Why cats hate Mahler symphonies
My recent post 'Your cat is a music therapist' was well appreciated judging by site traffic. So here is a codicil which raises some interesting points about synaesthesia. Reportedly Alexander Scriabin, Jean Sibelius, Olivier Messiaen, György Ligeti and Franz Liszt were among the classical composers who experienced cross-over between sensory channels. The impact of narrowing sensory bandwidth as music moves from a live to a recorded environment, and then from analogue to lossy digital formats is little understood and little researched.But it may have important implications for classical music's attempts to reach a new audience, and, topically, it may be very relevant to the post-COVID experience of Zoom concerts and live music in socially distanced auditoriums.
I will discuss how what we see influences what we hear in a forthcoming post. Meanwhile here is an extract from Akif Pirinçci and Rolf Degen’s book Cat Sense which explains the synaesthetic impact of a Mahler symphony on a cat.
In cats... it seems that information can switch from one channel (hearing) to another processing track (sight), performing an action scientifically described as synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is the amalgamation of different sensory channels which usually function quite separately. Sounds are perceived as images, while smells are ‘felt’ as a gentle touch... Synaesthesia is frequently found in literature in the form of metaphorical descriptions of feelings that are difficult to define precisely. The poets of the Romantic period were particularly fond of synaesthesia; they also tended to like cats, and produced several immortal works of feline literature, in particular the delightful fairy tale of Puss in Boots and E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Philosophy of Life of Murr the Cat. The Romantics, consumed by a sense of unquenchable longing and using poetry to cast a spell of enchantment over everyday life, used the stylistic device of synaesthesia to reveal hidden connections and cross frontiers of meaning.Image is copyright free via Jooin. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).
However, evolution can hardly have created synaesthetic nerve cells just so that the cat could reel intoxicated about the place in a state of poetic rapture. The task of such related perceptions is probably to give the cat more precise information about the outside world, presenting it to the mind’s eye as a complete and fully dimensional work of art. Cats are supposed to have astonishing abilities to find their way home unerringly over incredible distances. Perhaps they really do have a synaesthetic aural image of the sounds of home stored in the memory, and make their way towards that image step by step. One hardly likes to surmise what visions a cat may have on hearing a loud hiccup or even a symphony by Mahler.