In the spring of 2013 the cicadas in the Northeastern United States will yet again emerge from their 17-year cycle—the longest gestation period of any animal. Those who experience this great sonic invasion compare their sense of wonder to the arrival of a comet or a solar eclipse. NJIT Professor David Rothenberg’s newly-released and latest opus, Bug Music: How Insects Gave Us Rhythm and Noise (St. Martin's Press), looks at this unending rhythmic cycle. He says it is just one unique example of how the pulse and noise of insects has taught humans the meaning of rhythm, from the whirr of a cricket’s wings to this unfathomable and exact seventeen-year beat.In listening to cicadas, as well as other humming, clicking and thrumming insects, Bug Music is the first book to consider the radical notion that humans got the idea of rhythm, synchronization and dance from the world of insect sounds that surrounded our species over the millions of years over which we evolved. Completing the trilogy Rothenberg began with Why Birds Sing (Basic Books, 2005) and Thousand Mile Song (Basic Books, 2008), Rothenberg, who teaches in the NJIT Department of Humanities in the College of Science and Liberal Arts, explores a unique part of man’s relationship with nature and sound—the music of insects that has provided a soundtrack for humanity throughout the history of the species.
Bug Music continues Rothenberg’s research and spirited writing on the relationship between human and animal music, and it follows him as he explores insect influences in classical and modern music, plays his saxophone with crickets and other insects, and confers with researchers and scientists nationwide.
Rothenberg’s last book, Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution (Bloomsbury Press, 2011), took inspiration from Darwin’s observations that animals have a natural aesthetic sense. Rothenberg probed 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 people can learn from the range of animal aesthetic behavior—about animals, and about themselves—were just a few of the questions the book raised.
In 2010, the NJIT Board of Overseers presented the third New Jersey Institute of Technology Excellence in Research Prize and Medal to Rothenberg. Rothenberg received his PhD from Boston University and his BA from Harvard College.