Sound painting was first developed in the 1970s by French composer and conductor Walter Thompson. He was inspired by the work of the French composer Pierre Schaeffer, who is considered the father of musique concrète, a genre of music that uses recorded sounds as the primary source material. Thompson wanted to create a way for musicians to work together in real-time, using gestures and signals to control the flow and structure of the music. He called his system "sound painting" because it was like painting with sound.
Today by sound painting we mean a unique and exciting way to create music and soundscapes. It’s a type of sign-language for music-makers that helps facilitate communication amidst playing in real-time, allowing for a greater level of spontaneity and collaboration among the musicians.
Sound painting is based on a set of simple gestures and signals that are used to communicate specific instructions to the musicians. The gestures are based on hand motions and body language, and they are used to indicate the type of sound or action that is desired. For example, by pointing to a specific musician or section, the conductor is indicating that they should start playing or make a specific sound. Waving means that the musicians should change the volume or intensity of their playing. Clapping is about letting the musicians know that they should stop playing, and so on.
Sound painting has been used as a therapeutic tool in music therapy. Using gestures and signals to control the flow and structure of the music, provides an accessible framework for individuals to express themselves and communicate with others. By using sound painting, participants can play various instruments and make sounds, while exploring different emotions in a safe and non-verbal way. It can also be used to help develop communication, social and emotional skills.
As a musician, educator, and music therapist that’s ever curious about the multi-potential of music to inspire us, connect us, and guide us closer to our true nature, I enjoy using this special way of conducting in a variety of settings.
The upcoming PLANTING SEEDS art lab will be a unique opportunity to use the technique of sound painting to experience creativity, togetherness and the freedom that comes with being in the moment. It may eventually lead us to some interesting discoveries regarding climate challenges and the 21st-century social transformation.
Text: Aleksandra Denda, Music Therapist, Grammy-nominated Professional Musician with 10 years of background in music education, songwriting and bandleading
Photo: Canva Stock