There has been rhythm on this planet for millions of years longer than humans have opened their mouths to sing. Long before birds, long before whales, insects have been thrumming, scraping, and drumming complex beats out into the world. David Rothenberg decided to investigate the resounding beats of cicadas, crickets, katydids, leafhoppers and water bugs in his unusual third foray into music made with and out of the animal world. After working with birds and whales, he now tackles the minute complex tunes of the entomological universe, building songs live nad in the studio with cicadas who emerge only once every seventeen years, treehoppers who tap complex vibrations onto plant stalks, and a tiny beetle who makes one of the animal world’s loudest sounds by vibrating its penis underwater.
He is joined by guitarist Robert Jürjendal, who’s worked with Fripp and Eno, Timothy Hill of the Harmonic Choir, Umru Rothenberg on iPad, and millions of tapping, screeching, and howling bugs—Hear them before they hear you. - www.gruenrekorder.de/
It would be easy for the project concept to overshadow Rothenberg as a musician, but pieces such as “What Makes Them Dance?” and “Riddim Bugz” nicely spotlight his technical abilities as a player, especially when the tunes' laid-back grooves allow him to solo so freely; his decision to play bass clarinet on some of the tracks (e.g., “Kikitara”) is a good one, too, given how well its deep-throated croak complements the insect sounds. The presence of guitarist Robert Jürjendal on four pieces also adds a lot to the recording. He serves up a quasi-psychedelic solo on “Katydid Prehistory” that serves as a nice lead-in to Rothenberg's bluesy reflections, and on “Riddim Bugz” spreads Frisell-esque lines across a regulated mass of crickets and katydids. In essence, the guitar becomes a welcome third voice that adds contrast to the woodwinds and insect noises.
In keeping with the cover image, Rothenberg presents the project with a refreshing degree of irreverence. Oh, he's serious about it, of course, but he's also not averse to seeing its lighter side—how could one do otherwise when one of the sounds comes from the Water Boatman, a tiny underwater beetle who produces its loud thrum by vibrating its penis underwater (to which Rothenberg dryly comments, “Do not try this at home”). He's no fanatical purist either who views the alteration of insect sounds as some kind of heinous violation; in reference to to “Glynwood Nights,” for instance, he's upfront about having slowed down the live outdoors recording in order to better reveal the subtleties of the human-insect interactions. Elsewhere, he's not averse to including electronics to, as he says, “outbug the real work of bugs, so close to the oscillators and filters of electronic music are the mechanisms of our ancient little friends.” - textura.org
We praise thee auspicious Cicada, enthroned like a king On the tree’s summit, thou cheer’st us with exquisite song… Free from suffering, though hast neither blood nor flesh – What is there prevents thee from being a god?
Written in the first century BC, these lines by the Greek poet Anacreon are the earliest recorded example of insect praise. Attributing god-like status to his singing friend, Anacreon recognises its difference from other life on Earth. In a later age he may have asked “what prevents thee from being a machine?”
When Sublime Frequencies released Tucker Martine’s album of insect field recordings, Broken Hearted Dragonflies: Insect Electronica From Southeast Asia in 2004, many listeners refused to believe that the glitchy, buzzing tones on the CD hadn’t originated in a laptop or a synthesiser. Conversely, anyone listening to David Tudor’s Rainforest for the first time might easily be persuaded that they were hearing actual field recordings from the Amazon jungle.
“Some hear bug music, some hear people music, all depends on your ears” wrote the 19th century Japanese poet Wâfu. This epigram opens David Rothenberg’s new book Bug Music, which explores this overlap between natural and synthetic, insect and human-made sound.
“If you like electronic music, you will like insect sounds,” says Rothenberg. “Bug music is electronic music, there is a deep, important connection here. People have loved insect sounds for many thousands of years. Prehistoric people, and Neanderthals, would probably have loved analogue synthesizers.”
Rothenberg himself is rhapsodic about insect sounds and, as with his previous investigations of bird and whale song, he set out to perform alongside a range of insect musicians: “the snowy tree cricket is one of the simplest and most beautiful… the cicadas among the most intense and gripping, while the treehoppers’ vibrational taps are among the most astonishingly complex.” All these collaborations can be heard on the Bug Music companion CD.
Bug Music encompasses an incredible breadth of scale, from the great – the mysterious 17-year incubation cycle of the Magicicada, a monstrous brood of which will hatch in New York State early this summer – to the very, very small – the molecular sounds recorded inside the brains of mosquitos at Clarkson University in New York. “I want readers and listeners to consider rhythm and noise at all possible scales of human awareness,” says Rothenberg, “from the microscopic to the macrocosmic.
"That's why I found Curtis Roads' granular synthesis so compelling – the granular dimension of time is the secret of bug music. Dividing sounds into tiny 'grains' can have huge implications for the re-conceiving of all human thought and our place in the universe… when I mentioned that to Roads he said, ‘don't get too carried away!’”
Rothenberg encourages readers to open up to an expanded sense of what music can be, and from this he hopes we might encounter an expanded sense of our surroundings. The implicit message is that retuning oneself to think differently about music might be beneficial on multiple levels: to each of us individually, to humankind as a species and, perhaps, even to the planet as a whole.
“Listening to nature can be a gateway towards listening to experimental music, but listening to and enjoying experimental music can also be a gateway towards listening to the sounds of nature.”
In listening to cicadas, as well as other humming, clicking, and thrumming insects, Bug Musicconsiders the radical notion that we humans got our idea of rhythm, synchronization, and dance from the world of insect sounds that surrounded our species over the millions of years over which we evolved.
Completing the trilogy he began with Why Birds Sing and Thousand Mile Song, David Rothenbergexplores a unique part of our relationship with nature and sound—the music of insects that has provided a soundtrack for humanity throughout the history of our species. Bug Music continues Rothenberg’s in-depth research and spirited writing on the relationship between human and animal music, and it follows him as he explores insect influences in classical and modern music, plays his saxophone with crickets and other insects, and confers with researchers and scientists nationwide.
This engaging and thought-provoking book challenges our understanding of our place in nature and our relationship to the creatures surrounding us, and makes a passionate case for the interconnectedness of species.
"I loved this book. It's inspiring, fascinating, and funny. Bug Music is a foray into another world."—Bernd Heinrich, author of Mind of the Raven and Winter World
"David Rothenberg is like the Greil Marcus of nature. No one writes about the sounds of the wild so smartly, so evocatively, so beautifully. Bug Music is tremendous."—Tom Bissell, author of Chasing the Sea and Magic Hours
“Charmingly conversational, filled with wondrous facts and touching personal reflections, Bug Music will make you think differently about bugs, about music, and about the intersection of the two.” —Marlene Zuk, author of Sex on Six Legs and Paleofantasy
“As a musician and a scientist, I was fascinated by the parallels between the songs of the cicada and the human. Rothenberg is a great conductor in Bug Music, bringing out the melodies and harmonies, and exposing the mysteries, in the great insect orchestra that surrounds us. A must read for all who question and seek our place in nature.”—Daniel Chamovitz, author of What a Plant Knows
“Bug Music reflects an undeniable worldwide trend— from ‘vibing’ with trees, birds, insects, night skies and sunsets, humans are beginning to tune into the phenomenon of our cosmos’s subtle realms. Hopefully this is part of our shift to a better world.”—Kurt Johnson, author of Nabokov’s Blues