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Why Birds Sing
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About the Author

David Rothenberg-philosopher and musician-is the author of Why Birds Sing, which has been published in six languages and turned into a TV documentary by the BBC Sudden Music Hand's End and Always the Mountains. His articles have appeared in Parabola, Orion, The Nation, Wired, Dwell, Kyoto Journal, and Sierra. He is the founding editor of the Terra Nova journal and book series. Rothenberg is also a composer and jazz clarinetist who has released seven CDs, one of which, On the Cliffs of the Heart, was named one of the top ten releases of 1995 by Jazziz Magazine. He lives in Cold Spring, New York.

Reviews

Why do birds sing? This delightfully odd little book is musician Rothenberg's (Sudden Music) attempt to solve a most perplexing question. It all begins with his going to an aviary to play music with a bird. That creature-a White-crested Laughing Thrush-surprises him, changes his music, and sets him to work on this survey. The text's oddity derives from humankind's efforts to get birds' alien music onto the page, and so the reader will encounter Dadaesque mnemonic language, squiggles, sonographs, and musical notation; in fact, those who do not read music may well be lost at several points. Rothenberg applies the "whole toolbox of human talents"-poetry, music, science-and yet, it seems the mystery of why birds sing still resists human intelligence. We meet many interesting characters in these pages: the birds, of course, from song sparrow to mockingbird, and the people, from poets John Clare and Walt Whitman to the composer Olivier Messiaen and many contemporary researchers in diverse, arcane fields. Readers will not shrug off mere starling songs again. A good choice for larger public or special ornithology collections. [Also coming in April from Houghton Mifflin is Donald Kroodsma's The Singing Life of Birds: The Art and Science of Listening to Birdsong.-Ed.]-Robert Eagan, Windsor P.L., Ont. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

As science explores the frontiers of the measurable, it begins to intrude into the realm of art, and this book occupies that uneasy zone. Rothenberg, a musician and philosopher, became fascinated with the similarities between human music and birds' songs. His investigations into these matters led him to zoos and forests, where he played his clarinet along with virtuoso lyrebirds and thrushes. His goal: to find out why birds sing by using "the whole toolbox of human talents," rather than just the theories and experiments of reductionist Darwinism. "Just because science demonstrates that a song has a specific territorial or sexual purpose doesn't mean that birds aren't singing because they love to," he writes. Assuming we can know what a bird loves to do is quite a bit of anthropomorphic conjecture, of course. "It may be impossible to escape the human perspective," Rothenberg writes, and then he joyfully acknowledges what he feels to be the truth: birds make music as surely as Charlie "Bird" Parker ever did. Rothenberg delves heartily into the lovely and strange structures of bird songs and finds enough syllables, rhythms and syncopations to fill a jazz encyclopedia. Illus. Agent, Kathleen Anderson. (Apr.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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