Walter Thompson (composer)

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Walter Thompson (born May 31, 1952 in West Palm Beach, Florida) is a composer, saxophonist, percussionist, and educator. He created the multidisciplinary live composing sign language, Soundpainting.


In 1974, after attending 3 years at Berklee College of Music, Thompson moved to his family's summer home in Woodstock, New York. There he received a grant from the National Endowment on the Arts to study composition and woodwinds. During this period, he also studied dance.[citation needed]

Thompson formed his first large orchestra in Woodstock, during the summer of 1974, comprising 20 musicians and 7 dancers. The focus of the orchestra was on jazz-based and contemporary music-based improvisation – the dancers improvising in relation to the compositions. During this time, Thompson began experimenting with signing improvisation. He created very basic gestures, asking for a long tone or improvisation in a pointillist style, for example.[citation needed]

Thompson moved to New York City in 1980 and formed The Walter Thompson Orchestra (then known as the Walter Thompson Big Band) in 1984. During the first year with his orchestra, while conducting a performance in Brooklyn, New York, Thompson needed to communicate with the orchestra in the middle of one of his compositions. They were performing a section of improvisation where trumpet 2 was soloing.[citation needed] During the solo Thompson wanted to have one of the other trumpet players create a background. Not wanting to emulate bandleaders who would yell or speak out loud to their orchestra, Thompson used some of the signs he had experimented with during his Woodstock days. In this moment he made up these signs: Trumpet 1, Background, With, 2-Measure, Feel; Watch Me, 4 Beats. In the next rehearsal, members of his orchestra asked what the signing was about. Upon hearing Thompson's explanation, they encouraged him to continue developing the language further. In the early 1990s Thompson expanded the Soundpainting language to include actors, dancers, poets, and visual artists.[citation needed]

In the late 1990s Thompson was invited to a music education conference in Santiago de Compostela, Spain to give a demonstration of Soundpainting. Many invitations to perform and teach Soundpainting followed.[citation needed]

In 2001 Thompson won a Sebastià Gasch FAD Award for Soundpainting.[1]

Collaborative work[edit]

Thompson has composed Soundpaintings with many contemporary orchestras in many cities around the world, including Barcelona, Paris, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Oslo, Berlin, Bergen, Lucerne, Copenhagen, and Reykjavik, among others, and has taught Soundpainting at the Conservatoire de Paris; Eastman School of Music; Iceland Academy of the Arts; University of Michigan; Grieg Academy in Bergen, Norway; University of Iowa; Oberlin College Conservatory of Music; and New York University, among many others.[2]

Selected recordings[edit]

  • SP4tet – Dane Recordings (Mr. Thompson’s Soundpainting string quartet).
  • New York Soundpainting Orchestra – with Soundpainter’s Walter Thompson and Evan Mazunik – Dane Recordings (release TBA soon).
  • Six Soundpainting Compositions with Anthony Braxton, Walter Thompson and the Walter Thompson Orchestra (release TBA soon).
  • Walter Thompson/Olle Karlsson Duo – Dane Recordings.
  • PEXO 111004 DVD (Dane Records).
  • PEXO (CD) -A Soundpainting Symphony (Nine Winds Records).
  • Steve Rust Soundpainting Sextet – Walter Thompson Soundpainter – Dane Recordings.
  • Side Show Time – Walter Thompson Soundpainter – Dane Recordings.
  • Deconstructing Haydn – Walter Thompson Soundpainter, Gil Selinger soloist (Novodisc Recordings).
  • Code of The West-with Joe Gallant (Scratchy Records).
  • The Colonel (Nine Winds Records).
  • Not for Rollo (Ottava Records).
  • Various-John Zorn's Cobra (Knitting Factory Works).
  • 520 OUT (Dane Records).
  • Symphony of the Universe-with Wendy Mae Chambers (Newport Classic).
  • Stardate (Dane Records).
  • ARC (Dane Records).
  • Four Compositions with Walter Thompson and Anthony Braxton (Dane Records).[citation needed]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Soundpainting Workbook 1 – The Art of Live Composing for Musicians (Level 1).
  • Soundpainting Workbook 2 - The Art of Live Composing for Musicians (Level 2).
  • Soundpainting Workbook 3 – The Art of Live Composing for Actors and Dancers (Levels 1 and 2).
  • Colors for Chorus – Boosey and Hawkes.
  • Introduction to Soundpainting – Eufonia Núm.047 (en Espagnol).


  1. ^ "Premis FAD Sebastià Gasch d'Arts Parateatrals". 2010. Retrieved April 4, 2011. 
  2. ^ Duby, Mark (2006-05-20). "Soundpainting as a system for the collaborative creation of music in performance" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-04-04. 

External links[edit]