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David B Rothenberg

David B. Rothenberg, PhD, is a professor in the department of humanities at New Jersey Institute of Technology whose widely publicized studies of bird song and whale song illustrate the complex, complementary relationship between music and the scientific investigation of nature.

His newest book, Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution (Bloomsbury Press, 2011), takes inspiration from Darwin’s observations that animals have a natural aesthetic sense. Rothenberg probes why animals, humans included, have an innate appreciation for beauty—and why nature is beautiful. The beauty of nature is not arbitrary, even if random mutation has played a role in evolution. What we can learn from the amazing range of animal aesthetic behavior—about animals, and about ourselves—are just a few of the many questions the book raises.

In Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound (Basic Books, 2008), as well as the same-named CD, Rothenberg chronicled the rich, underwater universe of whale sound. To produce the material, Rothenberg traveled from Hawaii to Russia to play his bass clarinet while recording the sounds of whales in their native habitats. Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association, named the text one of the ten best science and technology books for 2008.

Why Birds Sing (Basic Books, 2005) was Rothenberg’s first general interest book to examine bird song from the combined perspectives of science, music, and poetry and was the culmination of his interdisciplinary work since he began teaching at NJIT in 1992. Why Birds Sing has been published in the U.S., England, Australia, Italy, Germany, Spain, Korea, China, and Taiwan as both a book and compact disc.

Earlier in Rothenberg’s career, he edited The Book of Music and Nature (Wesleyan University Press, 2001), and Parliament of Minds (SUNY Press, 1999), featuring interviews with leading philosophers in conjunction with a public broadcasting television series of the same name, of which he was a co-producer.

In 2010, the NJIT Board of Overseers presented the third New Jersey Institute of Technology Excellence in Research Prize and Medal to Rothenberg.

He is currently collaborating with researchers from CUNY, NYU, and the Netherlands Institute of Ecology on the quantification of the musicality of nightingale songs, a project that stems from his earlier book on bird song and music. 

Rothenberg’s first CD on ECM Records, with pianist Marilyn Crispell, One Dark Night I Left My Silent House was released in May 2010. He has also released seven albums under his own name on the Terra Nova, EarthEar, and Accurate labels, and he has performed or recorded with Peter Gabriel, Scanner, Glen Velez, Karl Berger, Ray Phiri, and the Karnataka College of Percussion. "On the Cliffs of the Heart" was named one of the top ten releases of 1995 by JAZZIZ Magazine.

Rothenberg received his PhD from Boston University and his BA from Harvard College.


Last update: 2/16/12

Topics: interspecies music, poetry, bird song, whale song, nightingale song, njit board of overseers excellence in research prize and medal, scientific investigation of nature,