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Early psychiatrist invents cat-torture music to shock mental patients


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This seems just like psychiatry: Torture cats to torment patients in the name of a cure.


Hey, what's that sound: the Katzenklavier

David McNamee

guardian.co.uk, Monday 19 April 2010 11.31 EDT


What is it? The Katzenklavier is, erm, a piano made out of cats. No, we're not making this up.


Who uses it? Despite the initial design having some vague specifications about ordering pitch, the Katzenklavier was never intended, really, for musical use. It was actually invented for psychiatrists. Wait, it gets weirder.


How does it work? The existing drawings, based on historical descriptions of the Katzenklavier, suggested that the instrument consisted of a keyboard, with seven to nine cats held in cages corresponding to the approximate pitch of their mewling. Each of the cats' tails is stretched out and held down. Above each tail is a nail. Depressing a key assigned to a specific cat causes a mechanism to drive the nail into the tail resulting in a shriek from the poor animal. Pretty horrible, eh?


Where does it come from? Well you can console yourself with the knowledge (as far as we know) that the contraption was never built. It was invented sometime in the 17th century by Athanasius Kircher, a German Jesuit renaissance man operating in the fields of medicine, oriental studies and geology. The Katzenklavier was one of several wacky machines Kircher claimed to have invented – the others included an automaton statue which could listen and talk, a perpetual motion machine, and the Aeolian harp.


Why is it classic? Because it's just too horrible to contemplate! An 18th-century German physician named Johann Christian Reil wrote that the device was intended to shake mental patients who had lost the ability to focus out of a "fixed state" and into "conscious awareness". The patient must be placed so that they are sitting in direct view of the cats' expressions when the psychiatrist plays a fugue on the infernal instrument. ....The Katzenklavier also inspired the excellent Nick Cave-narrated animation,





The Cat Piano narrated by Nick Cave



This is not medical advice. Discuss any decisions about your medical care with a knowledgeable medical practitioner.

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has surpassed our humanity." -- Albert Einstein

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