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Translating Stories into Music: life as a visually impaired composer

Kemal Gorey is visually impaired - and his childhood dream was to score music for films, TV and video games. Now, he's a professional composer and disability activist collaborating with organizations like the Able Artist Foundation and RAMPD.

Composer Kemal Gorey and his guide dog stand in front of an exhibit labeled

My name is Kemal Gorey. I am a media composer, music industry professional, co-chair of the PR Committee at Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities (RAMPD) – and I am visually disabled, which means I am a natural problem solver, inventor, and out-of-the-box thinker.

I was born in Istanbul in 1989: a city which is extremely chaotic, and definitely not designed well in terms of accessibility. Nevertheless, once you fall in love with that city, there is no way back.

I come from a classical music education background. Scoring music for films, TV shows, animated series, video games, and other visual content was my childhood dream. It was the 1990s – TV screens were small, and the resolution was like a joke. Ever since I was a child, scores have been my trusted guide while watching something on TV.

It is not always easy to catch every micro mimic in the scene, but film scores have always been there to help increase my understanding of each aspect of the story. Since those years, it has been my passion to translate a story into the language of music. Some might see an irony in it. However, to me, it makes perfect sense. My visual impairment gives me a unique perspective on any kind of visual content; hence, it is not about what you can or cannot see, it is all about what you can see differently than the others.

Growing up with a disability in Turkey brought some unique challenges. It is not only like winning a video game at the hardest difficulty – it’s also, as my friend and colleague Lachi, founder and Advisory Board Chair of RAMPD, says, more like winning “Super Mario Bros 2” despite a broken gamepad. (This analogy sounds nerdy, and so am I.)

The challenges I experienced in Turkey – including a lack of accessibility support at schools, poor cultural acceptance, and the common practice of telling others why someone cannot do something – have never been acceptable to me. They helped me to be more innovative, stronger, and resourceful.

Making music into a career

It all started on a September evening: the winner announcement of the Able Artist Foundation (AAF) 2020 Song Contest for Musicians with Disabilities. The moment I heard my name and my song’s title, I realized that after all the years of training, working, and overcoming challenges as a musician who is blind, it was just the beginning of the journey.

I was named the grand prize winner with my track “Mr. TicTac,” an orchestral track composed using only one sample library, “Spitfire Albion One.” It was the only sample library I had at that time – a birthday present from my childhood friend. So the journey began with a birthday gift from a dear friend and the honor of winning an award from a foundation far away from my home.

After winning the contest organized by AAF, I met with library music publishers and released albums with them. I have conducted webinars with AAF about library music composition for professional composers identified as having a disability.

I have also worked in collaboration with AAF and MPath Tracks as composer and project lead of the world’s first library music album created exclusively by disabled composers. Stephen Letnes, founder and executive director of AAF, is an extremely talented composer who has not only become my mentor and friend, but has also made a big impact on my career.

I have been working as a composer assistant, additional music writer, co-composer, and leading composer of various films and documentaries.

Making music into my story

My journey has just begun. I am at the beginning of the new era of my life, as a composer, a music professional, and as a disabled activist.

Since that September evening, I have kept telling myself the same things: dream it, and make it happen. Because it is that simple. Challenges may slow you down but cannot stop you at all. Solve problems, think out-of-the-box, invent, innovate, and be creative. As a person with a disability, it feels like this has come naturally to me.

That’s why we should share our talent with the world and keep celebrating our colors and uniqueness.

About the author

Kemal Gorey is a professional music composer and disability activist who currently serves as the co-chair of the PR Committee at Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities (RAMPD).

You can learn more about him in his RAMPD profile and on his website, connect with him on Instagram and check out his music on Soundcloud.

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