The Sonic Tuck Shop

The Sonic Tuck Shop is an installation that I finished putting up in Reading on Friday, and it will remain up for about 3 weeks. Last week, the now derelict KIK SPORTS shop was looking like this:

…now it looks like this:

The window display extends the original idea of The Sonic Tuck Shop installation (showed at Sonic Art Oxford earlier this year.) This original incarnation of The Sonic Tuck Shop involved me running a stall where punters could buy popcorn, exploding mouth candy, fizzy sweets and fizzy drinks all hand-packaged both to resemble fireworks, and to draw attention to the distinctive sonic qualities of these foodstuffs. This concept was focussed around language, similes and sound, or the way that words work to suggest or describe sounds.

The Sonic Tuck Shop as a physical tuck shop for me did not work quite as I had hoped, since the atmopshere of a live concert launch is not necessarily conducive to the imaginative space of reading words! Many people purchased sonic popcorn from me simply because they were hungry, and the amazing noise of the popcorn maker popping the corn was largely subsumed by the wine-fuelled chatter of an opening night at an Art event. Although some people quizzed me about the idea and subsequently began to enthuse about the amazing sonic delights of various confections, many others simply ate their popcorn, screwed up the handprinted paper bags, and threw them away. This all said to me – as the maker of the work – that I needed to find a different setting in which to present it. Perhaps, for instance, the context of a book and the contemplative setting of reading. I began developing the idea of The Sonic Tuck Shop as an artist’s book. This book is drawing from all my previous adventures in printing words about sounds; the SOUND BANK, the Magic Hour booklet that I made, the cut out and keep sound effects page and score-generating station that I created for The Fantastical Reality Radio Show in association with Mundane Appreciation, and so on. In the midst of working on it, I got a call from Suzanne – Reading’s very own amazing ARTFORCE – asking me if I had any food-related works that I would like to display in conjunction with Eat Reading! I felt an opportunity to experiment with The Sonic Tuck Shop like this was too good to pass up, and so I began to work out how the idea could successfully inhabit a shop-window setting.

With the window display, I was especially interested in how ink, typeface and paper could load meaning into sound words, and suggest those sounds to passersby on the street. As with the Sonic Art Oxford launch, the world of the street is a noisy one, and a context to which people bring specific expectations and understandings. I wanted to communicate in a way which made sense in that context, and so I borrowed heavily in my ideas from actual shop window displays and the gaudy signage of real shops. The idea is to interrupt and surprise the normal flow of advertising words with an unexpected flurry of sound effects writ large amidst piles of noise-making food.

I painted and handprinted cardboard boxes, then hung them in the window between sheets of brown kraft paper to resemble the pages of a handmade book and to reference packaging materials.

Because The Sonic Tuck Shop book is currently being written, I wanted to create an atmosphere of components and development…the sense of a creative warehouse where all the bits and pieces that will go into the books are currently being stored…

…like this box with its CRACKLE and POP printed tissue paper, and its stash of hand-packaged SONIC POPCORN. (This is one of the items that will be included in The Sonic Tuck Shop book.)

Developing this work has been great fun and I have enjoyed in particular the physical making of it. The smells and sounds of printing most of the signage have been a refreshing break from working with frustratingly impenetrable electronic devices. I caught some of this programme on Radio 4 last week, where Matthew Crawford was talking about his book – Shop Class as Soulcraft – and the value we derive from physically fashioning things with our hands. I was particularly struck by something Crawford said about how little direct influence we have over many of the devices which we we now work. For instance if my desktop publishing software breaks, I cannot physically move anything around to fix it.

Letterpress printing on the other hand involves a fantastic trade-off between the limitations and the imaginative materiality of working with actual wooden or metal letters. For instance, the words POP and CRACKLE are the only sound words for which we had all the correct letters at an appropriate size in the Oxford Brookes letterpress letters-stash (limitation!) but the ability to physically mix the ink myself and arrange the letters manually really helped me to think through the issue of how to say SWEETS, FIREWORKS and SOUNDS using only these words, ink, and paper (imaginative materiality.) I am also (after a comment left here by the wonderful tinebeest and an excellent review by Kate some time ago) reading The Craftsman by Richard Sennett, and many of the ideas in this to do with process, making and thought are helping me both to contextualise my activities over the past few years as research, and to understand how I problem-solve and develop ideas through making things.

So far I have noticed that many people are drawn to the bright signs and giddy colours of The Sonic Tuck Shop, but whether or not the sonic qualities of food are effectively conveyed through this installation is something I don’t yet know.

Massive thanks to Suzanne for all the encouragement and for organising this amazing space to work in, to Martin Stubbington for being the best creative assistant of all time, and to Lisa from Strange Sweets for supplying me with endless quantities of Fizz Whizz, and for housing the best ACTUAL tuck shop in all of Reading. Strange Sweets is (obviously) a major inspiration for The Sonic Tuck Shop and I would suggest that contemplating the display would be massively enhanced by the acquisition of some popping candy prior to viewing…

Lisa of Strange Sweets, Harris Arcade, Reading – purveyor of fine sweet (and sonic) tuck.

The Sonic Tuck Shop book will be available to order as soon as I finish writing it and there will only be 40 copies ever made! It will be available via this website.

In the meantime, here is some sonic tuck to keep your ears going; it is best enjoyed aurally.

10 Responses to The Sonic Tuck Shop

  1. Pingback: The Sonic Tuck Shop « The jelly

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