Nyan Cat orchestra: composer creates classical music variations on a meme theme

[Video Link].

Craig Davis Pinson, a composer who is a Boston Conservatory student, writes in the liner notes for the video embedded above:

This is a set of variations written on the melody heard in the Youtube video Nyan Cat. It is an experiment, in which I tried to find the limits of how far I could transform the melody before it begins losing its identity. The theme is known as Nyanyanyanyanyanyanya!, originally posted by username daniwellP on the Japanese video sharing website, Nico Nico Douga. The Nyan Cat phenomenom has become ingrained in popular culture, and amazes me both in its sheer absurdity and its freakishly colossal popularity. However, fascinating as they are to me, the origins of the theme are not played upon in this composition. Instead, I treated Nyanyanyanyanyanyanya! as pure musical material from which to generate music. The motivation to use this theme came from my repeated viewings of the video, and slowly realizing that it is a strangely alluring melody. Therefore, this is my tribute to Nyan Cat. Credit goes to daniwell-p for creating this theme, prguitarman for creating the gif animation, and saraj00n for joining them. Theme used for non-commercial purposes as per daniwell-P's request.

On a large scale, the work is structured along a simple alternation pattern. The theme and its variations alternate, similarly to rondo form. However, the theme is progressively dissolved, meaning that each time it returns it contains less percentage of the source material. This chipping-away continues until there's nothing recognizable left. In the variation episodes, more tools are employed to change the essence of the theme, especially, pronounced changes of duration, texture, harmonic character, and of the intervallic makeup of the melody. Each of the variations has its own defined character, and they contrast sharply with one another in mood and technique. Despite of the contrast of its sections, the piece exploits a long-scale narrative arc, playing on the contrast between the theme's duration - which remains essentially consistent at each iteration - and the durations of the variation episodes, which seem to grow out of control as their proportions become subverted.

This is a recording of the Juventas Ensemble performing the premiere of the work, on the Composer Recital Series 12, February 9, 2012 at Seully Hall in The Boston Conservatory. Many thanks go to this amazing ensemble for valiantly performing a very demanding score! I really appreciate it!! 

Juventas New Music Ensemble:

Lidiya Yankovskaya, Conductor
Zach Jay, Flute
Marguerite Levin, Clarinet
Julia Scott Carey, Piano
Yohanan Chendler, Violin
Drew Ricciardi, Viola
Rachel Arnold, Cello

(thanks, @parches!)


  1. I’ve been waiting a long time for some Serious Music to be created from this fine piece of memery. 

  2. The Nyan cat song sounds to me like a ripoff of Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Hoedown, which wikipedia tells me is a cover of Aaron Copland. (You know, the beef it’s what’s for dinner song.)

    1. Copland’s Hoedown is an adaptation of Boneparte’s Retreat. Look for Wm. H Stepp’s recording — I believe one of Alan Lomax’s. That’s the arrangement Copland drew from.

    1. Or, to create your own random version of a Nyan symphony, use the following algorithm:

      1) Go to http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/nyanyanyanyanyanyanya

      2) Click on the YouTube video at the top of the page.  As soon as the nyan’s start for that video (most have visual cues), scroll down to the next video on the page (skipping any that have been deleted).

      3) Repeat step 2 until bottom of page is reached.

      4) A not-too-fast net connection is actually ideal for this, as the parallel videos will swamp the bandwidth and thus randomly go into and out of wait mode, contributing to  the variability of the aggregate sonic output.

  3. I don’t understand why the “video” is just a still. Why not put the Nyan cat animation up for the musical variations video. I think it’d make it more fun.

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