Monday, November 23, 2009

Music: Torture tunes, part 2.

Previously, my dear Screamers and Screamettes, we discussed the use of music to torture people. Today we flip the script and discuss using torture to make music.

Screamers of all ages and genders, I give you the nadir of musical inventiveness: the Katzenklavier.

From the wikipedia description:

It consists of a line of cats fixed in place with their tails stretched out underneath a keyboard. Tails would be placed under the keys, causing the cats to cry out in pain when a key was pressed. The cats would be arranged according to the natural tone of their voices.

This is actually less brutal than the original design by the 17th Century monk and cat hater Athanasius Kircher, which was to have induced the cats to make noise by repeatedly driving spikes into their tails. Kircher's gorier model was never built. But not for lack of interest: German physician Johann Christian Reil believed that Kircher's instrument would be a wonderful therapy tool for mentally ill patients suffering from severe wandering attention. His argument was that you couldn't help but focus if somebody played on of these things in front of you.

The 1877 book Musiciana, extraits d’ouvrages rare ou bizarre describes a version of the instrument in action:

When the King of Spain Felipe II was in Brussels in 1549 visiting his brother the Emperor Charles V, each saw the other rejoicing at the sight of a completely singular procession. At the head marched an enormous bull whose horns were burning, between which there was also a small devil. Behind the bull a young boy sewn into a bear skin ride on a horse whose ears and tail were cut off. Then came the archangel Saint Michael in bright clothing, and carrying a balance in his hand.

The most curious was on a chariot that carried the most singular music that can be imagined. It held a bear that played the organ; instead of pipes, there were sixteen cat heads each with its body confined; the tails were sticking out and were held to be played as the strings on a piano, if a key was pressed on the keyboard, the corresponding tail would be pulled hard, and it would produce each time a lamentable meow. The historian Juan Christoval Calvete, noted the cats were arranged properly to produce a succession of notes from the octave... (chromatically, I think).

This abominable orchestra arranged itself inside a theater where monkeys, wolves, deer and other animals danced to the sounds of this infernal music.


Unknown said...

There's a really superb animated short film based on this subject. Every aspect of this film is exceptional. It's "The Cat Piano", and you can watch it here:
It is so worth your time.

CRwM said...

What a great find. Thank you for directing me to it.