sonic fabric, upsidedown LIFE, and other work (2005)

Many years ago I learned about the colorful flags often hung at auspicious sites by Tibetan Buddhists. Tibetan prayer flags are made of colorful squares of cotton fabric imprinted with the images of "mantras", or sacred sounds. They are hung outdoors where the breeze blowing through them can "activate" the sounds, sending them out around the world on the wind. When I learned about these flags, I was reminded of childhood experiences aboard small racing sailboats. Oftentimes we'd use short strands of cassette tape tied to the rigging as wind indicators, or "tell-tails". Cassette tape is ideal for this purpose as it is light and very sensitive to the wind, it’s extremely durable, and it dries quickly. As a kid, I used to imagine that if the wind hit the tell-tails just right, the sounds of whatever had been recorded onto the tape (Cat Stevens? The Beatles?) could be heard ...

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Many years ago I learned about the colorful flags often hung at auspicious sites by Tibetan Buddhists. Tibetan prayer flags are made of colorful squares of cotton fabric imprinted with the images of "mantras", or sacred sounds. They are hung outdoors where the breeze blowing through them can "activate" the sounds, sending them out around the world on the wind. When I learned about these flags, I was reminded of childhood experiences aboard small racing sailboats. Oftentimes we'd use short strands of cassette tape tied to the rigging as wind indicators, or "tell-tails". Cassette tape is ideal for this purpose as it is light and very sensitive to the wind, it’s extremely durable, and it dries quickly. As a kid, I used to imagine that if the wind hit the tell-tails just right, the sounds of whatever had been recorded onto the tape (Cat Stevens? The Beatles?) could be heard wafting out into the air.

Much later when I learned about the prayer flags, I remembered the cassette tape tell-tails and sensed a direct relationship between the two. I was immediately inspired to marry the two concepts to create a fabric that had sonic potential literally woven into it. I immediately set about collecting and recording tapes of music and sounds that had been influential to me throughout my life...the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Beethoven, Laurie Anderson, ocean surf, my high-school punk band. At first I knitted with the tape, but the texture of the resulting fabric was very loose and flimsy.

Finally a weaver friend offered to try using the tape on a loom at the Rhode Island School of Design. The product astounded both of us. We never expected such a beautiful, tightly-woven, functional material. At first I'd intended to make a string of my own sort of nautical/Buddhist-inspired flags from the original samples, but before I could begin working on the project, the fabric had been accepted into a show of artworks made from repurposed materials at Felissimo Design House in New York City. For that show in 2003 I constructed my first "sonic shaman-superhero dress" from the panels of fabric, which I came to realize, were actually audible...the fabric retains it's magnetic properties throughout the weaving process, and when a tape head is dragged along its surface, it emits a garbled, underwater-like sound.

Seven years have elapsed since then, and Sonic Fabric has been included in exhibitions in galleries and museums around the world related to sound art, recycling and repurposing, technology, and fashion. It has appeared on the Sundance Channel’s “Big Ideas for a Small Planet”, and on the “Today Show”. It’s been featured in the New York Times, Orion Magazine, People, MAKE Magazine, Treehugger, and many others. In 2003 I was commissioned to make a dress for Jon Fishman, percussionist for the band Phish, which he wore and played on stage during a concert in Las Vegas.

As a conceptual artist and a musician, I am constantly collecting and experimenting with the sounds that are recorded onto the tape before it’s woven into fabric. The current batches of fabric are recorded with the “Between Stations” album, a collection of sound collages composed of loops and layers of samples collected over a 5 year period on and under the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn. “Between Stations” is music literally made from the sounds of the city, and is intended as an ode to life in post-9/11 New York.

As the Sonic Fabric project has grown, I have felt compelled to share the material with others – I believe that art should, if possible, be used and enjoyed as part of everyday life. To this end, I have begun to sell yardage of Sonic Fabric to architects, fashion, interiors, and accessories designers for use in their own projects. I am also working with Julio Cesar, a New York fashion designer and a dear friend, on a line of wearable, functional items, such as the Sonic Fabric necktie (an incognito good-vibe emitting wardrobe accessory/work of conceptual art in one).

In 2006 I relocated from Brooklyn, NY to the high desert of far west Texas (near the town of Marfa made famous by Donald Judd and the minimalists of the 1970’s) for its unique land-, light- and soundscape, and in order to more actively pursue experiments into sustainability, conservation, and permaculture. My studio consists of a reoutfitted 1970’s school bus tucked into a grove of ponderosa pines. Solar panels run sound and computer equipment and a sewing machine. A greenhouse and other outbuildings made of scrap materials, rainwater harvesting tanks, graywater systems, and compost piles are in a constant state of evolution, along with sound, installation, and video projects. This ever-growing array of life and art projects is affectionately called “The Center for the Improbable & (Im)Permacultural Research.

More info on Sonic Fabric can be found at the following sites:

http://www.alycsantoro.com http://www.sonicfabric.com http://www.supermarkethq.com/designer/6140/products http://www.youtube.com/alyceobvious http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/alycesantoro

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Artist Statement

i draw from my experiences in art, science, and music to explore the place where the quantifiable and the intangible overlap. My sound collages, found-object sculptures, installations and actions are influenced by rituals and techniques used by scientists, shamans, and philosophers to access, study, and interact with that which cannot be examined by "conventional" means. Using cast-off ephemera and common household items I perform "unconventional" investigations into the nature of reality. My work often contains a hidden element that is revealed by closer examination, or by interacting with the piece.

This is the case, for example, with my works on "sonic fabric", a material woven from prerecorded audiocassette tape. The fabric retains its magnetism, and the pieces made from it can be "listened to" by dragging a tape head over its surface. I compile and make collages of sounds that I then record onto the the tape I use to weave with. The sounds are collected from a wide range of sources: musical, ambient, spoken word. I intend for them to be documents of the human experience, stored snippets of our sonic sensory existence. The project was inspired by quantum physics, Tibetan prayer flags, and the use of small strands of tape as "tell-tails", wind-indicators used on sailboats.

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