Walter Thompson

Walter Thompson (born May 31, 1932) is an American composer/musician who created the conducted improvisation method known as ‘Soundpainting.’

Mr. Thompson uses a syntax comprised of different types of gestures. He is said to have over 1500 gestures. Many that work in combinations. The most basic categories of these are:


Who performs, what will be performed, how will it be performed, and when to perform it.
For example: Who - the strings / What - a long tone / How - low volume / When - now!
Usually, the How is left out to give the players liberty to play how they want.

He uses a system of preparation. Which means he usually gestures what he wants first, giving the players time to quickly prepare, then he signs when to play. Some conductors of improvisation choose not to prepare their players, forcing them to improvise an idea in real time with no prior preparation.


A playlist of Walter Thompson demonstrating Soundpainting gestures. Very informative!

A video of Walter Thompson demonstrating soundpainting with a group.

A video of Soundpainting performed live:

Official website:

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License