photo by Jim Barcus

The Kansas City musician is enjoying a busy lineup of appearances for her synesthetic “Coloratura” performances, blending art and color and sound

What does blue sound like?

A Camry Ivory performance can answer that question. Locally and nationally, the talented Kansas City singer/songwriter and musician is building a reputation for her “Coloratura” performance art, inspired by her 2014 discovery of synesthesia through a local painter who let music guide her strokes.

“It’s haunted my brain ever since,” Ivory said.

As defined by Psychology Today, “Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway (for example, hearing) leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (such as vision).”

While “Coloratura” usually refers to a dramatic operatic voice technique, Ivory uses it to describe the “fertile and beautiful intersection” of the senses.

Ivory gave her first Coloratura performance in July 2015. After receiving a grant from Downtown Kansas City’s Art in the Loop program, she soon found herself standing with easel and music equipment in Oppenstein Park, performing for 30 minutes for a small captive audience.

With her husband, Justin Skinner, Ivory created a unique equipment piece, “12 Paintbrushes,” with each brush assigned to a different color and sound. The machine somewhat resembles an old-time telephone operator board with an easel; it includes a conductive glass or metal panel placed above 12 watercolor brushes with paint containers, all connected to an electronic pedal board that changes instruments and octaves.

The F note is purple, the B is yellow and so on. A musical “backing track” emerges as Ivory starts to paint and build notes on top of each other via a looping effect in her software. As she swirls and jabs paint onto the “canvas,” a new music piece is produced, along with an original painting.

Ivory, who is professionally trained in music, usually tries to follow accepted composition patterns but admits she relishes unexpected out-of-tune combinations. She’s had to “unlearn musical training” and “humble myself,” she says, but she glories in what develops from improvisation, which can be “harsh and electronic or peaceful and evolving.” “Pentatonic Rays,” the first piece she did allowing herself to be led visually more than musically, remains one of her favorites.

In addition to performances, Ivory hosts workshops using “demo-boards,” which are smaller, six-brush versions of her setup. Each brush is tuned to a note in the pentatonic scale, thereby producing automatic harmonies.

Her Coloratura has enlivened classrooms, retirement centers, weddings and law offices. In November she was the guest speaker/performer for a KC Oasis Sunday service and she donated for auction the piece she produced that day.

Synesthesia, or “colored hearing,” dates to the ancient Greeks. During the Enlightenment, Isaac Newton assumed music and color tones have frequencies in common. In modern times, artists associated with synesthesia include Wassily Kandinsky, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Klee and Joan Mitchell. Noted musicians including Jimi Hendrix may have played with it, Stevie Wonder has claimed a form of it, and Oliver Sachs has written about it extensively in his book “Musicophilia.”

As a traditional singer/songwriter, Ivory describes herself as “sad girl on a piano” — influenced by Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Sarah McLachlan. But she also loops a lot and veers into more upbeat styles. She’s a singer and dancer for the Talking Heads tribute band, “Found a Job,” which performed at the New Year’s Eve Party at the Crossroads Hotel and at Knuckleheads April 15. She was part of the David Bowie tribute at Record Bar in January.

Ivory tackles hard issues when moved to do so. “Red & Black” is a song she wrote following Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson. As Ivory had been a student at Mizzou, many in her circle were from St. Louis, and the pain felt “so raw and visceral.” Her piece is a visual and auditory picture of “the screeching red sirens, the red blood on the ground and on the bodies of demonstrators, the hollow black night.” At that point, Coloratura was still in her future, but “the spark to explore audiovisual methods of storytelling” was there. “Every brushstroke etches an artifact,” she says.

In February Ivory attended an artist residency in Paonia, Colorado, to more fully develop Coloratura by using fabrics — cotton and linen primarily — which she started experimenting with in December. She says she felt “reinvigorated” with this new medium and its “strikingly beautiful” results; fabric and fashion have long been passions of hers.

She demonstrated and performed Coloratura at the March 16-18 Missouri Experimental Sonic Arts Festival at the University of Central Missouri and collaborated with Lyric Opera on its April 15-16 children’s opera “Listen Wilhelmina,” curating a post-show experience which included hands-on demonstrations and other interactive multisensory opportunities.

Ivory describes herself as “an anxious person . . . constantly in a state of discontent,” her brain always buzzing, making it hard for her to disengage and “be in the moment.” But, she says, a bombarding multisensory experience transports her to “another dimension” where “all I can do is appreciate the awe-inspiring beauty.” There she finds “comfort and peace.”

Ivory is dedicated to giving that to her audience as well, providing listeners with a highly sensual and mesmerizing experience that envelops them in a blend of art and color and sound.

For more information,

Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith is an impassioned supporter of local performances of all types, who welcomes the  opportunity to promote them to KC Studio readers.

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