SonicPaintings – storytelling thorugh sound design for masterpiece paintings

Zbigniew Wolny, The Netherlands



Zbigniew Wolny, Julia Wolny

Project overview

‘How many halls of an art gallery do you have to walk through before you reach saturation point and stop engaging with what you’re looking at? The answer probably varies wildly from person to person, but no doubt most of us reach that point eventually, which is why SonicPaintings aims to build connections between gallery visitors and individual works of art through sound.’(

We’d like to demonstrate a European Commission award-winning (@Diversity) project entitled SonicPaintings, highlighting best practice in interactive sound installations in the museum and heritage context.

SonicPaintings is a new way of experiencing visual artworks – it creates immersive soundscapes to enhance gallery experiences.

The installation is based on dynamic sound design –  it interacts with users by changing the sound perspective according to the physical location of each visitor in relation to the painting. This way one can hear not only the ‘total’ soundscape but is able to listen to each individual person and situation contained in the painting.

SonicPaintings was premiered in Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam as part of an immensely popular “Impressionists: Sensation & Inspiration’ exhibition which was viewed by several hundred thousand visitors in 9 months period. That gave us a chance to observe visitors’ reactions, behaviour and interaction with the installation.

By evaluating a fully functional prototype we share key learnings from the project and identify benefits for museums. Our presentation will include a verbal description and a short video.

Summary of benefits

By creating interactive soundscapes, the installation brings to life stories contained in paintings, enhancing visitor engagement and empathy with artwork. SonicPaintings installation proposes a new, broadened way to perceive art in a multi-sensory setting. In addition to visual and background information either from painting description, books or audio guides, a viewer is able to encounter sonic information contained in a painting. This opens average museum visitor’s senses to new experiences as well as increasing dwell time.

One of the key aims of the project is education through art. Here, Sonic Paintings are a platform for bringing the the historical and contextual sound to life around the image.  For example, historically – researched dialog between characters depicted in the painting as a source of historical information presented in informal or humorous manner.

Through stimulating imagination it might help partially sighted or blind people access visual art work through sound. Such an emphasis on accessibility is aligned with the inclusive character of any 21st century museum.

Yet another strategic priority of cultural heritage institution is attracting younger visitors. Here SonicPaintings provides a novel and exciting way to access digital culture while using latest ICT and augmented reality developments.

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