Based in London, Andre Louis has been playing the piano for over thirty years. He’s an avid instrumentalist, with a background in performing live, producing soundbites for radio and adverts, and releasing his own music. Visually impaired, Andre is also one of the first artists to test run the new accessibility features for the KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards, which enable users to navigate the world of KOMPLETE and NKS more easily. Talking to Native Instruments, Andre discusses how the new enhancements help him as a musician, and how his relationship with Native Instruments is pushing the technology forward.
“It’s like being given sight, where a blind has been lifted in a dark room, and you see things around you that you never even knew were there,” states Andre, talking about the keyboard’s new accessibility features. Introduced to the KOMPLETE KONTROL software under a year ago, in accessibility mode the keyboard uses a voice system to detail, and run through the various options and tools within the software, essentially talking to the user. There’s also a range of tags, and training modes, that allow you to familiarise yourself with the features.
“When I go over and touch or press a knob on the keyboard it will actually describe what I’m selecting,” explains Andre, sitting behind the KOMPLETE KONTROL S61. As Andre enters the preset browse section, the computerized voice on the keyboard keeps him updated as he scrolls through the sounds, from a soft, dull piano to a metallic clang with a rich harmonic release. “That’s one of thousands, and I do mean thousands, of sounds to which I now have access. I wouldn’t have had easy access to any of this before. I used to be reliant on people reading aloud the menus verbatim, and writing that down or remembering menu clicks.”
Andre’s background primarily involved using hardware synths, a process he explains was fraught with difficulties. “The thing about hardware is that there is no one standard,” he says. This has changed with the introduction of Native Kontrol Standard (NKS), which allows virtual instrument developers to embed their products within the keyboard’s software. The intuitive and seamless interaction between plug-in instruments, KOMPLETE KONTROL, and MASCHINE means that a broad selection of tools and instruments can be fully configured to work with your keyboard, which is a massive plus for Andre.
Now a key figure within the KOMPLETE KONTROL beta testing team, Andre serves as a bridge between Native Instruments and a group of visually impaired musicians. “We have a very active WeChat community, where we help each other out, and talk about new products on the market.” Alongside Native Instruments, the community has been pushing other companies to make their products NKS compatible. “We see the value in future-proofing software, and customising the functionality of products in order to become NKS compatible. This kind of thing is beneficial for everyone – not just for blind people.”
The accessibility initiative has been spearheaded by KOMPLETE KONTROL software Product Owner Tim Adnitt. “The new accessibility features came about as a hackday project,” Adnitt describes. “Every quarter at NI we have a week where we can work on hack projects with developers, testers or UX designers to come up with new ideas and try things which aren’t necessarily in our formal roadmap. So myself and a colleague Carl Bussey, decided to give this a go to see if it would make sense.”
Adnitt and his team were conscious that by doing the right thing, they weren’t going to forgo any important elements, that’s why they were quick to bring onboard a testing group. “Something we wanted to do was take this to users who were visually impaired to get their input, and really see if this is something worth releasing”.
After meeting Andre several years previously, the two began a working relationship to further enhance the features. Last month, they both took part in the BBC’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day, where they discussed how KOMPLETE KONTROL has helped visually impaired musicians to create. During the session, Andre gave a demonstration with the S-Series, showcasing its current accessibility features.
“Essentially, I’ve become an NI evangelist,” explains Andre. “Musically, what you write can teach you a lot about yourself. It’s a lot of fun and even if I’m making music for a client, I take great pleasure in giving them something they didn’t know was possible, and there is something really wonderful in that aspect. It is like painting a picture, and good music will always paint a great visual picture”
You can listen to more of Andre’s work here.