Music in nature: from birds and cicadas to whales

David Rothenberg

When Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described music as the “universal language of mankind,” he was only partially right.

Why? Because the roots of music trace all the way back to nature, specifically the animal kingdom, which uses it to communicate or simply commune. Author Michael Spitzer goes even further, describing music as our “umbilical cord” to Mother Nature, noting, “The very simple answer to where music begins is in animals, because birds sing and whales sing.”

NJIT’s David Rothenberg knows this first-hand, as a composer and jazz clarinetist who jams with fish large and small and hordes of whirring cicadas – insects that spark both his heart and brain. As he explains,

“Playing along with these guys is like joining into a fantastic trove with millions of singers.”

As a researcher who investigates the musicality of animals, Rothenberg speaks authoritatively and animatedly about the music of fish, birds and yes, cicadas, identifying three distinct sounds they make during their massive mating call every 17 years. In short, if you want to know what makes nature sing, why and how, he’s your source.

To interview him, simply click on the button below.

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