Sonic Fashion Library
Sonic Fashion Library is an educational digital tool that consists of 400 sound records of various fashion items
Sonic Fashion Library (SFL) is a part of the doctoral research practice Wearing Sound: Foundations of Sonic Design (2020). SFL consists of 400 sound records of various fashion items: fabrics, materials, clothing, accessory, footwear, and ensembles. You are invited to explore the fashion from a sonic perspective via digital platform here.
Although identity in fashion is visually dominated, sound adds another layer and can be considered to be another part of the construct of the self. If you close your eyes you can hear people talking, breathing, walking, etc. Fashion also comes into play: the bouncing of metal bracelets is audible as an arm moves, as are the zipping or unzipping of a synthetic sports jacket, electrostatic rasp of someone taking off a knitted sweater during winter, and clacking of high heels and squeaking of sneakers. The steps of individual people are even identifiable aurally due to their gait. As sonic objects that we “wear” everyday, mobile phones add various sounds to our sonic identity, e.g. those of communication tools (Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc.), each of which utilizes a unique sound for a new message, a call, hanging up, etc. Thus, we are emitting the sonic composition of this ensemble of wear and it is an extension of the sonic self within the social-cultural context (Bull and Cobussen, 2020).
We seldom think about the ‘voice’ of materials and garments, and yet the diversity of their sonic expressions is unique and inspiring. The sonic expressions created by brushing, rubbing, tearing, rustling, caressing, and so on fabrics provide a rich sound world that is capable of focusing our ear on a deep level of attention to detail
(Beilharz and Vande Moere, 2008). “The squeaking of silk, the crackling of faille, the rubbing of wool, the purring of velvet, without mentioning the tinkling of embroideries are all different sounds made by fabrics, in movement” (Ibid., p. 112). Yvon Marciano’s feature film Le Cri de la Soie (1995), depicts the noise of silk as it moves and tears, treating the subject in an erotic way by paralleling the tearing of cloth with the tearing of skin (Ibid.). Another example is the movie Play Time (1967), directed by Jacques Tati, in which we find many instances of amplified sounds of body-material interactions. Therefore, the investigation into sonic expressions began with this potentially interesting area of material exploration. The strategy was to start by considering sound as a single element, meaning that sonic expressions were not layered or dominated by several other sounds. This would have been the case if the explorations had begun with clothing, which generally consists of several different materials and sonic expressions.
The study of sonic expressions is presented through four sound recording sessions and one workshop. The complexity of sound was investigated within the deconstruction process: deconstructing the outfit into a single element—material. Sound recording session 1 analysed material sounds and explored sound as a single and complex element. Sound recording sessions 2 and 3 introduced the investigation of sounds of dress, and analysed sound as a single composition. Sound recording session 4 and the workshop explored the sounds of different clothing objects—ensembles—as complex compositions. The analysis of these acts generates the foundational definitions of sonic expression.
sound recording session 1
During the first recording session, sound was investigated as a single element by recording fabrics and other materials, such as fastenings, linings, and decorative elements at the Auditory sound studio. The material exploration was broadened during the investigation of the spatiality of sound, which was undertaken using a special setup. The sonic expressions of objects were investigated with regard to different interactions, including touching the material with the hand (body-material) and rubbing it against itself (material-material). These two interactions, which are common body-dress interactions, were chosen for later comparisons of sonic expressions. A supplementary investigation with rubber bands facilitated the study of the rhythm and tempo of the interactions. The investigation with zippers and bells deepened the knowledge of the relationship between shape, size, and length, and their influence on the overall sonic expression of a material. The selection of recorded objects was based on differences regarding sound expression. Each recording was 20–40 seconds; these were later edited down to 10-second clips of the most signifying, unique sound.
The recording of the sound of fabrics involved two primary steps: (a) body-fabric interaction, i.e. a hand touching a fabric and (b) fabric-fabric interaction, i.e. when a fabric is rubbed against itself. These two moving-touching modes reflect everyday body-dress interactions. The sounds of other materials (fastenings, lining elements) were recorded while enacting fastening and unfastening interactions.
The method for recording a surrounding sound involved ‘broader’ movement around the dummy head in different directions: up, down, left, right, above, and below. The idea of ‘moving sound’ and its spatiality was demonstrated by the bell attached to the stick. The movement was recorded at fast, medium, and slow tempos.
Recording process: investigating the spatiality of sound. Setup for recording the surrounding sounds: a dummy head, Soundman OKM II Classic Studio binaural microphones, stand for the dummy head. Photo by Lars Wignell
Recording session 1: recording different sounds of materials and fastenings
sound recording sessions 2&3
Sound recording sessions 2 and 3 were intended to investigate the individual sounds of fashion items, such as clothing, accessories, and footwear as a single sonic composition. The main archives for fashion items were the Teaterkunst (Germany) and Textile Museum (Sweden). In total 350 different fashion items were recorded and analyzed.
Tools for recording an object on the body: elastic belt, binaural microphones, transmitters, windscreen
Recording process of clothing: attaching microphones on the body; dressing, wearing, and undressing.
Photo by Lars Wignell
Examples from the sound recording sessions: recording different fashion items
sound recording session 4
Sound as a complex sonic composition was explored in relation to combinations of different items of dress, i.e. ensembles within the sound recording session 4. Examples of an ensemble include a commonly used combination of a dress and a jacket, a sports outfit, a set of work clothes, etc. In total of 190 sounds as complex composition were recorded, analyzed, and later arranged into sonic categories.
Examples from the sound recording sessions: recording several fashion items – ordinary ensembles
SFL - digital educational platform
The Sonic Fashion Library consists of a collection of sound recordings of various items — in total, 400 sound records: materials, clothing, accessories, footwear, and ensembles. The start page of the website (www.sonicfashion.se) consists of a collection of sound recordings, the audio files of which can be played by clicking on the “play” icon. Two main actions were designed: (i) listen and (ii) see. With the first click, the visitor is able to listen to the sound; with the second, the photo documentation of the recorded item appears, which shows the categories/subcategories assigned to that particular item). Sonic expressions can be searched for using the search window, category library, and category tree. The category library sorts sonic expressions alphabetically and the category tree organizes categories into a hierarchical structure. The platform Sonic Fashion Library (SFL) could be used as a learning and teaching tool in fashion design education. As well, it is useful as a method for revising fashion from a sonic prism, for understanding fashion not just as purely visual but as a construct of multi-sensory expressions and “dressed atmospheres” (Chong Kwan, 2020).
The overview of a digital platform sonic fashion library that consists of 400 sounds. Screenshot of the main page
related publications & exhibitions
Wearing Sound: Foundations of Sonic Design (Doctoral Thesis)
Listening to clothing: from sonic fashion archive to sonic fashion library (The Senses & Society, journal article)
SFL Radio (Alternative Fashion Radio)
Sound to Wear (sound records) at the Textile Museum of Sweden, Borås,
24 September 2020 - 10 January 2021
Sonic Somatic (sound recordings) at Everything and everybody as material: beyond fashion design methods, the Textile Museum of Sweden, Borås, 7-9 June 2017
Sonic Fashion Library at the Future Ways of Wearing. Wearing Sound (sound recordings), designtransfer, Berlin,
9 December 2016