WHAT IS SONIC FABRIC?
SONIC FABRIC, the invention of sound and conceptual artist Alyce Santoro,
is a beautiful, audible, versatile textile woven from 50% polyester thread
and 50% audiocassette tape recorded with intricate collages of sound. The
sound compositions themselves are a kind of SONIC FABRIC too – strange and
intricate music made by weaving together unlikely combinations of looped
and layered samples of found, created, and collected sounds.
SONIC FABRIC was originally intended for solely for use in installation
artworks based on the notion, common to both Buddhism and quantum physics,
that at the most basic level, everything in the universe may consist of
little more than vibration.
THE SONIC FABRIC STORY
As a kid, I raced small sailboats with my family. We'd often use short
strands of cassette tape tied to the rigging as wind indicators, or
"tell-tails". Cassette tape is ideal for use as a tell-tail, as it is light
and very sensitive to the wind, it’s extremely durable, and it dries quickly.
I used to imagine that if the wind hit the tell-tails just right, the sounds
of whatever had been recorded onto the tape (Cat Stevens? Beethoven? The
Beatles?) could be heard wafting out into the air.
Years later I learned about the colorful flags often hung at auspicious sites
by Tibetan Buddhists. Tibetan prayer flags are made of colorful squares of cotton
fabric imprinted with the images of mantras, or sacred sounds. They are hung
outdoors where the breeze blowing through them can "activate" the sounds,
sending them out around the world on the wind.
I immediately recalled the cassette tape tell-tails and sensed a direct
relationship between the two. I became inspired to create a fabric that had
sonic potential literally woven into it. I immediately set about collecting
and recording tapes of music and sounds that had been influential to me
throughout my life...the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Beethoven, Laurie
Anderson, ocean surf, my high-school punk band.
I began by knitting with the tape, but the texture of the resulting fabric
was very loose and flimsy. Finally a weaver friend offered to try using the
tape on a loom at the Rhode Island School of Design. The product astounded both
of us. We never expected such a beautiful, tightly-woven, functional material.
At first I'd intended to make a string of my own sort of nautical/Buddhist-
inspired flags from the original samples, but before I could begin working on
the project, the fabric had been accepted into a show of artworks made from
repurposed materials at Felissimo Design House in New York City. For that show
in 2003 I constructed my first sonic shaman-superhero dress from the panels
of fabric, which I came to realize, were actually audible...the fabric retains
it's magnetic properties throughout the weaving process, and when a tape head
is dragged along its surface, it emits a garbled, underwater-like sound.
Nearly a decade has elapsed since then, and my works made of SONIC FABRIC
have been included in exhibitions in galleries and museums around the world
related to sound art, recycling and repurposing, technology, and fashion.
Shaman-superhero dresses, suits of sails, and strings of flags and banners
have been exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the New
School, the Museu d'ArtContemporani de Barcelona in Spain, the Rhode Island
School of Design Museum, and many other venues. SONIC FABRIC has appeared on
the Sundance Channel’s Big Ideas for a Small Planet and on the Today Show.
It’s been featured in the New York Times, Orion Magazine, People, MAKE
Magazine, Treehugger, Wired, and in many other publications. In 2003 I was
commissioned to make a dress for Jon Fishman, percussionist for the band
Phish, which he wore and played on stage during a concert in Las Vegas. Works
made from SONIC FABRIC are in the collections of the RISD Museum, Laurie
Anderson, the FIT Museum, and the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona.
PLEASE CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A COMPLETE CV IN PDF FORM
As a conceptual artist and a musician, I am constantly collecting and
experimenting with the sounds that are recorded onto the tape before it’s woven
into fabric. The current batches of fabric are recorded with the Between
Stations album, a collection of sound collages composed of loops and layers of
samples collected over a 5 year period on and under the streets of Manhattan and
Brooklyn. Between Stations is music literally made from the sounds of the city,
and is intended as an ode to life in post-9/11 New York.
As the SONIC FABRIC project has grown, I have felt compelled to share the material
with others. I believe that art should, if possible, be used, shared, and enjoyed
as part of everyday life. To this end, I appreciate opportunities to collaborate
with fellow artists, architects, fashion, interiors, and accessories designers who
find innovative ways to incorporate SONIC FABRIC into their own work. Those who have
worked with SONIC FABRIC include hat maker Lola Ehrlich, legendary fashion designer
Koos Van Den Akker, and French environmentalist and designer Pierre Andres Senizergues.
For several years Julio Cesar - New York fashion designer and dear friend - and I have
been collaborating on a line of wearable, functional accessories, such as the SONIC
FABRIC necktie - an incognito good-vibe emitting wardrobe accessory/work of conceptual
art in one.
In 2006 I relocated from Brooklyn, NY to the high desert of far west Texas (near
the town of Marfa made famous by Donald Judd and the minimalists of the 1970’s)
for its unique land-, light- and soundscape, and in order to more actively
pursue experiments into sustainability, conservation, and permaculture. My
studio consists of a reoutfitted 1970’s school bus tucked into a grove of
ponderosa pines. Solar panels run sound and computer equipment and a sewing
machine. A greenhouse and other outbuildings made of scrap materials,
rainwater harvesting tanks, graywater systems, and compost piles are in a
constant state of evolution, along with sound, installation, and video projects.
This ever-growing array of life and art projects is affectionately called the
Center for the Improbable & (Im)Permacultural Research. There's much more info
on all this on our homesteading blog, The Obvious Observer.
HOW AND WHERE IS SONIC FABRIC WOVEN?
SONIC FABRIC is woven on a 1940’s dobby loom at a small family run textile
mill in New England. The large spools of tape used in the weaving process are
salvaged from the waning audiobook industry. All of the tape is recorded with
intricately composed collages of sound prior to weaving.
Individual cassette tapes have also been used to weave smaller batches of
yardage, some of which was hand loomed at a craft cooperative for Tibetan women
refugees in Nepal. I also use individual tapes for smaller projects, including
the collection of sound samples. If you have tapes you would like to donate,
or if you can connect us with indiginous weavers or weaving cooperatives in
South America, India, Tibet, or Nepal who would like to work with us, please
email us at info(at)sonicfabric.com.