Some Parallels in Textiles and Composition

6.3 / Dimensions: Expanded Measures of Textiles

Some Parallels in Textiles and Composition

By Rebecca Gates February 26, 2015

A sweater pulled overhead, brushing the ears, both muffling sounds and creating a gentle cacophony. The highly rhythmic rattle of a textile mill in operation, any time from the height of the Industrial Revolution to the present. The meditative tempo—to and fro, clicks and clacks—of a loom beater in motion.

Rode DeadCat VMP Wind Muff for VideoMic Pro 

When one considers the relationship of sound to textiles, one’s focus can shift scales, from the sound of fabric moving over skin to wearable sound-producing technology; from the unruly knit of an artificial fur Deadcat windscreen damping the impact of wind on a microphone to the simple fabric covering a loudspeaker emitting sounds at great volume.

Ever present, sound has only in the last century been framed in terms of art and its vocabulary, its sensory and expository qualities explored and incorporated in contemporary art works and theory. As the discipline of sound art develops and becomes more common, artists, including those working in textiles, are exploring ways to relate to and collaborate with sound.

Vox amp. Photo: Rebecca Gates


In Nobuho Nagasawa’s Water Weaving Light Cycle, sound accompanies a woven work of optical fiber, the audio treated as material equal to the light, a facet of the experience, with prerecorded sounds. Both the illumination of the fiber and the timing of the sound are controlled by data based on current weather conditions, as reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Nobuho Nagasawa, Water Weaving Light Cycle at Seattle City Hall, 2010. Courtesy of the Artist.


The Texas--based artist Alyce Santoro makes sound-producing material by weaving cassette tape into polyester, incorporating conductive thread into garments. A sonic fabric reader passed over the completed fabric, and perhaps in the final form of a tie or dress, activates bits of the sound originally recorded on the tape. This fusion, of sounds literally woven into a material object and then broadcast, was inspired by Santoro's investigation of Buddhism, quantum physics, and vibrations as foundational components of our universe.

A virtual studio visit with intermedia artist Alyce Santoro where she presents her "sonic fabric" (2010).

The fashion technologist Sabine Seymour expands on Santoro’s work by developing articles of clothing and accessories for the analog and digital production of sound across disciplines. Her company Moondial works with clients to develop wearable functional products that span the practices of fashion and science.

Fashion technologist and guest curator Sabine Seymour is presenting works by Alyce Santoro (Sonic Fabric, 2007), Tatiana Krupinina (Russia: A nation of miracle believers, 2013) and Smart Textile Design Lab / Mika Satomi, Barbro Scholz and Linda Worbin (Textile Resistance, 2011) as part of MAK Fashion Lab #01. © MAK 2013


Kelly Ruth integrates textile and sound production by inserting microphones into her loom. Her use of contact microphones, which transduce sound from an object (as opposed to traditional microphones, which transduce sound via airborne vibrations), render the loom an instrument and her duet with the cello a peer-to-peer performance.

Kelly Ruth, Loom Sounds, 2014; A collection of sounds created from the weaving loom, recorded and played through loop pedals. Courtesy of the Artist.

In 2011, while in residence at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Oregon, Christy Matson, created a length of cloth in response to 1960s weavings by the artist Laurie Herrick.Matson wove in public, amid a retrospective of Herrick's works, in a combined open studio and performance environment that referred to call-and-response patterns. Matson explored connections between time-based operations and handwork, performance and object forms, and shifts in perspective in intergenerational craft knowledge.

Christy Matson's Movements (2008) at The International Sculpture Center, Hamilton. Courtesy of the Artist.


A persistent discussion in the sound-maker community is the definition of sound versus music. When is audio sound? When is it music? Should anyone care about these semantic differences, and if so, why? How does delineating them inform one’s practice?

Textile artists are exploring sound (or is it music?) as an essential element or byproduct of their production. Some of those artists incorporate musical modes as they expand the opportunities afforded by fiber-based equipment and practice. The use of textile processes in the composition of sound is less pervasive. Both idioms are time- and space-based; is there a relative paradigm to investigate in the music world? What fiber-based processes do sound makers use or might explore as templates for composition?

Left: Loom warp. Courtesy of Seth Golub; Right: Golden sine wave. Courtesy of Andrew Mason; Both images licensed under CC BY 2.0


In music, hocket is the medieval compositional technique of using interlocking notes, generated by two or more sound sources, to create a single part: the human or instrumental voices are structured so that as one voice sounds, the other rests, and the individual tones join together to form a melody line. This now-rare form of composition is not influenced by a textile process, but it bears a striking resemblance to weaving’s use of warp and weft to create a single object.

Music of the African Mbuti tribes is noted for a variety of complex vocal arrangements. In the “Alima Girl’s Ceremony Song,” each singer is responsible for one note and voices it at a specific moment.

"First song of the Alima, the women's society" by a group of Mbuti women, one of several indigenous pygmy groups in the Congo region of Africa.

The songwriter David Longstreth, of the band Dirty Projectors, studied classical music and incorporates compositional and arrangement techniques from all musical genres and geographies into his albums. Hocket is a component of several of his songs.

David Longstreth of The Dirty Projectors demonstrates the process of 'hocketing' at Walker Art Center, 2009.


The designer Zsanett Szirmay and the musician Bálint Tárkány-Kovács were inspired by Jacquard-loom cards to make music-box bands and scores based on Hungarian textile designs. 

Zsanett Szirmay and Bálint Tárkány-Kovács, melodies from soundweaving, 2014. Courtesy of the Artists. 

As cross-disciplinary and cross-medium explorations flourish, there is great potential for new compositional and production techniques. Art forms using tools to explore and represent community, space, and storytelling offer points of entry to influence new modes of making.

Amid such resonance, will the depth and awareness of a discipline’s history, the integrity of each practice, be honored? Will artists using the elements of sound and music find a way to not only inspire but also revise and reinvent their own processes based on the constructs of other creative disciplines?


  1. “Weaving Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” Untitled, Pacific Northwest College of Art online magazine,

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