Painting Pictures with Sound

An interview with Skylight Sound Designer Nok Kanchanabanca

Nok Kanchanabanca (left) with SDC Observer Rani O’Brien on opening night of Skylight.

Nok Kanchanabanca is a Thai artist, sound designer, musician and composer. Beginning a life of music at age 6, Nok uses music to express thoughts and feelings in her personal and professional lives. She has worked with theatre companies across the United States including Lincoln Center, Rattlestick, Montana Shakespeare in the Park, Geva Theatre and Milwaukee Repertory Theater, among many others.

We recently sat down with Nok to talk Skylight, and how she created such a fitting musical landscape for the play.

“The first thing is to read the script, and summarize it in my own way what this play is and what the music does for the play, what’s the role of it. For this, I decided the story is Kyra’s story, so the music represents that. At the same time, it’s also talking about relationships and the past and the time passing. So then I’m thinking, “What is the connector?” There’s a lot of emotional growth, there’s longing for the past, so what does that sound like? I would stare at the set when they had his [set designer Beowulf Boritt’s] sketches and model out and that helped determine the setting of it — it’s cold, it’s winter, it helped me think, “Okay, what instrument sounds cold?”

Most of the time, I think about music like a painting; it has color palettes and I collect those colors. After I have that palette — the palette is like the instruments — then arranging them is like forming a dialogue. It’s this back-and-forth, question-and-answer.

This play is so different from other plays I’ve done because the top of Act 1 begins with about a minute and a half of music. Usually we’ll start [a show] real quick, but this is almost like the music telling the backstory. It gives time for the audience to look at the set more and really get them into it. We let you sit and be with the music.”

-Nok Kanchanabanca


For more on Nok’s career and work, including clips of her soundscapes for Skylight, visit her website at