The sounds of craftsmanship

Sometimes, pleasing sounds can come from the unlikeliest of places. These creatives and craftsmen explore the multisensory experience of making everything from cars to pens via plastic furniture

Luxury audio brand KEF, in collaboration with London Craft Week, is producing a series of ten short podcasts and films with leading brands and creators about The Sound of Craftsmanship. Each piece features an interview with the maker interlaced with the sounds of their craft and focuses on how sound is important to them and their work...

Adi Toch is a maker in metal whose work regularly exposes, creates or plays with the relationship between her chosen material and sound, in a series of vessels that sit somewhere between domestic object and artwork. Right from the very start or making, she’s listens–the rhythmic planishing by hammer, the caressing tones of sanding. Not only do these noises guide her process, as they do for any metalsmith, she’s also captured them to act as a soundtrack to the exhibition of finished pieces, playing alongside them the recorded tracks of their production. Her work also at times acts as an instrument, and in others as an active audience member.

Her soothing Whispering Vessels are near-instruments, with stones or beads inextricably, but visibly, placed within them, singing to you as the object is rolled around in your hands. Her playful Vessels on Stilts are metal pots sat atop delicate tripods–so delicate that when sung to, the pots quiver from the vibrations, becoming more concert-goer than passive object. From her studio in North London, a former parachute and ammunitions factory from the Second World War, she marries millennia-old traditions with contemporary forms that elevate metal’s innate musical qualities. “Craft,” she says “teaches you about the past and history, but it's also the future.”

 

Designer James Shaw not only creates objects and furniture, he creates the material they’re made from. His best-known works are made of extruded post-consumer plastics: ostensibly saved from a destiny of centuries in a landfill, the plastic is dyed with pigments, and shaped into playfully weird but hard-working, functional pieces.

It’s a method he developed during his time at the Royal College of Art and has been fine-tuning since. The extrusion process isn’t unusual in the making of plastic objects, but the machines that do it are usually room-sized; far larger than Shaw’s own-designed “extrusion guns” that sit comfortably in small work table in his shared studio in South London.

His machines, like many workshop machines, are noisy ones – an ambient squeal that means ear defenders are an important tool of the trade. And thus one of the more common experiences of makers: the focus that can come from an inescapable white noise.

It’s an exciting time to work with plastic, he says, as – just as with oak in the Middle Ages – today there is undoubtedly an abundance with it. To find ways to reuse the material is crucial. In 2018, he co-curated an exhibition during the London Design Festival called ‘Plasticscene’, showing the works of 14 designers – including Shaw – challenging the perceptions of waste plastic.

 

Stepping into a Rolls-Royce is to enter a world unto itself, with its distinctly opulent design and more than century’s worth of engineering expertise. And where many car companies work hard to articulate a brawny roar, the signature sound of a Rolls-Royce bucks the trend. That sound is silence. But, not just any silence, the very right kind of silence.

In this episode of The Sound of Craftsmanship, we meet Dave Monks, engineer for Rolls-Royce – a man who’s preferred ‘tuning fork’ for the sonic experience of the cars is none other than Metallica. (You’ll find out why.)

Thanks to a Rolls-Royce’s double-paned windows, its specially-designed sound-dampening tyres, and so much more, Monks gets to choose what sounds to leave out, and importantly, which to let. The result is the quietest car in the world, but equally one where anything from a whispered conversation to cranked-up heavy metal music is heard exactly as they should be.

Rolls-Royce Motorcars has been in the game since 1906 when the company was formed and launched the six-cylinder Silver Ghost. That model, hailed within a year as being ‘the best car in the world’, set Rolls-Royce on its course to become a brand inextricably linked to luxury and prestige.

 

 

Yinka Ilori’s work is unmistakably bright and optimistic, not least because of his palette (a swathe of pastels and intensely punchy primary colours). Whether a public pavilion or pop-up playground, the message is clear: enjoy yourself.

Born in Britain to Nigerian parents, Yinka’s workshop is filled with references picked up in Lagos and his late grandmother’s village – fabrics, paintings… and music. Deeply inspired by Nigerian afrobeat pioneers such as Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, and Ebenezer Obey, you can feel those rhythms even in static objects that he produces.

Yinka’s process, he says “is in making mistakes,” playing around and allowing himself to recognise when something unplanned or unusual in fact deserves to become the final product. An example of this is a series of uncycled (or “pre-loved” as Yinka says) chairs, which were sawed, painted and upholstered to create bold, kaleidoscopic pieces for a show called If Chairs Could Talk. A cross between useable chairs and sculptures, a more pragmatic series was then produced in support of social enterprise Restoration Station.

In June 2019, he unveils two new projects in London: the Dulwich Picture Gallery pavilion, in collaboration with Pricegore architects, and another called “Happy Street”, an art installation on the Thessaly Road Railway Bridge, in Battersea.