Tape cassettes seem are like endangered species: not often seen in the wild and on their way to extinction. Conceptual artist Alyce Santoro has come up with a way to use the tape, appeal to fashion and create a whole new way of making music at the same time.
She mixed strips of the old 1/8-inch audio tape with polyester fibers to create a material called “sonic fabric.” The tape and polyester are woven together on a loom — fittingly, older technology seems to work better on audio tape. The audio tape retains its magnetization, which means it can play sounds. The tape, Santoro told DNews, is actually new — it comes from a company that makes audiobooks.
“Hearing” the fabric requires running a cassette player’s tape heads across the clothing. The tape heads pick up the patterns of the magnetic fields on the tape and makes a sound. The original recording cannot be heard because the tape has been woven in with other material. Instead, one hears a kind of warbling tone.
Santoro didn’t stop there. She posted a YouTube video that shows how to take apart an old Sony Walkman and make it into a player. (It involves detaching the tape head and inserting a piece of wood under the “play” button, so the head faces outward). One design on her website even has the Walkman built into a glove, which would “play” the clothes as the wearer runs her hands across them. In 2003 she made a “percussion suit” for Jon Fishman, of the band Phish, who played it at one of the band’s live shows.
Then there’s putting specific sounds on the tape. Rather than deal with the randomness of salvaged cassettes, Santoro designed fabrics that have specific tones recorded on them, such as 131.6 hertz, or C-sharp.
Fashion, recycling, and a little 80s nostalgia – you can’t beat that.
Credit: Photo courtesy Alysa Santoro