by Anastasia Maniglio
An eye-pointer to keep on living, an uncontrollable passion that overcomes all difficulties, the revenge against ALS.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis cramped his life four years ago, but Andrea Turnu’s passion for dance music cannot be stopped. The twenty-nine-year-old young man from Ales, Italy, thanks to technology, can be heard as before, indeed even more loudly, according to the success of his Facebook page ‘Con gli occhi‘ (Through the eyes). His biggest dream is to perform in Belgium, at the Tomorrowland festival of electronic music.
“I have always had a special relationship with music. When I was a child I spent a lot of time in front of the radio and I could not wait summer to watch the ‘Festivalbar’ (Italian singing competition). When I grew up, my relationship with music has become increasingly close and special. My first console was a small and affordable Hercules I bought just for fun, a game that has turned into a real passion when I started using a Pioneer received as a gift.”
How has your approach to music developed, in the last few years?
“Four years ago, the time to be devoted to my passion was limited: I was working most of the days, as a construction worker first and as a pizza chef later, and in my spare time, I liked hanging out with friends and being with my girlfriend, who lived an hour away from me. At one point, due to the fast progression of the disease, I had to stop working and the desire to go out was not so big, due to the physical efforts. From that moment on, I have spent more and more time mixing music and composing music by PC and console. Unfortunately, soon this disease has also prevented my hand mobility and I had to give up, reluctantly. That was the saddest moment ever for me. Recently, thanks to the installation of a special software in my new eye-pointer, I could start again my work in the music, but with one small difference: now I do it only with the help of my eyes.”
It looks like a superpower! How does it work? What programs do you use?
“More than a superpower. I strongly believe that the real ‘treatment’ to this disease is technology: this device is my window to the world! The eye-tracking analyses the movement of the eye and in particular the position of the pupil, through the digital camera. The eye is ‘illuminated’ by an infrared light emitter that defines the outline of the pupil and creates a reflected light that is captured by the high-resolution camera. These reflections are then processed by a special software to calculate the gaze position towards to an object or a location on the computer display. I downloaded Virtual DJ, a software that provides both musical and visual effects: thanks to it, I can mix the various tracks. This program can be used directly from your PC without the need of other devices.”
What are the limits of this tool?
“Obviously, this tool does not allow me to create music. To do so, a special software would be required. I created the Facebook page for this purpose as well. In fact, the existing programs for composing songs are incompatible with the eye-pointer. There are several models of eye-pointers and I have already tried several before the tracheotomy, but only recently I found one that suits my needs. This is the EASYeyes system, based on a Windows 10 computer, with the addition of a camera with its own Intelligaze software, that the program The Grid 3 is matched to. This powerful and sophisticated device allows me to communicate through a virtual keypad with voice output, to fully control the Windows operating system and Internet browsing. It would be possible to combine with EASYeyes a component of Environmental Control too.”
Are you satisfied with this medium, or would you need more?
“I must say that this eye-pointer, at the moment, fully meets my needs. In my opinion, it is one of the most powerful and refined devices on the market. I have doubts just about the camera. I would be happy if a special software for the songwriting was developed and indeed I take this opportunity to make an appeal for it: I am available to try out anything you want to propose to me.”
Has your condition given you anything that you did not have before?
“It may seem trivial, but definitely my present situation has taught me to appreciate the simplest things in life. When you have a ‘normal’ life, you do not even have time to consider how lucky you are, because your mind is busy with everyday concerns, regarding your job, your family or economic problems, etc.. This disease has opened my mind which, unlike my body, now works much better than before.”
What is your Facebook page ‘Through the eyes’ for?
“I am looking for people with my same problem and the same passion for music, who want to pursue a musical project with the metallic voice of the communicator. I’m getting so many demonstrations of affection and offers and this makes me really happy. In addition to this, my intention is to give a message of empathy and closeness towards all the people who are suffering.”