CATcerto with Nora

Today we feature the recent CATcerto performance featuring Nora the piano playing cat:

The piece was a project by Lithuanian conductor, composer and artist Mindaugas Piečaitis. The performance featured in this video was by Klaipėda Chamber Orchestra in the Klaipėda Concert Hall in Klaipėda, Lithuania, on June 5th, 2009.

There was a lot of chatter after this performance about the novelty of this performance, and characterizations as a “joke.” But it is a genuine musical performance, and as we have noted our past review of Nora there is a definite characteristic and quality to the music that she plays. Mindaugas Piečaitis picked up on this in creating the CATcerto, as he describes in this interview:

“I was enchanted by her abilities and started some further research. I reviewed everything I could find on the Internet and it just intrigued me more…”
“I wrote down all of Nora`s improvisations in music (notes), happily remembering my time at the M.K.Čiurlionis art school, when we used to write musical dictations. It never crossed my mind that some time in my life, my teacher could ever be a cat”, – M.Piečaitis said with a smile.

In the actual piece, one can hear how the orchestral music does reflect Nora’s playing of repeated block chords and seconds. It is interesting to think about how this was done over time, with meticulous analysis of video and timing of the orchestral performance:

The problems of the performance of this atypical piece became clear during its first rehearsals. It is not very easy to guess what the cat is playing, so that the video material must be studied very closely and be oriented in the accompaniment not only by what the soloist is playing, but also by the movements she makes beforehand. This became a particular challenge for the orchestra.

Given my own background and interest in improvised music, it would be interesting to turn this premise around and attempt a free improvisation in which the human performers react musically to what the cat is playing.

Nora, The Piano-Playing Cat

This wonderful video features Nora, the piano-playing cat. Not a synthesizer, but it is a keyboard instrument.

In addition to the simple cuteness of a cat playing piano, I actually found myself listening to music itself. Clearly a lot of major and minor seconds, mostly because they are easy to reach with a single paw, but there is also the strong repeating rhythm. And she seems remarkably consistent over multiple brief “performances.”

I recommend listening to Nora's music without observing the video, as I am now, and you will hear an interesting minimal atonal piece that stands on its own. Many detractors of atonal and free-rhythm music often argue that “their five-year old could do that” or even that their pet could do that, but perhaps the fact that it captures childlike and cat-like innocence is part of the charm such music.