Building a Sonic Wardrobe

As some of you may know, I have been working on a commission this year called The Fabric of Oxford for Museum of Oxford, produced by Oxford Contemporary Music. The project has been created to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the museum, and explores the textures of the city through stories and sound recordings related to textiles.

On my way to Oxford in June 2015, ready to record people's textile stories in The Old Museum

On my way to Oxford in June 2015, ready to record people’s textile stories in The Old Museum

Nine months in the making, this is my largest and most ambitious commission to date. It kicks off with a lecture performance next Friday – December 11th – and an installation in the Old Town Hall from January 2016. The lecture performance is called Fabric of Oxford and the installation is called Sonic Wardrobe.

Interviewing Val Pelletier - one of the volunteers at Museum of Oxford

Interviewing Val Pelletier – one of the volunteers at Museum of Oxford

Details of the lecture performance
Time and date: 7pm doors, 7.30pm performance, Friday 11th December
Venue: The Old Museum, St Aldate’s, Oxford OX1 1BX
Tickets: £5
Bookings: Online bookings / Telephone bookings – 01865 305305 / In person at Oxford Playhouse

The lecture performance features unicorns (really), live button-making, iron-on embroidery transfers and yarn-winding plus many compelling textile stories, woven together for your delight and delectation. The counter from Cape’s department store will feature as a beautiful material element. For those of you who can’t make it along in person, The Fabric of Oxford lecture performance will also be live-streamed from 7:30pm by my friends at Spires Media and you can watch it online on this YouTube channel. A live countdown to the start of the performance is currently displayed.

Details of the installation
The lecture-performance features the unveiling of my special DIY-built Sonic Wardrobe. This is a mid-century wardrobe that I am currently modifying for KNITSONIK purposes. It features interactive sonic and textile elements… mp3 players that can be activated at the touch of a button; fabric-covered speakers; clothes and accessories with which to pose and take pictures; and a collection of my signature cloth-covered badges with which to play. Sonic Wardrobe presents an amazing rummaging opportunity which can be poetic or cacophonous, depending on how the multi-channel amp – and you – are feeling.

After the lecture performance, Sonic Wardrobe will be installed in the 40 years, 40 objects exhibition currently on show at the museum. You will be able to play with the buttons and switches and try on all/some of the textile pieces from 16th January 2016.

I am in the last stages of this project and it’s likely that I won’t get much sleep this week, but I wanted to take a quick break from editing and sawing up wood to show you some of the building elements for this project that I have especially enjoyed.

Editing the sounds.

Editing the sounds.

I have conducted over 40 interviews in the course of this project. The Fabric of Oxford is about investigating the city from multiple and personal vantage points, and I wanted the project to be as inclusive and diverse as possible. This has meant endless car journeys between Oxford and Reading with my microphones in the back of the car, and a rich array of subject matter. I am really enjoying piecing it all together and listening back to the voices of comrades met in the course of working on this project.

Printing onto wood

Printing onto wood

I decided that I wanted to give a glimpse of these interviews during my lecture performance, and then to create an interactive installation – a Sonic Wardrobe – through which you might rummage around search of stories and textiles. Working out the interactive elements has been one of the big puzzles of this project. I have been learning how to print onto wood using a mixture of gel medium and mod podge, and tomorrow I will be drilling wooden holes into these printed pieces of wood in order to insert buttons that can then be soldered to my mp3 players.

A speaker covered with a Witney blanket

A speaker covered with a Witney blanket

To create links between my recorded sounds and the textiles to which they relate, I have covered the speakers that will be inside the wardrobe in fabric. A framed example of each piece of fabric will sit beside the buttons for its player so that when you press play beside the woolly speaker pictured, you will activate recordings relating to woollen textiles in Oxford which will then play through the woolly speaker… at least that is the plan!

A shelf load of speakers

A shelf load of speakers

Working drawings

Working drawings

I have been doing many messy drawings, trying to work out how to connect all the things together!

Multi-channel amp

Multi-channel amp

And there has been a fair amount of texting my brother Thaddaeus – my main technical advisor – about the best way to ensure that the huge multi-channel amplifier on which the sonic wardrobe depends will stay cool.

So there is still quite a bit to do, but I am on the last strait. If you are one of the people who has helped to make this project possible by allowing me to record your stories, thank you from the bottom of my heart. This type of project is only possible when people have faith and say YES.

I really hope to see some of you there next week and if you can’t be there in person, remember that you can tune in online!

Thank you for listening and reading,

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