From Publishers Weekly
Biologists know that whale songs, which may carry for hundreds of miles, change over time and are passed on from one generation to the next, but they don't fully understand what these complex sounds are for. Philosopher and musician Rothenberg (Why Birds Sing
) proposes that music played by humans can help us find answers. He tested this theory by playing his clarinet into an underwater speaker and recording the whales' responses on an underwater hydrophone. His intriguing book includes sonograms and a CD demonstrating that the orcas, belugas and humpbacks he played for seemed to interact with his music. He also includes much information about whales and accounts of attempts to discover rhythm, shape and form in their songs; colorful descriptions of the whale scientists he has worked with; and a chapter on composers who have incorporated whale songs in their pieces. As Rothenberg points out, it was a recording of whale songs in the 1970s that led to the whale conservation movement. His paean to the beautiful music these great mammals make should lend further support to attempts to save the whales at a time when they are increasingly threatened. Illus. and CD. (May)
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*Starred Review* “Maybe music is part of nature itself”—a hypothesis philosopher and musician Rothenberg has put to the test in his quest to create interspecies music. He recapped his avian adventures in Why Birds Sing (2005) and now recounts his far more complicated meetings with whales. A warmly inquisitive writer who makes technical information as entertaining as tales about nude whale watchers, Rothenberg tells remarkably dramatic and funny stories of his musical encounters with whales in Chicago, British Columbia, Hawaii, and Karelia, Russia (a breathtaking CD accompanies the book). He also revisits a neglected chapter of the environmental movement: the electrifying impact of the first recordings of the haunting songs of humpback whales released in 1970. Rothenberg meticulously analyzes the “long, epic rhymes” of the humpbacks, “sperm whale click trains,” and the “cacophonous free jazz of belugas and the kinship whistles of orcas,” explaining how whale songs change, travel great distances, and embody emotion. Rothenberg’s unique study is particularly sharp in its analysis of the mysticism whales evoke and the findings and blind spots of scientific inquiries. As he rekindles whale awe, Rothenberg calls for a revitalized commitment to protecting these “great singers of the sea.” --Donna Seaman