Sonic Loom

Audiotape is the unlikely raw material for a new contract textile.

The poor cassette tape. Ubiquitous in the 1980s, it now seems destined for the audio dustbin. But while it lacks the precision of the CD or the old-school cachet of the LP, there is still something endearingly scrappy about the cassette: cheap, durable, and infinitely rerecordable with a warm, analog tone—the perfect vehicle for the millions of heartfelt, homey mix tapes it spawned.

A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Alyce Santoro began collecting cassettes ten years ago for a different sort of homemade collage, unspooling the brown or black tape and knitting it into small items such as pot holders. A friend suggested she try a nearby mill for more professional results, and soon Santoro had two large sheets—half audiotape and half cotton—for a conceptual art piece. “I had no idea that the fabric was actually going to be audible,” Santoro says. “That wasn’t part of my plan. All I cared about was that it contained a lot of sound; I wanted it to be about stored memory.” But by rigging a Walkman so the tape head could be dragged across the textile, she discovered that it was possible to hear the sounds recorded on the strands of tape—albeit in scrambled, disjointed pieces. “It sounds like you’re scratching a record backward,” she says.

The manufacturer Designtex is unveiling Sonic—a contract textile made of 49 percent reclaimed audiotape and 51 percent recycled polyester—at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair this month. Available in five colors, it is extremely durable, with a sparkly sheen and a surprisingly soft feel. It’s playable, too: the strands of cassette tape contain a custom collage by Santoro with sounds she recorded on a recent tour of New York City. “It is going to be more of a specialty textile,” Designtex marketing coordinator Cherie Davis predicts, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Although the novelty of listening to the snippets is short-lived (it really does sound like someone scratching a record backward, over and over and over) the textile is a great conversation piece. And the use of entirely reclaimed and recycled materials makes it a noteworthy product regardless of its audio qualities.

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