What’s the sound of paper?

the sound of paper and sound books

Colors, shapes, textures, consistency, hardness or softeness, weight, dimension, smells, sounds… Each material speaks to us through all our senses, but above all, we are used to consider the visual informations. Here I would like to share my investigation about an often overlooked aspect of a material I love: the sound of paper. How many action can we do creating different sounds with paper? Let’s try.

  • Crumpling
    Every action made with a different type of paper will produce different sound nuances. Reopening the paper and crumpling up again, will the noise be the same? You can collect various pieces of waste paper and crumple them, one after another, in a kind of sound farewell ritual before throwing them away.
  • Shaking
    Make the sheet vigorously oscillate in the air with one hand.
    The sound changes according to different dimensions and thickness of the sheet of paper.
  • Tearing
    You can draw the direction and the lenght of the tear, mark the stops, change speed and rhythm of tearing.
  • Rustling
    Have you ever tried to quickly leaf through the pages of a book? It makes a very nice sound… Here are some books I created in order to increase the rustling-sound, made of different kind of very “noisy” paper.

The pages can be cut in different size, so that it is easier to leaf through the book, investigating different sounds and finger movements. It is also possible to alternate strips of various types of paper in the same book, or to differentiate strips of the same type by glueing small objects, in order to increase the rustle. You can play a “Rustling Book” holding it by the bound side and shaking it, making it swing, pinching the pages with different rhythms.

Rustling books

Another kind of sound-paper-object is the Accordion Book. It is made by folding orthogonally two strips of paper joined at one end, as you can see in the picture below. Once the bending is finished, a thicker cardboard has been glued on the two ends. A rubber band fixed in the two cardboard pages will be used to insert the hands. You can play it holding both ends, then opening and closing it horizontally or outwards. Otherwise placing it on a table, then opening and closing it vertically with one hand.

accordion-book
Accordion book

You can also make a sound-book with a descriptive-narrative function that accompanies a story telling with some relevant noises at the right time.
“…she was going through the woods…” (rustling of crepe paper leaves)
“…and branches broke as he passed…” (crumpling of baking paper)

Sound-book

“…they slowly got out of their beds…” (rolled and unrolled toilet paper)
“…and and they ran fast on the gravel road…” (sandpaper imprints crawling on a rough surface)
“…till the land of the silence song.” (the book closes)

sound-book

“In ancient times life was immersed in silence. Today, however, it is always accompanied by noise: everything we have around produces a noise. The noise is therefore a familiar experience to our ears, while the musical sound represents an occasional element, built in its perfection, not very spontaneous, limited. Finally, let’s break the narrow boundaries of pure sounds to venture into the infinite variety of sounds and noises. The noise that comes to us confused, irregular and always different, holds innumerable surprises. Let’s learn to listen it … “


“The art of noises” by Luigi Russolo, 1913

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