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I Can't Hear You Over That Dress
By ANDREW ADAM NEWMAN
Published: May 1, 2005
This fabric is loud. Not 70's-necktie loud - literally loud. Sonic Fabric, a 50-50 blend of cotton and cassette tape, is the brainchild of Alyce Santoro, a conceptual artist who thinks big, chewy thoughts in her Brooklyn studio. Ms. Santoro first wove the shimmery cloth on a loom several years ago, blending cotton with recorded cassette tapes of her high school punk band, of Jack Kerouac's voice, of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony and more. "It was just a conceptual art piece at first," she said. "It was about the 'fabric of the universe,' of having Allen Ginsberg reading next to Tibetan monks chanting next to the Beatles."
It didn't occur to Ms. Santoro that those concepts might be made audible again. But one day when she showed her creation to another artist, he whisked her to a store to buy a cassette Walkman. He unscrewed the tape head, glued it to the outside of the Walkman and moved it along the fabric. Out came a sound. Though unintelligible - a low hum like a whale cry - it was "magical," Ms. Santoro said.
Profitable, too, she hopes: the fabric of the universe is now being mass-produced. Ms. Santoro buys huge spools of blank Maxell tape and has her latest sound sampler - which includes the likes of Bjork, crickets and Tibetan monks chanting - transferred onto the spools at a Long Island duplication studio. Then the tape is woven with cotton at a Rhode Island mill and shipped to Nepal, where a Tibetan women's craft cooperative uses the fabric to make bags of Ms. Santoro's design, a hybrid of satchels carried by Tibetan monks and New York bike messengers. They're currently sold at Flirt and 3r Living in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and NY Artificial in the West Village. She's also had product placement: at a Phish concert in Las Vegas last year, the drummer John Fishman donned a sonic fabric dress and gloves with tape heads sewn into them. Mr. Fishman "played" his dress, working the audience of 20,000 into a frenzy.
The dress was recently displayed in a Massachusetts museum, pleasing Ms. Santoro, who still considers herself more artist than designer. "I'm treating it like an art project, not really like a business," she said. "Which is why I only have $300 in my bank account."