The Sound Of Wool

By Joana Sousa Lara

Have you ever asked yourself how wool sounds like? What if we told you that you can make music with it? You’ve heard here first: Textiles, fibres, some wood and two sets of five knobs. That’s all you’ll need. One thing is guaranteed: The music’s 100% synthetically made. Save your best wool knit because we’re in for one ‘hell-of-a’ ride. Read more on The Sound Of Wool.

We instinctively understand instruments, like the human voice, that produce sounds. These notes created are the sounds that have a specific pitch. These are when combined, what forms rhythm and melody. Alongside a beat, these make the foundation of all music, once divided into time units.

Composers and musicians gather beats together, decide how long each beat should be, and use accents to emphasize some of them. This establishes the fundamental rhythm of a piece of music.

A melody or tune is created by arranging differently pitched notes one after the other. Basic melodies are made up of a few notes, whereas complex melodies are made up of many different notes, rhythms, and harmonies.

We think usually of sound as something natural, organic and part of where nature meets man-made, yet we now live in a world that increasingly depends on AI technology and algorithms. Music has also been influenced by this evolution. According to TIME, these fields go far back together:

 “In the 90s, David Bowie started playing around with a digital lyric randomizer for inspiration. At the same time, a music theory professor trained a computer program to write new compositions in the style of Bach; when an audience listened to its work next to a genuine Bach piece, they couldn’t tell them apart.

But, ultimately, the million-pound question is: How can Humans make music through Artificial Intelligence?

This interesting intersection between man-made and artificial music is explored below:

Nicoletta Favari, a pianist, and Christopher Salvito, a percussionist, make up Passepartout Duo. The duo’s ongoing travel around the world informs the multi-disciplinary collaborations, instrumental compositions, and evocative music videos that encompass their body of work, resulting in music that defies categorization.

Vis-à-Vis, the group’s 2020 LP, includes compositions written for compact handmade instruments that preceded the duo on a month-long train route across Central Asia. The musical instruments were created during a residency at the Embassy of Foreign Artists in 2019. The album was finished during a residency at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in 2019/2020. 

The group has also emerged at prestigious music festivals such as the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (UK), the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival (US), the Festival de La Habana de Msica Contemporánea (CU), and the Sounding Now Festival (SG). In addition, the duo received an ensemble endowment at Eighth Blackbird’s inaugural Creative Lab in 2017.

As American Lake Champlain Weekly’s Benjamin Pomerance put it, the Passepartout Duo are “two people proving over and over again that artistry exists without barriers of any form. The common expectations for a pianist and a percussionist playing truly contemporary duets fit a particular stereotype, one that the duo shatters daily with modern music that is globalized and far-reaching and provocative and, yes, even beautiful.”

By questioning the prospect of what a musical instrument can be, the duo took further the various suggestions and inspirations given by the many textile artists that they met along the way. This concoction of ideas made them create an ensemble of three ingenious masterpieces:

Oto

Oto is the name given to two small needle felted wool synthesizers. The inventors took creative control of every aspect of the musical process through a process they’ve dubbed ‘slow music’. Most of the time, this begins with the development of their own instruments.

This synth belongs to our research on e-textiles, and a particular attention was put in the choice of the fibre materials: the wool was donated by a local shepherd.”

The player shapes the sound by connecting various parts of the circuit with conductive-thread pin cables that push into specific nodes in the fibres. The instrument can also receive MIDI from a keyboard or computer, and it has two primary audio outputs.

The acrylic rods serve two purposes: they either illuminate to indicate different signals on the instrument or they can be turned to change parameters in various parts of the circuit.

Fuzzy Synth

Fuzzy Synth is a project that arose from a desire to create something similar to the electronic musical instruments we used as an ensemble daily.

This instrument, covered in textiles and fibres, transports the performer to an imaginary landscape in which the act of patching and playing is connected to the natural ecosystem hinted at by textile art.

“The instruments were realized with the support of the fashion company JNBY, and textile materials were provided to us from their FabLab in Hangzhou.”

Made from wood, electronic components, acrylic, and wool fibres, there were some doubts about its efficiency and functionality. The ideal instrument would be more minimal, perhaps less practical, but it would motivate them to be more imaginative every time they addressed it.

Liminaphone

The Liminaphone is an electronic instrument developed alongside with Passepartout Duo’s Fuzzy Synth project. The instrument was inspired by the question, “How can we make percussion speak synthesizer language?”

The Liminaphone was realized with the support of the fashion company JNBY, and textile materials were provided to us from their FabLab in Hangzhou.

Made from wood, electronic components, acrylic, and wool, it converts the signals from five contact microphones into the envelope, gate, and control voltage signals required to change the sound of the synthesizer.

When a contact microphone is activated, two sets of five knobs allow the performer to select specific voltages to send pitches or other parameters to the synthesizer.

In their most recent album, Daylighting, Passepartout Duo explore more of the imaginary landscapes and organisms by the instruments they’ve built.

The two musicians’ usual set of small portable percussion is accompanied by a new suite of electronic inventions that functionally blend textiles and synthesizer circuits. These peculiar machines aesthetically recall imaginary scenarios compared to their journey to China’s Meili Snow Mountains, which inspired the album’s seven tracks.

The cassette design summarizes the endeavour as a whole, together with machine-generated structures, weaving geometries, and visual illusions, all diluted into the risograph’s soy-based inks. Each cassette tape comes with a five-fold insert with a two-colour risograph print, limited to 150 copies.

The album is set to be released on the 25th of June on AnyOne, the Chinese record label established by Yannis Zhang and Yumo Wu and designed by Passepartout Duo.

The album Daylighting is available for pre-order through Passepartout Duo’s Bandcamp page.

More information about the release is available here.

If you enjoyed reading The Sound of Wool, then why not read Artificially Built.