After recently taking in two young felines, I was startled to come home one evening to find the house pulsating with a booming drum loop punctuated by erratic, stuttering rhythmic patterns. My initial reaction—that my home had been invaded by some musically inclined human burglars—quickly gave way to laughter when I opened my studio door to find two cats sitting calmly on a programmable keyboard, having somehow executed the requisite forays into the device’s sample banks.
This is just one of the reasons that I love having cats hanging out where I work: their seemingly insatiable curiosity for exploring and manipulating objects, which has yielded a happy coincidence or provoked musical insight on more than one occasion. In addition, they provide much-appreciated companionship in a space—my studio—where human companionship would prove incredibly distracting; considering the amount of time I spend in my workspace, that translates into a significant mood boost and can keep me from feeling too isolated as I hunker down to finish a piece. It’s like having a friend in the studio, minus the obligation to communicate and without the judgment (or fear of judgment) that makes it very difficult for me to bang out a draft when humans are around. And while cats obviously don’t ask specific questions, they often exude a general sense of inquisitiveness that I find well-suited to the kind of free-ranging experimentation I have to engage in before the outlines of a new piece become clear.
And most of all, I enjoy having cats in the studio because they couldn’t care less about things like phrases, harmonic progressions, or dynamic markings. Admittedly they have this characteristic in common with the majority of humans, but not the humans that I tend to interact with as a musician. That’s why a cat on your lap—or better, on your keyboard—is one of the best things that a composer could ask for: something instinctive rather than cerebral, and natural rather than designed—a furry little piece of world amidst all these invisible, uncertain creative thoughts who just when we’re most lost in thought brings everything back into perspective.