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Sonic Silhouettes

Sonic Silhouettes is an experimental research investigation on possible sonic identities

gloves on feet.JPG

sonic identity

This experimental research investigation on possible sonic silhouettes is one of the research activities of the doctoral research Wearing Sound: Foundations of Sonic Design (2020). Sounds are part of the personal and the individual, as well as social and collective activities; as Jean-Luc Nancy puts it, “being singular plural” (Nancy, 2000, p. 28), “being-with-one-another” (Ibid., p. 50). “Sonic commons” (Auinger and Odland, 2009, p. 64) have been theorised in the field of sonic identities and fashion; in this way, sonic expression can be seen as a cultural practice that relates to the identities of individuals and groups, i.e. (sub)cultures.

The character of a “sonic persona” (Schulze, 2018, p. 111) is mainly dependent on its particular cultural and historical significance, which is sonically embodied in one’s auditory appearance: sonic acts, performances, roles, and masks. “This audible embodiment stores the emanations radiating from one’s highly idiosyncratic, one’s individual, biographical, and instantaneous sensory constitution” (Schulze, 2018, p. 123). Different identities involve different behaviours—‘sonic dominance’ when one is very loud, ‘sonic resistance’ when blocking/reflecting back sounds, ‘sonic camouflaging’ as ‘self-erasure’, i.e. being ‘muted’ or silent in a social space. Various other behaviours can evolve when thinking of sound-based self-expression.


Sonic expressions differ from visual ones; underwear (the loudly squeaking plastic details of a bra), for example, became a dominant sound in terms of the overall sonic silhouette. Fur is considered to be outstanding or expressive in visual language, but in sonic terms is silent and boring. What is an auditory extravaganza, a ‘sonic fur’?


Wearing a sheep bell or cat collar with a bell on a human body questions its identity. These sounds signify other bodies that are embodied by the sound of the bell, and the identities merge into one ‘sonic marker’. The mixing of various identical sonic markers makes for an interesting new sonic assemblage—the sonic silhouette—which combines several sonic expressions with different meanings. What sonic identities could there be? Auditory extravaganza, an avant-garde tribal cat, modest asymmetry, a jazzy sport, a disco swimmer?..

sonic silhouettes

The shift from the textile field to the fashion field—from functional sounds to sonic identity—opens up a complex area of design choices regarding sonic expression. The experiment that focused on possible sonic identities and behaviours is presented within the styling sets. Each set was selected based on the different expressions relating to sonic identity. The sonic compilations were styled into one merged sonic silhouette, and are accompanied by sonic notation—visualised ‘translations’ of sonic events. They represent the spacing aspect of sonic expression, while the sound recordings provide the timing aspect and present the source of the sound—the sonic expression itself.

Each styling sketch took place over the course of approximately 20 seconds, and involved an act of wearing. The aim was to open up for sound-based thinking regarding sonic identity, and so these sketches should be considered to be idea-generators rather than finished, concrete suggestions.

Sonic silhouette 1


Sonic silhouette 2


Sonic silhouette 3


Sonic silhouette 4

00:00 / 00:20
00:00 / 00:15
00:00 / 00:43
00:00 / 00:14

Sonic silhouette 5

00:00 / 00:12

Sonic silhouette 6

00:00 / 00:16

Sonic silhouette 7


Sonic silhouette 8

00:00 / 00:18
00:00 / 00:21

Sonic silhouette 9


Sonic silhouette 10

00:00 / 00:19
00:00 / 00:29

sonic translations: notations & verbal compounds

Silhouettes are generally understood to be visual representations of ‘merging shapes’. The silhouette is used as a metaphor for sonic expression to present the moving dressed body enveloped by sound. Visual and sonic silhouettes are contrasting in their representation—one is visual and static, and the other non-visual and

time-based. When exploring sonic expressions, I tend to use the ‘translation’ method—a visual ‘body map’/

‘soma-map’. These can be found in the practice of somaesthetics (Tsaknaki et al., 2019; Tennent et al., 2020), which is used to map the experiences and feelings of the body. In this research, the ‘soma-map’ for the experience of sound is based on the variable of space. When a sonic expression is being created around the body, it usually

has a specific location. In the case of a wearing act the sound is expressed primarily through walking; thus,

‘sound clusters’ are situated around the feet and between the arms and legs due to contralateral movements.


This method of ‘translating’ encouraged me to think about a new language in the fashion field that could represent sonic expressions visually wherein the type, intensity, thickness, direction, etc. of a line could be used to identify the character of a sound. This visual translation of a sound event could be considered to be a form of experimental notations, which can be found in the field of experimental music in the form of graphic scores in the works of e.g. Cage (Nyman, 1999), Xenakis (Xenakis et al., 2020), and Stockhausen (Stockhausen, 1963). Another example is the experimental notation used by Laban, who works within somaesthetics in the field of choreography and dance. Laban invented a language of movement that is presented in the form of experimental notations (Von Laban, 1966; Laban and Ullmann, 1971). The experimental translation in this research was used to ‘map’ the experiences of sonic expressions. These sonic notations could be used as a sonic language for representing sound events visually, as well as an analytical tool to study the characteristic expressions of a dressed body.

Sound is usually defined by verbs because, as is discussed above, it results from an act or event, e.g. rubbing, stretching, or zipping. Adjectives highlight the character of a sound, e.g. ‘dull knocking’, ‘soft squeaks’, or ‘noisy friction’. Therefore, I experimented with verbal translations of sonic expressions, and established experimental definitions—‘verbal compounds’ for describing sonic expression that are combinations of verbs and adjectives, presented in the examples.


The experiments in my research with sonic translations—notations and verbal compounds—serve as an

alternative language for fashion that could complement the developed glossary of sonic language in the field

of fashion design.

Sonic notations

Screenshot 2023-05-19 at 11.35.49.png

Verbal compounds

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Sonic silhouette 1


Sonic silhouette 2


Sonic silhouette 3


Sonic silhouette 4


Sonic silhouette 5


Sonic silhouette 6


Sonic silhouette 7


Sonic silhouette 8


Sonic silhouette 9


Sonic silhouette 10

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