Interview with Ceren Oran, Soundpainter

In February we attended the Music Austria conference at the Mozarteum in Salzburg focused on “Musikvermittlung” (music outreach/distribution). There we met soundpainter Ceren Oran, whom I recently had the opportunity to interview.

This is what a soundpainting performance looks like.

Salzburg Soundpainting Projects: Passaporto. Video courtesy of Ceren Oran.

So what, exactly, is soundpainting? It is a technique for live composition developed in 1974 by Walter Thompson at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock. An individual, the soundpainter, directs a group using a codified language of symbols. Each participant in the group responds in his or her own manner to the impetus of the symbol, within certain boundaries. This allows for the soundpainter to direct the group and impose certain gestures. The precision of this can be decided in advance upon consultation with the group. When the soundpainter uses the gestures, the group follows along and creates sound, or actions, in real time. Any kind of artist can technically participate: a singer, an instrumentalist, even a dancer. However, the focus is on creating sounds. Certain gestures mean “get louder,” others “get softer,” others “repeat,” “maintain volume” and so forth. In this sense, the soundpainter acts much as a conductor would in a traditional classical music setting, but with more focus on real-time creation rather than information transmission.

When attending the conference in Salzburg, I had the pleasure of participating in Ceren’s workshop she gave there. As one of the onstage participants, I responded to her gestures and, together with the group, helped her mold and shape a real-time composition.

Originally from Turkey and having trained in Salzburg as a contemporary dancer and doing choreographic research, Ceren also worked in theatre and other disciplines, such as singing. She tries to use all the skills she has and attempts to integrate the skills the soundpainting ensemble of participants can bring to the table.

During our interview Ceren told me what soundpainting means to her.


“Wrong and strong” is an important motto for Ceren. She says that often, mistakes a soundpainting participant makes can create a ripple effect and give impetus for interesting auditory and/or visual developments on stage. Thus, the soundpainter is in control of his or her real-time creation, but is also aware that certain things are out of his or her control, and have a life of their own. Herein lies the magic of soundpainting.

More information about the principles of this art form can be found at soundpainting.com.

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