My buddy Ross sent me a fascinating National Geographic article on cat music. It is no surprise that most animals don’t hear or experience music the same way that people do, but research is demonstrating that cats respond positively to very specific and carefully tailored music – “… songs [that] are meant for felines, whose vocalizations have more sliding qualities and pitch changes than do human speech or music. The tempos for their meow mix includes purring and the sucking sound of kittens nursing…” (Embedded SoundCloud links that allow you to listen to short samples of cat music can be found in the National Geographic article linked above.)
I am no scientist, but I conducted an unfussy version of research in the old home laboratory. I enlisted our whiskery geniuses and played some cat music for Otto and Daisy – a pair of super-spoiled, fifteen year old, overgrown barn kittens. My study was revealing. Daisy seemed to find the cat music very pleasant – she reacted like she was being petted – her little ears did a dance on her head. Otto was less demonstrative, mostly vacant of affect. Both cats sniffed at the speaker and worked their cheeks and mouths similarly. Both cats’ eyes seemed to flutter in a dreamy sort of way that made me think that something primal was being evoked.
I love these furry little clowns, and because music means so much to me, I get a kick out of the idea that my cats can find pleasure and meaning in music, too. Of course, some music and some performers mean
more to me than others, and I guess that is why I would say that I have my own versions of cat music. Much of it was produced and distributed on the 4AD record label in the 1980s and 90s. Most especially evocative is the primal cat music of Cocteau Twins. Their sounds often make my eyes flutter dreamily, they almost always have me purring, and they consistently transport me in time. The band’s music is great for nearly any occasion, but it’s a particular treat when you can listen reflectively, as you can on a cool and rainy Nebraska day like this one.
Incidentally, friend Ross, the cat music article-sender, also happens to be a Cocteau Twins enthusiast. He recently laid down the gauntlet in this note:
“i don’t think anyone could win, but i think a case would have to be made that this is not the greatest song of all time. i dont believe in a top five but i do believe in a number one, and this is it.”
The Spangle Maker from The Spangle Maker EP (1984 4AD).
Such is the swagger and ferocity the band inspires in its true fans. We are worshipful.
Here are my top five. Or seven. OK, nine.
They were pretty muscular in the early recordings – propulsive and insistent:
Dear Heart from Garlands (1982 4AD).
Sugar Hiccup from Sunburst and Snowblind EP (1983 4AD).
Their third album is masterpiece and warrants two songs:
She Will Destroy You from The Moon and the Melodies (1986 4AD).
Lazy Calm from Victorialand (1986 4AD).
Carolyn’s Fingers from Blue Bell Knoll (1988 4AD).
Road, River and Rail from Heaven or Las Vegas (1990 4AD).
Essence from Four Calendar Café (1993 Capitol).
24 march 2015