Jasper Purring – December 20

Joey is our cherished little feline friend. He is the small black and white cat in the photo above. The ginger tom featured in this post is the cherished little feline of Brenda and Tonia, but I profess to having a lot of love for Jasper, too.

And all cats, really. (Though maybe not as much as this woman.)

Joey’s purr is one of the loveliest sounds in all the world, but it is really rather quiet and he tends to regard my microphone (and its fluffy, slightly fur-like wind-baffle) with outright hostility (he has hunted it before). For these reasons my recordings of his ephemeral little sounds are scant (although his sounds were presented here previously during a different kind of sonic advent calendar in 2009).

Joey’s signature sound is a high-pitched plaintive “miaow” and he has a way of padding his paws quite deliberately on the floorboards when he is skulking about in search of a human lap (AKA Joey-warmer) to commandeer. If ever I want to record something extremely quiet in my kitchen, you can bet that Joey will begin playing with his noisy cat-flap; it reads his microchip allowing him (and him only) to enter our house and makes a loud, percussive clunk while locking and unlocking. In fact I recorded his cat flap mechanism for this project.

I have learnt through your comments on this blog over time that animals’ noises are fundamental to our relationships with them, and that their sounds play a large part in how animals enrich our lives. Our pets’ voices are hugely influential on the overall sonic textures of our homes; they define our domestic soundscapes to a large extent, lending their antics and signature behaviours to the rest of the clamour of life in the home.

One cat owner with a keen appreciation for her pets’ sounds is Brenda, and when we were working together on A Knitter’s Manifesto, she drew my attention to the wonderfully thunderous purring of her cat, Jasper. It is a marvellous sound, and if Brenda holds Jasper in just the right way, when he is in just the right mood, it is really quite loud.

Here is Jasper in a tree, deliberately taunting Truman (Brenda’s dog) who is just out of shot, going crazy underneath the tree.

Jasper is nothing like Joey, and his sounds – as well as all his other features – define his distinctly different character. His thunderous purring somehow underscores his quiet sense of power.

Joey does not sound powerful like Jasper does, but then Joey is not a very powerful sort of cat. Just look at those big eyes.

Sadly neither Jasper nor Joey nor any of the cats that I regularly hang out with behave like Joceline’s cats do; apparently they love to scuffle piles of paper. In our interview about SW 1029 in the MoDA Wallpaper collection, Joceline talked about how that wallpaper makes her imagine some sort of dream writer’s attic. She described how her cats would play in such a space, and how the sound of them leaping up onto a writing bureau and playing in the crisp white sheets of paper stacked there would be an important component of this ideal, domestic space.

SW 1029 in the MoDA Wallpaper collection, image © MoDA and used with their kind permission

This is a highly specific sort of a sound and one that would be easy enough to fake by simply mimicking the actions of a cat playing with paper, but I felt that to create this sound by recording sheets of paper falling on the floor and being shuffled one over the other would not evoke the pleasure that it is to share one’s home with a cat, and it was this pleasure which seemed to me to be the essence of Joceline’s comments. I hope I did not take a terrible liberty in expanding Joceline’s fantasy of her naughty cats swiping sheets of paper onto the floor by including instead the sound of a purring cat, but as there was not enough budget for me to camp out at Joceline’s house with my recording gear set up, waiting for her cats to attack a pile of paper, and as I had these wonderful purring sounds recorded from my work with Brenda, it seemed straightforward enough for me to weave them into the layers of sound included in the Sonic Wallpaper piece for SW 1029.

There were many other sounds involved in the composition of this piece, including a lot of sounds recorded in Dr Johnson’s House in London. As well as her preference for having cat-buddies in her desired writing attic, Joceline also expressed her wish for it to contain a bureau, pens, papers, and none of the hum and buzz of the modern world. Such spaces are hard to come by, and Dr Johnson’s House proved to be the perfect location for making the types of quiet, textural recordings that I felt were necessary for bringing this fantasy alive.

I read about the building – about its wooden staircase, large heavy doors, sash windows and creaky, non air-conditioned interior. I packed an array of microphones and investigated the whole space, recording many of its different features and atmospheres.

However perhaps the loveliest surprise of the whole adventure was the discovery that Dr Johnson had also had a much beloved feline companion – Hodge. I like to think perhaps Hodge had at least once or twice disrupted Dr Johnson’s writing activities in the attic, or purred upon receiving the oysters which he apparently liked very much to eat.

I have one copy of the Sonic Wallpapers book to give to someone who would like to have a domestic listening experience for themselves! The book has all 18 wallpaper designs from the MoDA collection used in this project, and a CD in the back which contains all the soundpieces. There are introductions both by myself and Zoe Hendon who is the curator of MoDA, and notes on what people said, and what sounds were recorded, for each wallpaper included in the project.

Sonic Wallpapers book

Sonic Wallpapers CD

To win a copy of the book, you just need to leave a comment here about a wallpaper that you remember from your life, and one sound you recall from the room where that wallpaper was. If you cannot think of a wallpaper design and a sound, you could also leave one thought/response you have to this project. On 24th December, I will draw a number at random and post out a copy of the book to the winner!

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