Friday, 21 October 2011

Your Sonic Wallpapers; ideas from you

In this post I would like to respond to some of your wonderful comments on my own blog relating to this project, and also on some of the sound descriptions and images that you have added to the Sonic Wallpaper Pinterest board.

I love Mikal's ideas for a Sonic Wallpaper based on this Sanderson Woodland Ferns wallpaper.

Mikal wrote about the soft patter of rain dripping on leaves as a kind of aural equivalent for this delicate, silvery pattern.

There is something understated about the idea of this sound... it is a gentle sort of sound sonically resembling the muted palette of the paper's visual design. (Click here to see.)

Reading Mikal's words made me think about the sounds of water, and of this paper in the MoDA collection, which somehow suggests to me the gently humming drone of an aquarium.

Wallpaper © Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, Middlesex University – photographed by Felicity Ford

What sounds does it make you think of?

I also enjoyed Mikal's comment about the added tactile dimension of flock wallpaper (image can be seen here). Flocked, Sonic Wallpaper could be heard, touched and seen.

It was interesting to try and imagine in my mind's ear what a brassy and bold sonic equivalent to this flock paper might be, and I kept thinking of long, sustained, shifting chords played on brass instruments. What do you think?

Tom left an amazing comment on my blog, regarding the idea of meta Sonic Wallpaper; i.e. Sonic Wallpaper which references the intended use or functions of a room;

I was thinking about meta-sounds: e.g. for the kitchen, you’d have the kettle coming to the boil, something simmmering on the hob, the chopping of vegetables, the clanging of utensils. For the lounge the rustling of newspapers being turned (although, when was the last time I read news in the PAPERS? I get it all from the interent now), some music in the background. Sitting down into that sqeaky chair. At dusk, the swishing of curtains closing.

But trying to expand this into other rooms would perhaps not always work. Who would want to go into the smallest room and then you’d hear the noises of somebody “doing their business”? (this reminds me: when I lived in a shared house as a student, we taped Beavis & Butthead episodes onto cassette tapes and we wired a walkman with speakers into the light switch, so each time you switched on the light you heard “huhuhuhuh. hey beavis. huhhuhuh. cool. huhuhuh”. Our own sonic wallpaper!) And let’s not even begin pondering the bedroom noises.

On the other hand, you could turn things upside down by playing the sounds you’d associate with one room, in another room. A surrealist decoration!

This is interesting to me in many ways - firstly, who doesn't LOVE the domestic creativity involved in rewiring the lights?! Secondly, the idea of surrealist sonic home-decoration is most intriguing; what bizarre play could be had by exporting unexpected sounds from one context into another? For instance, what would it be like if opening kitchen cupboards resulted in the sound of a swarm of bees rushing across some carefully placed speakers, panning from left to right, as if moving? Or if you installed the sound of some pigs grunting deep into a dark corner of the house?

Grunting pigs, Mudchute City Farm (mp3)

I also love the amusing way that Tom describes the intimacy of home spaces and refers to the kinds of sounds which we would rather keep private, or not hear, and certainly not record.

The sounds Tom has focussed on as being the sounds of domestic space are lovely in their details - a curtain closing; a newspaper page turning. And many visually designed wallpapers work like this, echoing details of domestic life in imagery. How many kitchen wallpapers have you seen for instance depicting cookware or food items?

Wallpaper © Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, Middlesex University – photographed by Felicity Ford

Why not create an audible equivalent? It might be confusing to distinguish between the recorded sound of the toaster and the actual sound of the toaster, but maybe this is part of the domestic play and creativity inherent in the idea of Sonic Wallpaper. Perhaps it will be possible in the future to buy Sonic Kitchen Wallpaper featuring - as Tom suggests - the sounds of slicing, dicing, bubbling, boiling, and perhaps the merry whistling of a contented chef. Or perhaps my own favourite kitchen sound - the climactic bubbling of the stove top espresso-maker.

Italian stove-top coffee maker (mp3)

Echoing the delicate soundscape of Mikal's imagined Sonic Wallpaper, Emmylou described how some of her favourite sounds involve rain;

I like the sound of rain; on tents or on my glass skylights, especially in the dark and warm. It also smells good so that is an added bonus.

Rain on a tent (mp3)

Emmylou also raised some important points about how the context in which we hear sounds is a huge factor in how we experience them. Discussing a motorcyclist who travels around the Reading IDR very fast late at night, she mentions how the sound - in her words a good noise - induces a feeling of panic in her when she hears it in the context of the late night, dangerous driving. This reminds me of when I interviewed Motor cyclists at the H Cafe for my radio show about the A4074 road and found that the sound of one's engine is a source of pride and interest to bikers, but that in some other contexts - such as the one Emmylou describes - this same sound has different, darker connotations.

bikers at the HCafe on the A4074 (mp3)

Mark found a very ornate wallpaper featuring monkeys.

...he elaborated on a correspondingly playful and exuberant accompanying soundscape;

sounds of a school playground at lunchtime, the rustling of beasts in the undergrowth, things falling to the pavement from the canopy above.

I like the specificity of lunchtime playground sound - a sound which often drifts across from schools at around midday, and which is filled with excitement, outrage, chattering and squealing. The idea of rustling and things falling to the pavement is also nice - especially if what is falling is fruit. The luscious depictions of fruit in Victorian wallpapers, for instance, have a grandeur and a silence which would be very much undermined by the unserious squelchy noises of a kiwi fruit splatting onto the pavement, or the dull thud of a melon splitting open.

I also enjoyed the brashly militaristic connotations of this other wallpaper chosen by Mark for the Sonic Wallpaper Pinterest board from this blog post on vintage, 1970s wallpaper samples;

before the war - the pipes and drums of the parade, cheering crowds, the buzz of anticipation, clip clop of hooves on cobblestones, orders barked and obeyed in unison, the sounds of control...

It's interesting to me that some of the sounds in that list seem slightly old-fashioned, like the horses' hooves on cobblestones. Perhaps this mirrors in some way the vintagey, old-timey feeling of the visual design of the paper...

Finally I want to thank Chris for this lovely description of the sounds of a rookery;

There is a rookery in the beech trees here. They have their routines but craw time about an hour before sunset when they return home in commuter uproar and later when they are settling down in drowsy conversation are both full of reassuring sound. They seem to like having humans around the place.

The word "craw" is so descriptive of the dark, throaty sounds a crow makes, don't you think?

birds at Ipsden (mp3)

What is especially interesting in Chris's description is the allusion to time. While printed paper wallpaper is static, and while its design does not change, sounds do shift, change and develop over time. Like the crows whose sounds have a distinctive sequence, so too does the rain on a tent; the march of a band; the buttering of a piece of bread; and so on. They are all sequences of events and this leads me to wonder what the timescale of Sonic Wallpaper could/should be. Should rolls be an hour, a week, a day, a month, a year or a minute long? I guess it depends on who is decorating.

Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed already to Sonic Wallpaper!
You can follow the project on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, and if you want to join the Pinterest board, leave a comment here and I will make it possible.

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