Our infernal devices
May 29, 2011 11:53 AM   Subscribe

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 cats were arranged properly to produce a succession of notes from the octave… Sixteenth-century Europe, Jingle Cats, and the 2008 Housing Bubble: The Birth of Sampling

The katzenklavier appears in a number of late Renaissance works, including Athanasius Kircher's Musurgia Universalis, and then again in early modern psychiatry.
posted by waterunderground (20 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Marvin Suggs and his Muppaphone.
posted by zippy at 12:01 PM on May 29, 2011

“In order to raise the spirits of an Italian prince burdened by the cares of his position, a musician created for him a cat piano. The musician selected cats whose natural voices were at different pitches and arranged them in cages side by side, so that when a key on the piano was depressed, a mechanism drove a sharp spike into the appropriate cat's tail. The result was a melody of meows that became more vigorous as the cats became more desperate. Who could not help but laugh at such music? Thus was the prince raised from his melancholy.”

Oh, the good old days.
posted by Forktine at 12:05 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Mouse Organ
posted by hippybear at 12:08 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

and, because I really cannot resist:

MetaFilter: Torture is at the foundation of this technical apparatus.
posted by hippybear at 12:11 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I first read about the cat organ in 2000 when I was an undergrad specializing in early modern court history. Or rather, I read this when I was an undergrad specializing in Scandinavian history. No way was I going to study anything other than the courtly freak show after reading about this.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:15 PM on May 29, 2011

Sixteenth-century Europe, Jingle Cats, and the 2008 Housing Bubble

I'll take Adam Curtis documentaries for a thousand, Alex.
posted by fleetmouse at 12:17 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

There was Muppet Show episode along these lines, but damned if I can find it.

When the King of Spain, Felipe II was in Brussels in 1549 visiting his brother the Emperor Charles V,

Charles V was Philip II's father. Moreover, Charles did not abdicate the throne of Spain until 1556. (Let's avoid the whole recency issue for now.)
posted by IndigoJones at 12:32 PM on May 29, 2011

D'oh! What zippy said.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:34 PM on May 29, 2011

The Torturer's Apprentice.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:43 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think a cross-reference to The Cat Piano is obligatory here as well (animated, featuring Nick Cave and a katzenklavier).
posted by hackwolf at 12:44 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

jingle cats covers of popular late 90s songs:

Papa Roach - Last Resort

Linkin Park - Crawling

Korn - Twist

Lit - My Own Worst Enemy (sung by a camel)
posted by p3on at 1:01 PM on May 29, 2011

More internet cats. At least in the modern era we have cats who actually can play the piano themselves.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:44 PM on May 29, 2011

How long until piano cat plays a piano made of people.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:45 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Too long.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:47 PM on May 29, 2011

Somehow I feel like there ought to be a Gene Wolfe reference here (torturers, art, weirdness) but I can't quite make it work.
posted by Alterscape at 1:55 PM on May 29, 2011

I think the shock value of the cat piano and the postmodern language are covering up that the metaphor hasn't been developed enough. Is a cat playing a note standing in for an abstraction? Well the abstraction of notes in music in general was started as a representation of individual people singing. Are people singing set songs in a chorus standing in for an abstraction and giving up their individuality? Is musical sampling such a novelty over this?

Was the real problem of the housing bubble that these economic decisions were made based on abstractions? Money is an abstraction. Certainly abstractions were applied beyond their applicability (gaussian couplulas, etc.)
posted by Schmucko at 2:42 PM on May 29, 2011

Yeah, I'm never sure which is actually more interesting: the role of torture in the development of modern philosophy and governance, or the enduring temptation to inflate the role of torture in the development of modern philosophy and governance.

At the very least though, and thanks no doubt to Toxoplasma gondii, there is a history of cat memes in modern thought that begs to be written.
posted by waterunderground at 3:18 PM on May 29, 2011

Ah, the early origins of Mario Paint Composer.
posted by Nattie at 3:25 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

"The cat-piano player repeated his disingenuous smile. "Yes, Mr. Peterson, I know, I know. Things are done to you, it is all a gigantic conspiracy. I've heard the story a hundred times. But the kitten is here , is it not? The kitten is it not?" Peterson looked at the kitten, which was crying huge tigerish tears into its empty dish. "Listen, Mr. Peterson," the cat-piano player said, "listen!" The blade of his immense knife jumped back into the handle with a twack! And the hideous music began."

Like many people, I first learned of the cat-piano from Donald Barthelme's magnificent short story "A Shower of Gold."
posted by escabeche at 6:10 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Further proof that postmodernists can write 1000 words without saying a damn thing.
posted by spitefulcrow at 10:40 AM on May 30, 2011

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