From Publishers Weekly
As science explores the frontiers of the measurable, it begins to intrude into the realm of art, and this book occupies that uneasy zone. Rothenberg, a musician and philosopher, became fascinated with the similarities between human music and birds' songs. His investigations into these matters led him to zoos and forests, where he played his clarinet along with virtuoso lyrebirds and thrushes. His goal: to find out why birds sing by using "the whole toolbox of human talents," rather than just the theories and experiments of reductionist Darwinism. "Just because science demonstrates that a song has a specific territorial or sexual purpose doesn't mean that birds aren't singing because they love to," he writes. Assuming we can know what a bird loves to do is quite a bit of anthropomorphic conjecture, of course. "It may be impossible to escape the human perspective," Rothenberg writes, and then he joyfully acknowledges what he feels
to be the truth: birds make music as surely as Charlie "Bird" Parker ever did. Rothenberg delves heartily into the lovely and strange structures of bird songs and finds enough syllables, rhythms and syncopations to fill a jazz encyclopedia. Illus.
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The question of why birds sing has kept humans entranced for millennia. Most scientists would answer that birds sing to claim territories and to attract mates. But why is so much of birdsong beautiful? In a unique approach to the study of birdsong, jazz musician and philosopher Rothenberg attacks this question through the medium of music. When a musician friend invited him to come and play music with the birds at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Rothenberg's music attracted a white-crested laughing thrush. The bird began to sing along with the author's clarinet and to actually improvise as he improvised. This interaction led to a journey, both intellectual and physical, as Rothenberg investigated birdsong. Mixed throughout the narrative is the author's sheer joy at the musicality of birds' songs, illustrated with musical notations made by both the author and previous researchers. This lovely amalgam of science and music will appeal to both left- and right-brained readers. Nancy BentCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved