Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound

Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound

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by David Rothenberg
     
 

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For centuries, no one thought to suspect that humpback whale song was lingering in our seas. But its discovery has inspired many to contemplate underwater intelligence. By consulting with leading researchers around the globe, philosopher and musician David Rothenberg tells the story of encountering an unexplored world of music as vast as the ocean. Through this

Overview

For centuries, no one thought to suspect that humpback whale song was lingering in our seas. But its discovery has inspired many to contemplate underwater intelligence. By consulting with leading researchers around the globe, philosopher and musician David Rothenberg tells the story of encountering an unexplored world of music as vast as the ocean. Through this journey, Rothenberg uses the enigma of whale sounds to examine the question of whether we can ever truly understand nonhuman minds.

In its combination of science, music, and narrative, Thousand Mile Song is an exceptionally insightful and imaginative attempt at understanding some of the most intriguing creatures with whom we share our planet.

Editorial Reviews

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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Library Journal

Exploring the connections between human and animal intelligence, Rothenberg (philosophy & music, New Jersey Inst. of Technology; Why Birds Sing) has played his clarinet to communicate with whales in Canada, Russia, and Hawaii aboard boats equipped with microphones, underwater speakers, hydrophones, and headphones. His belief that "we are not the only musicians on the planet" has been reinforced through a study of the sound patterns and rhythms resulting from the whales' responses. The accompanying CD is an unusual mixture of songs, cries, gurgles, and clicks combined with the author's clarinet, guitar, percussion, and violin played by other musicians. Rothenberg traces the history of whale-sound research from the navy's interest in the 1950s through the work of Roger Payne, who produced the 1970 recording Songs of the Humpback Whale. He attributes the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972 to the growing popular consciousness of whale intelligence; ironically, however, this act considers playing music to whales a form of harassment. Enhanced by acoustic diagrams and a fine bibliographical essay as well as bibliographical footnotes, this intriguing book will capture the imaginations of music and nature lovers and is suitable for high school, public, and college libraries.
—Judith B. Barnett

Kirkus Reviews
A joyful ride among the orcas, belugas and humpbacks, aimed at enticing these behemoths into a jam session. In his seventh book, Rothenberg (Philosophy and Music/New Jersey Institute of Technology) reprises the approach he took in Why Birds Sing: A Journey Through the Mystery of Bird Song (2005). There, he sought to understand the practical and transcendental aspects of birdsong, as well as engage birds with his wind instruments. Here, he turns his clarinet to a microphone attached to an underwater speaker in hopes of playing music with whales and finding some common ground through sound. Humans may have scant understanding of what whale song is all about, Rothenberg writes, but as an accomplished jazzman once said, "sometimes the real music only comes when you have absolutely no idea what is going on." The author gets as much understanding as he can into the mix before he attempts any session work. He covers the scientific work done on whale song, the role whales played in the growth of the environmental movement and the various musicians, from Pete Seeger to Paul Winter, who have sought to bring the whale into their work. The book's meat-and-potatoes sections chronicle Rothenberg's encounters with whales in Canada, Russia, the Caribbean and Hawaii. His ruminative yet rather merry prose only occasionally tips into fruitiness ("where whale and human songs wash together over distant leagues"), and his sheer enthusiasm is remarkable. Even when a hard-bitten scientist upbraids him for a project that "doesn't really yield anything except a gratuitous level of self-satisfaction," he holds faith in musical communication. He may "have no idea what is going on" in a clarinet/whale duet, but for afew minutes, playing with the humpbacks, he "entered their wild world of sound."Approaches the stirring border of interspecies contact with dignity and glee. Agent: Kathleen Anderson/Anderson Literary Management

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780465018895
Publisher:
Basic Books
Publication date:
03/09/2010
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Richard Ellis
They say that there are two peaks of intelligence on this planet: humans and cetaceans. I'm not sure about humans any more, but this book identifies the whales and dolphins as living in such a complex world of sound and song that they are certainly high on the ladder. Maybe at the top. I humbly bow to their superiority, and I applaud David Rothenberg for opening their world to us. (Richard Ellis, author of Men and Whales and The Empty Ocean)
Carl Safina
Why do we feel differently about whales than about fish? Is it because they have the largest brains in the known universe? No; it's because they're songs touch the song centers in our own brains. It's not intellect--it's soul. And it's here. (Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and Voyage of the Turtle)
Jon Hassell
Thousand Mile Song reminds me of these lines from Rumi: 'The singing art is like a cresting wave, whose graceful movements come from a pearl somewhere on the ocean floor.' Rothenberg's words and sounds reveal a fine and subtle music that crosses the boundary between land and sea. (Jon Hassell, Musician and composer)
Daniel J. Levitin
Masterfully weaving science, art, and adventure, David Rothenberg has given us a love song to whale song that is thought-provoking and moving. (Daniel J. Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain On Music and The World in Six Songs)

Meet the Author


David Rothenberg is Professor of Philosophy and Music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the author of books including Why Birds Sing. His articles have appeared in Parabola, The Nation, Wired, Dwell, and Sierra. He lives in Cold Spring, New York.

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Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Small, slightly cramped room with gray walls and linen sheets.