Exercising musicianship anew through soundpainting: Speaking music through sound gestures

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (artistic)


In this thesis I focus on soundpainting-mediated musical experiences. Proposed in the mid seventies by the American musician Walter Thompson (b. 1952), soundpainting is a conventionalized artistic practice designed to create artistic works in real time. Thompson’s definition of soundpainting as a sign language is central to the present artistic inquiry, based on different moments of artistic practice and on interviews with students and professional artists, and informed by an existentialist hermeneutic and yet pragmatic perspective. What does it mean to have an experience in soundpainting? Considering soundpainting as an artistic language, what does it mean to know and speak it? How is meaning mediated in soundpainting? What does a knowledge of soundpainting bring to classically trained musicians? Classically trained orchestral flutist as I am, my starting point has been the similarities and differences between the production and interpretation of signs as they occur in soundpainting-mediated practices and in personal experience of playing from scores and relating to conductors’ gestures.

The artistic, hermeneutic circle turns on transpositions across horizons of understanding, since in soundpainting one’s own practices are extended, and one frequently acts as instrumentalist, composer, and conductor. This is formulated as an example of artistic transaction, in the sense of acting across borders that usually separate roles. In addition to critical reflections on the indeterminacy of soundpainting as a practice and on the two performative perspectives possible in soundpainting (performance leader and performer), I explore soundpainting as an individual instrumental practice too. Although a particularization of soundpainting, this transposition from moments of qualitative transaction between two or more artists to an individual practice retains the significant aspects of standard practice in a soundpainting-mediated musical experience. In the process, significant opportunities were found to exercise different forms of embodying musical knowledge, wherein aspects of ownership and responsibility could be re-contextualized as different intentionalities (in the phenomenological sense) came to play. Through the exploration of such strategies for a systematic development of an improvisational mindset, it was also possible to nurture an empathic understanding of the activities of one’s fellow musicians (performers, conductors, composer, improvisers). All these findings speak to the all-important sense of presence in the moment of performance and can be extended to other forms of music-making, disclosing potential directions for further research on both artistic and educational grounds.


  • Bruno Faria
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Music


  • Soundpainting, artistic transactions, musical signs, musical gestures, music indeterminacy, improvisation
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2016 Jun 3
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2016-06-03 Time: 10:00 Place: Inter Arts Center, Red Room External reviewer(s) Name: de Assis, Paulo Title: Prof. Dr. Affiliation: ERC Principal Investigator, and Orpheus Institute Research Fellow --- Also Included with the book: one DVD and one CD Language: English Public performance: June 2nd, 2016, 19.30, at Palladium (Malmö) --- Supplementary Material: ExcerptVideo1.mp4 Examples of the two different intentionalities described in the dissertation. ExcerptVideo2.mp4 Examples of conventional delimitations explored in moments of ensemble practice ExcerptVideo3.mp4 Examples of multidisciplinary cognitive challenges faced during performance. ExcerptVideo4.mp4 Examples of performer’s responses as propositions. ExcerptVideo5.mp4 Examples of nuanced gestural performance/interpretation. ExcerptVideo6.mp4 Example from a rehearsal of temporal divisions to Etienne Rolin’s Erolgraphs AnalyticalVisualization.mp4 Example of analysis of solo performance structured in soundpainting terms. SketchVideo1.mp4 Example of soundpainting-sketch flute practice at early stage. SketchVideo2.mp4 Example of soundpainting-sketch flute practice at intermediary stage.

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