When Anthony declared in the Sonic Wallpaper interviews that BADDA 4386 resembles the sorts of textured wallpaper that you sometimes see when visiting the Dentist or the Doctor, I felt he was onto something.
I therefore went in search of vintage dental equipment – something from the ’70s or ’80s – which I could record for the purposes of augmenting his wallpaper fantasy. Melanie Parker from the British Dental Association was especially helpful and put me in touch with Peter Frost of Birwood Dental Care. Dental instruments only sound when plumbed and plugged in, so in order to record older equipment, I needed to visit a working dental surgery – and preferably one with some earlier equipment. Peter was in the process of overhauling his practice earlier this year, and many of his older machines will be donated to the BDA Museum. I grabbed the chance to record some of them before they go into storage.
BADDA 4386 image © MoDA and used with their kind permission
BADDA 4386 is one of the wallpapers used in Sonic Wallpapers which for me raises questions about the wallpaper samples as objects rather than designs; there is a fading, a patina of age on this sample which everyone noted in some way. Colleen fancied it was marked by a fireplace or a gas heater, while others felt it would belong somewhere old or to someone old whose house had not been recently decorated. I wonder if it is these qualities which prompted the idea that this wallpaper might be seen in a Dental Surgery, rather than the visual design of the wallpaper itself? Many of the surgeries I have visited in life have been situated within converted houses. Clinical fittings and apparatus and waiting-room furniture often rest like a veneer over and beside old skirting boards, fireplaces, mantles, curtains and patches of wallpaper that hint at the former, domestic function of the space. Is it this ragged quality, or the fact that the sample is so small – like a patch behind a receptionist’s desk that got missed in the new paint job – which make it reminiscent of something spotted at the Dentist’s?
Wallpaper over-painted with blue paint at Birwood Dental Care
I wasn’t sure, but went in search of sounds from older Dental equipment to help me to explore this association.
Tiles and towels on the wall at Birwood Dental Care
Peter Frost and the staff at Birwood Dental Care were very helpful and allowed me to record many of the sounds of their machinery in operation. I recorded the ultrasonic descaler, several turbine handpieces, the water pump mechanism, the chair going up and down… but perhaps in terms of Sonic Wallpaper, the recording which for me is most useful is this long, ambient recording which documents simply the quietness of an empty room in the surgery:
Not much happens in the recording; a receptionist answers a phone-call; a bored child makes some sounds in the waiting room; the floorboards creak; and the building lightly amplifies the sounds of passing traffic and the shuffles of human inhabitants inside it. However this quiet recording forms a sort of bridge underneath what people say about BADDA 4386, introducing very subtly the ambience of a creaky old converted Victorian house.
You can see here how I have edited the Sonic Wallpaper piece for BADDA 4386. I have layered a mix of ‘signal’ sounds – such as the finzi hand-drill and the receptionist answering the telephone – to introduce the idea that we are ‘in the Dentist’s’, but towards the end of the piece, this very quiet recording sits in the background and conveys precisely and almost at an infra-sonic-level, the atmosphere inside a Dental Surgery.
I also recorded – but did not use in the end – the sounds of an ultrasonic descaler in action!
This is not a very comfortable listen, although I noticed that when I was getting my teeth done the other day the sounds of a polish and scale machine are much louder and much more grating when they are occurring inside your own mouth! When you visit the Dentist, all the activities which take place are heard through the bones of your skull; the machines that grind on the tooth surfaces etc. send soundwaves right through your jaw-bone and into the very bones of your ear. OUCH!
After getting a polish and scale done myself last week, I can say with confidence that this recording is mild and ambient in comparison to the real thing. However perhaps the sound, like the wallpaper, tessellates with memory just enough to recall the physical sensation of being in a specific place, in specific circumstances…
I have one copy of the Sonic Wallpapers book to give to someone who would like to have a domestic listening experience for themselves! The book has all 18 wallpaper designs from the MoDA collection used in this project, and a CD in the back which contains all the sound pieces. There are introductions both by myself and Zoe Hendon who is the curator of MoDA, and notes on what people said, and what sounds were recorded, for each wallpaper included in the project.
Sonic Wallpapers CD
To win a copy of the book, you just need to leave a comment on this post: -> http://thedomesticsoundscape.com/wordpress/?p=4655 about a wallpaper that you remember from your life, and one sound you recall from the room where that wallpaper was. If you cannot think of a wallpaper design and a sound, you could also leave one thought/response you have to this project. On 24th December, I will draw a number at random and post out a copy of the book to the winner!