Musical Paintings

A ‘musical painting’ or ‘sound canvas’ is 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 loudspeakers 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, they are composed mainly of sounds. Endless approaches can be taken to express art and sound through this format. For instance, sounds can be spatialised to different angles of a canvas and utilising techniques of sound localisation and cinematic stereophony, an illusion of sound navigating through space can be achieved. Extra-sensory works can also create an artificial synaesthesia, such as pieces employing LED lights and other visual elements that are combined or synchronised with sound.

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 of an exhibition designed for people with visual impairment, since the ‘musical paintings’ approach can be  an effective way to engage the visual impaired community to the experience of a traditional gallery narrative.


2017 – Site-Specific Composition for the Pisa Baptistery
2017 – Framing Spatial Music
2018 – Lotus Sound: A Hanging Sound Scroll

Last update: June, 2017

Two musical paintings displayed at the Threshold Festival 2017

Musical Painting
An 8 channels musical painting seen from the inside (Collage #2, 2017)


Catalogue of musical paintings (all works designed and developed by Ian Costabile):

Collage #1 (2014, 8 channels, 100x70cm)
Spatial Poetry#1 (2016, 2 channels, 30x25cm)
Collage #2 (2017, 8 channels, 100x75cm)
Spatial Poetry #2 (2017, 4 channels, 50x40cm)
The Seashore (2017, 4 channels, 117×35.5cm)
Bi-dimensional (2017, 6 channels, 100x35cm)
Battistero, Voci della Terra e del Cielo (2017, 3 channels, 91x71cm)
University Poster (2017, 6 channels, 100x76cm)
Stereo Space for Rhythmus 21 (2017, 2 channels, 40.5×25.5cm)
Sound Lines #1: The Earth’s Orbit  (2017, 2 channels, 30 LED lights, 80x30cm)
Sound Lines #2 (2017, 4 channels, 30 LED lights, 30 sensors, 40.5x91cm)
London Underground (in production)
Suspension (interactive painting; in production)
The Cave (interactive painting; in production)


Featured Pieces

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, three bird sounds and the sound of running water.

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


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

Ian Costabile - The Seashore sound_scheme_or_layout

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 Speaker Layout

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.

Click here to know more about it!

University Poster,  (2017, 6 channels, 100x76cm)

Poster presentation at the PGR Showcase at the University of Liverpool, June 2017

Made especially for the Postgraduate Showcase at the University of Liverpool, this is probably the only musical poster in the world. Sounds navigate around the canvas in a hexagon shape. The LED lights follow the sound trajectory. This poster won the Academic Jury Prize.

Internal structure (seen from the inside)

 watch the video on:

Sounds from Bali & Sounds from Gili Meno (2017, 2 channels, 80x30cm)


These two paintings represent unique recordings of Indonesia. This includes soundscapes of clinking fossils in a coral reef, croaking frogs in tropical forests, flocks of pigeons flying with bells, in addition to some other sounds recorded in August 2017. The visual patterns displayed are authentic batik fabrics made in Indonesia.


Sound Lines #1: The Earth’s Orbit,  (2017, 2 channels, 30 LED, 80x30cm)


The Earth’s Orbit represents the frequency of the Earth’s rotation around the sun, multiplying it by many octaves to find a related audible frequency and a related panning frequency. 30 LED lights display the sound trajectory in synchrony with the panning effect.

Sound Lines #2 (2017, 4 channels, 30 LED, 30 sensors, 91×40.5cm)


This piece explores a new approach to interactive spatialisation. While an electronic composition is performed, the listener can control the stereophonic position of two lines of sound through in-built LDR sensors. The result is a quadraphonic system which includes LED lights, 15 for each line, indicating the current sound position.