A week of wallpapering

I’ve been reading several books about wallpaper lately, to provide some background context and inspiration for the Sonic Wallpaper Project which I am working for with the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture and this illustration really caught my eye.

It’s a hand-coloured engraving by Martin Engelbrecht, dating from 1735-40, and it depicts a dominotière, or “maker of brocade papers and all kinds of coloured and printed papers”.

In France, the predecessor of Wallpaper is thought to have been the domino. Originally the name for a small, hand-painted religious scene, the term grew to include painted and patterned papers detailing more secular themes, and a huge range of different kinds of paper objects. The diversity of things classified as “dominoes” is apparent in the name that the guild of dominotiers assigned itself; Feuilletiers, Cartonniers, Fabricants d’Images et Cartes à Jouer – which translates as makers of paper and card, manufacturers of images and playing cards. The patterned papers known as dominoes by the 1700s in France can plainly be seen in Engelbrecht’s illustration, and our dominotière appears to be bearing tools with which to apply said papers to wall surfaces.

There is something wonderfully absurd and exuberant about this image, and I love how the dominotière stands in the foreground, assured and ready to supply papers, whilst in the background, a clan of other dominotières work to produce further papers. Speaking from personal experience, it is far more useful to arrange the cumbersome materials of one’s trade around one’s person than it is to try and place them at a distance. I love that the tools which the dominotière bears are itemised in the captions underneath the illustration, and for some reason, the way that she has incorporated her business and tools into her apparel reminds me of this image.

What is this? A soniciere?

Finding parallels and similes between producing wallpaper and making sound recordings is an unavoidable side-effect of the Sonic Wallpaper project, it would seem.

I imagine that in the design of paper wallpapers, designers travel to see specific things; to take photographs; to produce moodboards; to get ideas for line and pattern.

I can now testify that in the design of sonic wallpapers, designers travel to hear specific things; to make sound-recordings; to produce audible sketches; to get ideas for motifs and textures.

This week I went to:

Dr Johnson’s House – for creaks; to hear the garrett of a writer; and for the sound of 1700s glass facing onto contemporary streets.

The British Dental Association Museum – for the sounds of arcane dentistry tools in action; to hear a 200-year old hand-operated dentist’s drill; to hear ivory dentures being brushed; and to experience the creaks and clunks of a wooden dentist’s chair.

The Clockmaker’s Museum – in search of the perfect clock ticking sound.

The Barbican Estate – to hear the acoustics of a 1960s concrete, geometric, idealistic, architectural vision.

Cole & Sons Wallpaper factory – to document the very sounds of historic wallpapers being reproduced using old and new techniques.

The Handweaver’s Studio – and indeed the home of the current custodian of said Handweaver’s studio, Wendy Morris – to record and hear the repetitive rhythms of looms.

Barnet Museum – to record the ticks and tocks of a 300-year old Grandfather Clock; to record the sound of 1930s pearls sliding one over the other in an old jewellery box; to hear different kinds of creaks; and to record the sound of a 1930s calculating device.

The Horniman Museum Aquarium – to record wrasse and clownfish “clicking”; to hear the delicate sonorities of shrimps; to listen to the drone of large filtration systems; and to listen to the bubbles bubbling.

Aquatic Design Centre – to hear tiny filtration systems; to listen through thin glass to the bubbles and mechanisms of filtrations; to record a fish sucking on the glass; and to hear clownfish playing in anemones.

My head is completely full of the design possibilities of everything I have heard. The repeats I could make! The textures I could create!

It’s been incredibly inspiring, and my week of being a soniciere would not have been possible without the amazing hospitality of Rachael, Colleen and Lara. Thank you all for food, a place to sleep in between recording ten million sounds, and for offering solace between the unenjoyable experience of lugging 568792597459248974kg of field-recording equipment around on the London Underground!

Dr Johnson’s Cane reminded me of Rachael’s amazing post about Walter’s Crook.

Watching and listening to screen-printing at Cole & Sons reminded me that Colleen did loads of screen-printing around this time last year.

…and this smiling, gorgeous, golden fish reminded me of Lara’s F-themed new year’s post, because it’s fun, and because I fancy that Lara would have tried to take the same photo if she’d been at the Aquatic Design Centre with me today.

Thank You all for supporting the work of a soniciere! The fruits of my labours will soon be available to hear here.

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