Inspirational Kiwi writes music composition app using his feet

It’s not often that the chime of a new press release hitting the inbox causes much excitement. But when Josh Drummond and Lee Reid’s inspired email arrived, it caught the attention of all the writers here at StopPress.

Using a series of cartoons drawn by Drummond, the release tells the story of Reid, a neuroscientist who developed a debilitating pain disorder that precluded him from leading a normal life.

See the press release here.

“I couldn’t play music (I’m a drummer, with guitar on the side) or, at its peak, even leave the house, as the vibration from being in a car or bus would cause intense pain. My arms withered. It was pretty awful,” he says.

Instead of simply mourning the loss of his ability to compose music, he started thinking about ways he could still do it without his arms.

“I joked with my sister that if decent music notation software existed, I’d be able to write music with my feet,” he reflects.

Reid’s frustration with conventional music writing software went back years; he found it too clunky, and often compared it to writing a Word document by dragging the letters one by one.

Since he had a lot of spare time on his agonising hands, he started thinking about ways in which he could make composition software more accessible, especially to those who lack arm functionality. The only problem with this idea was that it couldn’t be put into practice with Reid’s limited understanding of programming.

To fill this knowledge lacuna, he read two 800-page books on programming over the course of two weeks, a task made even more laborious by the pain caused by every turn of the page.

Now that he had the necessary skills, he could start programming… with his feet. The long days spent clicking with his toes allowed him to develop Christy Brown levels of foot dexterity but he could still only manage to write several lines of code per hour – something he found so frustrating that he purchased voice-recognition software. But this came with a new challenge.

Because coding rarely uses full English words, he still had to use a letter-by-letter approach to enter the information, which meant that it took him a year to complete a basic version of the programme. While this was an accomplishment, Reid recognised that his creation had the potential to be something bigger.  

“With no end in sight to my illness, and zero employment opportunities, I thought if I could spruce this app up for public use, I could potentially still make a living. So I kept writing, and writing and writing,” he says.

After two years of illness, he regained the use of his hands, which enabled him to push through the last bit of programming and led to the 2012 release of Musink, a music composition app that enables users to create sheet music and MIDI files faster than any other software on the market.

The programme can be used to create anything from orchestral scores to short musical snippets, and it offers a playback feature that allows users to listen to their compositions. 

Following on from the success of the first version, Reid has now also released a pro Musink app (available for $60) that offers a range of features that are not included with the standard version. 

Reid still can’t use a mouse with his hand and he still suffers from chronic pain, but this hasn’t stopped him from taking on his next challenge: attaining a PhD in neuroscience. 

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