Coloratura creator, Camry Ivory, involves her audience in a transmedia experience of art, sound, and technology. Photo credit: Michael Bersin

These paintbrushes make music, create community

“I’m just a musician whose instrument is paintbrushes.”

Canvas of sound, play of color

By Shana Siren Kempton

Paintbrushes with telltale smudges of color down the handles sit poised in a row for their next musical performance. Attached to wires in an elaborate setup, each paintbrush allows the user to make a different sound as soon as the brush touches canvas. Each pot of color and brush is connected through technology to a particular musical note. The application onto conductive materials such as metal or water produces a soundscape drawn in real time. A musical portrait is composed. Sound and brushstroke are one. This is Coloratura.  

A paintbrush that makes music? A canvas of song? Kansas City’s own Camry Ivory is the creator of Coloratura, and she is making sound waves across the metro and beyond with invitations to share Coloratura in Europe and to collaborate with makers in South Africa. Ivory has pioneered an invention at the intersection of music, art and technology, humbly learning a new language as she plays. 

“I think of myself as a musician who paints versus an artist who creates music,” says Ivory. “I’m just a musician whose instrument is paintbrushes.” Indeed, Ivory is a musician whose voice and talent on keys have made a name for herself in the local musical community. She sings and dances in the band Found a Job, a Talking Heads tribute band, among other musical projects. But that was before Coloratura. Now she admits, “It’s taken over my life.”

Participants play with color and sound at an interactive Coloratura mural display. The conductivity of the metal surface of the mural allows each brushstroke to make a musical note through Coloratura’s transmedia experience.

Birth of Coloratura

Coloratura was born in 2015 with the intention of being a one-time performance piece. Ivory designed it to create an audio visual picture. “I thought it would be cool to make my music visual and tangible,” she says. Nothing like it existed, although the word “Coloratura” is a term that refers to vocal ornamentation in music, such as a trill.  

It has taken on a life of its own after being shelved for six years, and Ivory bears a sense of surrogacy. “In all of this, I don’t feel like it’s coming through ME. I feel like a vessel – a vessel for creative energy.” 

“Coloratura is so many things,” she explains. “It is an educational tool, a therapeutic tool, and a community engagement tool. Then there’s a whole other side where I use it as a personal performance piece and incorporate art that I then sell.”

Personal work

Ivory has started sampling with her voice as the instrument and marbled paint in water as the conductive element. Through song, her breath moves the paint across a fluid surface to create abstract images. The song is digitally recorded and fabric is applied to the picture making a permanent print of the final product. Sacred song through the breath of life is also Coloratura. Ivory says, “I think that as creative beings, the highest form of worship is to create.” 

Coloratura creator, Camry Ivory, invites the public to explore their creative expression through paint and music at the Come as You Are event.


Curiosity brings strangers to the canvas. Four stations of brushes are an invitation to play and create. The silence is momentary. First a long brushstroke and a sustained note. Then dabs of color – staccatos of percussion. Swirls of paint make a cacophony of sound. Is it the music or the image that takes the lead in this dance of paint and sound, color and tone? 

“There’s something magical about seeing people who are complete strangers come together and stand in front of the same canvas and start to play off of each other in this space that’s really vulnerable,” says Ivory. “They’re doing something so novel and so unique.”

Coloratura participates in creative spaces throughout the community as well as at private events. Recently, Coloratura made some noise at the KC Folk Fest and provided a place for musical exploration at the Come As You Are event produced by No Divide KC at the Lyric Opera. “People need to have the opportunity to release their fully authentic creative self without boundaries and without a product in mind…just to tap into that creativity and play,” says Ivory.

The most vital part of this project is community. I’ve been using it as a tool to bring more people together and it’s evolved into something beyond my wildest dreams.”

This month, Ivory is taking Coloratura to the KC School for the Blind where the visually impaired will use textured paint as the medium to not only hear but to feel the experience of color and sound as it is applied to a metal canvas.

Opportunities for the public to experience Coloratura include a Juneteenth celebration at the Lenexa City Center on June 19, and at the Merriam Community Center for Make Music Day on June 21.

“Every time I do an event I learn something new about what Coloratora could be, I learn something about myself, and I learn something about Kansas City and how beautiful and collaborative and unique we are.”

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