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Music-Movement Dialogues: Exploring Gesture in Soundpainting


In December 2010 I constructed a questionnaire with the intention of challenging the creator of the Soundpainting language, Walter Thompson, on the role of gesture in Soundpainting, in order to find out how Thompson conceived some of the gestures he use and their use across music and dance, to inform my own analysis of this music and dance dialogue. The outcome of this research will be published (2012) as: Helen Julia Minors, ‘Music-Movement Dialogues: Exploring Gesture in Soundpainting’, in a special edition of Cashiers ***** (2012). This article follows a paper-demonstration conducted within the conference ‘Dance and Music: Moving Dialogues Conference’ held jointly by University of Montreal, McGill University, Société de recherché en musique, Concordia University and the Observatoire international de la création et des cultures musicales during 16-19 February 2011.

In writing this questionnaire I make a claim that Soundpainting uses culturally based physical gestures to communicate and compose in real time, assuming a cross- or inter-disciplinary exchange between music and dance. This exchange relies to some extent on metaphor. Music is perceived both spatially and temporally, and likewise so are dance and the other artistic components. If an exchange occurs, is it a dialogue? Does that dialogue rely solely or partially on meaning bearing gestures?
Dr. Helen Julia Minors h.minors@kingston.ac.uk

1. Background – Creative Context

2. Your Aims and Experiences

3. Composition or Improvisation…?

4. The Development of the ‘Language’

5. Multidisciplinary Issues

6. Real-time Composing

7. Gestural ‘language’: specific gestures

8. Ownership

1. Background – Creative Context

a.How would you define Soundpainting for a musician?

Soundpainting is the multidisciplinary live composing sign language I created in 1974. Soundpainting comprises more than 1200 gestures that are signed by the live composer – known as the Soundpainter – indicating specific material and chance material to be performed. The Soundpainter, standing in front of the group (usually), signs a phrase to the group then composes with the responses. The imposing of phrase and composing with results is the basis for Soundpainting.

b.How would you define Soundpainting for a dancer (or actor)?

Same definition as above.

c. What were the main factors which led you to create the Soundpainting gestural sign language?

I moved to Woodstock, NY from Boston in 1974 and formed my first orchestra – comprising musicians and dancers – about 25 in total. I organized rehearsals and performances during the summer and composed, using traditional notation, several compositions incorporating sections of improvisation. The players, when improvising, were to relate their improvisation to my notation – thematic improvisation. During the first concert I became frustrated with how a soloist was improvising – their improvisation had nothing to do with my notation – so, instead of speaking loudly to the group, reminding them to develop their improvisation thematically, I decided (in the moment) to try and sign them instead. I signed several performers (musicians) to play a long tone – I pointed at a few people, made an iconic gesture for a long tone and signaled them to play it, and they did. A few minutes later I created a gesture for pointillism, tried it, and it work wonderfully. After the concert I went home and decided to continue developing this direction.

2. Your Aims and Experiences

a.In using a gestural sign language to create music and dance in real time what do you aim to achieve which goes beyond, or is different, to traditional genres and forms of creativity?

Note: From this point on I will use the word Soundpainting to signify live composing with the language and Soundpainter instead of live composer. And, I will use the word “composing” to mean choreographing, playwriting or any other discipline-specific form of composition.

One of the most important aspects of Soundpainting is to compose with what happens in the moment whether it is intended or not. When the group is fluent and can comfortably respond to the gestures many expected and unexpected results will occur – specificity and chance is at the root of Soundpainting.

b.What freedom does Soundpainting offer the creative artist which other creative processes do not?

The opportunity to work with what happens in the moment whether you are participating in a Soundpainting group as the Soundpainter or performer.

A very important part of Soundpainting language is the basic rule that there is no such thing as a mistake. No matter what happens, the performer must continue performing their material. For example: If the Soundpainter signs the group to perform a Long Tone and one musician or dancer accidently performs Pointillism, then they must continue with the Pointillism and not change to the Long Tone. The “no such thing as a mistake” concept opens up an environment where creativity is never stifled.

c.What restrictions does the Soundpainter have to contend with which a conductor and composer would not?

The Soundpainter when composing a multidisciplinary piece must, at all times, be aware of the forward motion of the composition. It is the Soundpainter’s responsibility to realize the piece. Conductors and composer’s collaborate to make the work – a road map is created by the composer’s notation and the conductor follows it in order to realize the piece. On the contrary, the Soundpainter does the same but in the moment. I wouldn’t define the difference between the two as a restriction but as another point of clarification on how the two forms of composition, Soundpainting and traditional composing are related and how they differ.

d.Do you understand the Soundpainter as:

I. The creator of the work – yes
II. The director of the performance – yes
III. The instigation for communication among an ensemble – yes
IV. A catalyst for creation and mediator for artistic dialogue – yes
V. Other…(please specify) The owner of the work – yes

3. Composition or Improvisation…?

a.What were the main problems you encountered when directing a jazz band?

Jazz is rich in improvisation and jazz musicians spend a great deal of time perfecting their ability to perform a solo improvisation as well as collective improvisation. When I teach Soundpainting to a Jazz group, sometimes I meet a little resistance from a few players who do not like being signed. The resistance usually last only a few minutes – I have never had anyone get up and leave the room.

b.Soundpainting could be said to utilize the individual choices of the performers, as such is it appropriate to refer to Soundpainting as a form of improvisation?

You could say Soundpainting is a form of improvising but then I would add that any form of composition, be it traditional or not, is a form of improvising and improvising a form of composition. However the Soundpainter composes with material offered by the group; it is not free improvisation.

c.Drawing an analogy with a conductor, the Soundpainter is a silent gestural role, guiding the interpretation of the piece. As such, to what extent is the Soundpainter guiding improvisation? And to what extent is the Soundpainter constructing and leading a creative act?

The Soundpainting language can be used in multiple ways. It can be used to guide material or it can be used in a way where the Soundpainter is hands-on with every aspect of the piece.

The fluent Soundpainter has a very large vocabulary of gestures that can both guide the development of material and/or ask for very specific material such as a C major 7 chord from a pianist or signing a dancer to jump around the stage on their right foot. The Soundpainter may also use gestures to indicate less specific material and/or chance responses from the performers. The Soundpainter is responsible for every aspect of the creation of the piece. It is their choice as to how active they are with the gestures and the frequency, simplicity, and complexity of the phrases they choose to sign the group.

d.As a Soundpainter, in what way would you say you act as a composer? In other words, to what extent are you creating the sounds you hear from the ensemble and managing the sounds across the piece?

The Soundpainter uses very specific hand and body gestures (each gesture incorporating specific performance parameters) in order to compose the piece, whereas the traditional composer uses standard and/or non-standard notation to compose their work. The Soundpainter, like the traditional composer, makes all the choices as to how their composition progresses. I don’t see any real difference between the two worlds of composing except certain editing possibilities and ease of composing certain structures depending on whether you are Soundpainting or composing traditionally.

e.Working in real-time, is there capacity to edit the piece?

Yes. The Soundpainter decides (in real time) to maintain, alter or discard material in the same way one does when editing a manuscript. Of course, the big difference is time: the Soundpainter cannot come back the next day and edit the piece it must be done in the moment.

f.As Soundpainting utilizes the responses of the performers, offering therefore some level of personal choice, and arguably improvisation, what is the fundamental difference expected from the “improvise” gesture?

The Improvise gesture means to perform a solo. It is the only gesture in Soundpainting that indicates the performer has the liberty to do what they desire. Certain other gestures incorporate varying degrees of choice regarding their material though nowhere near the same level as the Improvise gesture.

g.Does this “Improvise” gesture invite the ensemble member(s) to take over from the Soundpainter by taking over control of the creative process, or is it predicated on the expectation in jazz?

No. The Soundpainter is the composer of the piece at all times and it is their choice as to how to work with the Improvise gesture. Some Soundpainter’s will modify the performance of the improvising player whereas others may wish the performer completes their solo improvisation at their own rate. Either way, it is the Soundpainter who decides and indicates where and how the Improvise gesture is incorporated into piece.

4. The Development of the ‘Language’

a.Which gestures were applied in your first concert to utilise Soundpainting in a public forum?

As I mentioned above, the first gestures I created were Long Tone and Pointillism. Soon after I created the Whole Group gesture and the Play gesture. At this point, though I wasn’t aware of it, I had created the Soundpainting syntax: Who, What, How, When

b. Your syntax offers a consistent approach for all Soundpainters, and therefore is predicated on an understanding that all language has grammar. How did you develop your syntax?

The Soundpainting Syntax existed early on though I was not fully aware I was using it. It wasn’t until 1997 during a Soundpainting residence in Woodstock, NY that I and Soundpainter Sarah Weaver formalized the syntax.

c.Sculpting gestures: this object, visually dependant term connotes shaping of an object. How do you use these gestures?

Sculpting gestures indicate What content to perform and How to perform it. For example: Whole Group (Who), Long Tone (What), Volume Fader (pianissimo) (How), Play (When). All the gestures are positioned in the phrase according to their syntax function. There are hundreds of Sculpting gestures. All content and modification of material is generated using Sculpting gestures.

d.Function gestures: suggestive of a culturally determined visual direction, order or illustrative or an action, such as a point or wave. How do you use functional gestures?

Function gestures indicate Who is going to perform and When to begin performing. Whole Group, Woodwinds, Dancers, Group 1, Group 2, etc. these are Function gestures indicating who is to perform and gestures such as Play, Off, Enter/Exit Slowly, Organic Development, are Function gestures indicating When to perform.

e.To what extent are sculpting and functional gestures independent from one another? Or do they always have to be co-dependant?

They are always co-dependent. They need each other in order to create a complete phrase. It is not possible to sign two Function gestures and receive a response from the group and the same can be said of signing two Sculpting gestures. For example: Whole Group (Function), Play (Function) doesn’t elicit a response from the group though, it would seem to make sense but the word Play in Soundpainting does not indicate content is to be performed. Play is a Go gesture and only states when to enter the composition.

f.What is your rational behind how you model your physical gestures? For example:

I. Why is “Play”, a two handed, ascending lift, with a bent knee, weight forward into a box?

Some of the gestures I created are quite iconic such as Long Tone and Pointillism and others have little or no visual relation to the material to be performed. I created the Play gesture from the movement used when Bowling – the release of the ball. I modified the movement to incorporate two hands. Many other gestures share a similar history. I may also add the gestures of the Soundpainting language are not based on the language for the deaf or hard of hearing.

II. Why is “Volume Fader” and “Tempo Fader” presented as a descending/ascending scale on either arm?

I got the idea for the gestures from audio recording equipment – when the sound engineer slides the fader up or down in order to adjust the dynamics of the sound.

g.Why are there no mistakes in Soundpainting?

It is much more interesting and challenging to Soundpaint with the so-called mistake than to acknowledge one has been made. My experience has been that composing with the mistake is quite often a more interesting direction to take the composition than any I could think of. Picasso, Miles Davis, Anthony Braxton, among many other composer’s acknowledge the so-called “mistake” as an opportunity to discover new material and not as a road block. I share this belief and have made it an important part of the basic philosophy of Soundpainting.

h.In what way would you say your gestures are culturally determined (specific to Western contexts)?

The gestures are culturally determined in a sense that their physicality is created from what we see in everyday life such as events occurring on television, computers, people in crowds, sports, etc.

5. Multidisciplinary Issues

a.Pitch is reliant on a Western concept of height in relation to sound (e.g. high and low), replying on our metaphorical understanding of music. How would you expect a dancer/actor to respond to this musically determined gesture?

Pitch is a frequency and its tempo governs whether the sound is low, middle, or high. Movement takes place in space and is also governed by tempo. When a musician is signed a Long Tone (middle range) they choose a pitch from this region, a dancer signed the same Long Tone will perform sustained movement at a medium tempo. The Long Tone gesture spans all the disciplines. I created the physicality of the Long Tone gesture and just like any spoken language each performer must learn what the gesture means. Being a musician, dancer, actor, visual artist, etc. does not present any discipline-specific problems when learning the signs.

When first teaching Soundpainting to a group of musicians and dancers I explain that almost all the gestures, except for a few discipline-specific ones, mean exactly the same concept or something similar (equivalent) for each of the disciplines.

Performers first learning Soundpainting won’t relate it to any specific discipline because of its multidisciplinary applications. I created many of the gestures from concepts found in theatre, music, dancing, visual arts, and happenings in everyday life. Since Soundpainting is a not a discipline-based language dancers, musicians, actors, and visual artists never have difficulty understanding the meaning of the gestures.

b.Are all your gestures intended to be interpretable by both musicians and dancers?

Yes. That is to say, all the Sculpting gestures – the gestures indicating what content to be performed. Of course, there are gestures such as C Major 7 Chord and Jump that are obviously discipline-specific but most of the gestures traverse the disciplines.

c.If so, how you do negotiate the equivalences between movement and sound when gesturing “Relate To”?

The parameters of the Relate To gesture are the same for each of the disciplines. The Relate To gesture means: Create a relationship that compliments or, in varying degrees, is in contrast to another performer. The choice of how to Relate To is left open to each performer’s choosing.

I. What responses from your ensemble have you had regarding their understanding of relating between the art forms?

Imagine the Soundpainter signs a dancer to Relate To a musician, the dancer would not pick up an instrument and begin playing but would use their instrument (the body) and create the relationship accordingly – and the same would be said of the musician signed Relate To to the dancer. There is always something each performer will be able to relate to when signed Relate To be a performer from another discipline – rhythm, intensity, tempo, complexity, mood, etc.

d.Some of your terms come from specific mediums. For example, “Brush Work” is suggestive of painting. Why has this idea been taken to suggest a limited accompaniment?

Brush Work is one of the early gestures I created. At the time of its creation I needed a gesture to indicate complimentary support of a soloist. The Brush Work gesture seemed appropriate as I imagined a sporadic brushing-on of material – a supportive and spacious background relationship.

i. How would you expect your ensemble to respond to this gesture?

The definition of Brush Work is: Sparse support behind a soloist.

Brush Work is a multidisciplinary gesture and is applicable to all disciplines.

Dancer – When signed Brush Work will sparsely support the soloist using related movement such as synchronizing, mimicking, or any other form of direct relationship with what the soloist is performing.

Musician – When signed Brush Work will sparsely support the soloist utilizing similar rhythms and pitches generated from the soloist

e.“Match” – how do the musicians and dancers react to this gesture?

The definition of Match is: Match the Content being performed and not the exact material. For example: If a violinist is playing a Long Tone and the Soundpainter signs to a percussionist to Match, the percussionist will play a Long Tone of their choosing. So, what is being “Matched” is the Long Tone in name but not in performed material.

The same parameters are maintained if a musician is signed to Match a dancer’s Long Tone – they will perform a Long Tone of their choosing.
In order to ask a musician or dancer to perform exactly the same material of another performer the Soundpainter utilizes the Synchronize gesture.

I. Is it always in a mimetic manner, for example interpreting a high tone in accordance to a high level, full height; or do they match in a complementary fashion?

No. Each performer, unless otherwise signed by the Soundpainter, will perform the Match as they choose. Performing the Match in a complementary fashion is one possible choice of the performer’s among many others.

f.“Relate To” – does this tend to produce relational qualities previously experienced by the ensemble in other musical contexts?

It’s possible. The Relate To gesture is interpreted freely by each performer. It is up to each performer to choose how to relate to the other performer or performers and drawing a relationship based on previous qualities is one of the choices available.

I. Do you find rhythmic imitation, tonal melodic imitation?

Yes, both are possible.

II. Or, is this term more open to a variety of relational qualities?

Yes, all manner of creating the relationship are available.

I created this parameter as an integral part of the Relate To gesture based on cross disciplinary thinking. For example: Most musicians when signed Relate To will do so in a complimentary fashion whereas if one actor is signed to Relate To another actor, often the actor will create the relationship in a contradictory fashion – it is more common in theatre to do so. So, the overall possibilities of how a performer may respond to the Relate To gesture is governed by the trans-disciplinary applications of the gesture.

III. Can you give two diverse examples from your experience within your orchestra please?

Violin 1, Relate To, Violin 2 — let’s imagine Violin 2 is playing a middle C Long Tone and when the Soundpainter signs Violin 1 to Relate To, he/she decides to play a complimentary though developmentally limited improvisation based on the middle C Long Tone.

A second example: Dancer 2, Relate To, Dancer 1 – imagine Dancer 1 is jumping up and down in place and when the Soundpainter signs Dancer 2, Relate To, Dancer 1; Dancer 2 chooses to perform languid movement in contrast to Dancer 1’s jumping.

g.Some of your functional gestures bear affinity with structural features and seem to be the tools you use to further the Soundpainting. With this in mind, what music / dance techniques and processes do you expect or hope for when you sign, “Organic Development”?

Organic Development means: Performers enter and exit the piece with material of their choosing but do so in relation to what is going on. In other words, when signed Organic Development, it is left up to the performers to decide when, what, and how to perform.

The Organic Development gesture I created based on my background in open-form improvisation where the group collectively composes the piece. This concept is basically the same for the Soundpainting gesture Organic Develop though, in Soundpainting the gesture can be modified by the Soundpainter. For example: Whole Group, Long Tone, Organically Develop. In this example the performer’s goal is to arrive at a fixed Long Tone but they collectively do so. They are able to enter and exit the composition playing various Long Tones and after a short period of time (this period of time is defaulted by the Soundpainter, usually in rehearsal) they collectively arrive at a single Long Tone and maintain it without development.

6. Real-time Composing

a.Are “Point-to-Point”, “Scanning” and “Play-Can’t-Play” all gestures to sample the ensemble for new ideas?

I would not say they are used to sample the ensemble but that they are used to generate material. Point To Point, Scanning, and Play Can’t Play are all what I term Search Gestures. The Soundpainter utilizes these gestures in varying degrees, to search for new material to compose with.

I. In what way are these gestures different?

Scanning, Point To Point and Play Can’t Play incorporate specific rates of development of the performed material. The basic difference between the gestures is the rate at which the performer may develop their material. Scanning and Point To Point share the same rate of development – performers develop their material slowly. The material after one minute will still have a direct relationship to its beginning. In Play Can’t Play the development parameters are twice as fast as those in Point To Point and Scanning.

Note: Play Can’t Play is one of the oldest signs in Soundpainting and is also one of the most complicated to fully comprehend but in general the basic difference is the rate of development.

b.What criteria do you follow when you hear the ensemble react to your gestures? How do you decide what to do next?

A single discipline or multidisciplinary Soundpainter must be aware of both sound and movement at all times. So, when I Soundpaint I am attentive to every aspect of each sound and movement generated by the phrase I previously signed. Sometimes I will immediately respond and develop the material of one or more performers and at other times I will wait a little while before I develop the material. As I develop the material the idea of what to do next naturally occurs. In concept, this way of composing is very much the same as having a conversation with another person, you speak, you listen, you respond – all dependent upon the nature and momentum of the conversation.

c.Working in real time no doubt offers its own problems, which a composer does not encounter. What are the most significant issues that come to mind, and how do you tackle them during your work?

First of all, I would like to re-state I am a “composer” who utilizes the Soundpainting language as the tool to realize the work. The difference between the two worlds of composing – Soundpainting and traditional composing – is time. Soundpainter’s must be fluent in the language and be able to make quick choices in the moment in order to compose the work. The traditional composer can put the work down and come back the next day to work on it.

d.“Launch Mode” removes the time it takes you to gesture before the ensemble can respond. What is the context behind the development of this gesture?

Launch Mode means to respond to the What gesture immediately – a Go gesture is not needed. In other words, when the Soundpainter signs a Long Tone, at the moment of signing the gesture, the group responds and performs a Long Tone.

The idea for this gesture came from my work with the learning impaired. It isn’t always possible for people with learning disabilities to comprehend a Soundpainting phrase incorporating the syntax in its entirety – Whole Group, Long Tone, Volume Fader (ppp), Play. This type of phrase wasn’t possible to follow the first time I Soundpainted with a group of learning impaired people. So I ask the group to respond to the Long Tone gesture at the moment I signed them. I gave an oral example of what was expected and the group found it very easy to comprehend. I took the same approach with all the other gestures I taught the group.

Afterwards, I decided to use the immediate response to a What gesture and created Launch Mode. Nowadays, Launch Mode is a widely used gesture amongst many Soundpainters and its origin came from necessity.

e.As you have gestures for specific pitches and chords (music-specific gestures), how far has your dance-specific language developed?

The language for dance (movement) has been fully developed in the same way it has with sound. There are sound-specific gestures as well as movement-specific gestures but most of the gestures have trans-disciplinary applications.

f.You have previously used more than one Soundpainter in a performance.

I have incorporated as many as six Soundpainter’s at a time – it’s difficult because each Soundpainter has to be aware on what the others are doing. Normally, I will sign a second Soundpainter to come up and compose side-by-side with me for a few minutes.

I. When this occurs do you ever Soundpaint to one another (for example, you could sign to “Relate To” one another)?

Yes. There have been concerts where a second Soundpainter, who I have signed to come up and Soundpaint side-by-side with me, will turn from the group and begin Soundpainting me. The first time this happened was a surprise to me, I didn’t expect it though, I responded to the gestures as if I was a part of the orchestra. After the first time this happened there have been many occasions where a Soundpainter will be Soundpainted.

II. If you have two ensembles or groups led by one or more Soundpainter, such as a group of actors and a group of musicians, each with a Soundpainter, are they treated as separate entities or as different parts of a single group?

When composing with two Soundpainters simultaneously, there are many possible ways to work together. The most common being that the Soundpainters often spilt the groups (the two groups are decided in rehearsal or in the moment using the This Is gesture to identify who is in who’s group) and then compose the piece collectively. Each Soundpainter has the choice of relating to the other Soundpainter in any fashion they desire – supportive or contradictory. At times, the two Soundpainters may change groups during the performance or indicate specific phrases to each other to be signed to the group. There have also been times where the Soundpainters will turn and Soundpaint each other and there is a phrase called Who Soundpainter where the group will decide which Soundpainter to follow. The possibilities of how to work together are very broad but these are several ways two Soundpainters and two or more groups will composer collectively.

III. Do Soundpainters try to complement each other (in which case how do you interpret the word complement?)

Yes at time both Soundpainters will purposely complement each other’s directions. This can be signed live between the Soundpainter using gestures such as Relate To, With, Brush Work, Feel. This phrase indicates each Soundpainter to pay close attention to the direction of the other and sign complementary phrases to support and further the composition. It is very important that no matter how the relationship is realized, whether complementary in a supportive or contrary fashion, each Soundpainter is aware of what the other is doing and why they choose their individual direction.

There isn’t a standard rule stating that there can be more than one Soundpainter composing at the same time, nor that they must relate to each other and progress the piece in a specific way. Multiple possibilities are available to each Soundpainter and what is happening in the moment dictates how they will communicate between each other.

g.Have you ever gestured for a dancer/actor to Soundpaint within the ensemble?

Yes. There is a sign in Soundpainting specifically for this concept – anyone, at any time, may be signed by the Soundpainter to Soundpaint within the group – usually, but not by rule, signing just a few phrases and then returning to their respective disciplines.

h.Are there any gestures which are intended to be entirely exclusive to one or other of the art forms?

Yes, there are many discipline-specific gestures and many cross-discipline gestures.

i.Have you ever extended “Electronic” to include lighting?

Lighting technicians are a regular member of many Soundpainting orchestras and are identified using the Visual Arts gesture. The Electronic gesture is solely for people performing on computers, synthesizers and theramins, among others. The Electronic gesture does not include electric pianos or guitars.

j.“Electronic” are incorporated into your work and gestural language. What software have your laptop performers worked with in the past?

Each laptop performer usually designs or modifies their own software in order to be able to respond to the gestures quickly.

k. Have you found any limitation in the real-time nature of the response from these electronic ensemble members?

There are times during a Soundpainting where I have signed a laptop player to perform a phrase and they are not ready to do so. This is common and each Soundpainter must set specific Defaults during rehearsal in order to deal with this problem. For example: If a laptop player is signed a gesture such as Pointillism, but they are not ready to perform it because of their software or any other reason, they must sign to the Soundpainter the gesture called “I Can’t Do This”. The Soundpainter will either wait and sign the same phrase a little later in the piece, when the laptop player is ready, or will discard the idea and go on to another. This is a commonly used Default when working with any discipline that may need a little extra time to prepare a response. This is the same when working with visual artists – they often need a little more time to prepare a response to certain gestures.

l.Communication is generated between the ensemble via the catalyst of the Soundpainter: true or false?


m.What kinds of communication are possible between the ensemble members?

There are quite a number of gestures indicating specific types of communication to be performed by the members of a group. Gestures such as Relate To, Synchronize, Imitate, Contact, Heckle, are among the many gestures that ask for different types of communication between performers. Each of these gestures comprise specific performance parameters and illicit many different types of responses including making physical contact with another (Contact), performing exactly the same as another (Synchronize), performing something similar though not exactly the same (Imitiate), and making fun of the performer (Heckle). There are many other gestures that illicit performer-to-performer communication but these are the most common.

n.A transfer or ideas occurs between ensemble members during those specific relational gestures (e.g. “Relate To”) but otherwise the ensemble watches the Soundpainter in preference of peripheral listening: true or false? Why?

True. If a performer is inactive they will always look to the Soundpainter for the next phrase. All performers must keep the Soundpainter in their vision whether directly or in their periphery. This must be so in order for the Soundpainter to communicate the next phrase and be able to continue with the development of the piece.

For dancers, or anyone moving, it is not possible to look at the Soundpainter at all times, it would limit the range of available movement. When a performer cannot see the Soundpainter the Basic Movement Rule is incorporated. The Basic Movement Rule states: If a performer does not see the Soundpainter sign a phrase in its entirety, then they must continue with the material they are performing.

7. Gestural ‘language’: specific gestures

a.“Shapeline”: can you define how this gesture functions and what types of responses you have had to this?

Shapeline is related to graphic notation in some sense – the Soundpainter’s body draws shapes in space and the performers respond and interpret the movement with sound or movement – depending on their discipline.

I. Do musicians and dancers have a discipline specific response to your gestures?

Yes. This is true with all the gestures, by default the performers stay within their discipline unless otherwise signed “Change, Discipline”.

II. Are the responses always mimetic (copying you via equivalences or literally)?

Copying my movement in a literal fashion is just one of the choices. Each performer chooses how they related to the movement. For example: A Dancer has the choice of mimicking or trying to synchronize with my movement as well as being contrary to it.

b.“Synchronize”: can you define how this gesture functions and what types of responses you have had to this?

Synchronize, pertaining to movement, means to copy it exactly or as much as possible. Synchronize, pertaining to sound, means to copy the exact pitches and rhythms as much as possible.

I. Do musicians and dancers have a discipline specific response to your gestures?


II. Are the responses always based on rhythmic motion? If so, does musical beat or dance count/step take prominence?

Speaking about Shapeline, musicians and dancers responses to the gestures are open to their interpretation unless I modify the Shapeline gesture with another content gesture such as Pointillism, which would indicate the performers must respond in a pointillist fashion with sound or movement depending on their discipline.

c.Style gesture, e.g. “Funk”, “Techno”, “Classical”: can you define how these gestures’ function?

They can either mean a literal performance utilizing the specific style (or styles) or to perform material with an influence of the style – not a literal interpretation. For example: The Soundpainter signs the phrase: Minimalism, With, Funk (style) – the musicians and dancers will perform within the genre of Funk – a direct relationship to the history of the style. If the Soundpainter signs: Minimalism, With, Funk, Feel (adding the the Feel gesture to the phrase indicates an influence of but not a literal playing of the style)…the performers will perform Minimalism with the flavor of funk.

I. They expect a certain familiarity with the styles suggested, therefore do you hope for a response which illustrates the stereotype of these styles?

Yes and no. I am able to sign both a literal performance of the style or material to be influenced by the style.

II. What are the key features of these styles which you intent to foster from the ensemble? i.e. if you sign Funk, what features of Funk do you wish to produce from the ensemble (id it mainly rhythmic)? When you sign Minimalism or Classical Feel what do you hope to hear from the group?

If I sign Funk with the Feel gesture incorporated in the phrase then the performers will create their material based around Funk and not a literal interpretation of the style. If I omit the Feel gesture then the performers will create their material based on the Funk genre – such as it is performed by musicians including James Brown and so on.

Minimalism in Soundpainting is a short repetitive cycle. Each performer chooses how they will perform – it is not genre specific. If I sign a phrase such: Minimalism, With, Funk, then the performers will choose their material from the Funk genre. If I sign Minimalism, With, Funk, Feel, the performer’s material will be affected by the funk genre but not a literal playing of it.

It is possible in Soundpainting to compose a piece which is tonal, atonal, rhythmic, arhythmic and so on. All tonal and rhythmic structures and available for creation in the Soundpainting language.

8. Ownership

a.Who is the creator of a Soundpainting?

The Soundpainter is the sole creator of the Soundpainting composition and much like traditional composition the role of the performer is to interpret the signs from the composer whether they are notated traditionally or signed using a language such as Soundpainting. The difference between the two worlds may be defined by the medium in which they exist. The Soundpainter’s medium is the material generated by the gestures being signed in real time whereas the traditional composer’s medium is pencil and paper, so to speak, and is planned ahead of the performance.

b.Who owns a Soundpainting?

The sole owner of the piece is the composer – the Soundpainter.

c.At what point does the Soundpainter’s creative direction lapse to be overtaken by the creative impetus of the ensemble or the individual?

Never. Each Soundpainter chooses how active, how simple and/or how complicated the phrasing will be according to what is taking place in the moment. If the Soundpainter decides to sign less, for a few minutes or so, they are doing so because they would like that point in the composition to be more open to the players. The Soundpainter would be signing less for a couple of key reasons. 1 – they desire the performers to develop a certain section of the piece at their own rate. 2 – they are leaving the section open to chance where the Soundpainter will search for material to further the composition.

d.Who owns the intellectual property of the Soundpainting? In other words, who has the authority to give permission for a still frame, or an extract from a work, to be reproduced, disseminated or broadcast?

The Soundpainter owns the intellectual property of the Soundpainting composition.

The Soundpainter is the composer at all times. They decide and govern every aspect of the piece just as the traditional composer does. It is a very interesting question you pose because I have had this discussion with traditional composers who argue Soundpainting is not composing but a form of guided improvisation. The main reason for their belief is the ability to edit – though, as I have stated above, a Soundpainting composition is edited in real time.

Additional Comments:
There are many composition structures more available in live composing which are not available in traditional composing such as trying to notate and perform a complex Scanning section. It is much easier for the Soundpainter and the group to have it signed instead of notated. Of course, the same can be said about traditional composing that there are many structures not so readily available in Soundpainting such as composing and having performed a very specific set of complex note groupings and rhythms.

There are many differences which can be drawn between the two forms of composition; one of the most apparent differences is traditional composing offers editing possibilities Soundpainting does not. Obviously, with a Soundpainting you cannot come back the next day and edit.