My sounds are at TATE Modern

Listen to the sound of silk worms eating mulberry leaves, viscose being chemically synthesised, fibres being spun on a spindle and explanations about viscose rayon production.

Take this Sonic Trail with you as you explore the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, thinking about how the vast swathes of textiles were made; the labour involved in their production; and their links to science, history and culture

At the start of the summer I was happily commissioned to produce a Sonic Trail for TATE Modern. A sort of magical alternative to the conventional museum audio guide, Sonic Trails use sound art to engage gallery visitors with the main TATE Modern programme.

Previous creators have done all sorts of exciting things like recording the sounds present the actual TATE Modern building and creating a musical Cabinet of Curiosities from instruments and recordings featured in a Folk Art exhibition. Such inspiring uses of audio give visitors new perspectives on exhibitions and the gallery space itself. Engaging, playful, fun, imaginative, sonic… all of this is right up my street. However this particular commission was especially exciting because of its textile dimension.

Silk on the looms at Whitchurch Silk Mill

Silk on the looms at Whitchurch Silk Mill

I was invited to produce a Sonic Trail relating to Richard Tuttle’s current exhibit in the Turbine Hall: I Don’t Know . The Weave of Textile Language. Because I am me and I care about such things, I produced a set of sound pieces exploring the origins of two key materials used by Tuttle: silk and viscose.

silkworm_buddies-1-3

The lowly silkworm: progenitor of all silk textiles

The chemist's lab: the birthplace of rayon viscose

The chemist’s lab: the birthplace of rayon viscose

Budget constraints meant I could not visit the mill in India where Tuttle’s special exhibition textiles were made. However I also didn’t wish to be completely literal in my approach to exploring these materials. The idea of The Weave of Textile Language and the space for imagination and creativity in the brief suggested a non-literal and playful exploration of textiles rather than deadpan documentary. I love thinking in textile metaphors when working with sounds – weaving ideas together, spinning yarns, developing patterns and textures – and decided to play with those associations for this project. For instance in one of the pieces I loop old orchestral muzak from a 1950s US film about the great American textile industry with recordings from contemporary British textile mills. Rhythms and repeats in the muzak are a non-literal exploration of the rhythms of industrial machinery.

Still from a US film about the textile industries of America made in 1953, 'Greater Goal: The Human Dividends from American Industry'

Still from a US film about the textile industries of America made in 1953, ‘Greater Goal: The Human Dividends from American Industry’

Spindolyn with viscose fibres on the left and silk fibres on the right

Spindolyn with viscose fibres on the left and silk fibres on the right

Golden Orb Weaver spiders in the greenhouse in Oxford belonging to the Oxford Silk Group

Golden Orb Weaver spiders in the greenhouse in Oxford belonging to the Oxford Silk Group

As the commission progressed, my online searches for silk, viscose, spider silk, silk research, silk mill, silk machinery, viscose thread, spun viscose, viscose synthesis and rayon viscose began to reveal a kind of plan. Perhaps, appropriately, a somewhat tangled plan.

Silk skeins at Whitchurch Silk Mill, ready to be wound onto bobbins prior to weaving

Silk skeins at Whitchurch Silk Mill, ready to be wound onto bobbins prior to weaving

Rayon viscose synthesised in the Materials Department of Imperial College with Dr. Suze Kundu

Rayon viscose synthesised in the Materials Department of Imperial College with Dr. Suze Kundu

Rayon viscose synthesis as documented in a 1949 US film, 'Synthetic Fibres - Nylon and Rayon'

Rayon viscose synthesis as documented in a 1949 US film, ‘Synthetic Fibres – Nylon and Rayon’

Silkworm buddy spinning a cocoon using the special glands in its mouth

Silkworm buddy spinning a cocoon using the special glands in its mouth

I will write more about this adventure in coming days, but what I wanted to say today is that my sounds are now online on the Sonic Trails Soundcloud page. This means that if you wish to go and see Richard Tuttle’s work in the Turbine Hall you can add to your experience by listening to my Sonic Trail at the same time. I am intending to make a visit to see/hear everything in situ at noon on Saturday 18th October. If you would like to come along and meet me at that time or ask me about the sounds, please feel free to do so. You can either hire a player and headphones from TATE Modern or download the Sonic Trail to your own device, but if you go for the latter I would recommend you find or borrow some nice headphones to hear the work at its best!

Bobbins at Whitchurch Silk Mill

Bobbins at Whitchurch Silk Mill

The last few weeks have been difficult for various reasons but I have thoroughly enjoyed working on this project. I’ve loved listening and recording, crafting the actual sound pieces, grafting all the sounds together in interesting ways, learning new things about everyday textiles, raising a colony of silkworms and meeting scientists who are clear and passionate communicators. It’s all been very exciting, rewarding and creative and I hope that positivity comes across in the final pieces. I am also really enjoying the last phase of work on the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook. Though things have been quiet here on the blog, plenty has been going on: plenty of KNIT and plenty of SONIK.

I hope you like the sounds!

Swatch from forthcoming KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, featuring designs based on Edirol recording device

Swatch from forthcoming KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook, featuring designs based on Edirol recording device

3 Responses to My sounds are at TATE Modern

  1. Jenny says:

    Thanks for letting me know about this, I wouldn’t have been aware of the exhibition which looks intersting enough even before your added dimension. I’m planning a trip to the Fashion & Textile museum for their knitwear exhibition, combining it with this will make it a fantastic day out.

  2. Terry says:

    Yippee! A new Knitsonik post from Felix! What a cool project – I’m going to savor each recording on its own, over days.

  3. Joanna says:

    But this is wonderful! Art, textiles and SOUNDS! Your work seems to keep going from strength to strength. How lovely it would be to meet you on the 18th – I can’t actually do that but I shall most definitely visit the exhibition. Congratulations!

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