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Challenge #3: Artistic Stimuli SoundScape


Art is how we decorate space - Music is how we decorate time.

(Alex Clay Hutchings, British Guitarist)

You are no doubt aware that a movie score can influence and direct the ebb and flow of action in a film.
Music tells a story in sound.
Music can serve as a character in the visual landscape.
Music allows us to “see” what the composer imagined.

The Activity:

In this activity, you will be creating a SoundScape which will represent a single artistic moment in time.

Your task is to select a piece of art and create a SoundScape which expresses your selected visual stimuli.

The most important feature of this activity is that your SoundScape must be a clearly recognizable representation of your chosen piece of art…in other words your audience must be able to “see” the picture in your music.

Materials Needed:

  • Artistic Stimuli - could be a notable painting, sculpture or print media from any era

  • Pencil or Pen

  • Paper

  • Keyboard, Guitar, Small Percussion Instruments

  • Recording Device


STEP 1: Select an Artistic Stimuli
This could be a notable painting, sculpture or print media from any era.

STEP 2: Analyze the piece of art
Think about the elements in the piece of art that speak to you.
Is it “loud”…”bold”…”soft”…”sweet”?
What musical colours come to mind? 
What does
Blue sound like? Red? Green? Purple
What message is the piece of art trying to convey? What musical elements does that make you think of?
How does the piece of art make you feel? What would that sound like?
Write down all of your ideas!

STEP 3: Start to build your SoundScape

PART 1: Musical Elements
Think about the form of your SoundScape – what is the structure? Your piece should have a clear beginning, middle and end.
Think about the musical texture of your SoundScape – try to use a variety of musical sound sources.
Think about the dynamics of your SoundScape – if you vary the dynamics (how loud or how soft your piece is) you can effectively convey energy, suspense and emotion within your piece.
Think about the rhythmic elements of your SoundScape – consistent use of rhythmic elements will give your piece a more unified sound.

PART 2: Instrumentation
You may use instruments, your voice(s), found sounds and even samples of already existing music...whatever it takes to express the spirit of your piece of art. 
Be creative. Be bold. Think outside the box. Throw the box away.

STEP 4: Rehearse the performance of your SoundScape
You may wish to ask a family member or a friend (virtually or in person) to help you with the performance of your piece.

STEP 5: Record your final product and share it with a friend or family member!

STEP 6: Listen to your SoundScape and look at your piece of art – do they tell the same story?

Don't worry about making mistakes or being perfect...

Here are some examples of music which evoke a variety of visual scenarios.

Each of these composers had a specific "Artistic Stimuli" in mind.

Mussorgsky's music takes us on a tour of an art gallery.

 Copland wished to honour the American West.

Gershwin wanted to bring back a piece of Paris.

Pictures at an Exhibition by Russian composer, Modest Mussorgsky, is a musical description of an exhibition of pictures by the painter, Viktor Hartmann. Hartmann was only 39 when he died in 1873. He and Mussorgsky had been good friends. They both tried to give their works a very Russian character: Hartmann through his pictures and Mussorgsky through his music. In 1874 an exhibition of Hartmann’s pictures was organised in the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg. Mussorgsky went to the exhibition and was inspired to compose.

Pictures at an Exhibition describes someone walking round the exhibition and looking at the pictures. The ten pictures he describes in music were drawings and watercolours. Mussorgsky starts his piece with a tune which describes the person walking round the exhibition. It is usually known as the “Promenade Theme” (a “promenade” is a walk). At first Mussorgsky puts the Promenade Theme between each picture, but he does not do that all the way through the piece. Some of the later pictures have bits of the Promenade Theme in the music.

Aaron Copland's ballet, Rodeo (composed in 1943), is a celebration of the American West. The suite was originally commissioned by the Ballet Russe and was composed in collaboration with the great Agnes de Mille.


The ballet's scenario takes place at Burnt Ranch, where a Cowgirl finds herself competing with visiting city girls for the attention of the local cowboys, especially the Head Wrangler. "Hoe-Down" begins with dynamism and verve, signaling the Cowgirl's rebirth: she has suddenly put aside her cowpoke duds and reappeared as the prettiest girl in the room. Copland borrows two square dance tunes - "Bonyparte" and "McLeod's Reel" - to aid in this romp, a fanciful and uplifting take on the American square dance. We have a typical, stand-up-and-cheer Hollywood Western ending, too, as the girl gets the right guy for her, not the aloof and snooty Head Wrangler at all, but Another Cowboy who has shown her respect, kindness, and honor.

An American in Paris is a jazz-influenced orchestral piece by American composer George Gershwin first performed in 1928. It was inspired by the time that Gershwin had spent in Paris and evokes the sights and energy of the French capital in the 1920's.

Walter Damrosch had asked Gershwin to write a full concerto following the success of Rhapsody in Blue (1924). Gershwin scored the piece for the standard instruments of the symphony orchestra plus celesta, saxophones, and automobile horns. He brought back four Parisian taxi horns for the New York premiere of the composition, which took place on December 13, 1928, in Carnegie Hall, with Damrosch conducting the New York Philharmonic. He completed the orchestration on November 18, less than four weeks before the work's premiere.

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