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Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound Hardcover – April 29, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Har/Com edition (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465071287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465071289
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,889,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*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

More About the Author

I am a writer, musician, and philosopher, most interested in how humanity is connected with the natural world. I have explored this connection in music and words, in recordings, books, lectures and performances.

You can look at my five websites for more information:

www.davidrothenberg.net
www.bugmusicbook.com
www.survivalofthebeautiful.com
www.whybirdssing.com
www.thousandmilesong.com

Customer Reviews

An incredible book and CD.
Charles
David has written a unique narrative of someone who is deeply and spiritually connected to nature and the animal world.
Andy Ridinger
I am very disappointed in the writing in this book and in the author's choices.
little simp

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Andy Ridinger on May 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover
David has written a unique narrative of someone who is deeply and spiritually connected to nature and the animal world. His previous book on the songs of birds and why they sing as they do is one of the best in the literature on avian song, and this latest book goes beyond the scope of that book with a musical and mystical adventure into the obscure and mysterious world of the great whales. As one who has been fascinated with interspecies communication since reading John Lilly's books back in the 60's and 70's, I was impressed with David's approach to learning what it is to try and breach the void between the two most intelligent species on the planet.
He combines the best discoveries of science and technology with a musician's understanding of the primeval common ground that exists in rhythm and sound, across all cultures and extending into the animal kingdom as well. He was willing to take some risks and tick off some activist and naturalist allies to get where he wanted to go with his search, and I think it paid off handsomely in the results and insight we can all gain from his book. The individuals he sought out in his extensive researching are among the foremost authorities in the field of cetacean studies, and he was able to harvest a wealth of both fact and opinion from them. The audio CD included with the book is an outstanding compilation of his attempts to participate in the making of oceanic music and on its own worth the price of his book. I highly recommend The Thousand Mile Song to anyone who wants to further their own insights into the essential nature of music, sound, and whale culture.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Bernie Krause on January 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderfully lyrical book that, unfortunately, has been not been thoroughly vetted for accuracy or proofed (the first typo can be found on the dust cover back flap). Having been personally and deeply involved in both the Humphrey and subsequent Delta and Dawn whale rescue efforts, it is regrettable that the author chose to re-write the history of a remarkable whale rescue event that occurred in the Fall of 1984 in San Francisco Bay, despite the fact that he knew (or should have known) that there were other, more relevant aspects to the tale, ones completely neglected in the text.

On the 10th of October of 1984, a lone male humpback whale swam into the Bay and proceeded, subsequently, to swim up the San Joaquin Delta, up the Sacramento River toward Sacramento ultimately finding itself trapped in a tiny slough 75 miles upstream. John Garamendi, then a California State Senator (now Lieutenant Governor), headed up a team that consisted of a long list of state, federal and academic agencies and personnel. As part of that team, Dianna Reiss and I were appointed scientific co-directors by Garamendi and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with the special mandate to pull together the best information available at the time regarding humpback rescue operations and to share that data with the team along with practical strategic suggestions for a possible rescue. Because there was no reference or previous humpback whale rescue data related to this particular type of event, different methods were tried with limited success over the course of three weeks.

Then, in a final attempt to rescue the animal, a phone teleconference was held in Sacramento on the 31st of October.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By P. Rumball-petre on July 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The Thousand MIle Song is a wonderful perspective of Whales from their songs. The CD included in the book creates a great multimedia experience. The author writes with a loose style that is engaging throughout the book. I never got bored. For parts of the book I listened to the CD while reading. That was fun!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By GM on July 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book after hearing it described on a radio program. I'm very satisfied. Lately, I have trouble finding anything to hold my interest, but that was not a problem with this book.

Overall, I found it a good blend of science, whimsy, and environmentalism.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on August 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
David Rothenberg is on a quest. He wants to communicate with other animals, and music is his medium. He's had some light success, recounted in his "Why Birds Sing". Here, he moves into the realm of mammals - our neighbours in the sea, the whales. With clear and undemanding prose, the author takes us through both the science of cetaceaology and his own efforts to record and perform with the great whales. He follows the whales around the world, reaching out with sound in bays, "sea-world" tanks and the open sea. Orcas off Vancouver Island, Belugas in the Chicago Aquarium, and, of course, the great Humpbacks, who produce the "Thousand Mile Song".

"Music hath charms . . . " goes the old cliché, but the author's purpose isn't to "charm", it's to establish some kind of link with those elusive creatures. Unlike those who rely on cliché and imagery, Rothenberg has electronics. And a clarinet. The electronics can record the voices of the singing whales, his squalling wind instrument and a computer to record both sets of sounds for comparison. The author's prompt was the release of thousands of recordings by the US Navy in their quest to separate submarines' sounds from that of living creatures - "biologics". Early results were released in a fabulously successful recording "Songs of the Humpback Whale". These, of course, were all just recordings, and nothing interactive was attempted.

The main trigger for Rothenberg was the variations that some species exhibited. "Songs" changed from season to season, and in some cases within the season. The author rightly reasoned that such variation was unlikely due to innate genetic characteristics. It must be due to something the whales determined consciously.
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