Not your typical bling: The story of Audiowear
On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I discovered something called Audiowear — a new class of jewelry for fashion and for the studio. The husband and wife team of Arjen Noordeman and Christie Wright, founders of the Amsterdam-based company Elasticbrand, designed the collection that functions as usable musical instruments.
In short, Audiowear is a line of wearable, ceramic jewelry shaped in the form of instruments. More interestingly, the jewelry pieces were designed to create sound and can be played just like the full-sized counterparts they replicate. What started as an idea in a ceramic workshop became a real-life venture that has produced a recorded album using the pieces.
I interviewed Noordeman and Wright via email about their Audiowear project and what inspired the collection, as well as the “Audiowear LP” album.
The idea for Audiowear arose during a CAD/CAM (computer aided design and computer aided manufacturing) residency the two participated in at the European Ceramic Work Center in Den Bosch, Netherlands. According to Noordeman and Wright, “We wanted to create a project that was both wearable and inspired by one of the senses.”
“In the past, Christie had created a project called ‘Therapeutic Armor’ at the EKWC. That was also wearable and appealed to other senses, namely touch and scent,” says Noordeman. From these thoughts and experiences Noordeman and Wright went on to further develop their ideas into an actual product.
Noordeman and Wright describe the design process of Audiowear thusly:
“We first designed the pieces in [Adobe] Illustrator, then hired someone to model them in Rhino 3D software. Once we arrived at the European Ceramic Work Center artist residency in Den Bosch we were able to print the models out on a 3D printer that builds the models up from a plaster powder. With the positive prototypes in hand, we made plaster molds so that we could cast the pieces in porcelain. Some had to be built up out of several separate pieces that were joined by hand in what is called the leather-hard stage of the clay, [which is] when it is still rubbery and not completely dried out yet. After drying it completely it was fired in a kiln. A few pieces were glazed and detailed with gold luster.”
The Audiowear collection consists of a horn bracelet, pan-flute collar, xylophone bracelets in five different sizes and colors (the colors were applied by pigmenting the clay, so it is not only on the surface), guiro (rasp), cuff with thimble in black pigmented porcelain, whistle necklace with whistles in five different sizes with each one having a different sound.
Noordeman and Wright both lived in the U.S. for a period of time, residing in Brooklyn for seven years. They later moved to the Netherlands where Noordeman is originally from. Wright has a passion for ceramics and Noordeman has an interest in hip-hop music.
After the Audiowear pieces had been completed Noordeman and Wright came up with the idea to use the jewelry pieces to record a feature-length hip-hop album. They were able to connect with artists in the United States who took interest in their project and were willing to collaborate on the recording of studio tracks. Because they live in Amsterdam much of the communication between Noordeman, Wright and the artists took place over the Internet.
“We managed the process entirely via the Internet,” explains the couple. “Most of the artists we invited are located in the New York and Connecticut areas because that is where we last lived. We have most of our collaborators and contacts there.”
The artists were given a collection of sound samples that Noordeman recorded himself. From those samples producers and artists were able to create track-length beats which would become songs featured on the album.
“It made sense to work with DJs and hip-hop musicians because they are accustomed to making music that is sample based,” says Noordeman. Michael Hearst of the Brooklyn-based band One Ring Zero was provided with actual pieces of Audiowear to create a composition himself. In addition to Hearst, Skooby Laposky (aka Pocketknife) of Brooklyn was also heavily involved in the recording of the album.
Since the recording of the album Noordeman and Wright have been arranging a series of events to promote the Audiowear album and collection. This past September they held a concert at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City where artists had the opportunity to come together and perform the songs they collaborated on over the internet. At that time the museum announced their intent to acquire the complete set of Audiowear pieces for their collection. A second concert took place at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Michigan in October 2011.
Beginning in November Noordeman and Wright plan to release a series of 10 music videos for songs featured on the Audiowear album. They anticipate releasing one video each month. The videos “will feature the performing artists that we shot on green screen, as well as breakdancers and of course, the Audiowear instruments being played,” say Noordeman and Wright.
“Projects like these are put together by a lot of generous and talented creative individuals,” the duo says. “It costs a lot of blood, sweat, tears and of course money to make art, record music, put out a vinyl record, put on concerts and more. We do it because we love it and because we love bringing people together to make unexpected connections and inspire people. While it is not a profitable enterprise, purchasing the album does support future cross-disciplinary creative efforts like this.”