Soundpainting is the method of "live composition" invented by New Yorkbased composer and saxophonist Walter Thompson. Using physical gestures for the spontaneous creation of music, Soundpainting therefore shares similarities with other types of gesture-based systems for music performance, such as orchestral conducting. Thompson himself (2006) describes his Soundpainting system as a "universal live composing sign language for the performing and visual arts," and therefore Soundpainting can be considered as a subset of other communication systems such as verbal and written language, kinesics, and paralanguage. This thesis outlines the general principles of Soundpainting as a system for setting into motion spontaneously created music. The author's aim is to describe Soundpainting in relation to the linguistic turn in Thompson's own definition. This opens the way to a sociosemiotic analysis, in which it is susceptible to examination in the light of some theories of language that have emerged in the course of the twentieth century. A theoretical framework is developed drawing on the work of such pioneers of semiotics as Saussure and Peirce, as well as the later work in philosophy of language of Wittgenstein, Barthes, Eco, Derrida, and others. The eclectic concerns of Soundpainting suggest situating Thompson's language in the context of current debates in critical theory about tonality, jazz, and improvisation as strategies for constructing identity. Soundpainting, by demonstrating that musical signification can be negotiated through consensus, problematizes the convention of the composer as the sole legitimating authority of the work. Considering Soundpainting as a processual activity, this dissertation outlines the general principles of Soundpainting as a system for the spontaneous creation of music. Emphasizing the process-based character of Soundpainting (and its affinity with other forms of improvised music) suggests that such categories of musical activity need to be studied from a different vantage point from that of historical musicology.
Thesis (PhD (Music))--University of Pretoria, 2007.