Portable Listening Trumpets

Portable Listening Trumpets

Listening Trumpets are a series of ten conical wooden trumpets carved from burls* of Elm, Box Elder, Maple, and Oak trees. Each trumpet may be considered a small sculpture prepared for opening a new way of experiencing aural and visual phenomena. Linen carrying sacs with shoulder or cross-chest straps have been sewn for ease of portability. The trumpets allow us to hear in subtly different ways.

Karen McCoy, Kansas City, United States

These Listening Trumpets were originally commissioned for an artist residency at a music festival in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (USA). Participants used them on guided Sound and Sight Walks on the mountain trails. Recently they were used on a walk in New York’s Central Park sponsored by the Walk Exchange/New York. Each carved trumpet is unique in form and acoustic resonance. Finished with beeswax, linseed oil and/or shellac, sizes range from 3.25" – 6.5" diameter and 5.25" – 11" high. These are objects to be held in the hand. They are sturdy and light enough to easily be carried on a walk.

Listening Trumpets are instruments, and like any instruments one must use them carefully and attentively. It takes some practice and patience. The small end of a trumpet must be fit under, or over (there are different aperture styles) the tragus, that small flap of skin and cartilage on the outer ear just by the ear canal itself. The trumpets are extremely directional and must be, for example, pointed directly towards the sound the user wants to hear. By placing an ear to the trumpet you may hear amplified sounds from insects, strands of water flowing, and birdsong as intermixed, or separated from, the human-made sounds of the environment.

During a listening walk with the trumpets tucked into their linen sacs, participants will focus on hearing and differentiating sounds. Periodically, walkers will stop and listen, individually or together. Walkers discuss what they are hearing and exchange listening trumpets. As each trumpet has unique acoustic qualities it is important to experience the differences and similarities. Listening, with no conversation for a few minutes will provide an alternative mode to listening more casually while walking. This use of the listening trumpets in a more sustained way may deepen our listening experience; we hear more and more the longer we listen.

When participants invert the trumpets and sight through the large end to the smaller, the trumpets become sighting devices to locate minute visual phenomena in the landscape or urbanscape such as the play of light and shadow on particular surfaces or a beautiful patch of moss or lichen. A special memory bank of sound and sights may build up as residue of the walk. Using the wooden listening trumpets allows for concentrating, focusing, and isolating particular sounds and sights. This will encourage increased sensory perception.

*A burl is a tree growth in which the wood grain has grown in an abnormal manner due to an injury, either physical or microscopic.

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