The owl and the pussycat, part deux

On May 15 of last year I posted a cute video of a barn owl and a black cat, Gebra and Fum respectively, who seemed to be best friends. A year later there was a second video, which I just discovered. Enjoy!


  1. Posted December 28, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink


    …but where’s the pea-green sieve?


  2. RedSonja
    Posted December 28, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I think my favorite part is the cat confused by the mouse, and then the cut to the owl eating it.

    Does anyone happen to know how often play is observed in wild owls? Obviously it’s common in wild (and domestic) felids, but I’m pretty ignorant about wild raptor play. I think this would be even MORE interesting if, not only did the two species have to learn how to play with each other, but one of them also had to actually learn how to play!

    • Posted December 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      A year and a half ago, Jerry posted my story of watching a pair of young hawks in our back yard. At one point they seemed to engage in play with each other, and one also played alone — you can read it here.

      • RedSonja
        Posted December 28, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the link – those are some great pictures!

  3. morkindie
    Posted December 28, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    can a cat sneak up on an owl?

  4. Posted December 28, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    When my now 21 year old son was about 2, he would play in a little dirt pile right behind our house under a big Black Walnut tree. One day a baby owl swooped down as if to attack him but instead landed a couple of feet away. The two of them looked at each other for a few seconds and the owl flew back up into the tree. The owl then repeated his actions a dozen times or more. The owl never actually landed on or touched my son, but I stood closely by just in case that little owl actually attacked(and just in case the mother decided to get involved). At the time I thought the owl was probably practicing for that time in the future, maybe the near future, when it would have to do its own hunting. I was sure this was a baby owl not a small adult, because it landed and then flew very awkwardly. But maybe that baby owl was trying to initiate play with my son. Interesting.

  5. Posted December 28, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m surprised the fragile owl is still alive and well after a year of this. That cat deserves enormous credit. A human child playing with an owl would almost certainly have (unintentionally) hurt it by now.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted December 31, 2012 at 12:25 am | Permalink

      I wonder if declawing may have been involved. I’m generally against such forms of mutilation, but if it prevented inter-species friendship from having lethal side-effects, it would be an ethically ‘interesting’ case.

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 31, 2012 at 12:48 am | Permalink

        I was wondering that myself. I’m pretty sure claws are visible, though, in some of the shots of the cat in the tree.

  6. Another Matt
    Posted December 28, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Stravinsky’s wonderful little setting of the Lear poem is worth a listen.

    • Posted December 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      If I’m not mistraken, that’s the last work that Stravinsky ever wrote.

      I don’t think it’s serial — I’m hearing too much repititition. But it could be…I’d have to do an actual analysis, and Boosey would want more money than it’s worth to get a copy, and my quick Google-fu didn’t reveal anybody else’s take on the work.


      • Another Matt
        Posted December 28, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

        Hi Ben,

        Yes, I believe it is the last piece he wrote (save for some arrangements of — of all things — Wolf songs). And yes, it is a serial piece!

        Here’s the row:

        D E B C# A# G# G A C D# F# F

        There are three kinds of repetition going on — first, he only uses four total forms of the row (the form I gave above, the inversion also starting on D, and the retrograde of each of those). So it’s going to have the same sound throughout.

        Here’s the inversion:

        D C F D# F# G# A G E C# A# B

        This is a second level of repetition — notice here that with this ordering, the dyads [C#-A#], [D#-F#], and the trichord [G#-G-A] show up in both the prime and inverted form. This means there will be some harmonic and motivic regularity even among the forms that he uses. Further, both [C#-A#] and [D#-F#] are minor thirds, which feature prominently at the end of the row — [A-C-D#-F#], which is a chain of minor thirds.

        A third level of repetition is purely local. Instead of just going through the row, Stravinsky goes through it slowly (especially at the beginning), oscillating through dyads slowly.

        The first presentation of the row in the voice goes over the words “The owl and the pussycat went to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat, They took some honey and plenty of money wrapped up in a five-pound note.”

        Here are the pitches in order; see how they correspond with the more abstract representation I showed above:

        “The owl… pea-green boat”

        “They took… five-pound note”

        I can keep going, but this is a good start. The voice and piano parts stay relatively independent — each plays through full rows on its own in counterpoint.

        I had to sing/play this from memory (with solfege!) in my ear training class; it’s much easier if you know how it goes together.

        • Posted December 29, 2012 at 10:29 am | Permalink

          Thanks for the analysis!

          I’m again struck how Stravinsky managed to make serialism sound not like Schoenberg but like Stravinsky. Stravinsky wrote a trumpet duet, Fanfare for a New Theatre, that’s one of my favorites — and, of course, one that we had to analyze in David Hickman’s studio.



          • Another Matt
            Posted December 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

            My favorite is the so-called Huxley Variations.

            You’re very right about Stravinsky and his brand of serialism, but one of the things I learned early on in Milton Babbitt’s studio is that serialism is a set of syntactic systems, not a style. One could just as easily be struck by how Brahms managed to make tonality sound not like Beethoven but like Brahms. 🙂 I have often had people compliment me: “Finally a Babbitt student who doesn’t write 12-tone music,” not knowing that most of it is in fact unabashedly serial.

            In any case, Stravinsky picked up a technique that Krenek was using, which he for some reason thought was normative for 12-tone music. He made it entirely his own, however. One of the biggest reasons his serial music sounds so different from Schoenberg’s (besides the more obvious things like rhythm and orchestration) is the difference in how to treat the harmonic aspect of the music.

            Schoenberg was great at composing rows in which there were all kinds of exploitable motivic relationships between different forms of the row, but above all he used hexachords which could invert onto their complement, so that he could write a row and its inversion in counterpoint and get aggregates (that is, all 12 pitches) between the voices as a harmonic unit.

            Stravinsky does nothing of the kind. In his system there are a bunch of built-in canons, doublings, and symmetries, which worked really well with his intervallic ear. There’s a little introduction here, if you’re interested:


            • Diane G.
              Posted December 29, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

              . . . composing rows in which there were all kinds of exploitable motivic relationships between different forms of the row, but above all he used hexachords which could invert onto their complement . . .

              Gentlemen, this is an English language site…

              😀 I’m always so amazed at the talent we have here.

  7. docbill1351
    Posted December 28, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    I played this video full-screen twice for Kink and he watched it intently both times. He was probably fascinated by the owl, but you could see his eyes darting back and forth. He really enjoyed it!

  8. Diane G.
    Posted December 28, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Permalink


  9. Posted December 29, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Two perfectly designed predators (designed by evolution, of course) showing their mutual respect for each other.

    And by the way, what does “sub” mean when folks post it in the comments section?

    • K E Decilon
      Posted December 29, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      It means “subscribing”, without making a comment.

      When you reply, there are 2 check boxes available for this thread.

      “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.”
      “Notify me of new posts via email.”

  10. Dale
    Posted December 29, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    The Owl and the Pussycat poem

    Edward Lear (1812-1888)

    The Owl and the Pussycat went to sea
    In a beautiful pea-green boat,
    They took some honey, and plenty of money,
    Wrapped up in a five pound note.
    The Owl looked up to the stars above,
    And sang to a small guitar,
    “O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are, you are, you are,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are.”
    Pussy said to the Owl “You elegant fowl,
    How charmingly sweet you sing.
    O let us be married, too long we have tarried;
    But what shall we do for a ring?”
    They sailed away, for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-tree grows,
    And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
    With a ring at the end of his nose, his nose, his nose,
    With a ring at the end of his nose.
    “Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling your ring?”
    Said the Piggy, “I will”
    So they took it away, and were married next day
    By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
    They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
    Which they ate with a runcible spoon.
    And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand.
    They danced by the light of the moon, the moon, the moon,
    They danced by the light of the moon.

    The Owl and the Pussycat poem

  11. Another Matt
    Posted December 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Diane G.:

    Gentlemen, this is an English language site…
    I’m always so amazed at the talent we have here.

    Aw, I’m sorry. Music theory nerds can get into it, and all academic pursuits have their jargons. Here’s an example, which requires just a little music knowledge.

    Schoenberg’s 4th quartet starts with this melody in the first violin:

    D C# A Bb F Eb E C Ab G F# B

    If you were to look at those pitches, you’ll find that all 12 possible pitches are there (noting that Ab is the same pitch as G#, for instance). This is called a “12-tone row” — it’s a serialization of the pitches, and the piece is built entirely from this ordering of pitches.

    The ordering itself is not willy-nilly — Schoenberg took great care in the construction of his rows, and there are all sorts of constraints that can matter.

    Let’s cut the row into two six-pitch segments. A collection of six pitches is called a “hexachord.”

    (D C# A Bb F Eb) (E C Ab G F# B)

    Now, I’m going to reorder the pitches on the left from lowest to highest (as they appear in the melody), and on the right from highest to lowest.

    (A Bb C# D Eb F) (C B Ab G F# E)

    It may not be immediately apparent, but these two collections are mirror-images of each other — from note to note, the right collection goes down by the same musical interval the left goes up (viz. 1 half-step, 3 half-steps, 1 half-step, 1 half-step, 2 half-steps). If you have a piano, you can test it out.

    The collection on the right is the “inversion” of the collection on the left, and the two are “complementary” — together they make all 12 pitches. This is what I meant when I said he uses “hexachords” which “invert” onto their “complements.” Not all other composers who work(ed) with 12-tone rows cared about this at all, but it’s an almost guaranteed feature of Schoenberg’s, and it’s a big part of what makes his music sound like Schoenberg — it constrains the kinds of sounds that are available, and the kinds of larger musical structures that are available.

    There are many other structural features of this row that he exploits elsewhere in the piece — symmetries that are deliberately built in. For instance, if you take the first three pitches of the melody and the last three pitches, they each make up three-note collections (“trichords”) that are inversions of each other, while the “inner” two trichords are inversions of themselves. Similarly, if you split the row up into 4-pitch groups (“tetrachords”), the first tetrachord is its own inversion, while the second and third are inversions of each other.

    The upshot of all this is that different parts of the row sound like other parts of the row, so there is a kind of local organization and reflection among the parts, but situated within the larger organizing principle of having all 12 pitches.

    In this sense, it’s very much like writing a fugue subject — if you want a good fugue, you have to write a subject that has structural features you can exploit, and this isn’t a trivial task.

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