The Oregon Project

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Today's project shows just how far you can go with the Kinect and how it can change the world for those with physical challenges...

Interpreting visual art with sound for a more inclusive experience


A well-known Scottish landscape painter, Keith Salmon creates ethereal, moody abstracts of skylines and mountains inspired by the rugged highlands in his country. Trained in fine arts and sculpture, Salmon has broadened his techniques over the years as his eyesight has diminished, learning how to smash paint into texture and scratch pastels for scribbles to evoke less a depiction of place and more an exquisite experience of the wild.

Last month, Salmon, who is legally blind, debuted an installation with innovative research from Microsoft that enriches his art even more, with proxemic audio to interpret two-dimensional images. Called “The Oregon Project,” it uses four Kinects, 15 overhead speakers and 54 soundtracks to produce an acoustic and spatial interpretation of three drawings Salmon did of the beautifully remote Hells Canyon area in Oregon. The installation premiered in Seattle at the 9e2 exhibit of art and technology as a powerful new way for Salmon to create and for people with low vision to experience and enjoy visual art.


After exploring different ideas, they decided to create a Kinect-enabled sound system based on proxemics, the study of how people use space to define social interactions. And they wanted sound and visuals to be equally aesthetic and important, and rejected anything that felt like a “bolted-on” accessibility tool.

“Visual exploration is a personal experience and is based on distance — as I get closer, I see different types of details — so we wanted to mimic those ideas in audio,” says Joshi, who specializes in computer vision and computational photography. He’s also a painter and interactive-installation artist involved in the local arts community.


For Salmon, whose limited vision began to further deteriorate a few years ago, Eyes-Free Art has given him hope to continue his artistic career for many more years.

“It’s been amazing,” he says. “I’ve now got a future. If my sight carries on getting worse, I can continue making art and draw with sound. It’s a case of learning and adapting.”

“The Oregon Project” will be on display at the Tent Gallery at the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland in April of 2017.

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