Sound Extrusions: Oh Deer! (Introduction to Porcelain)

Porcelain ceramic casting workshop in Brisbane sound experimental ceramic speakers

Porcelain Casting Workshop Brisbane

In the last blog post we went through the overall idea of the Sound Extrusions project at The Edge. Before we dive deeper into some of the more technical issues, such as MAX/MSP programming, this post is dedicated to the introduction of porcelain as an exciting material to work with. All the visible parts inspired by the organic shape of avocados and beans — the actual individual components you saw in the visualisation in the last post — will be casted in porcelain.

Anyway, how cool is that? Crafting your own porcelain shapes! But it wasn’t always as easy as that… European porcelain is a fairly young phenomenon, emerging as late as the beginning of the 18th Century in Meissen, Germany. Before that, porcelain was solely imported from China and bought by European aristocracy at the weight price of gold at times. This is the reason why the creation of porcelain was such sought after technology. The Chinese had long known the secret to making porcelain, with modern style porcelain emerging around the 12th century, thanks to a specific mix of clay readily available in China. The actual research in Europe into recreating white translucent Chinese porcelain would have been a high-tech, top secret enterprise back in 1708 (just like The Edge today!), and only few people would have known about it.

The later Meissen porcelain production was in a self contained workshop with very strict regulations from 1710, when a team lead by Johann Friedrich Böttger made the final discovery. The second wave of porcelain making in Europe started only after a few workshop members “exported” the very secret knowledge to Vienna and started to operate their own businesses.

There’s one irony in the whole search for the real porcelain in Europe — one of the main porcelain material components, the kaolin clay, was always at the fingertips of the aristocracy who were importing the pottery from China at extraordinary prices. And I mean literally — kaolin was mostly used as a facial perfecting white powder back then, in the pale make-up of aristocratic beauties, who were sipping hot drinks from expensive Chinese porcelain — imagine that!

Besides kaolin clay, the other main component is silica. That’s why after the firing, porcelain is closer in consistency to glass than to regular pottery, the most sought after feature being the translucency in the thin walls or edges. This attribute is explored in contemporary design as well — taking the technology to its limits from translucent coffee cups to innovative variations on lamp shades for example. Porcelain is also an inert and very dense material, which makes it ideal to work with sound as well. This feature hasn’t been explored to any greater extent yet and that’s also one of the surprise elements in the Sound Extrusions project at The Edge — the porcelain and sound interaction project feature!

Please stay tuned for other posts to come. The announced interview with Mick on 3D printing is ready as well (Thanks Mick!), but we’ll probably cover the actual porcelain production process next — let’s see how we go anyway. The good news is that porcelain is not a top secret, guarded behind the medieval walls of Meissen any more! We’ll get into an introduction of clay modelling, plaster casting & porcelain slip casting later. Maybe we’ll get even into the process where the porcelain magic actually happens — the kiln firing and glazing. Let the porcelain deer be with you!

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