June 25, 2004

Playable Wearables: Sonic Fabric

As a child, Alyce Santoro was fascinated by the flapping pieces of cassette tape used as wind indicators on her family’s sailing boat. She imagined that if the wind hit them the right way, she’d be able to hear the Beatles, or Beethoven, or whatever else was recorded on the tape…
Years later, these childhood musings would serve as the inspiration for Sonic Fabric, a polyester cloth with strips of pre-recorded 1/8” audio tape woven into it. The recordings on the tapes are sounds/music that have had a significant impact on Alyce’s life – crickets outside a bedroom window, the slap of sailboat rigging, Revolution #9 by the Beatles, Pachebel's Canon in D, the jam sessions of her high school punk band, readings by Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, Laurie Anderson's O Superman, Beethoven's 6th…

Originally designed for conceptual art wall hangings that would merely be looked at, it was discovered that the fabric could actually be “played” by running a tape head over it. This has lead to its first use as a “musical instrument” by 90’s answer to The Grateful Dead, Phish. A video of a gig at which the band's percussionist plays a Sonic Fabric dress can be downloaded from here.

When you consider the sound sources that have made their way into the fabric, the basic glitch and squiggle rhythms that Phish extract from it are a wee bit disappointing… Early days, I suppose. I look forward to what happens when a truly talented avant-garde muso gets their hands on it.

Posted by Warren at 07:20 AM