Literature Appetizer: Bug Music by David Rothenberg

In Literature Appetizer, Ben gives you just a taste of a book. Not meant to replace the full meal, this is meant to whet your appetite. Bon appetit!

Taken by David Rothenberg in his book  Bug Music

Taken by David Rothenberg in his book Bug Music

...[Marshall} does not laugh when I ask him if insect sounds might influence human music. Instead, he plays me two recordings—one from Argentina, another from China—intense cicada soundscapes that resemble nothing I have ever heard. “I don’t know if Chinese music has overtly learned from cicada sound,” Marshall muses, “but something just sounds Asian about them. What do you think?”
— Bug Music pg 33

Humans have taken pride over the millennia of our achievements; Buildings, ideas, even going to the moon! But what if music, generally seen as a human created form of self expression, has actually been going on for millions of years on the planet before humanity ever left Africa? What if, for example, the intervals that bugs in China created inspired in some way the specific music theory in that area?

In his book Bug MusicDavid Rothenberg explores the intersection between insects and music. Take the above example. Marshall (an entomologist) plays different calls from cicadas from around the world. Rothenberg notes that the Asian cicadas sound, well, Asian. Their harmonies belong in Eastern music theory rather than a Western one. And the Argentinian cicada almost has a Latin dance rhythm when calling.

But not all music making is harmonious. Rothenberg takes time to talk to David Dunn (in the above video) who uses the bark beetles' own calls against them. Since the bark beetle is an invasive species, Dunn is trying to save the forest as a whole by disrupting the mating and feeding habits of the bark beetle by using music!

The most iconic part of the entire book is when the author plays amoungst a swarm of 17 year cicadas. By joining in this once every two decade occurrence, Rothenberg inspires us to create music with the rest of our ecosystems instead of just playing music closed off from the rest of nature.

David Rothenberg jamming out with cicadas. Photo taken by Charles Lindsay

David Rothenberg jamming out with cicadas. Photo taken by Charles Lindsay

Rothenberg goes into more depth about each section of his book on his own personal website. He also has a Soundcloud (think Facebook but for music making and sharing) which has many of his own works creating music with bugs, birds, and even whales!