Monday, 26 March 2012

Listening at Cole & Sons

A few weeks ago I posted about an amazing video featuring a William Morris wallpaper design being printed in the traditional way - using woodblocks - at the Cole & Sons Wallpaper factory. The video I found is apparently no longer available on the Internet, but here is another video featuring Cole & Sons wallpaper:



The original video I found was silent and this video - as you'll notice - has laid background music and a descriptive narrative over the top of the sounds of wallpaper being created. I specifically wanted to document the sounds of wallpaper being made, in order to create some of my Sonic Wallpaper designs. The reason for this is that several people whom I interviewed about the MoDA wallpaper collection speculated on how certain designs had been made. There is also an exciting aspect of recording at Cole & Sons, which is the very real links between MoDA's collection of wallpapers, and the factory itself, which did in fact produce several of the historic designs now held in the collection. You can read about them here!

I hoped that in recording the sounds of wallpaper being made, I might sonically expand on both the history of wallpaper, and people's musings on its fabrication. To this end I went to the Cole & Sons Wallpaper Factory with my Audio Technica BP4029 stereo shotgun mic, (+ mic stand) an AKG C411 contact microphone, a pair of SP-TFB-2 - Sound Professionals - Low Noise In-Ear Binaural Microphones, an Edirol R-09 and a FOSTEX FR-2LE.

This is what I heard...

...#1 gloopy wallpaper ink being scooped into a bucket, ready to be poured into the printing machine...





...#2 the sound of the base-layer printing machine, which uses an airblade to remove any excess ink, so that the wallpaper receives a completely even, fine-coating of ink...





...#3 sticks and a rotating chain lifting the paper up at even intervals, to hang a continuous length of paper in big loops in a drying chamber (if you listen carefully you can hear the slide of the paper as the chain/stick mechanism lift it up).





...#4 sounds of colour-matching for a screenprinted design. You can hear a small piece of paper being cut out with scissors; the sound of the vacuum pump on the screenprinting press in operation; and the sounds of a hair-dryer being used to swiftly dry the ink, so that the sample may be held up against an original for comparison...





...#5 the sounds of mixing up solvent-based inks, which are kept in tin containers and which sound surprisingly different, being mixed, to water-based inks...



...#6 the sounds of a printing press idling, while it awaits a wash following a big printing job...



...#7 the sounds of the screenprinting press in operation. You can hear the metal frame with the screen held in it being bought down onto the paper; then the haul of the squeegee across the screen to distribute the ink; then a pause while the printer registers the print and moves the paper onwards (leaving a space to print another repeat of the design after the first layer of ink is dry); then the process repeating again. What I love about this recording is the sense of rhythms and timings. The printer takes almost exactly the same amount of time to register the paper between each print - such is the nature of practised expertise...



...#8 the sounds of rolling the wallpaper up into a roll, once it has been printed with a base-layer of ink...





...#9 (my favourite sound recording of the day) the sounds of testing out and preparing an overprint using a cylindrical, rubber print-block. I attached a contact microphone to this machine, and you can hear the mechanisms inside, and the slowing and the stopping and the resuming as the Design Studio Team at Cole & Sons study their preliminary print, testing the colours and seeing how it prints out as compared to the original design.





...so you have heard here some of the principal sounds associated with the production of this wallpaper, and the screen-printed design shown earlier in the post. Did the production of these papers sound as you would have expected? And next time you look at a wallpaper design will you regard it differently, wondering what sounds were associated with its production?



Thanks so much to Cole & Sons for allowing me to document some of the sounds of wallpaper being created... it was very inspiring to explore how noisy the creation of something as supposedly "quiet" as wallpaper can be.

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