Making music with e-textiles

Making music with e-textiles

Nicola Woodham brings soft circuitry into her experimental music practice

Nicola Woodham is an artist and composer whose work uses soft circuitry and e-textile sensors as tools for the performance of experimental music. In this post we will look at a couple of Nicola’s latest experiments with sonic textiles including a soft circuitry map and an e-textile jacket.

Soft circuitry as a method

Nicola’s recent project ‘Voice-making through movement’ was funded 2019-2020 by Arts Council England and as part of this grant Nicola had mentoring from Becky Stewart (who may be familiar to some readers from her previous posts on e-textiles) to help develop her embodied audio practice.

Nicola has been exploring ways to generate music with hand-made e-textile sensors and wearables, placing soft sensors on the body to control sound during live performance. This is very much an ongoing process and if you are interested in Nicola’s work then we highly recommend looking at her instagram for updates. In this post we’ll give a snapshot of Nicola’s work at the moment.

Buffer e-textile jacket

Buffer is a performance piece which uses a jacket with sensors embedded throughout which allows Nicola to control the playback of samples of her music. She describes the piece as follows:

Buffer as neutralising of a blow. A salve to trauma. A safe space to move freely between restrictions. A softening. A performance e-textile jacket with embedded soft circuitry, pressure switch and epom pressure sensors. To be worn in a performance setting. The controller is Bela. When the epom sensors are pushed against a surface they will place an audio effect on a sound sample. The epom is the name I’ve given to the felted balls I’ve developed, made from wool and e-textile wool.

This project builds on eTextile research of Kobakant collective, Lara Grant, Irene Posch specifically ‘Pin Probes’, Rachel Friere ‘Safety Pin Crocodile Clips for ETextiles’ and Becky Stewart. If you’re interested in e-textiles then the above list of artists and makers is a great place to get started!

The final soft-circuit was an e-textile breakout with connectors made with paracord and snaps.

A soft switch in the jacket was pressed to trigger a sample of Nicola’s music and the epom worn on Nicola’s head was used as a pressure sensor. As the sample is played back the epom creates a sweeping high-pass filter. This had the effect of filtering out the lower range frequencies of the sample.

Nicola has also created an EP Buffer of music made with the soft circuit and epom instruments.

Soft Map

‘Soft Map’ is an example of an e-textile sampler/instrument that builds on some of the work from the Embelashed toolkit. Capacitive conductive fabric shapes sewn onto cloth are touched to trigger sound samples.

A Trill Craft capacitive touch sensor is used with a Bela Mini and Nicola uses these two to playback samples of her own music. There are just three capacitive sensors attached to the Trill Craft at the moment which are touched with her feet but there is scope with the Trill Craft for 30 capacitive sensors, and Nicola is currently working on an extended floor textile and wall hanging which will activate more sounds with choreographed movement. We look forward to featuring that on the blog in the future!

About Nicola Woodham

Nicola Woodham composes experimental music, bringing in free-improvisation with treated voice and noise. A couple of years ago she began an intensive journey into creative technology and now hand-makes wearable etextile sensors and codes for embodied audio performances. Pre-Covid, she performed in music venues and galleries, where she aimed to scale up her audibility and visibility as a disabled womxn. In real space/online hybrids she’s enjoying cracking open ways to create presence through haptic feedback and sensory ways to make improvised music during her performances. Maximalist in approach, Nicola’s work weaves together disparate threads including the governance of disabled bodies, neutralising trauma through ritual, the slippery source of the voice. She documents her making on and her recent release ‘Buffer’ EP is via Bandcamp.