This is one of four pieces produced for workshops delivered for the Museum of English Rural Life – or the MERL for short – as part of their research project, “Making, Using and Enjoying”. The MERL commissioned writers, makers, artists and craftspeople to explore ways of engaging with museum collections through creativity and you can read more about it here.

I delivered four workshops at the MERL between March and April 2018 as part of this project. In each session, I was joined by local knitters and, together, we explored a different part of the Museum’s collection through knitting and sound.

This episode was created for the last session in the series: KNIT A SONG OF SHEEP BELLS. The inspiration came from looking at sheep bells held in the collection of the MERL and reflecting on the history of these objects and their lost presence in the soundscape of UK farming. (You can see more of the bells that I recorded – and here them – here.)

Contrary to popular belief – that bells are used purely to locate the flock of sheep over large distances – many accounts describe placing sheep bells on sheep as an intentional and deliberate musical practice. Bells do also amplify the quietness of sheep, and I was interested in finding and sharing a corollary with selecting tiny bells and creating sonic stitch markers to emphasise the often quiet act of knitting stitches.

In KNIT A SONG OF SHEEP BELLS, we created our own sonic stitch markers using bells, which we then used to mark the increase points on a knitted sheep bell based on one of the examples held in the MERL’s collection. While knitting with our own bells on our knitting, we simultaneously listened to accounts and recordings of bells on sheep in different farming landscapes and then heard my own recordings of the usually silent bells held at the MERL.

Credits and acknowledgements:

Thanks to Tony Whitehead, Mike Taylor and John Grzinich for uploading their recordings and words to under creative commons licenses that allow me to use them in this show;
to Tim Shaw for enabling me to use his recording of sheep bells in Switzerland, released through bandcamp with permission granted for reuse;
to David M and Anthony McGeehan for their amazing starling recordings and notes, shared on the xeno-canto website under a creative commons license;
and to Rucisko, for sharing his recording on the freesounds website under a creative commons license.

This work was commissioned by the MERL for the project “Making, Using and Enjoying: The Museum of the Intangible”. The project is funded by the Arts Council England (ACE) Designation Development Fund.