Within a small, soundproofed studio at Harvestworks, an electronic media residency center in SoHo, New York City, three knitters try to synchronize their knitting. Insert wrap knit pull off directs Callie Janoff, a co-founder of the Church of Craft.
Wait! says Laure (LAW-rah) Drogoul, the blond, lithe, 50-something mastermind of the groups score. She puts down her needles and approaches Paul Geluso, the engineer facing a large computer monitor. Can you turn Callies needles up a bit? Geluso adjusts multiple knobs, and once Drogoul is satisfied, she sits back down and turns to her performers. Ready? she asks. Ill direct this time. The amplified sounds emerging from the knitters needles resemble contented fish munching on coral.
An interdisciplinary artist and founder of the long-running performance series The 14Karat Cabaret, Drogoul has been knitting since she was a child. I was always very aware of the sound, she describes. Perhaps because my grandmother didnt speak English, and would explain how to knit in her native tongue, which was Polish, which I didnt understand.
About 10 years ago, Drogoul had the idea to attach contact microphones to knitting needles. She first tried it out as a solo performance. Then she assembled a group of four knitters in the storefront of her Baltimore house, where they performed a knitting score based on a sweater vest pattern shed found in an old magazine.
Increasingly interested in exploring the synchronous and sonic properties of group knitting, Drogoul began to stage the act as a kind of open jam. In 2006, she packed 10 balls of yarn into a suitcase for a KnitKnit launch event at the New Museum for Contemporary Art in New York. She set up the suitcase inside a circle of chairs, and pulled the ends of each ball out to match up with 10 different sets of needles. Knitters came and went throughout the evening, picking up where another had left off. Their pace, along with the size and material of their needles, contributed to the ethereal sound. Drogoul used a mixer to add delay and echo effects sparingly; she likes to keep the sound close to the source.
At the American Craft Councils 2007 show, she used even fewer effects, but the sounds echoing throughout the Baltimore Convention Center attracted a crowd of bewildered onlookers.
Drogoul has even taken her amplified knitting to the internet. During her Harvestworks residency, she networked a large-scale orchestra to the web. Drogoul hopes to expose how knitting, like typing on a keyboard or using a mouse, is a repetitive activity that allows us to connect to each other. If shes able to simplify her system, we might be able to replace our keyboards with our own personal knitting apparatuses. Instead of IMing each other, we could communicate via the sounds of knits and purls.
— Sabrina Gschwandtner
Where is she now? The Knitting Orchestra is alive and well. There is an interactive video component (in Max MSP) in which the knitters and the audience can see as well as hear the communal knitting. There have been knitting jams at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, and in Long Branch, New Jersey at The Shore Institute of Contemporary Art . I am planning a musical knitting tour in the early Spring.
Photography by Keith Barraclough and Alan Waldron