Artistic License

What Does a Tapestry Sound Like?

A new Houston Center for Contemporary Craft exhibit considers the sonic qualities of visual art.

By Cara Maines August 11, 2017

Glass tubes 3 k6ryrp

Bohyun Yoon's glass tubes emit low sounds at a variety of tones, reminiscent of an organ.

A pair of white headphones sits next to each work in The Sound of Things, a new exhibit at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. This exhibit isn’t just about looking at art. It’s about listening—and experiencing art in all its different facets.

The Sound of Things features art from Bohyun Yoon and Alyce Santoro, who work with different media. Yoon’s glasswork series consists of delicate hand-blown glass helmets, tubes, and bowls, while Santoro’s series, Sonic Fabric, includes tapestries woven from gleaming black cassette tape. What both series have in common is that they are not just meant to be observed, but fully experienced; the already three-dimensional works of art take on a fourth dimension with the introduction of sound.

Yoon’s glass vessels are reminiscent of wind instruments. Glass Helmet takes the form of bowls with spouts, intended to be worn on the head. An accompanying video depicts two people wearing the helmets with varying levels of water, which alter the smooth and high-pitched tones.

Yoon was inspired by “singing glasses,” or the phenomenon of creating sounds by wetting a finger and running it along the rim of a glass cup. A different series, Glassorganism, was inspired by historic Japanese popen, which are like wine glasses with a thin glass membrane between the cup and the stem. When blown, the membrane moves back and forth, creating a popping sound.

Yoon’s work is subtle and understated. Glass is something that we use throughout our everyday life, in everything from windows to lenses (and of course cups). When I initially considered one of the questions posed in the introduction to the exhibit, “What does glass sound like?” I was clueless. Yes, glass is breakable, but it can also be used to create instruments with immense depth and fortitude.

In contrast to the muted thoughtfulness of Yoon’s series, Santoro’s series is loud and in-your-face—literally. Sonic Fabric consists of giant tapestries that cover the length of the wall, woven on looms from different cassette tapes. The boldest, a shiny black fabric “scroll” dotted with orange circles, was woven from cassette tapes from the personal collection of Jon Fishman, the Phish percussionist. The fabric was made into a suit that Fishman, a personal friend of Santoro’s, wore at a concert in 2003. As with her other tapestries, the magnetic properties of the tape material allow it to be “played” using special gloves, which Fishman actually did in concert.

Tapestries tv4lnl

Alyce Santoro's tapestries are woven from cassette tapes, a process which she described in one interview as surprisingly easy.

Santoro literally weaves music into her art. The medium of the cassette tape itself does this, as does her other technique, weaving in bands of colors that correspond to a musical score. She converted the sound wavelengths to light wavelengths, which are depicted through the colored bands in two of her other tapestries. As with the other, these can be played using her gloves. A brown tapestry was developed using the sounds of New York, which Santoro recorded in the city over five years. Gritty city life comes through in the recording, which sounds like gurgling water and occasional screeching notes that turn into a more musical score after a while.

Glass and tapestry are an unlikely pairing for an art exhibit, but somehow, they complement each other. They take on totally different qualities in both appearance and tone, but both force you to use your imagination and think beyond the traditional bounds of visual art. As you leave, you can't help but notice random objects and wonder: What would that sound like?

The Sound of Things, thru Oct. 18. Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main St. 713-529-4848. More info at

Show Comments