Karen McCoy: Listening Trumpet

Folding Paper Listening Trumpet 

When I was in grammar school I remember an entire year during which we focused on listening in all our classes– that experience marked me and resurfaces in this work. The focus on listening invites a slower pace and increases sensory perception. In experiencing listening as geographical, the process is one of assembling sound into an aural picture of the landscape or urbanscape. As cities become more crowded and urban sprawl is increasing the margins between urban and rural are becoming less distinct. In the future, perhaps noise pollution in our ever-expanding cities will be so increased that sound quality might form the basis for retreats from the urban. The concept of the park as a quiet zone is not unimaginable.  

Walking is, in itself, an act overlaid with many intentions. It is an inherently valuable as a tool for seeing and understanding since it slows our pace and allows for enhanced perception. By concentrating on one of the senses in a walk, one will naturally absorb in a different way. For example, on a listening walk, the sounds we encounter will be foregrounded. I am curious to know how different it is, for myself, and others, to walk simply with listening in mind from, say, walking with a small listening trumpet in hand.  

The ear acts as the conduit between the outer world and the inner realm of each individual. Of central concern in this work is a recognition of the importance of retreat, of the human need to break from the oftentimes mechanical rhythm of contemporary life. The ear trumpets provide a way of “cupping our ears to the earth.”.  

Below are images of the Listening Trumpet. The drawing is a memory of the slate in Wales where I walked with members of Footwork. It’s drawn with colors I found there.  

Karen1 Karen2  

The original fan shaped pattern is 9” long on the side with tabs and 8 3/8” long on the other side. When three dimensional the cone shaped trumpet is 9″ tall  x 5″ diameter. It can be cut from the page, rolled and used immediately. It could also be used as a pattern and cut from heavy paper or scaled up proportionately to almost any size. Click here for a version that should print on A4 paper.

After cutting out the paper shape, cut open the slits marked between short dashes on the left side opposite the tabs, roll the cone and insert the tabs through the slits, as shown in the image below. (I prefer to cut the slits with an exacto knife.) Fold the tabs inside the trumpet (secure with glue if you like) or use it with tabs folded so you can flatten it again.  


To use it, insert the small end of the trumpet into your outer ear canal, not deeply. Aim the trumpet at a sound, birdsong, leaves rustling or a neighbor cutting grass. The device is quite directional and despite its simplicity, you will hear the sound as though it were closer. Listening trumpets made of different papers, or in different sizes, will have varying qualities of resonance. The amplification is subtle. Take the trumpet on a walk and see if you enjoy focusing on listening.