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Shetland Wool Week is only a month away, and that can only mean one thing: Felicity Ford and I are working hard on our Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches. We’ve created a number of rules which tell us how to roll dice and select pattern and colour combinations depending on the outcome, based on John Cage’s composition Apartment House 1776. Since knitting my first swatch, we’ve gone through some iterations of the rules, and after talking about my knitting experience, I feel it’s now time to talk about another part of our Aleatoric Fair Isle project.

In honour of our inspiration, the John Cage composition, Felicity and I have been recording notes about the sounds we hear whilst working on the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches:

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 1 – close-up

Sound recording: listening to Pearl and the Beard’s album Killing The Darlings; faint sounds from the other room where my partner is watching Coronation Street; creaky noises from the wooden table which shakes as I write; the clock on the dresser ticking.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 2 – close-up (apologies, it’s upside-down)

Sound recording: the clock on the dresser ticking; traffic driving by; TV programme noises from the other room.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 3 – close-up

Sound recording: various music pieces drifting past on BBC Radio 3; the clock on the dresser ticking; the washing machine going into a spin cycle; traffic driving by.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 4 – close-up

Sound recording: knitting in the office during lunch time: listening to Philippe Jaroussky and Ensemble Artaserse on my iPod; clacking keyboards; office chatter. On another occasion: listening to BBC Radio 3; traffic going by; washing machine.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 5 – close-up

Sound recording: whilst knitting on the train, train announcements, someone munching on crisps and the slight slurp of licking fingers; on the iPod listening to David Bowie’s album Station to Station.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 6 – close-up

Sound recordings: the clock on the dresser ticking; BBC Radio 3 music drifting in and out of my ears.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 7 – close-up

Sound recordings: knitting at home, listening to a CD with music composed by Giacinto Scelsi and Hans Zender; occasionally noticed the traffic going by; the startled sound of me accidentally hitting the worklamp.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 8 – close-up

Sound recordings: knitting on the train, listening to Stockhausen’s Stimmung on my iPod; noises from the train filter through, as does the occasional announcement.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 9 – close-up

Sound recordings: traffic passing by; the clock on the dresser ticking; snippets of YouTube clips coming through from the other room.

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Aleatoric Fair Swatch Number 10 – close-up

Sound recordings: listening to BBC Radio 3, a live broadcast from the Proms where they were playing Shostakovich’s 11th symphony; traffic going by, a bus’s squeaking brakes; as we live close to the train station in a basement flat, I can hear the thunder of a train pulling in as it travels through the ground; the clock on the dresser ticking.

I find a lot of rhythm in Fair Isle knitting: a pattern is built up by repeating its elements, patterns and colours repeat throughout a garment. In the case of Aleatoric Fair Isle, these repeats are sometimes syncopic: the pattern repeats and the colour repeats are not always synchronised, for example, see swatches 2, 8 and 9 above. And so it is with the sounds I’ve recorded so far. There are many recurring sounds, but not always at the same time; if I hear the clock on the dresser ticking, I might be casting on, charting, knitting, or tying knots in the cut steek. In contrast to the aleatoric experience, where I roll the dice to make a choice, many of the sounds I have recorded are completely out of my control. Yes, I consciously choose to listen to CDs and radio, which gives me a varying level of control of what I hear, but, as you have seen, there are always other sounds to hear, too.

And so it is with the Aleatoric Fair Isle: using 21 shades of all the beautiful Jamieson and Smith colours as selected by Felicity, colours and patterns play with each other in unexpected ways. We are looking forward to presenting our findings at Shetland Wool Week 2013. Our talk “Interesting Yarns and Aleatoric Fair Isle” is on Thursday, 10 October, 17:30-19:30 at the Shetland Museum and Archives.

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Since the start of our Aleatoric Fair Isle project, Felicity and I have had lots of fun swatching, throwing dice and posting teaser pictures on Twitter*, Instagram**, and facebook. After all the begging and pleading from our followers, we decided to reveal a swatch here and there in their full glory.

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Aleatoric Fair Isle: my first swatch, Da Rulez notebook, dice and chart

Today, I would like to share some of my own thoughts on my personal experience so far; and, of course, reveal a swatch!

But first let me briefly recap the concept of Aleatoric Fair Isle. Both Felicity and myself find inspiration from a variety of, sometimes, unlikely sources. So when we were exitedly chatting about both having been invited to Shetland Wool Week, John Cage popped up on our conversation. John Cage was a 20th Century composer who was inspired by everyday sounds and questioned what it means to make music. He frequently employed what are now commonly known as aleatoric processes, whereby its course is determined in general, but depends on chance in detail***.

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Aleatoric Fair Isle Chart, with the all-important dice

Both Felicity and I find John Cage’s ideas very inspiring and we were sure that these can be applied outside the realm of modern music. Of course, we’re not the first to be inspired by music, or using chance to create charts. We both love the Fair Isle knitting tradition, with its myriad choice of patterns and colours. And therein lies the rub. Neither of us have grown up within this tradition, and for us to design a Fair Isle pattern means thinking really hard about these elements.

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A typical KNITSONIK/tomofholland Aleatoric Fair Isle out-of-focus teaser picture

So what happens if you let go of choice and deliberation, and roll the dice instead? At the start of this exciting journey Felicity and I spent hours discussing The Rules. How to determine what patterns to choose, whether they are placed horizontally or vertically, which colours to use, and how to place the colour sequences – all these things we have tried to capture in rules. We’ve made a number of grids, we have a palette of beautiful colours to choose from (kindly supplied by Jamieson and Smith,) and we have dice. For some rules we use the number as rolled, for others we look at whether it’s odd or even.

It will come as no surprise that each swatch and each chart so far (I’ve knitted four swatches now,) has led to new iterations of our rules. One surprising outcome for me was that although usually I find colour selection and placement the most difficult part in Fair Isle design, it was the pattern selection processes that has been most difficult to pin down.

Many Fair Isle knitting books tell you that most patterns can be placed vertically as well as the somewhat more usual horizontal way, however, I seem to have a real issue with this. Each time the dice tell me I have to place the patterns vertically, I feel a reluctance to do so and I’m sorely tempted to keep rolling until I get to place them horizontally – so far I have managed to overcome my aversion, although when I finally got a horizontal placement again for swatch 5, I was almost disappointed! Clearly, not only am I learning about my own preferences, I’m also changing them through the aleatoric processes.

Here is my Aleatoric Fair Isle Swatch Number 1. I hope you will enjoy following us in our journey, so keep an eye out for more teasers and the occasional unveiling of a swatch on both Felicity’s blog and mine.

AFI_No1_Swatch

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*) Follow us on twitter: @KNITSONIK and @tomofholland; #AleatoricFairIsle

**) and yes, also on instagram: (@felixbadanimal and @tomofholland; #AleatoricFairIsle)

***) A quote from Meyer-Eppler, read some more about Aleatoric processes and chance operations here.

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