By Anita Kelsey
It’s not often that I meet someone else who has combined a career in music and cats. When I heard of David Teie’s project ‘Music For Cats’ it was a no brainer that I would jump right in to gather more information.
It’s an exciting prospect to be able to communicate to animals through music especially for people who work in animal rescue, veterinary practices, grooming parlours, as well as the millions of cat owners around the world. Reassurance and calm vibes can help enormously with how an animal perceives what is happening to them at that exact moment. If the music is also having a calming effect on the human handlers, then it’s a win win situation. Of course, Music For Cats cannot work miracles! A feral cat will not suddenly lie down and light a menthol cigarette as soon as the vet hits play on their iPod but anything that helps to calm a situation down and create mellow vibes can only help in the long run. This is why many animal rescue centres play soothing classical music in the pens.
Photo from http://eclipseco.org/
Extensive research went into this project and the science behind it has now been published in The Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science. It makes a fascinating read.
David’s musical biography and academic career can be read in full on the University of Maryland’s website.
However, I wanted to chat to David to find out more about the man behind ‘Music For Cats’: how it all grew organically from that single idea leading to a massive Kickstarter campaign and eventually the golden goose – a publishing deal with Universal Music, my own publisher in days gone by.
Music For Cats David Teie interview starts here:
David, Thank you so much for taking the time to chat to me. Why did you decide to do something for the cat? Is the cat your favourite animal?
“I’m afraid but I am allergic to cats! I chose cats because they are very consistent across the breeds. I worried that dogs would be much more difficult because of the great differences between the various breeds.”
How did the idea initially come about? After all, music for cats is not a general idea that would pop into most people’s minds.
“It began as a test of the validity of my theory of how music affects the emotions. If the theory is correct, it should be possible to compose music that is effective for another species. The first test was, as you know, on monkeys.”
You raised more than $200,000 through the Kickstarter campaign. Please tell us more about how that came about.
“My son, Andrew, was working for an advertising firm, Anomaly. They had a program they called “fun-ded” that would provide pro bono work or contribute funds toward a project of one of their employees. Andrew convinced them that music for cats was a good project to get behind. They decided that a Kickstarter campaign would be a good way to raise funds for the creation of an album and, at the same time, create news about Music for Cats.”
Your background is as a professional musician. How did you meet the scientist who assisted with this project – Charles T Snowden ?
“When I decided to test my theory I thought I would start at the top; contacting the most eminent scientists. As they refused me, I would work my way down the list, thereby finding the most qualified scientist who was willing to do a study of the effects of species-specific music on animals. As it happens, I didn’t need to go any farther than the first name on the list. I sent Dr. Snowden my ideas and he was interested but not inclined to spend grant money on the project at first. At one point he sent me two newly-discovered calls from his colony of cotton-top tamarin monkeys. I was able to identify the general meaning of the calls and their contexts without having been told by him. He was impressed that a musical analysis could, in general terms, identify emotional valence and agreed to perform the study.”
What was the reaction from your friends and family? It’s not everyday they would hear an idea such as this?
“The reaction from friends and family was varied. My dad and my older children, Andrew and Sophia, were very supportive true-believers. My friends, for the most part, were unaware of the enterprise. My wife, Pavla, was consistently dismayed that I could spend so much time on something that seemed to have so few prospects for success. Her mother, a Czech nuclear physicist, could best be described as aghast!”
Did you come across any resistance or have things flowed positively?
“The most tangible resistance was a kind of pervasive incredulity that I waded through during the years of research leading up to this year. I admit that my certainty as to the validity of what I was pursuing allowed me to wade through it pretty easily. Since the release of the album and the apparently positive effect that the music has on most people’s cats, I have received a wave of support.”
Do you have cats yourself or any other animals?
“My wife and younger daughter have horses, but it seems that I am allergic to most domestic mammals.”
Do you have any thoughts about the general way cats are treated nowadays in terms of being kept indoors as companion animals?
“That’s a very interesting question. I think the feral, natural occupation of cats being solitary, territorial, and spending most of their time resting between hunting episodes, makes them fairly well suited to the typical life of an indoor cat. At least they are closer to their natural lifestyle in such an environment than, say, a dog or a parrot. I understand that there is a higher percentage of outdoor to indoor cats in the UK than in the US. Clearly, the outdoor environment must be considered. I am from northern Minnesota and it would not be very pleasant for a cat to be outdoors for half of the year.”
I noticed your research was mainly tried out on indoor cats. Any particular reason why?
“This surely was a result of the testing procedures whereby they wanted to do the testing in the home environment of each cat and needed a controlled space to put the music for cats on the one side and the control music for humans on the other.”
The research was conducted on cats in a calm state. Do you feel this music can help towards calming a cat already on a heightened state of fight or fright? This would certainly help vets and groomers.
“Before the study I had assumed that the music could be appreciated by a cat in a normal state but that a cat in an anxious state would not respond. The feedback that I have received, however, indicates that the music may be very helpful in calming anxious cats. There is a study going on right now at Louisiana State University veterinary school on clinical applications of the music. The person conducting the study had enough preliminary data to go ahead with the study and informed me that she had heard from many owners about how calm their cats were when returning from the study.”
‘Music For Cats’ is a first for Universal Music. Did they ‘get it’ right away and see the potential from the start or did they need gentle persuasion over time?
“They were intrigued by the success of the Kickstarter campaign and I understand that the president of the company is a cat person. They came to me – and I must admit that I was the one who needed to be persuaded. Any artist who has seen the documentary on the band 30 Seconds to Mars will be wary of record labels.”
Yes, having been signed to them myself, I can understand your concerns LOL! Apart from the cats themselves who do you feel can benefit the most from Music For Cats?
“I have designed the music in such a way as to include music that should be calming for humans as well as cats. The music in the lower register is below the vocal range of the cat and, therefore, does not carry information that is emotionally salient for cats. Music in the lower range is basically traffic noise to the cats. In this register I have blended in music for humans. In the testing done on the tamarin monkeys, the researchers found both types of monkey music to be irritating. I realized that if the cat’s music was irritating to the cat owners they would not put it on. This way the music can be shared by both cat and cat person. We love our pets. Most pet owners think of their pet as a member of the family. I have long thought of music as love in sonic form. Love being the ultimate connecting force; sound and expression form that connection. I truly believe that when this music is shared it can enhance the bond between people and their cats.”
I see you are a supporter for The Paw Project, as am I. How did that partnership come about?
“City the Kitty was our ‘hero” cat in the KickStarter campaign. City’s owner, Lori Shepler, awakened me to the awareness of the problem of declawing. I cringed at the thought of having my music calm a cat while digits were being removed.”
Have you always been interested in cat behaviour?
“I’m afraid that that I am allergic to cats! Music has been all of my professions and all of my hobbies since I was a child. My interest in animals began with the testing of my theory of the origin and affective processes of music. Gradually, however, through the research I developed an interest in animals that grew into a fascination and now has completely transformed me into such an animal person that it defines me as much as music does. So much so, that I consider homo sapiens to be simply another one of the species.”
What do you feel is the biggest misunderstanding concerning ownership of cats in the present climate?
“I am sure you are much more informed on this than I am. If I had to say, it might be that it’s a misunderstanding to assume that the more you love cats, the more cats you should have. They are normally territorial and solitary in their natural environment. I also believe that a fulfilled life for any mammalian species should include challenge. Cats love to hunt. To the extent that it is possible to allow cats to fullfil that challenge while protecting the hunted species, I think it would be ideal. I would like to point out, however, that many bird species’ populations have diminished and even been endangered due to predation by domestic cats. I have seen and endorse the use of collars that are very colourful that may be worn by cats outdoors that significantly improve the birds’ chances of escaping predation by cats.”
What do you feel are the biggest positives concerning ownership of cats in the present climate?
“The truth is, since I have never owned a cat, I am not in the best position to answer that question. Having done a good deal of research, however, it is clear from a number of replicated studies that people with cats are happier and live longer, healthier lives.”
Why do you think the cat has become the number one pet in the 21st century?
“Please understand that my answer to this question is merely the pondering of an amateur in the field of social preferences. In fact, after witnessing the results of the last election here, it is clear that I understand very little about people’s motivations. I think one of the reasons may be that people are busier now and believe that dogs require more human presence and care than cats. I hope that it also indicates that people are becoming more connected to the world around them and want to share their lives with an animal and they find that cats can be beautiful and loving companions.”
Are there any other cat projects on the cards or is your next album for dogs ;-)?
“I am about to begin recording music for horses and have built a prototype set of headphones for horses. I also had a pretty good day yesterday in designing music for dogs. Because of the difference in breeds, dogs are proving to be highly complex animals to write music for. I will be collaborating with Alexandra Horowitz at the Dog Cognition Centre at Columbia University in my research for music for dogs.”
Thank you so much for your answers.
Since being sent a copy of the album, I can vouch for the compositions bringing a lovely calming effect into the room when I’m grooming. The clients love the music and the humans seem to relax, passing on calm positive energy to the cats I am handling. Sadly some cats still do not like grooming and no amount of music will help to change their minds but, overall, the album is doing wonders. My cats, starting out already in a calm peaceful frame of mind, doze off to the album and seem to love the tones and rhythms mixed in with real catty purring. Actually, on the first day of listening to disc 1 my husband fell into a deep sleep whilst my cats just sat there staring at him. Did make me chuckle.
In a recent NY Times interview the album was described thus:
“In some tracks, sounds similar to the chirps of birds are overlaid with hurried streams of staccato for an energizing effect; in others, crescendos of purring and suckling sounds are designed to relax. To a human ear, the sounds are otherworldly and at times soporific.”
Yep.. sounds about right!!
The CD comes in 4 discs but can also be downloaded as MP3 or aiffs. More information can be found on the Music For Cats website: http://www.musicforcats.com/
I would highly recommend this album to anyone who works with cats or owns cats. It’s charming, soothing and original. A perfect musical experience which both cat and human can share together.
I’m looking forward to the first cat iPod!!
Below is David recording in the metalwork shop of his Father-in-law in Kamyk, Czech Republic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She is accredited by The Canine and Feline Behaviour Association of which she is a full member.