Monday, 10 September 2012

Sonic Wallpaper Radio Show

They say that Radio is great for pictures, and so I thought it would be good to test that theory out by making a whole radio show exploring the concept of Sonic Wallpaper. This show will air on the following radio stations at the following times as part of the excellent and always inspiring framework:afield series, curated for framework:radio by Patrick McGinley.

- Tuesday, 11th Sept, 12:30pm, South Devon, UK on Soundartradio 102.5fm
- Wednesday, 12th Sept, 3am, Lisbon, Portugal on radio zero
- Thursday, 13th Sept, 7pm, Lisbon, Portugal on radio zero
- Thursday, 13th Sept, 11pm, Maribor, Slovenia on radio marš 95.9fm
- Friday, 14th Sept, 1am, Brussels, Belgium on radio campus 92.1fm
- Saturday, 15th Sept, 11am, New York State, US on wgxc 90.7fm

use this converter for local broadcast times

Additionally, the Sonic Wallpaper radio show will be available as one of the podcasts in the framework:radio series and will be available to hear online here very soon!

Here are the shownotes for the radio show; keep reading to learn of new developments in the Sonic Wallpaper project!

I've been working on Sonic Wallpaper with the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture for a year, and the project is designed to expand on how we normally think about wallpaper, bringing the act of listening into a context which has historically been purely about looking. Although wallpaper is designed visually, we experience wallpapered rooms with all of our senses, and our memories are stimulated as much by sounds and smells as by sights; a cheery 1960s design might instantly remind someone of a coffee pot gurgling away on their granny’s stove, while the flowers in another design might instantly remind someone of sea-creatures or a relative who loved to garden.

Personal associations which link place, memory and sound are the basis for Sonic Wallpaper; they are what allow us to move our imaginations between what we see, and what we hear. To make Sonic Wallpaper, I interviewed several people in November 2011, showing them various designs held in the collection of the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture. I then listened through to the interviews and collected field-recordings in response to what had been said about the different designs. I wanted to celebrate the specific way that people discuss their DIY plans, and to extend the fantasies of home-creativity using the medium of sound. When someone said “that reminds me of church” I wanted to introduce the sound of that church, so that a third party – a listener like you – can hear and imagine the space. Think of the project as being like a sampler of sonic textures… a playful exploration of the question “what would it be like, if we could decorate our homes with sounds?”

For this framework:afield radio show, I have collaged the interviews and the sounds into a continuous stream of sound, and I hope that listening to the results will be a bit like flicking through a book of wallpaper designs with your ears, imagining where you might put them.

I am curious to know how Sonic Wallpaper translates to radio… I hope that browsing through these Sonic Wallpapers will give you a thoroughly new set of rooms to imagine – rooms designed somewhere in the space between remembering, imagining, and listening.

If you like this radio collage you can hear the individual sound pieces created in response to MoDA wallpapers on Soundcloud at

Note: the numbers beside the wallpapers listed here in the tracklist are the accession numbers of the wallpapers held in MoDA's collection.

Helen, Colleen and Joceline discuss wallpaper SW 1029

ink pen writing on parchment in Dr Johnson's attic, London
Italian stove-top espresso-maker gurgling on the stove
hydrophones inside the aquariums at the Horniman Museum, London
hydrophones inside the aquariums at the The Aquatic Design Centre, London

Joceline discusses wallpaper BADDA 4856

organ at St James & St William of York church, Reading
wet brush on wallpaper
radio in the room next door
loom at The Handweaver's Studio, London

Colleen, Annie, Jo and Mel discuss wallpaper BADDA 4384

public swimming baths on King's Road, Reading
electric kettle boiling
cutlery drawer
rhubarb jam bubbling
1700s clock mechanism, The Clockmaker's Museum, London
clownfish tank at the Aquatic Design Centre, London
matchbox cars on wooden floorboards

Helen and others discuss wallpaper BADDA 4377

matchbox cars on carpet
matchbox cars on concrete and grass
outdoor cafe areas and coffee shops

Joceline, Tom, Anthony, Colleen, Annie and others discuss wallpaper BADDA 4380

super8 projector
popcorn popping

Jo, Mel, Helen, Tom, Anthony and others discuss wallpaper BADDA 2301

Indian restaurant
mustard seeds popping
onions frying
an open fire

1720 clock mechanism, The Clockmaker's Museum, London
1750 clock mechanism, The Clockmaker's Museum, London

Colleen, Annie and others discuss BADDA 4770

Wendy Morris's loom, London
looms at the Handweaver's Studio, London
clock mechanisms, The Clockmaker's Museum, London
electric kettle boiling

Colleen, Joceline, Tom, Anthony, Mel, Jo and others discuss wallpaper BADDA 4855

vintage porcelain chinaware clinking
dawn chorus birdsong, Ipsden, Oxfordshire

cattle lowing, Oxfordshire

Anthony, Tom, Colleen, Annie, Mel, Jo and others discuss wallpaper SW2097

cows shuffling about and mooing, Dippenhall
wax crayons on paper
woodblocks and wet paint printing

screenprinting at Cole & Sons Wallpaper Factory, London

Anthony, Tom, Colleen and Annie discuss wallpaper BADDA 4857

rain on the thin, plastic garage roof
ascending the creaky old staircase at Dr Johnson's House, London
a window closing at Dr Johnson's House, London

the gas cooker
sausages frying
Munchies cafe, Reading

Joceline, Jo, Mel, Tom, Anthony and others discuss wallpaper BADDA 4774

Rachael's till
sausages frying
Italian, stove-top espresso maker
egg frying

Dr Johnson's old, creaky hallway

Colleen, Annie, Anthony, Tom and others discuss wallpaper BADDA 4854

wet paint and roller
music and pint-pulling down the local

Helen, Jo, Mel and others discuss wallpaper BADDA 4385

jazz in the foyer of The National Hotel, Miami
shaking ice in a cocktail shaker
ice cubes going into a glass
pebbles on the beach
shaking sheets of silver foil

Joceline, Tom, Anthony, Helen, Colleen, Annie and others discuss wallpaper BADDA 4782

walking in the forest, Marros Mountain, Wales
walking in the snow
ice melting

organ at St James & St William of York church, Reading
public swimming baths on King's Road, Reading

Colleen, Annie and others discuss wallpaper BADDA 2298

seagulls, Amroth Beach, Wales
leafing through a facsimile of Dr Johnson's Dictionary, Dr Johnson's House, London
ink pen writing on parchment in Dr Johnson's attic, London
Jasper purring, Wales
dawn chorus, Llanteg, Wales


Friday, 20 July 2012

Soundcloud Mobile site vs. Full site?

Continuing my exploration of QR codes, I have been experimenting with my own smartphone, and am slightly dissatisfied with the user-experience of accessing the full Soundcloud site. Here is the QR code - generated by this site - which links to the full website version of Soundcloud.

Here's what happens on a HTC Hero when you scan in that barcode...

Here I am scanning the QR code with my mobile...

Here is my phone finding the correct URL...

And then there is a very long wait while the file downloads (arduously) using mobile Internet rather than WiFi. (I am not using WiFi as I can't guarantee end users will always have access to WiFi when scanning the barcodes). I hunted around and discovered that Soundcloud also have a dedicated mobile site. I therefore created a short-URL (using and a QR code for the same piece of Sonic Wallpaper using the mobile site:

...and then I watched this loading image for quite a long time; over 10 minutes; and no sign of the file playing or displaying correctly.

I wonder why the link to the mobile site doesn't work so well when I try to access it with, ur, my mobile? Any tech assistance here would be greatly appreciated.

QR treasurehunt!

As promised yesterday, here are further QR codes, which will hopefully take you directly to some of the Sonic Wallpaper Pieces. We want to know: 1. Was it easy to access the work via the QR codes? 2. What did you see/hear when you got there? (photos of phone displays especially welcome - please upload them via Twitter to @sonicwallpaper) 3. Was it FUN? All/any feedback very gratefully received!


Thursday, 19 July 2012

QR codes #1

Things are very busy here in the Sonic Wallpapers Production Chamber i.e. my house, where much editing, recording and mixing is under way! One of the things we are testing out currently is how well the QR codes are working. We are exploring where, online, the Sonic Wallpaper pieces should be uploaded. We want to know what the user-experience of scanning the QR codes and finding and hearing the sound pieces will be like for smart-phone users. We have a couple of options for storing the files; they can either be housed secretly in a folder somewhere on the shiny new MoDA website as mp3 files; on Audioboo as Audioboos; or on Soundcloud. Each of these sites offer different experiences for listeners/users and over the next couple of days we will be exploring different options here. If you have a smartphone and some barcode-scanning software installed on it, would you mind scanning this code and leaving a comment to say what happened? Whether or not you heard Sonic Wallpaper as a result of scanning the code, and whether it was easy or difficult? This code was generated using the website
ETA: Roger Smolski - who helpfully checked out the QR code above - helpfully contacted me via Twitter, to explain that using or a similar URL shortener would reduce the complexity of the QR code. I therefore reduced the length of the URL for the Sonic Wallpaper piece currently hosted on Audioboo, with the following result:
Easier to see? To scan? Does it make any difference at all? And how does the Audioboo interface display on your smartphone?

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

An Indian Restaurant, fuzzy felt, and candlelight

BADDA 2301 image © MoDA Museum

This is one of the designs in the MoDA Museum Wallpaper collection which has been used for the Sonic Wallpaper Project. When I showed it to people, I got pretty mixed reactions, ranging from "I have negative connotations with flock wallpaper and the 1970s" right through to "it's opulent; I'd like to have it in a boudoir".

The texture of the paper got people talking about the suggestive, sensory qualities of the paper, and reminded people of fuzzy felt. A couple of people also felt that it reminded them of an Indian restaurant. Too, there was some intrigue surrounding the mechanics of how a wallpaper like this is made. I wanted to build up a sonic palette which would reflect all of these ideas - warmth, opulence, sensuality, a lot of different tactile experiences - and so I recorded sounds which concern the manufacture of wallpaper at Cole & Sons Wallpaper Factory, and a selection of domestic and local sounds, including frying onions, popping mustard seeds, and the ambient sounds at my local Indian restaurant.

The most exciting things for me in the finished piece are the moments when certain ideas cross-pollinate. My favourite example of this is when the sizzling sound of mustard-seeds popping and pinging inside a saucepan correlate with a bit of interview where the idea of the gold in the wallpaper looking good against candlelight is being discussed. There is something in the combination of heat, shimmering, sparkling, sizzling, warmth, etc. which work well for me in that moment... the pinging sound of mustard seeds exploding inside a steel pan seem glittery to my ears, and this works with the idea of gilt or a gilded surface... what do you think?

When I started out on this project, I found myself thinking a lot about how design often involves "moodboards". Sonically speaking, this project has moodboards too, and as well as the sounds I've recorded for the project, each piece has a certain atmosphere associated with it, which I've tried to find the appropriate sounds to reflect. With BADDA 2301 there is something extremely exuberant and also a bit love/hate in the way people view the design; I wanted the sounds to be similarly attractive/repellent, and also very playful and fun. TheVelcro sound is I think the hardest of the different sounds to listen to, but hopefully other sounds like the wind in the chimney and the fire crackling at the end, are more attractive to listeners.

The original wallpaper design is very dense; there's a lot going on, and so the audio is correspondingly "busy". My hope is that between all the words and sounds, there are plenty of suggestions to help you imagine this wallpaper in different scenarios and spaces!

Sounds recorded: mustard seeds popping, onions frying, Velcro sticking and un-sticking, fuzzy felt, wallpaper printing machinery at Cole & Sons wallpaper factory, sounds at local Indian restaurant, fire in the living room fireplace

There is also an excerpt of this piece on Audioboo.

Monday, 2 July 2012

A Writing Room

SW 1029 image © MoDA Museum

This is one of the designs in the MoDA Museum Wallpaper collection which has been used for the Sonic Wallpaper Project. When I showed this paper to one of the interviewees involved in this project - Joceline - it evoked for her a domestic fantasy involving an ideal writing room, tucked away in the eaves of a house somewhere, and free of the electrical buzzes of modernity.

To build an appropriate sound piece out of this idea, I organised all the interview material that I had concerning this design, arranged a selection of the comments that people made about this sample of wallpaper, and sought for a recording site containing a lot of creaky wood, an absence of computers and air-conditioning, and with old casement windows. Dr Johnson compiled a dictionary in just such a space, and the attic of his 18th century London town house was where I went to record many of the sounds used in the Sonic Wallpaper created to accompany this design, as you may remember from this post.

In working on the accompanying sound piece, I wanted to leave space for some of the really quiet and gentle sounds - birdsong; the sound of pens and ink on parchment; the purring of a cat - to be really heard. The study room at MoDA is full of the humming of air-conditioning and computers, and so I wanted to give a little bit of space at the end of the interviews (which are all full of the soundscape of MoDA) for the acoustic fantasy evoked by the wallpaper to breathe.

The effect is of a sort of emptying out of sounds; after the ideas and the words have all been introduced, the piece is overtaken by the calm world of this ideal writing attic - a space imagined completely in response to SW 1029 in the MoDA Wallpaper collection.

Sounds recorded: creaking wood, scribbling pen, parchment, tea cups, kettle, paper, cat

There is also an excerpt of this piece on Audioboo.

Estonian Sonic Wallpapers

Despite the lack of writing on here, plenty has been happening on the Sonic Wallpaper Project!
I was in Estonia for the month of May, where I saw this wallpaper.

This design was on the walls of Tuuli's parents' house, in Võru, and dates from the Soviet times. I love how the sheets are not matched up at all, and I also love the colours, and the rural idyll suggested by the imagery. It reminds me of some of the earlier papers in the MoDA collection.

Here are some of the sounds in the room where this wallpaper was hung:

...would you have looked at that wallpaper and imagined looms and pianos? Or something else?
Since I have been home, I have been playing catch-up with all my projects. This has included lots of domestic audio recording for Sonic Wallpaper, and writing commentaries about all the pieces for our forthcoming Sonic Wallpaper book.