It was in the autumn of 2015 that non-profit organization SLOW LABEL launched a performing arts project centered on public participation named SLOW MOVEMENT. The project aims to spread the message of “Diversity and Harmony” by holding performances that bring together people from all walks of life—regardless of age, gender or if they have a disability—and are held at all kinds of venues.
The performances are organized and held with an approach that gathers people from the general public that can participate in a number of capacities, from the performers for physical expression like in circuses or dance to support roles like costume and stage creation, project assistants and promoters. Involving content creators and people from the communities where the events are held, the SLOW MOVEMENT project attempts to take the artistic elements of its performances even further.
Among the props in these performances are wheelchairs painted in a beautiful, eye-catching white. Performers also clad in white swiftly maneuver these wheelchairs around the venue, using it to perform music with a rhythm that is a delight to both see and hear. These are Yamaha electrically power-assisted wheelchairs specially outfitted in a collaborative project with Yamaha Corporation and SLOW LABEL to create “a ridable musical instrument”—the &Y01 (“Andy zero-one”).
Led by its director, Yoshie Kurisu, SLOW LABEL is working to create opportunities for diverse groups of people to meet and engage in projects together to build communities where everyone can feel that they have a place and a role to play. In starting the SLOW MOVEMENT project, Kurisu hoped to “create events where people with and without disabilities can perform together outdoors and inspire in them the desire to head outside by getting others around the performance involved as well.” She thought of developing technologies or tools to help augment the physical capabilities and senses of performers with disabilities and then incorporate them into the productions.
Kurisu then remembered Yamaha Motor’s 02GEN electrically power-assisted wheelchair concept model. A wheelchair typically prioritizes safety and functionality, so if Yamaha went so far as to create one with such a beautiful design, she thought the company would surely feel an affinity with the ideas behind the SLOW MOVEMENT project. And if they called on the sound and musical expertise of Yamaha Corporation, wouldn’t it be possible to create performances like nothing ever before?
Sensing the boundless possibilities of a creative collaboration with the two Yamahas, Kurisu decided to ask for their cooperation. Yamaha Motor and Yamaha Corporation have the same desire to share new Kando and rich cultural experiences with more people, and Kurisu’s innovative project resonated with both companies. This is how the three partners began to collaborate on a project merging mobility, musical instruments and performing arts.
The &Y01 is based on the JW Swing electrically power-assisted wheelchair model produced by Yamaha Motor. The principal image for the &Y01 was a white sailboat that allows its pilot to sail freely through the waves. Everything from the body to the frame are finished in white or semi-transparent colors and the rear mounts a thin, lightweight, and flexible TLF Speaker reminiscent of a sail. Also, blue lights are positioned at the tip of the “sail” and the wheelchair body to create the subtle illusion of a sailboat passing through the waves.
The sail-like speaker and round wheelchair body also form the shape of a single eighth note, which in turn appears to be dancing around as the wheelchair moves. Further, a pair of thin drums are attached to the main wheels as percussion instruments to give the user the all-new experience of “riding a musical instrument.” As the rider swiftly moves around, with the wheelchair’s electrical power-assist providing what feels like a gentle push from behind, the movements and sounds conjoin and deliver an exhilaration that naturally turns anyone into a performer. As the &Y01s and performers wheel around the venue playing music, this magical feeling soon spreads and melds harmoniously with the surroundings. This is how the SLOW MOVEMENT project hopes to inspire viewers of the performance to further realize their own potential.
The JW Swing is an electrically power-assisted wheelchair that augments the force applied to the handrims by the user as needed. It was developed to help give wheelchair users a greater range of mobility and support more independent lifestyles.
With its central and expressive role in the project’s performing arts approach, the &Y01’s exterior is a polished, uniform white to match the performers’ costumes and the overall atmosphere of the production itself, giving it the special look and feel of a vehicle meant specifically for performances. The soft glow of the blue lights behind the semi-transparent wheelchair body adds an appealing visual touch especially in evening or indoor performances.
On the functional side of things, special measures were taken in developing the &Y01 to create a closer connection on a physical and emotional level with the project participants that would use it. This included conducting interviews with professional wheelchair dancers to find the optimal balance of weight for use in performances, and making customizations to better accommodate part changes and adjustments for meeting the specific needs of performers with varying degrees of disability. Also taking into account the fact that performances would be held in a variety of different locations, including outdoor venues without electricity sources, modifications were made to the wheelchair’s electrical system to run the power-assist system, speaker, lights and more from a single battery. These are just some of the creative changes implemented with the &Y01.
Kurisu laughs as she recalls when the completed &Y01s were first brought to the studio where the performers were practicing: “All the performers, with and without disabilities, were fascinated by them! They were nearly squabbling over who got to get on next!” It was truly a moment when every one of the performers there shared the Kando of the new and magical experience of quite literally riding a musical instrument.
This video depicts a performance related to the "&Y01" concept model, and does not depict the use of the JW Swing.
This performance also differs to that of SLOW LABEL.
With everything finally ready, the SLOW MOVEMENT project’s first live performance drew significant attention right from the start. The performers overcame differences in age, gender, nationality, and whether they had disabilities or not with a performance that drew in passersby to create and complete the work itself, an innovative approach that pointed to a new direction in performing arts.
At the same time, the &Y01 wheelchairs that had helped make this new form of artistic expression a success also shared the spotlight. Many people were moved by the creative concept of combining mobility and musical instruments with a wheelchair, its beautiful form that fit wonderfully with the performance itself, and seeing the performers move around so fluidly as they played music with it. Comments like, “I want to try riding that!” and “I want to try performing on one!” were heard from numerous people, both disabled and non-disabled. Some of these people also began participating in SLOW MOVEMENT events or began wheelchair dancing, and are already performing in various places and productions.
The collaboration between the two Yamahas and the SLOW MOVEMENT project is what birthed the &Y01 as an electrically power-assisted wheelchair that plays music. Augmenting the range of expression of performers, it not only strengthens the connection between the performance and the audience but also communicates the joys of mobility and music to more people—a single message expressing the hopes and dreams of both Yamahas.