Maker Stories

Inventors Month: The Alyce Santoro Story

August 18, 2010

When I first saw the sonic fabric tie, I knew which uncommon artisan I wanted to talk to for National Inventors Month.  Alyce Santoro makes each sonic tie from prerecorded audio-cassette tapes– and if you’ve got a tape deck handy, you can actually listen to your tie sing. The sonic fabric tie is available for $120 in platinum or onyx black.

Read my interview with Alyce Santoro below

How did you become interested in design?

>> My interest has long been in conveying a sense of the wonder and mystery of the natural world. I have a background in science (marine biology) and scientific illustration, but my “illustrations” sometimes involve sculpture, performance, video, and sound.

I refer to my pieces as Philosoprops.

All of my designs and inventions happen as part of my work as a conceptual artist. I am always striving to create things that help us to become more connected with parts of our world that can’t be seen or touched, but can be sensed in other ways – things like inspiration and intuition. I refer to my pieces as Philosoprops. Most of them have very subtle functions– to transmit or receive brainwaves, or to “tune in” to a rock or tree, for example. Making them actually work often requires a bit of imagination and creativity.

Sonic Fabric: How did you come up with that idea?

>> I grew up racing small sailboats.

In order to be a fast sailor, you need to know exactly where the wind is coming from at all times, and so you use these things called “tell-tales” – little pieces of yarn, feathers, or string attached to the rigging that always point into the wind.

On our boat we used cassette tape because it is very light and sensitive, and because it was easy to keep an old cassette tape handy – any time we needed a new tell-tail, we’d just cut off a piece of tape and tie it to the rigging. As a kid, I used to look up at the tell-tails and imagine that, if the wind hit them just right, I could hear the music that had been recorded onto them – Beethoven or the Beatles, maybe – wafting out into the air.

I set out to weave a fabric that is quite literally made of sound.

Many years later I learned about “prayer flags” used in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Prayer flags are small squares of cotton fabric that have images of mantras, or sacred sounds, printed on them. The idea is that by hanging the flags outdoors, the “good vibes” with which they are imbued will be released, and spread out around the world on the wind. This reminded me of the tell-tails, and so, inspired by the prayer flags, I set out to weave a fabric that is quite literally made of sound.

All of the sounds that are recorded onto the tape I use for weaving are carefully selected – things that, to me, have special significance – ocean waves, crickets, the Manhattan subway, music from around the world, people speaking in different languages, etc. Here on planet Earth, we are living in the midst of a very rare and beautiful symphony – if we choose to listen to it that way.

So you’ve been inspired by Tibetan prayer flags and sailboats in the past. What’s influencing you right now?

>> Right now I am most profoundly influenced by our culture’s general unwillingness to act in ways that would benefit the environment and ourselves. All around us we see clear evidence that we must find ways to become better stewards of our small planet in order to survive and prosper – and yet – unwittingly or not – we continue down a path of waste and inefficiency.

In recent years and even in recent weeks, my work has become increasingly focused on discovering simple yet powerful ways each and every one of us can reduce our impact and live more sustainably.

What advice would you give up-and-coming designers and inventors?

>> The future of design will emphasize efficiency and sustainability. As our society becomes more ecologically conscious, demand for well-conceived “green” products and services is increasing exponentially.

From conception to manufacturing to final product, social and environmental costs must be considered. At every step of the design process, the designer must ask him or herself, “How can I use fewer or more sustainable resources to implement my idea?”

I would advise all young designers to look to Buckminster Fuller for inspiration:

“We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims. How can we make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone?”
— Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

Can you recommend a good occasion to wear a sonic tie? Or some items to pair with the sonic tie for a “National Inventors Month” look?

The Sonic Fabric Ties are designed to emit the “good vibes” with which they are imbued into the atmosphere surrounding the wearer. Therefore, they are best worn in situations where an infusion of positive energy could be helpful: business deals, courtrooms, weddings, first dates, presentations of all kinds, all urban environments, etc.

The Sonic Fabric Tie is best worn with one’s superhero costume concealed underneath. Appropriate additional accessories would include a bicycle and a solar powered messenger bag.

A tie for superheros! That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day. Thanks Alyce, for sharing your thoughts with us!

National Inventors Month goes until the end of August.  And in the spirit of invention, you can submit your idea for a creative and eco-friendly product design to the YouGoods Design Challenge, before August 23.  The winning designer will receive $1,500,  a chance to showcase his/her idea at World Maker Faire in New York City, and a chance to have his/her product sold exclusively at

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