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Noticing Neighbors Camry Ivory’s Coloratura


What does a color sound like? And what does music look like? If your imagination lights up with these questions, meet Camry Ivory’s ‘Coloratura.’ Coloratura is the ingenuity of bringing music to visual art through the creation of wired paintbrushes. When the paintbrushes make contact with a conductive surface, where anything that can carry a current becomes a canvas, each brush plays a different note in the instrument Camry has selected. The painter gets to both paint, and play music, at the same time.

In this sit down conversation, I got the chance to ask Camry about Coloratura and the stories behind this project.


Hayley:

I am so excited to talk to you today. I have never heard of anything like this, and I'm pretty sure that everybody reading it is going to be the same. Can you explain your project and what it is that you've created?


Camry:

Yeah, so the project is called Coloratura. The word coloratura means ‘to color’ in Italian, and it's also a word that refers to the vocal ornamentation of an opera singer.

Hayley:

Wow. What a neat word. Why did you feel like that fit?

Camry:

I was looking for a word that had meaning in both the visual arts world and the music world, since the project kind of blends the two together. Essentially, what I've created is just a series of musical paintbrushes.


Hayley:

Each with different notes? Camry:

Yes, it's a series of twelve paintbrushes. Each brush is assigned to a different color in the color spectrum, and also a different note in the musical scale. So when you touch a brush to the canvas or multiple brushes to a metallic canvas, it plays music. So essentially, you can create art and music at the exact same time.


Hayley:

Goodness, that is amazing. You mentioned that it's on a metallic canvas. Is that significant? Is there something reacting there?


Camry:

Yeah, that's a great question. So I said it was metallic, but actually a better word to describe it is conductive, because it doesn't have to be metal. It can just be any material that conducts electricity. I've painted on glass that's coated with the same material that your smartphone is coated with that lets you use a touch screen. The human body is also conductive, and I've painted on people before to create sound. So it's pretty wild. Hayley: Why is that? How does the brush work with the surface?

Camry: The way that it works is that the brushes are connected to a circuit board, and then there's a grounding wire that's also connected to the canvas. So when the brush touches the canvas, it closes the circuit and it sends a signal to my computer, which is running like a music production software, and that is what creates the sound.


Hayley:

When it's on your computer, are you able to choose if you want it to be a piano, or to be symphonic?


Camry:

Yes, I can choose any sound, and I can sample any sound. So I could take your voice and sample it and have your voice come out of the brushes.


Hayley:

Wow. You could make a whole choral arrangement.


Camry:

Yes, exactly. Are you familiar with music looping at all? Hayley: Yes! Camry: That's how I create my composition. I have a pedal board that I built, and it allows me to lay down some brushstrokes and have those sounds continue after I've painted. So I can build a music composition pretty much the same way you build an art composition.

Hayley: Right. Camry: You don't throw all of your paint on all at the same time. You build an art piece brushstroke by brushstroke. So I create my music compositions the same way, note by note, and layer them on top of each other.


Hayley:

I know this might not make sense, but I'm tearing up a little bit.


Camry:

Oh, no, that makes sense. It's beautiful.


Hayley:

It's such a beautiful thing you've created. And I'm hearing a lot of expertise from a lot of different angles. I mean, even just coming up with the right word to capture it! There is a lot of knowledge that was needed for this to be possible. What prompted this? How did you start on this project?


Camry:

I started this about eight years ago, now, and I was trained as a musician. I don't really have a visual arts background. I doodled, but nothing really substantial. I really started collaborating with visual artists through my musical project. We’ve had people design costumes for us with some of our shows, or create projections on stage while we were performing. So I got more of a taste of blending visual arts and music together, but I wanted to do it in a way that was really organic and improvisational and not pre programmed and planned. I wanted something that was, like, spontaneous and fluid. And so I thought: Oh, wouldn't it be cool if you could create art and music at the same time?

I just assumed that someone had already created something like this. There were definitely some people who had done similar things. There's a guy out of New York who has one giant paintbrush with an RGB sensor that can detect what color paint is on the canvas, and it translates it into this kind of like bleep-bloopy robot sound. But I didn't see anything that was creating actual music you'd want to listen to.


Hayley:

Yes.


Camry:

So I just thought, oh, this is a cool idea. I found this really neat, easy, very basic circuit board that would allow me to do that. I put it all together, and it just kind of took off from there.


Hayley:

I think there's something really beautiful about the fact that you're creating this in real time in front of people. You could just play the song, show the painting and say: “This is what was created with this painting” — and have that be its own thing. But for people to see it being created and hear it being created stands out. What are some of the reactions you've seen while performing?


Camry:

Usually shock. Shock and awe. People do get emotional, too.

The other day, I brought my paint brushes over to a friend's house. One is a visual artist, one is a musician. And she told me, “It's so magical to give the audience a sneak peek into the process of visual arts. Because usually if you go to a museum or if you go to a gallery, you just see the final product. You don't see that art piece being created.” I think that there's something really valuable about inviting the audience into the process of letting them see from beginning to end. How is a song created, how is a painting created? It lets them behind the curtain, but in a way it makes it more magical too.


Hayley:

Yeah, that's a great way to put it. Since you’ve lifted that curtain, what do you do with it? Do you show it in performances?

Camry:

I do performances and workshops. I created the initial interface eight years ago as part of a performing arts series for the Downtown Kansas City Arts Council. So I thought I would do this in the park, and then go back to my regular life playing piano and singing and all of that. What I found is that people really resonated with it, and I found a lot of joy in watching other people interact with it. Because this is a new instrument, and it's so novel that no one has any experience, everyone is going to approach it differently. Hayley: What different ways have you seen? Camry: So some people will use it like a paintbrush. They’ll pick up one paintbrush and paint a house or a rainbow, which is fine, right? But some people, they really see that it is an instrument. So they'll pick up two or three or four brushes and play with them to make different sounds. They focus more on the sound and the music that's being created, more so than the visuals.

Hayley:

I mean, there's something about focusing it on that angle that is almost like dancing. Like you're making the color dance a little bit.


Camry:

Yes, you get it.


Hayley:

Yeah, that is really neat. And then there's something else, too, where if you've seen people interact with it, it's almost like you're hearing who they are when it plays. That is amazing.


Camry:

Yeah, that's a beautiful way to put it.


Hayley:

Is there anyone specific you remember? Have you ever seen kids play with it, or is there anyone that sticks out to you?


Camry:

Oh, so many. So I'll tell you a couple. I just did a workshop with the Kansas City Lyric Opera this past weekend. Over the course of two days, they had about 400 people come through. It was kiddos and their parents, because they did a children's opera. It was so cute. After the opera, we had these education stations, one of which was Coloratura. I invited them to come and just play with these paintbrushes, and every set of brushes played a different instrument. So some kids are playing bells, some kids are playing horns, while other kids are playing percussion. There was this little kid, he couldn't have been more than three or four. He was so little, and he had to stand on a chair to reach the brushes. But he just unprompted started grabbing, like, two or three brushes at a time and really just moving, vibing with it and feeling the music in such a beautiful way.

Then last summer, I was outside for an event with the Kansas City STEM Alliance where there were these two little girls playing with the brushes. At the same time, a high school marching band came through and the girls started playing in time with the marching band. It was so cool.


Hayley:

Wow.


Camry:

I literally started crying. I couldn't even process it because they, unprompted, understood that it was an instrument.

Hayley:

Absolutely. When you’re setting it up, do you enjoy choosing a certain sound, like a deep cello or the piano? Do you have a favorite sound to select?


Camry:

I have a couple that I've been playing with. It's a lot of, like, synth and electronic sounds, but there's one I especially love called “twin sunsets.” It's this really cool, echoey arpeggiator, and it just sounds like you're in the bottom of a canyon watching a sunset. There's like, I don't know, a majestic hawk flying above you. I love it.


Hayley: Yeah, there's a whole picture there. Okay, an arpeggiator, can you explain? So is it playing it's playing multiple skipped notes at the same time?


Camry:

Yeah, so it's like a broken chord. You may pick up the C sharp brush, right. Which is only usually supposed to play one note, C sharp. But if you have this specific setting on, it'll play a full C major chord so all of the notes are broken out in progression.


Hayley:

There's something, too, about the fact that you don't know with each of those kids or adults that have come through, what you've opened up their chance to think about. They might end up doing something more visual, or more musical, that they wouldn't have if it wasn't for this experience where your hand is instantly in it. Like you're really able to play, instead of getting frustrated by that barriers of: I don't understand this instrument, or I don't know the techniques of painting. You're giving the ability to play without that.


Camry:

Exactly. Yes, exactly, and that's why I love it. It's so freeing. It should be, in theory, freeing because no one else has ever done this in this way, and so there's no wrong way to do it. Hayley: Good point. Camry: You don't have to know how to paint. When I do these workshops, I have the brushes programmed in a way so that you really can't play a wrong note. Like, all the notes play well together. So it's just a way to play, just have fun. And kids really get it. It's honestly adults who have a harder time with it because we're programmed to think like, oh, I have to paint something good, or I have to make it sound a certain way. It's like, no, you can just go for it.

Hayley:

This question is really broad, and you can take it wherever you want. Through your conduction of this project and seeing what it's done for people, how has it changed you? Artistically, or just in your heart.


Camry:

That's a really good question. I think I can approach it from several different ways—it's definitely changed the way I look at music. I was a piano player and a singer, and I kind of stuck inside a narrow box of what is musically acceptable. This has really pushed me to explore different music types and explore more electronic music in a more experimental way. It's also challenged me as a visual artist, because I never considered myself a visual artist at all. I took an art class in 6th grade because we had to, right? And then I just never really pursued it. But I always had artistic leanings. I was always playing with color, and with my clothes. I was designing clothes, doing interior design, and other things like that. But capital ‘A’ art felt scary, so now I have fallen in love with the world of visual art. Like, I love going to museums and galleries. I love painting and exploring a lot of different techniques. One that I'm exploring now is called water marbling. So it's called Suminagashi, which is a Japanese style of water marbling where basically, you paint on water. You dip brushes in water and it creates these really cool patterns. It's beautiful.


Hayley:

On top of the water?


Camry:

On the water, yes, which is a conductive surface. Hayley: Amazing.


Camry:

And I want to blow your mind.


Hayley:

Even more, okay. Go for it.


Camry:

So you're painting on the water. You take these paint brushes dipped in ink or paint, and then you dip them in the water and make these cool concentric circles that are floating on the water. And because they're floating on the water, it's really delicate and so you can apply air, or breath, or whatever to move the ink around. So what I started doing is singing on the water.


Hayley:

Oh my goodness.


Camry:

So I can visualize my voice. So you can see my voice. My breath is actually incorporated into the painting. That was something I was struggling with for so long—I couldn't figure out how to incorporate my voice into it. And this is how I figured it out.


Hayley:

You're a beautiful soul of a person.


Camry:

Thank you.


Hayley:

Okay, so you do that. You use your voice, and it's going out across the water, and it's changing the visual of it. But then how do you take that and capture it as a painting?


Camry:

Great question. So you take any porous surface to it. That's paper, or fabric, a shoe, just anything that can absorb paint. And you lay it on the surface, and it absorbs it. Let me show you real quick. Hayley:

Please!


Camry:

This is one I created. It's a little wrinkly, but this is just on a silk handkerchief. But I painted all of this on the water, and then played around with the different patterns while it was in the water, and then just laid this silk scarf on top to absorb it all.


Hayley:

So, wow. That's your song.


Camry:

This is my song.


Hayley:

Wow.


What is your hope for people when they discover Coloratura, or start to play with it? What are you thinking when that happens? Are you hoping for anything? Camry: I hope it opens their eyes. I hope that they can start to see themselves as artists, because I think everyone has the capacity and the capability to be an artist or a creative person. You don't have to go to art school. You don't have to go to music school. You don't have to take years and years of lessons to do it. You just have to start creating.

And I guess to piggyback on your previous question, how has it changed me? It's made me less afraid. It's made me more open to just trying things and being humble and realizing, okay, I don't know how to do this. But I can ask somebody, or I can figure it out. I am not an engineer. I don't know anything about any of that, and I could not have done this by myself. It's required a lot of people to guide me in the right direction. I think the fact that this exists, when it really started out as an idea in my mind and it’s now this beautiful thing, it gives me hope. I hope that other people are inspired by it, and try to take the ideas that they think are crazy or weird or impossible, and try to breathe life into them, because we've just been through several years of what I hope are the worst years of our life with the pandemic.


And if we can get through that, if we can overcome so much fear and uncertainty and still be here and still thrive, then we have to live our lives to the fullest. We have to try to do the things that maybe seem impossible, because of the alternative, right? If we choose not to do that, then we're dying essentially with this dream or this idea or this song in our heart, that is still buried in our heart. And we can't take that to the grave with us. We have to look at our dreams, and we have to at least try.



Keep up with the latest from Camry’s Coloratura project through the website and Instagram.


All media originally published by Coloratura via their online platforms.

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