Bug Music: How Insects Gave Us Rhythm and Noise

David Rothenberg. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-00521-2
Following books about bird music (Why Birds Sing) and whale music (Thousand Mile Song), Rothenberg, a jazz musician and professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, proposes that the “wild percussion sounds” of insects were humans’ original musical inspiration, the source of our interest in “the trill, the thrum, the resonant, the mangled, the mashed.” Rothenberg researches and visits with scientists and musicians preoccupied with bug music, and intersperses stories of his musical adventures, philosophical musings, and charts of bug buzz patterns with poetry from the five-volume set of singing-insect literary references gathered by Montreal entomologist Keith Kevan. Most importantly, Rothenberg listens deeply to the insects and muses on what we need to know “to be musically attuned to and influenced by these six-legged singers.” The book’s climax is a concert where he collaborates with members of Brood XIX, “the largest of the thirteen-year cicada populations,” which emerged in 2011. Despite occasional exuberant incoherence, Rothenberg raises thoughtful questions about the nature of music and our ability to communicate with other species. The author’s wide-ranging musical interests—from Renaissance madrigals and John Cage to electronica and katydids—together with his playful, almost romantic approach to the subject helps engage general readers, balancing the book’s more technical material. 56 b&w photos and illus. Agent: Michelle Rubin, Writer’s House. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 12/24/2012
Release date: 04/16/2013
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