Cellist and composer David Teie has been sparking conversation since the announcement of his project Music for Cats. By creating what has been dubbed species-specific music, David has composed ambient-esque tracks targeted towards cats in an attempt to provide enrichment to our feline friends. Using his knowledge of music theory and composition coupled with research data acquired from the University of Wisconsin's Charles Snowdon, David has successfully incorporated feline vocalizations and pitches into this project to create his own genre.
His work has very progressive implications as it could help us to learn more about how animals communicate with humans. By understanding the kinds of sounds animals prefer, we may be able to bridge the gap between our respective languages and form deeper bonds with a variety of sentient beings.
I was given the opportunity to speak with David about the project and what he believes this could mean for music going forward.
Prox: While a sizable portion of our society tends to love animals in general, cats seem to hold a special place in many people’s hearts. What do you think it is about this particular animal that draws people to them?
David: I think it is a combination of admiration, warm-cuddly adorability, and independence. People tend to like the idea that they are naturally independent and are able to get by on their own, but are also capable of being wonderful companions.
Prox: Were there any significant challenges that you experienced coming into this project as a musician and not a feline expert?
David: Since I always create the music from research-to-application, the lack of beginning as a non-feline expert wasn’t a problem. I only need to know a handful of details about a given species’ perception, development, and vocalizations in order to create the music.
Prox: You’re actually allergic to cats. Did you ever feel like you weren't able to fully immerse yourself in the compositions because of this limitation? Did it feel less “experiential” than some of your other projects due to the volume of observation and research?
David: As I mentioned, I always design the species-specific music as a booklearner. As it happens, the intuition that is so valuable to a musician composing for other humans may lead in the wrong direction when composing for another species.
Prox: The cello segments are the backbone of the music in this series but what are some other ambient elements that you intentionally tried to inject into this project? Were there any artists that you took inspiration from?
David: I include a few instrumental versions of cat vocalizations like purring and the rhythm of suckling that all cats will have heard as their brains developed. The cello sounds are mostly for the human ears, to make the music palatable for the cat owners. The low tones are pretty much traffic noise to cats, so that’s where I include a layer of music for people.
I can’t say that I was inspired by any artists to create this music. In fact, when creating music for another animal, I regularly need to talk myself out of composing music that align with my own personal preferences.
Prox: What are the implications of this project and research? Do you think that discovering the musical tastes of animals could potentially lead to other types of communication?
David: Most definitely! I think the implications are many, including the realization that many animals are capable of appreciating beauty. Once we realize that, it will no longer be good enough for us to take captive species and stick them in a cage and throw in a used tire and call it “enrichment”. I am convinced that the kind of examination of vocalizations of a species that is necessary to create music for that species expands our understanding of their communication.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite artists, business people, creatives or intellectuals?
David: The book of Vincent Van Gogh’s letters is my artistic bible. It is so complete as a guide for creativity, that I will not mention any other influence. The humility, devotion to finding his “voice”, appreciation and recognition of others, are all important, but the most astounding of his characteristics was his absolute dedication to his work. Consider: he drew sketches for 10 years before working with colors because he felt he needed to earn the right to paint.
Prox: Favorite Hobbies?
David: Music is all of my professions and all of my hobbies.
Prox: Tips for aspiring artists?
David: These words of Pablo Casals guided me “Do not be vain because you happen to have talent, it is not of your doing. Work. Work constantly and nourish that talent.”
Prox: Information on upcoming projects and releases?
David: Last week I sent off my first song for dogs to Alexandra Horowitz at the dog cognition center at Barnard College. And I am now engineering headphones for horses to use to listen to the music for them that is in the offing.
Prox: Final Thoughts?
David: As we humans ransack the place and take over the land, more and more species will be only viable in captivity. I believe that the least we can do is to try to bring some enjoyment and beauty into their captive worlds. Since beauty is in the eye of the species, it will not be the beauty that we enjoy, but beauty that is tailored to the perceptions and desires of each species.
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