Sarah Albu of Rokkur (upper left) with local knitters (clockwise from top): Christine, Theresa, Sheila, and Heather.

There were five mugs of tea and a plate with two types of cookies. Each knitter had her skein of yarn — pink for Heather, green for Sarah, khaki for Christine, and eggplant for Theresa. Sheila brought an in-progress blanket made with beautiful multicolored yarn. They grabbed their needles… and plugged them into the amplifier.

Sarah Albu of Rokkur is collaborating with four local knitters to blend knitting with electronics. I attended a rehearsal of their composition Labrador Diamond #2. They’ve turned that knitting pattern into a musical score, but you have to think like a knitter to read it — bottom to top, right to left.

We need a beat.

How fast do you want it?

How fast can you knit?!

Definitely just do a garter stitch. Don’t do anything crazy.

Sheila’s knitting needles outfitted with a microphone

Sheila, the DJ of the group, drops the beat with her amplified needles as she stitches away on her unfinished blanket. Each stitch sounds a click. Each roll of the yarn sounds a whoosh.

The four others start reading the score. Each knitter is assigned a color in the pattern. When it’s time for her stitch, she speaks her color and knits the stitch. The amplified needles burp out a tone when they touch. The chanting and needle clicking is occasionally broken up by raucous laughter.

This is what the Labrador Diamond #2 pattern sounds like.

The knitting pattern Labrador Diamond #2 turned into a musical score

Of course, there had to be a snag in the project — literally, they composed a snag into the music. They chose a spot in the pattern for all hell to break loose. “Which swear words do you use when you knit,” they asked each other. A collective intake of breath, a countdown from Sheila, and they dive back into the pattern together.

It’s a true co-compositional process at this rehearsal. Christine turned the pattern into the color-coded musical score. Heather, Theresa, and Sheila come to a consensus on how quickly they can simultaneously knit, sing, and read the score. Sarah Albu, Sound Symposium’s guest artist, provides the gear and the vision.

“They are very chatty and adventurous,” says Sarah. “I’m really pumped!” Sarah will also play a tricked out spinning wheel, and clarinetist Reuben Fenemore will improvise alongside the knitters.

They stitch, chant, and click to the end of the pattern. In performance, they will each have made a little square that represents their part in the Labrador Diamond #2 pattern.

“I’ve never had so much fun with knitting,” says Sheila.

Rokkur And Friends At Sound Symposium XIX

  • Workshop, Sound and Music with Woolmaking Tools — Friday, July 6 at 2:30pm (LSPU Hall)
  • Concert — Monday, July 9 at 8:00pm (LSPU Hall)
  • Workshop, Experimental Instruments — Friday, July 13 at 2:00pm (Choral Room, MUN School of Music)

See the complete list of SSXIX artists, as well as the full schedule and ticket information.