Domestic Soundscape and Sonic Spindling

I spent a happy day on Friday making some of the remaining field-recordings required for the Sonic Wallpaper Project. As a field-recordist my main interest lies in the everyday, familiar, sonic textures of home, and however many exciting sounds I discover away from home, my favourite things to record reside in The Domestic Soundscape, and it is to my home that I return again and again for sonic inspiration. I am interested in the things which are so ordinary that we never pay attention to them. In amplifying and identifying such sounds, they conversely become strange and extraordinary. Once you have listened to your kettle, your toast, your teaspoons, your frying egg and your dishwasher dishwashing in detail and savoured the sounds in your ears, the home is transformed into a site of sonic fun and possibility. For me, the everyday and the ordinary can never be boring with this possibility of daily, sonic celebration. Sonic Wallpaper is one of my favourite commissions, as it allows me to extend the idea of domestic sounds and spaces to the contemplation of wallpaper.

One of the wallpapers in the project reminds folk of the bathroom, and so on Friday, my tasks included taking a bath with hydrophones in it. I enjoyed the absurdity of sitting in the bathtub with headphones on, listening to the water splashing around, and hearing bath sounds exactly as I do when I plunge my own head underwater to wash the shampoo out of my hair.

I also recorded some popcorn popping, my old super-8 projector, fuzzy felt and a whole host of other ordinary and vintage-y domestic sounds for the production of Sonic Wallpapers. The best thing was discovering that I could fry onions with my Sound Professional binaural microphones shoved into the slots in one of the wooden spatulas we own. The trick with sound recording is always to get your microphone as close to the source of sound as possible; this is hard when heat and water (2 of the things microphones hate) are involved, but I love a little sonic kitchen ingenuity, and I think the spatula did a good job of keeping the mics both close to the source of the sound, and out of harm’s way. I hope the sonic results will be as evocative and pleasing in the final Sonic Wallpaper compositions as they were in my headphones during the mammoth domestic soundscape recording session.

Speaking of domestic sounds, I have become obsessed with drop-spindling and in ways of amplifying spinning sounds. I have recorded many fine spinning wheels in my time, but the spindle has become my choice of instrument for yarn-production, because it is portable, and because it is an ancient, ancient tool. I love how when I make yarn on a spindle, I am connecting my activity to thousands of years’ worth of textile production. There is just one problem with using a drop-spindle in terms of SOUND, and that is that the drop spindle is incredibly quiet! If I want to develop a performance around the idea of yarn-production, and to involve sounds, and to use a spindle, then I will need a different kind of tool.

Here is a very brief explanation of some very quiet drop-spindling, while out walking with Mark yesterday.

Here is my handful of fibre (it’s Shetland Moorit from Hilltop Katie). I am holding this fibre in my right hand, and pinching it tight, so that twist does not enter into it.

Here is my left hand, drawing out several strands of fibre from the handful. This process is called drafting. It involves lining up a small quantity of fibres between my hands, ready for the twist to enter. As I unpinch my fingers from around my fibre-supply, twist runs up into the drafted fibres, spinning them. And that is how the fibre becomes yarn.

The twist is produced by my spindle. As it turns around, it creates twist, which travels up as far as my fingers will allow.

Did I mention that you can walk and drop-spindle?

However, as I mentioned already… the drop-spindling is very quiet. This makes it an excellent listening activity, but for future KNITSONIKTM ventures, I have been in search of an amplify-able way of spindling yarn. Which is why, at WOOLFEST, when not working on Kate’s stall, I purchased this. It is a Tibetan supported spindle, made by the same incredibly talented man who made my drop-spindle – Ian of IST Crafts.

The supported spindle works differently from the drop-spindle; it sits in a small bowl, spinning on that surface, rather than hanging in mid-air. From a sonic point of view, the small bowl or spinning surface on which a supported spindle spins can be amplified using contact microphones. Thus, this is my Sonic Spindle! I am collecting videos on my Youtube Playlist to help me to learn how to use it, so if you know of any good support-spindle videos, please let me know.

Learning to spin yarn while in Estonia was one of my favourite aspects of the trip. It felt essential to me to be able to process fleece directly from the sheep, in order to be able to materially understand THE WOOL. However as with everything from my Estonian travels, I am really keen to be able to move the project forward using both wool AND sound. The Sonic Spindle is key to this. As well as spindling, and listening to The Domestic Soundscape, and walking and recording sounds for Sonic Wallpaper, I have been cooking a lot this week.

‘Cooking’ is maybe the wrong word, as most of what I have been doing is chopping up vegetables and leaves for incredible salads… but I cannot get enough of Ottolenghi’s wonderful book, PLENTY. I would say that I am halving the oil in most of the recipes, because really, who needs 600ml of Olive Oil in a salad? But otherwise I am doing as he says, and I am loving all the vegetables and the incredible palettes he creates in different dishes. Dill, cabbage, kohlrabi, cherries and lemon, anyone?

I’ve discovered a great blog lately. Respect the Spindle by Abby Franquemont is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn how to spin yarn on a spindle rather than on a wheel. The politics and clarity of the text are a joy to read, and Abby lays out all the information in an empoweringly clear and fuss-free manner. I loved reading it, and was inspired by many of the ideas and pictures in the book. Then I discovered her blog, which is also a brilliant read, especially for her writings on Peruvian spinning and spindles.

I hope you all are having good food, good reads and good creativity this weekend, and thanks for all your wonderful comments on my post about Coronation Knits. If you want to leave a comment there between now and 5th July, you still have a chance of winning your own copy of the book!

10 Responses to Domestic Soundscape and Sonic Spindling

  1. Joanne says:

    Hello,

    This was a lovely read. I am amazed that you could record the frying process. It must be utterly fascinating to listen to it so closely.

    And thank you for reminding me of spinnig wool. I have a spindle very similar to the one on the far right of the title photograph of Abby’s book, which you mention. I have never used it as I have no clue how to and haven’t come across any video instructions yet. I will take a look at your YouTube collection. So thank you!

    I am not a big blogger these days but love to follow your work and that of folk around you. Your creativity is infectious.

  2. Joanne says:

    Thank you, now I can get going – once I have bought some fleece…!
    I like the picture of you spindling and walking.

  3. Kate M says:

    Susan Stevens has written several posts on the subject of what I think is the same kind of supported spinning, and has produced a small book, some sample pages of which are shown here: http://fleeglesblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/fleegle-spins-supported-book.html.

    I have a drop spindle similar to the one you’re walking with, but despite many attempts to practice it spends more time on the floor, really dropped, than creating anything lovely! I hope that one day I’ll have an epiphany and it will suddenly make sense, and yarn…

    Thank you for all your wonderful posts on sounds and the Slow Wardrobe and Estonia, all of which are so interesting.

  4. Lara says:

    I love this post with all the lovely Sunday Felix things! I heart plenty and its reminded me to look it out and make some tasty food. (He does totally love the oil though but we can forgive him because he is such a lovely man!)

  5. Kata. says:

    I agree with you on the soundscape. Your visit has definitely changed my perception of everyday sounds. Rather than thinking “Ah, the kettle is on.”, I now listen _how_ the kettle is sounding.

    Have a nice week!

  6. shearersgirl says:

    Fascinating, your interest in domestic sound recording reminds me of Viktor Shklovsky and defamiliarisation. The artist or writer makes people look at everyday things as though they have never been experienced before. We need to be reminded to slow down and listen to what is right there.

  7. Allison says:

    Huzzah spinning and fresh salads! When you find out how to use your supported spindle, please share tips! I’ve only ever used a drop spindle before 🙂

  8. Mickey says:

    There are supported spindles such as the russian and tibetan spindles and there are suspended spindles. Drop spindles…bad karma, refering to them in that fashion becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. You can’t go wrong with Abby’s videos and susan’s are quite good too. Just got her book (on a flash drive!) and it’s quite nice. Now must go listen to my spinning wheel.

  9. anna b says:

    hi there – v excited to find a new post about spindling – will revisit in the morning when my brain can take it in …

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