The Walter Thompson Orchestra (WTO) founded in 1984, is on the vanguard of live performance exploring the interdisciplinary potential of composition through Soundpainting. At a time when most art forms are still bound by strict definitions, the WTO brings a fresh approach to the conventions of music, drama, dance, and visual arts.
Thompson's Soundpainting demands that artists step away from what is familiar and predictable and commit to each expressive act without knowing where it will lead. The Soundpainter (Thompson) asks each member of the Orchestra to perform as she or he is normally accustomed but goes further, stretching the genre boundaries of their "instrument," for example, musicians may be called upon to laugh, actors to sing, and dancers to speak. Because the Soundpainter can direct all of the performers through this unique vocabulary, the concept of "orchestra" swells to the point where a comparison to the experience of flipping through a television with 500 channels is not far fetched. In fact, flipping through 500 channels at random and then creating meaningful patterns from the musical, textural, and visual associations might be one way to approximate experiencing the WTO or describing the process of composition through which the Soundpainter goes. Thompson shapes these fragments into a larger architecture so that familiar aspects of theater, such as "character," or elements of music, such as a "waltz," might be combined with choreography, film clips, and lighting, creating a constantly evolving collage. The challenge for each member of the Orchestra is to create new material, under Thompson's direction, instead of relying on a script, score, or model. The integrated practice of creating multi and interdisciplinary compositions through Soundpainting is what makes The Walter Thompson Orchestra stand apart from other contemporary music, dance, and theater groups. Of Thompson, Chris Kelsey of Jazz NOW wrote, "His work is spontaneous composition in its most highly realized form."
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