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Dead medium: Cat Piano and Tiger Organ Cat Piano
From: (Richard Kadrey)
Source(s): LES MEDECINES DE LA FOLIE by Dr. Pierre Morel and Claude Quetel

Pluriel-Hachette Pub., from photocopy; date unknown

translated by Francois Baschet

Cat Piano:

"What should we say about the cat piano? The idea that

such an instrument could have existed gives a lot to think

about, even if it was built on an experimental basis: a

piano where strings are replaced by cats, each of them

giving a different note.

"It seems that Father Kirchner, a German Jesuit of

the XVIIth century with an interest in musical things,

gave the first description of this weird and cruel


"'Not long ago,' says he, 'an actor, as ingenious as

illustrious , built such an instrument to cure the

melancholy of a great Prince. He gathered cats of

differing size and therefore in the pitch of their voices.

He enclosed them in a basket specially built for this

purpose, so their tails, coming out through holes, were

held in tubes. He added keys with thin needles instead of

hammers, and installed the cats according to their voices

in such a way that each key would correspond to the tail

of an animal, and he put the instrument in a suitable

place for the pleasure of the Prince. Then he played it,

producing chords corresponding to the mewings of the

animals. Indeed the keys pressed by the fingers of the

musician, by trotting the tails of the cats, would enrage

the poor animals and make them scream with a high or low

pitch, producing a melody that would make people laugh or

even incite mice to dance.'"

(...) "Johann-Christian Reil, renowned neuro-anatomist

from Germany, mentions the cat piano (Katzenklavier) in a

list of therapies for mental illness, published in 1802.

He even specified that the patient has to sit 'in such a

way that he does not lose sight of the physiognomy and the

mimicry of the animals.'


From: From:mroberts@MIT.EDU (Martin Roberts)
Source(s): David Toop, OCEAN OF SOUND: AETHER TALK, AMBIENT SOUND AND IMAGINARY WORLDS (London: Serpent's Tail, 1995):

pages 72-73.

"Of all the noise instruments in history, one of the least

equivocal in its intent is Tipu's Tiger. Captured in

India by the British army after the defeat and death by

bullet and bayonet of Tipu Sultan in 1799, this large and

amazing object is now housed in the Victoria and Albert

Museum, London.

"The most succinct and evocative description was

written by an employee of the East India Company:

"'This piece of Mechanism represents a Royal Tyger in

the act of devouring a prostrate European. There are some

barrels in imitation of an Organ, within the body of the

Tyger, and a row of Keys of natural Notes. The sounds

produced by the Organ are intended to resemble the Cries

of a person in distress intermixed with the roar of a

Tyger. The machinery is so contrived that while the Organ

is playing, the hand of the European is often lifted up,

to express his helpless and deplorable condition.'

"John Keats saw Tipu's Tiger in the East India

Company's offices and later referred to it in a satire he

wrote on the Prince Regent: 'that little buzzing noise,

Whate'er your palmistry may make of it, Comes from a play-

thing of the Emperor's choice, From a Man-Tiger-Organ,

prettiest of his toys.'

"And when the tiger was first exhibited in the newly-

opened Victoria and Albert Museum, the public cranked the

handle to make it roar with such sadistic, joyful

frequency that students in the adjacent library were

driven half-mad by the distraction.

"In a technical analysis of the instrument, Henry

Willis speculated that 'the intended method of use for the

keyboard organ was to run the knuckles up and down the

scale to produce the effects of a screaming man being

killed by a tiger.' Because the design and materials

suggest a European rather than an Indian maker, Willis

suggested that the tiger and its victim were constructed

by either a malicious Frenchman or a renegade Englishman.

"But whoever made this wonderfully macabre sculpture,

Tipu certainly enjoyed it. He was obsessed with tigers,

for one thing; for another, as a Muslim whose wealth and

land had been plundered by the colonialists, he hated the

British. Reportedly, he used to circumcise them when he

took prisoners. His walls were decorated with scenes

depicting soldiers being dismembered, crushed by

elephants, eaten by tigers and other fates too obscene for

the British major who saw them to form a verbal


"'Better to die like a soldier than to live a

miserable dependent on the infidels on the list of their

pensioned rajas and nabobs,' Tipu said at his last

military conference. Delicious irony: through the

preservation of imperial spoils, albeit mute and frozen in

the act of mauling within a glass case, the

objectification of Tipu's hatred endures."