By David Rothenberg
St. Martin’s Press, $26.99, 278 pages
Bug Music is a very unusual book, combining entomology and music. Author D. Rothenberg is a musician and philosopher, and his rather extensive book is not meant to be light reading. In fact much of the text is difficult to read and follow, jumping from subject to subject, often interspersed with poetry and many lengthy quotations, strange graphs and scientific illustrations not easy to decipher, musical lines, and even recipes (how to cook cicadas). Rothenberg’s concept presents insect sounds and their musical possibilities as integrated in human music. More than 200,000 insect species emit sounds and some of these may have had influence on musical compositions. He even discusses Tibetan ritual harmonic singing and other throat singing.
“[Insects] are the original teachers of rhythm.”
The research goes further: demonstrating how human singing influences cricket and katydid chirping. This book is an entomological scientific study, possibly a good reference book on entomologists’ book shelf and contemporary composers may be interested in the author’s ideas. He also suggests mathematical codes to explain the mysteries of insect sounds. An interesting concept is fighting the highly destructive wood-boring bark beetles by disrupting their chirpings with sounds. Unfortunately the writing is not very good, and is not easy to concentrate on.
Reviewed by George Erdosh