The other day I received my copy of The Humane Society‘s magazine (All Animals), and read an article about a cellist, David Teie, who joined up with a team of animal psychologists to create a new form of music just for cats.
It turns out that cats don’t particularly enjoy human music. What may be soothing and relaxing to us may irritate or disturb cats, who hear at a higher frequency than humans. A lower tone which we might find pleasant or relaxing, can be perceived as a threat to them (growling and feline distress sounds tend to be at a lower frequency).
Science has found that human babies develop their sense of rhythm and music in the womb, so most beats in our music are based on the heartbeat that the fetus hears. Cats, whose brains are much less developed while they are in the womb and who cannot hear until they are born, therefore develop their sense of music as tiny kittens, from the sounds of suckling and purring which were the first sounds they heard. Teie has combined simulated purr-like, bird-like, and suckling-like sounds with a higher frequency and many more sliding notes (based on cats’ vocalizations) with a cello baseline (which cats can’t hear but make the music more palatable to the humans who will play it for their cats) to make a kind of musical catnip that relaxes and reduces stress in many cats — or just makes them listen.
Musicforcats.com includes a sample of what Teie’s cat music sounds like, and you can also find some of Teie’s cat compositions on Youtube. To me, most of the cat music sounds otherworldly and mournful, almost sad, like this one (which is my favorite so far):
Some of his compositions are much more energetic and playful-sounding, but those are harder for me to listen to than the slower, more pensive tunes. I really like the rising, sliding sounds in these compositions. which sound eerie and very cat-like.
Teie has created other species-specific music (most notably tamarin monkeys), and is currently working on music for dogs. It’s hard to imagine what the dog music would sound like, since dog vocalizations occur at many frequencies depending on the size of the dog, and there seem to be fewer sounds that would be associated with dog learning and early puppyhood (outside of suckling and littermates whimpering).
Here’s a fun video of some cats reacting to their owners’ playing Teie’s music (you can hear samples of some of the songs here too). But — and I know this has nothing to do with cats or the music — what exactly is going on with the dog at 2:55?
I must secretly be a cat because I actually really enjoy this music. I played some of songs for my cats, and only Sheldon really seemed to cotton to it, actually rubbing up against the speakers and becoming more affectionate. The other two didn’t seem to care one way or the other.