Mew-sic to their ears: Cellist raises $240K to compose music for cats

When cats listen to music, do they prefer the soothing sounds of their kittenhood, or a beat they can dance to?

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Wait a second – do cats listen to music?

They could, soon, thanks to the work of composer and professional cellist David Teie.

Teie, who lectures at the University of Maryland and has been a member of the National Symphony Orchestra for 20 years has just developed “Music For Cats,” a series of intriguing, oddly soothing tracks designed specifically for felines.

Teie has long been fascinated by why music can affect us so deeply. After all, it’s really just a series of sounds and beats, artfully arranged.

“I was trying to figure out what it was about music that appeals to humans. So I took music apart, you might say,” Teie told CTV’s Canada AM from Washington on Wednesday.

After a few years of research, he came up with a universal theory. It states that music taps into our emotions by replicating the sounds and rhythms we heard in the womb and infancy: for example, the rhythm of our mother’s heartbeat,or the sing-song of her voice as she soothed us.

Teie decided the same must be true of other animals too.

“If I’m right, I should be able to write music for another species,” he surmised at the time.

“I first started with tamarin monkeys. That turned out to be successful, so after that, it seemed that cats were the next thing.”

What’s great about cats, he says, is that they are essentially the same across every breed.

“Whereas with dogs, I’m afraid I’d have to write different music for the little dogs and then big dogs,” he said.

“And besides with dogs, I’d be afraid they might want to sing along if it was effective. So cats seemed the choice to go with if I wanted to have one music to fit all.”

Teie admits he doesn’t spend a lot of time with kitties -- “actually, I’m allergic to cats” – but he created his music based on what is already known about felines.

So for example, there are sounds similar to birds chirping mixed with bits of staccato violin, to produce an energizing effect in some pieces. Other more relaxing compositions include purring and suckling sounds in the frequency range that cats use to communicate.

Teie says in his tracks, there is always a layer of music added for humans. That’s because he found that his first attempts at monkey music were really irritating to listen to. And if humans find cat music irritating, they aren’t going to play it for their pets, Teie realized.

After lots of feline focus group testing, Teie admits not every cat responds to his compositions. But it seems there are plenty of cat owners who hope his music will work for them. He recently launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign with the goal of raising US$35,000 to make a cat music album. He hit that mark in just 38 hours. In the month that followed, he has raised more than $240,000.

The plan now is to record the album in January, mix it in February, and then release it to backers soon after.

Teie is going to use the remainder of his funds to take on the challenge of creating music for dogs and has already been in contact with the Dog Cognition Centre at Columbia University. He’s also considering music for horses.

Eventually, if all goes well, Teie would love to bring species-specific music to animals in zoos or other captive environments, to see if the music would help relax them.


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