The Cat Piano | Morose Delectation and Music

The Cat Piano | Morose Delectation and Music

[radio intercom noises, ambient noises] [through radio] “Roger that.” “Copy.” “There, uh, seems to be some sort of artifact here…” [meow] “Woah.” [meow] “Huh.” [meows] [slowly playing “We Are Number One” on cat piano] [intro music] [meow] [“Adam Neely’s Bass Lessons”] We, as wayward children of the internet generation, are well aware of the contemporary cultural landscape of cats and pianos. There’s a whole genre of YouTube videos where cats play pianos, and one such performance by the cat, Nora, was later turned into a full orchestration for chamber orchestra in a sort of… “cat-certo”. 18th-century composer Domenico Scarlatti drew similar inspiration from his cat walking across his keyboard when he wrote his “Cat Fugue”. But there is a more sinister connection between cat and keyboard that goes back almost half a millenium. I’m talking, of course, about the most diabolical of instruments: the cat piano. Although the concept existed earlier, the term “katzenklavier” was coined by Athanasius Kircher, the great eccentric 17th-century German Jesuit priest. Sometimes called ‘the last renaissance man’, Kircher was a true polymath, and wrote treatises on subjects ranging from Egyptology to medicine, to biology, to magnetism, to music and acoustics His 1650 tome, “Musurgia Universalis”, explored unusual and arcane subjects in music theory, such as transcriptions of bird song, strange, Rube Goldberg-esque automated pipe organs, something called, “donkey choirs”, and then… this thing, the “cat piano”. He explains: Yes, just as it is today, in the 17th century, people derived great pleasure from the misfortune of cats. So it seems, anyway. There’s no actual evidence that any cat pianos were actually made, say, for a few anecdotes here and there. However, the unique sadism of the cat piano has captured the imagination of many individuals in the past couple of centuries. Consider the case of Johann Christian Reil, the 19th-century physician who actually coined the term “psychiatry”. He advocated for the therapeutic use of the cat piano in treating patients who were schizophrenic, and those in vegetative states. The study of musical instruments is called “organology”, where musical instruments are typically organized by how they produce sound. Stringed instruments are generally grouped together because they rely upon vibrating strings to produce sound. In the field of what we would call “speculative organology”, there are quite a few instruments that rely upon the shrieks of animals to produce sound. Take the pig piano, for example, allegedly first commissioned by Louis IX of France to produce music by pulling pigs’ tails. Or the classic sketch of the mouse organ, from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” A human version of this concept appears in the movie, “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”. Probably my personal favorite example of this in popular media is in the beautifully animated and narrated short film, “The Cat Piano”, which is on YouTube, and you should definitely check that out. A humane version of the cat piano was developed by Henry Dagg, who replaced the tortured screams of cats with… cat squeaky toys. Because of the viral success of one of his videos, Henry and his cat piano were invited to perform “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” at a charity garden party for Prince Charles, and just like the 17th-century prince before him, the prince of Wales could not help but cry from laughter. After all, to quote scripture: The desire to re-appropriate the sounds of distressed animals is apparently an old one, but the question is… why? Is it because of the taboo novelty of mixing something as divine as music with something as debased as animal torture? Maybe, but when Kircher first wrote of the katzenklavier, animals were imbued with very little moral agency. According to St. Augustine: Even if that use is, I guess, torturing cats to make princes laugh. There is certainly an element of what was once called “delectatio morosa”, or “morose delectation”: taking joy… in sin. But, is it even a sin? I mean, yes, it’s a cruel and torturous device, but remember: Cats are cruel and torturous. They are soulless killing machines that are scourged on all that is good and godly. [yawns] So, moral questions aside, is it even practical to make a cat piano? Yes, there is an app that you can download in the App Store, but I wanna make my own. We would need a selection of cats who could meow on pitch, but what’s more is that we would need that pitch to remain consistent, so we could rely on those cats to produce melodies. This seems kind of unlikely, but as somebody mentioned in a previous video of mine, apparently, my cat meows at a C# (C sharp) descending down to a B natural. Trials with my cat indicated that, yes, he’s fairly consistent with that. [meows with piano] Resisting the urge to go down to the animal shelter to start selecting cats based upon their meows, I loaded several examples of my cat’s meow into a sampler so I could play it on a piano. I then routed the MIDI coming out from my keyboard to fire video clips of my cat meowing so I could get the full “cat piano experience”. Whether or not it’s enough to treat 19th-century schizophrenic patients, I’ll leave that judgement up to you, but I do hope that you enjoy these selections from my cat piano. [playing cat piano] Hey everybody, thank you so much for watching, My name is Adam Neely, I have a new video coming out every Monday, if you enjoy what I do, please consider joining my Patreon, because it’s through my patrons over at Patreon that I’m able to do this every week. So thank you so much for watching, and until next time… [breaths] BASS


  1. I got so caught up in the theory, that I was straight faced until "fly me to the moon." At that point, the ridiculousness of it all just hit me, and I was able to appreciate what was going on, and laugh

  2. I believe David Szymanski used a version of this concept in his horror game The Music Machine, named after the story's nefarious instrument designed to torture human beings and use their cries to create a hymn to summon God.

  3. I've probably watched this over 30 times from the 6:50 mark over the last few months and it still makes me immensely happy. The internet is a beautiful place.

  4. Hey Adam, I would love to use this instrument in my music. Could you please upload it somewhere? Thank you, your work is awesome

  5. My cat feel uncomfort with this music. It really toture him.

    Is that tone of cat really a torture for cat nation

    So, which is the tone of cat that happy.
    World is big

  6. Thank God I was starting to wonder if I would ever find that song you played at the end of your video ever again. It truly is what got me into playing jazz piano as weird as that sounds cuz it's not even a jazz piece but yeah. The first one that is.

  7. As soon as the Mozart piece started I knew this was patreon money well spent, please tell me this isn't the last we will see of cat piano

  8. ahhh pretty cool and zany, but you failed to mention Hermeto Pascoal's actual use/instigation/playing of living animals in his Brazilian jazz fusion records. From the top of my mind, I remember having heard him play pigs primarily (of different ages and sizes, hence pitches), dogs and parrots.

  9. well I did a burp piano on my first yt pubished song check it out if u want some awkward fun
    by the way I love your channel

  10. After that live performance Adam's cat has turned to Hard Catnip to rid his mind of what the heck he just witnessed Adam doing.

  11. On one hand, this might be the biggest waste of time I have spent on the internet. On the other, I was disappointed that it was so short.

  12. … If you read all versions of bible in Old Testament there is said that blood of animals contains their soul so people can't consume it because it belongs to God…

  13. The idea of torturing cats for musical amusement is monstrous.

    However, your cruelty-free cat piano was nothing short of delightful.

    If that horrible katzen-klavier was ever real, I bet that that sadistic little prince laughed his ass off.

  14. Can''t believe it's taken me this long to realize there's a Neely vid I haven't seeen. This right here is the apotheosis. Ultimate lol.

  15. Gymnopedie No.1 was the last thing I learned to play on piano with sheet music, but your cat did a way better job of it, and I'm ok with that.

  16. Well I remember your gig vlog about not playing a gig while stoned. Soooooo, what about YouTube videos, Adam Neely? ^^
    PS: please stop saying "katzen clavière" haha it's "klavier" as in "cluh-veer" 😉 Kaythanksbye

  17. FYI Stray cats lives are really cruel and crude. I've seen it. I shit you not. Thanks for the oddly educative video.

  18. check out "13 angels standing guard 'round the side of your bed" by thee silver mt. zion if you wanna hear something that sounds like an angelic cat piano

  19. People were assholes in the past, I know people think todays people are bad but think of this… In medieval Europe villages would put cats in cages and then set fire to them to laugh at them screaming… This was something the average person did for entertainment back then and it would attract a big crowd when done… Then even further back the Romans did similar and even worse things to humans as a form of mainstream entertainment… bring your kids along and watch a slave have his organs taken out while he's alive… This is the mud we have been slowly crawling out of. We're not even halfway out yet.

  20. The modern way to make "meowsic":

    Now watch Mickey Mouse, for whom every animal is a musical instrument, do what he does best. He gets a nice sustain and some pitch bending out of the cat a little later in the video:

  21. Fun fact, Cats only "meow" for us and when they're babies with mom. They don't meow at other cats and usually they only meow at other animals when distressed. They have specifically learned how to talk to US, human beings. So, in a sense that makes taking pleasure of out their distressed meows even more disturbing, as meowing is an honor reserved only for us or when distressed by other animals. So by causing them pain like that we're being treated like base animals and not as equals as they usually would. And then to take pleasure from that sounds self demeaning. Mildly annoyed is one thing, such as your cat, but out right pain? That's just creepy, imo.

  22. Prince charles with brian blessed laughing in the background, don't see that every day.
    Also i guess that cat piano's intesrseting…

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