Musical Paintings

Since 2014 I have been working on ‘musical paintings’, a mixed-media format composed by the spatialisation of sound inside a small area, in which the spectators position themselves in front of the sound field to experience the composition. These pieces are comprised of an array of speakers and a compact multichannel system hidden behind a canvas. This approach offers a range of possibilities to the field of composition and sound art, as it can be representative (e.g. soundscapes), performative, interactive or conceptual.

Musical paintings share the same physical space as traditional paintings, but instead being composed of paint and other plastic or visual material, it is composed of sounds. Usually the sound material is ‘static’, as it can be distributed into different angles, such as in Collage #1, or it can explore the idea of cinematic stereophony, creating the illusion of movement around the frame.

This project is being currently conducted by myself at the University of Liverpool and has been presented to music and sound art conferences and exhibitions in the UK. The final goal is to produce as many high quality pieces as possible to be available for gallery and museum exhibition. One curatorial project is also in development, which consists in an exhibition designed for people with visual impairment, since the ‘musical paintings’ approach can be interesting to bring the visual impaired community to experience a traditional gallery narrative, such as moving from painting to painting.

Last update: May, 2017

Two musical paintings displayed at the Threshold Festival 2017


Collage #1: Frozen Night (2014, 8 channels, 100x70cm)

Ian Costabile - Collage #1

Collage #1 is an eight channels soundscape comprised mainly of recordings of insects, which were processed to sound static or quasi-static. It creates a virtual scenario, a simulacrum of a forest auditory panorama. Eight sounds are located in different positions around the canvas: two frog sounds, two cicada sounds, two bird sounds, the sound of running water and a synthesized sound to create an additional harmonic ambience.

This piece was first exhibited in the Static Music exhibition in 2014.

Collage #2 (2017, 8 channels, 100x75cm)

Collage #2 is an eight-channel composition, which utilises four synthesised sounds, all shifting independently from each corner of the frame to its centre, whilst also simulating depth.

Spatial Poetry#1 (2016, 2 channels, 30x25cm)

Ian Costabile - Spatial Poetry #1

Spatial Poetry #1 is a small musical painting utilising only two channels (stereo). This piece exhibits a circular spatial gesture and the sound material consists of one synthesised sound, which, through a generative process, begins with a single note until developing into a chord.


Spatial Poetry #2 (2017, 4 channels, 50x40cm)

Spatial Poetry #2 is a 4 channel composition for recorded cello and synthesised sounds in which a synthesised chord shifts aleatory to the corners and the cello follows its path, shifting whilst performing glissandi.

The Seashore (2017, 4 channels, 117×35.5cm)

Ian Costabile - The Seashore

The Seashore is a 3D soundscape simulation in which sea waves break into the centre of the canvas, and the swash and backwash shift downwards and upwards.

Bi-dimensional (2017, 6 channels, 100x35cm)

Ian Costabile - Bi-dimensional

This piece is a mixture of a pre-recorded composition and user interaction. In some sections, the painting performs a spatial recording of a surround composition for flute and electronics, while in other sections, it becomes interactive, as sounds and lights are displaced when triggered by sound and pitch detection.

It has been recently exhibited at the Threshold Festival 2017.

Battistero, Voci della Terra e del Cielo (2017, 3 channels, 91x71cm)

Pisa Baptistery Musical Painting

The painting displays an image of the exterior of the Pisa Baptistery and conceived inside there is a multichannel circuit with three loudspeakers, two in the lower part and one in the superior part of the panel. The loudspeakers at the lower region correspond to the audio of the ground level, while the superior loudspeaker correspond to the audio captured from the superior level, thus redimensioning the actual acoustic space to an acoustic reduction. Through this method of reproduction, it is possible to perceive the sonority difference between levels through a divergent perspective.

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