The LISTEN hatâ„¢

I had another look through the Sound Art To-Do-List and was gratified to see that I am (mostly) on track with various sound-related projects and jobs at the moment. The recent counting prevails with WW points, £-watch and some happy knitting maths. It turns out that a 15-stitch-wide S is not an easy thing to chart. Several attempts involving sellotaping layers of graph paper over each other on the window (lofi-lightbox) resulted in the following solution, which I think will do nicely for my purposes.

In the course for working out the charts for the letters LISTEN for my LISTEN hatâ„¢, I came across the beautiful abecedarium project by Unionpurl. I love all the knitting history that she includes on posts concerning individual letters – for example all the words and images about Turkish knitting in her T is for Turkey post, or all the lovely Red information in R is for Red letters. I was so distracted by the beauty and intricacy of Unionpurls’ tasty letters that I could easily have become distracted into researching the history for each individual letter on my LISTEN hatâ„¢, but I intend to press on with it rapidly. I need to make it literally FLY OFF MY NEEDLES in time for all the occasions on which I will need it this Spring/Summer to assist in all my sonic doings.

I have been on a grey/brown/neutral kick for a long time now because of a combination of elements; firstly, the walnut dye experiment proved to be a delicious journey in browns, and I became really obsessed with dyeing things with black walnuts.* Secondly – and relatedly** – I have fallen in love (hard) with the natural colours of sheep fleeces. And thirdly, the colour tones of the sky and the trees and everything I like to look at have been overwhelmingly white, mushroomy, grey, silver, cream, ivory, slate, chocolate, earthen, ashy, beige, peaty, tea-coloured, dried-up-leaf brown, faded ochre, dulled rust or ebony over recent months. And though I have found this long cold Winter hard, I have embraced this palette and am happy to now own one outfit in which everything is the same shade of gorgeous Wintry DINGE.

However Spring is coming and the LISTEN hatâ„¢ will be knit in bright, decadent shades to celebrate the richness of the entire listening experience and the impending sunshine.

These are the colours I intend to employ in the LISTEN hatâ„¢ which will come with the following features:

1. earflaps for exposing the naked ears to the soundwaves present in any environment or shielding and protecting the ears in situations where the listener deems such protection necessary
2. a pocket for earplugs for those times when the listener wishes to internally browse sonic memories, or hear thoughts without interference
3. an angora lining*** which will act as a pop-shield for binaural microphones when the listener wishes to wear them and pick up sounds other than THE WIND BLOWING ACROSS THE MICROPHONE HEADS****
4. an emphatic linguistic reminder to the listener, to focus attention on that specific task whenever wearing said hat

The desire for the LISTEN hatâ„¢ has arisen both from my deepening obsession with listening to everyday sounds, and from my own observations re: how much I talk. To tell the truth, sometimes I feel like ‘The Chatty Hunter’ from my favourite Orange commercial, featuring the late Patrick Swayze. One of the features of recording my conversations regularly, is that I am now hyper-aware of my regrettablee tendency to interrupt other people and to be effusively noisy in exactly the crass way that Swayze is against in his characterisation of ‘The Silent Hunter.’ So I am interested in finding a way to remind myself of the power of LISTENING, and have decided to make the idea of my metaphorical ‘listening’ hat, into a knitted reality. Unlike Swayze’s potential protagonist, I have no intentions of become a silent assassin. However I do want to get better at quietly hunting sounds and I think the hat will be a powerful tactile/aural/visual reminder of this intention.

One of the things I am super excited about is the role that I hope the hat will play in my ongoing research for the A4074 podcast/walking/radio project, which I intend to exhibit/broadcast as my final major PhD work this Autumn. This project is all about connecting to a landscape on foot that I have experienced hundreds – maybe thousands – of times in a car, but only a few times at the intimate level of walking. Listening is an important way of connecting with a place, as it gives wonderful spatial information about the lay of the land, the size of clearings in the forest, the height of trees, the density of a hedge, and so on. I also find that listening is strangely intimate as soundwaves physically touch my ears in a way that I can physically feel. I know that technically lightwaves touch my eye, but I do not feel this contact in the same bodily way that I feel sounds.

However there is also for me a tactile relationship between place and the body which extends from listening to wool. Knitting can be used to transcribe aspects of a landscape into clothes – which can then be worn in that landscape – and this for me is like an extension of that physical listening experience; a way of bringing the body and the imagination together in order to inhabit or experience a profound sense of place.

Alice Starmore’s yarns and their colour stories for me reflect the tactile noticing or observation that knitting can bring to one’s vision of a landscape. When I read the colour stories, I feel like I am experiencing a way of seeing the world with the eye’s hands.***** Kate already wrote very beautifully about the connections she found between Starmore’s colour stories and the process of knitting with those yarns and then wearing her resultant hat in the very places that informed the colourways, but I have a slightly different experience of the Starmore yarns because I am not familiar so much with her Hebridean landscapes. However I am finding that as I knit with them and walk along the A4074, I am dreaming up new colourways, reflective of the Oxfordshire flora and fauna, shades like:

Rustling corn – a blend of silvery, pearly whites mixed with creams and yellows and faded greens and brown, shadowy accents.

Acorn – a radiant, golden brown blended from ochre, golden yellow, peanut-butter brown and a blush (just the tiniest hint) of lime green.

Weathervane – a barely black mix of slate grey and blueish black, shot through with little accents of rust red and a patina of frosty white.

…and so on.

I do not have photos for the Red Kite that dominates the skies along the A4074 or the pheasants that I find so regionally distinctive (I really never saw so many until I moved to Oxford) or the bright yellow fields of rape which unfold like a flag for two weeks around May as you crest the hill leading down towards Ipsden, or the blue flowers which line that same stretch of the A4074 at the height of Summer. But I should like to find colourways for all of those things, and for the beech trees which create such a grand stillness in the forests around Cane End, and for the hedgerows and their bounty of sloes and hawthorn in the Autumn. But in the meantime, I shall play with Starmore’s yarns and make my listening hat and wear it while I explore all the treasures in those places that I have not yet uncovered.

*in fact I still have the dyepot in my shower in case I need to re-dye my sweater or brighten up a dull skein.
**I am intrigued by the different qualities in brown-ness between walnut-dyed white yarn and inherently brown yarn. Even when the shade of brown is ostensibly the same i.e. it would look the same if it was painted on a shade card, the actual yarn is totally different because of the way the colour pervades and saturates.
***an idea I first encountered via Kate’s amazing knitted designs, notably her peerie sampler hat and her headband.
****a sound which is scrambled far beyond its normal sounds by translation into digital formats.
*****if you can talk about ‘the mind’s eye’ surely you can talk about ‘the eye’s hands?’

3 Responses to The LISTEN hatâ„¢

  1. Liz T. says:

    Your hat’s going to look amazing I think. A quick tip: if you want to chart out lettering quickly work out how many stitches high you want it to be and then pick that font size in Word or similar and count the pixels.

  2. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » Back from Wales

  3. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » The LISTEN hatâ„¢ part 2

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