life. Each time I’ve returned to Donington I’ve realised that it saw me become a man.
What I didn’t realise was that the fall-out left issues to deal with. I really should have taken the offer of counselling, but I was stubborn. There was also a darker side. Recording the Hysteria album in Holland – and Amsterdam in particular – led me down wrong paths. I started self-medicating and discovered some interesting drugs.
I now know that post-Donington was when the real work began in putting myself back together. That’s why to this day I do a lot of work with the military. My own trauma wasn’t combat related, but I have learned a lot from solders and hopefully they learn from me as well. And of course I will always remember that very special day.
8. Andrew Tkaczyk
While on tour in Texas, his band's tour bus had a terrible accident that left the bus driver dead, and Andrew with multiple injuries. After recovering, he worked with a recreational therapist to modify his prosthetic leg so he could play the bass drum with it. Now Tkaczyk can tour with his band again, and they will be on the road throughout the summer of 2017.
9. Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi Chopped Fingers And Plastic Fingertips
What most people don’t know is that after an industrial accident at the age of 17 on his last day of work in a sheet METAL factory, he lost the tips of the middle and ring finger of his right hand. Iommi considered abandoning music, but his boss encouraged him to reconsider by playing a record by jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who earned wide acclaim despite limited use of his fretting hand following an injury.
After attempting to learn to play right-handed, Iommi strung his guitars with extra-light strings (using banjo strings, which were a lighter gauge than even the lightest guitar-strings of the time) and wore plastic covers over the two damaged fingers. He down-tuned his strings to ease playing and bending. The changes led to a very unique style and sound that would be the essence of Black Sabbath and the birth of Heavy Metal.
He made the plastic covers himself, by melting plastic liquid-soap bottles into a ball and then using a soldering iron to make holes into this ball, putting his fingers in while the plastic was still soft enough to be shaped. He then trimmed and sanded away the excess plastic to leave himself with two thimbles, which he then covered with leather, to provide better grip on the strings.
10. Viktoria Modesta, the world's first amputee pop star : ‘If you don’t fit in, then don’t fit in’
Modesta is being championed by Channel 4 as the “world’s first amputee pop artist”. Her music video for her song Prototype – “I’m the model of the future,” she sings – which the channel funded and paid to air in an ad break during the X Factor final on Sunday, has received more than 10m views on the Channel 4 website, and another 1.5m on YouTube. For all that Modesta already looks like a pop star – she is beautiful, with delicate features, and radiates a serene confidence – the video, which carries the channel’s “Born Risky” tagline, celebrates her physical difference. She wears different prosthetics: one a sparkling diamante-covered leg, another a fierce, glossy spike that makes no attempt to resemble a human limb. Perhaps even more powerful – for those of us still unused to seeing images of disability, especially in pop culture – is one particularly sexy scene in which Modesta’s natural leg is on show, the lower part missing below the knee.
Following their successful Paralympic Games coverage, Channel 4 had been looking at the opportunities for people with disabilities in areas away from sport, and approached Modesta with the idea of making a video. Long a presence on the club scene and a performer (she appeared at the Paralympics closing ceremony), she released her first single in 2012, but had been largely ignored by the music industry. “Before, there was a lot of concern about how much investment I would need, because I was representing this glossy, polished image, and there were so many factors that didn’t fit boxes,” she says. “I had an alternative background, I used to do alternative modelling and people felt a bit scared about it. The leg thing was just … I saw a lot of blank faces where people kind of went: ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to say about this. Is it right for me to think that you’re cool and hot?’”
Modesta’s emergence shouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary. The Paralympics, after all, were supposed to help society get better at understanding that people with disabilities are as capable of remarkable things as anyone else. And yet seeing her presented not as a challenge to the glamour of the entertainment world, but as an extension of it, still feels surprising. Her primetime presence raises several questions. Judging by the attention the Paralympics received, we’re happy to be inspired by people with disabilities, in the often cliched triumph-over-adversity mould, but are we ready to allow someone’s disability to be considered simply one part of their identity? Are we ready for them to be superstars? Are we ready for them to be sexy?
We certainly should be, says Modesta. The idea that people with a disability can’t be alluring, she says, is “totally unacceptable. I’m sure there are people who don’t feel that way, but there are definitely a lot of people who do. That’s why in the video I made every point of pushing my sexuality to the level that I’m comfortable with. It isn’t about being objectified and trying to please a male audience; it’s about representing a sexuality that I felt good about.”
Making the video has been as eye-opening for her as it is for its audience. It was only fairly recently – perhaps six months ago, she says – that she still worried what people thought about her, and what the reaction would be. “After the conversations I had with Channel 4, and seeing how they saw me, I understood that a lot of the complexes I had was the final rubbish that was stopping me from being happy.” During filming with director Saam Farahmand – who has made videos for Mark Ronson, the XX and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini – she says: “I wasn’t self-conscious, I wasn’t thinking about what anyone else would say. All I could do was concentrate on presenting myself as honestly and as passionately as possible, and if someone doesn’t like that, then you’re never going to win them over.”
Modesta, 26, was born in Latvia, which was then part of the USSR. The lower part of her left leg was damaged during a difficult birth. This was still the era in which children with physical and learning disabilities were routinely put in children’s homes – an option that was offered to Modesta’s mother, who refused and instead concentrated on trying to raise a daughter instilled with confidence. “I had this immense mental support from my mum, which was really one of the things that made my childhood feel not as terrible as it was,” she says. Much of her time was spent in hospitals, in between operations. It was a stifling, artificial environment, but also one that shielded her from the often harsh realities of outside life. So, when the family moved to London when Modesta was 12 and she went to school, it was quite a shock.
“Being here was really intense, realising for the first time how the world and people feel about you,” she says. School was “absolutely horrific – being foreign, looking different”. At 14 – and “borderline suicidal,” she says – she dropped out. Soon afterwards, she found refuge in London’s alternative club scene. “I started understanding roughly where I wanted to head. I was very interested in music, performance, fashion. But I remember thinking I wasn’t going to be able to ignore the fact that I was going to have to keep having operations. It felt as if my spirit and my body had gone separate ways.”
Modesta started thinking that her damaged leg didn’t fit her identity. Worse, it was a reminder of years of pain and operations done against her will. She had been inspired by Aimee Mullins, the athlete, model and actor who had appeared in an Alexander McQueen catwalk show years earlier wearing intricately carved wooden prosthetic legs. “I thought: ‘Why am I putting up with this discomfort and lack of choice when I have a choice?’ That was a defining moment. It was because I felt quite confident with myself and my body, but [my leg] was just not fitting. It felt odd.”
Five years later, armed with research about how removing the lower part of her leg and using a prosthetic would improve her life, a surgeon finally agreed to do it. “I’ve been asked if I feel I represent disability, and I don’t think I do,” she says. “I represent the feeling that you have a choice to create your own identity. It is more than just coming out as the first amputee music fashion artist, whatever you want to call it. It’s about taking charge of your own assets. If you don’t fit in, then don’t fit in.”
Her prosthetics are made by the Alternative Limb Project, a company set up by Sophie de Oliveira Barata, who studied special-effects makeup before deciding to make prosthetics for amputees. At first, her aim was to make them as realistic-looking as possible. “After a while, I started thinking there might be other ways of addressing the space, rather than going for the obvious replacement. Why not turn it on its head and see the limb as a medium to express oneself?” she says.
Her prosthetics have included beautiful limbs that look as though they are made from porcelain and painted with flowers, through to futuristic-looking legs and ones fitted with speakers or lights. The client is involved in the design process from the beginning, and the transformation can be profound. “They appear to hold themselves more proudly. I think this is a combination of how it feels to wear the piece itself and the fact that they have been so involved in the process. Generally, when [my] clients wear their prosthetic limbs, they receive positive attention, as it breaks down barriers. Rather than pity, people view them with curiosity, and in many cases have even shown signs of genuine envy, all of which is empowering for the wearer. Some clients reserve their alternative limbs for special occasions, and in those moments they can explore an alter ego. Others see it as part of their day-to-day identity.”
Grace Mandeville, a 20-year-old actor who appears in the children’s drama the Sparticle Mystery and runs a popular YouTube channel with her sister, owns an arm made by De Oliveira Barata. Born without a lower right arm, she was never a fan of prosthetics, she says, until she saw Modesta in a magazine about a year ago and contacted the Alternative Limb Project. Her arm, beautiful and theatrical, is made from metal, jewels and glossy, iridescent black feathers. “I’ve worn prosthetic arms that look real and they just get in the way,” says Mandeville. “They look normal, but I don’t really want to look normal, so this is like the perfect prosthetic arm. I’m into fashion, and I thought: ‘What’s more awesome than wearing an arm like that?’ I never thought of wearing a prosthetic arm to look good, I always thought of it as blending in. What’s great about this is you’re trying to show it off, which I think is a really positive thing, and people instantly see it in a different light.”
For all the talk that the Paralympics in 2012 went a long way to change perceptions of disability, Modesta isn’t sure if it had much of an impact beyond sport. “I think it opened a door. OK, I won’t even say a door: it put a key in the door. Think about all the areas where seeing an amputee person would still make you feel quite uncomfortable, for example on television. Are you OK with it? Are you comfortable with it?”
But steps forward are being taken. At the BBC New Comedy Awards this week – a prize that has proved to be a valuable springboard – the winner, voted for by the public, was Lost Voice Guy, otherwise known as Lee Ridley, who has cerebral palsy and uses a speech app on his iPad to deliver his jokes. “When I first decided to do standup comedy, I just wanted to try it out because I thought it would be a fun thing to do,” he says. “I never really thought about changing perceptions or anything. There are quite a few disabled comics out there, and we seem to be getting more mainstream, so I would say that the audience is ready [to accept more diversity in comedy]. My award win demonstrated that.”
In film and television, says Mandeville, change is happening, “but a lot slower than [in] any other industry. My ideal is to get a job because of my acting, for a really strong drama, where I play a character and I just so happen to have one hand, but it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t. That hasn’t happened, but I think we are moving closer to it, and I know this because there have been discussions within Channel 4 and the BBC. People are talking about it, but it hasn’t happened yet”.
The contemporary dance company Candoco has both disabled and able-bodied dancers. When it was founded in 1991, says artistic co-director Stine Nilsen, “Some people were taken with it, but at the same time there were voices going ‘Aesthetically, this is very displeasing’ and ‘They shouldn’t be allowed’. This has changed. There is definitely a positive push at the moment. We’re being programmed by more mainstream theatres – next year, we’re going to be at [the leading London dance venue] Sadler’s Wells on the main stage, so there is a general change. This diversity really enriches our work – it creates solutions, gives a different aesthetic. I really think that diversity is what helps the evolution of the arts, what really creates something different.”
It’s worth noting that any recent gains made by disabled artists and performers is against the backdrop of a slash to funding – the closure of the Independent Living Fund, and the cuts and delays to the Access to Work scheme – that make it harder for them, and other people with disabilities, to pursue careers.
So, will Modesta’s video translate into a successful career, and change anything beyond being a much talked-about moment? “I hope it’s helpful,” she says. “The reaction all across the world has been incredible. I genuinely am just stunned that the things that seem so ordinary to me have made such an impact.”
She says it is “inevitable” that different body types will become acceptable, even in the industries – fashion and music – that she is trying to break into, where ideals of beauty and perfection are still very narrow. “There needs to be more variety, but it’s not even about the industry, it’s about the acceptance that needs to happen beyond that. People need to stop feeling freaked out, tabooed, offended, superior or inferior when they stand next to a person with a different body to themselves.”