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David Rothenberg - New Jersey Institute of Technology. Newark, NJ, US

David Rothenberg

Distinguished Professor | New Jersey Institute of Technology


Through writing and music, David Rothenberg explores the relationship between humans and nature.




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David Rothenberg is a distinguished professor of humanities and social sciences who investigates the musicality of animals and the role of nature in philosophy.

He is the author of Why Birds Sing, which was turned into a feature length BBC TV documentary, and Thousand Mile Song, which chronicles making music with whales and inspired a film on French TV.

As a composer and jazz clarinetist, Rothenberg has recorded more than a dozen CDs, including On the Cliffs, One Dark Night I Left My Silent House, Whale Music and Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast.

Also a clarinetist, he loves to jam with cicadas, the hoards of whirring insects that arise every 17 years. He not only leads cicada jams with other musicians but can identify the three distinct sounds the bugs make during their massive mating call. So, for him, cicadas spark both his heart and brain. As he explains, "Playing along with these guys is like joining into a fantastic trove with millions of singers."

Areas of Expertise (9)

Bird Music


Musicality of Animals

Human Computer Musical Interfaces

Environmental Philosophy

Music and Technology

Interspecies Communication


Cicada Music

Education (2)

Boston University: Ph.D. 1991

Harvard College: B.A. 1984

Media Appearances (16)

Composer and Ecopoet David Rothenberg

Chronogram  online


Composing in collaboration with nature

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Best Field Recordings on Bandcamp Features NJIT's David Rothenberg

Bandcamp  online


The aquatic sounds provide surprisingly adept backing, with persistent beats and coherent melodies. The project wouldn’t work, though, without Rothenberg’s sympathetic playing.

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The Birdsong Project Is Now a Grammy Nominee

National Audubon Society  online


Best Boxed or Limited Edition Package

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David Rothenberg Is An Interspecies Musician

Podcast: Species Unite  online


“I really felt like I turned into a bird. The way I was playing was changed. Like I played the way nobody would play a clarinet unless they had spent weeks listening to nightingales.”

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David Rothenberg on Interspecies Music

Inspirators  online


He has performed or recorded with Pauline Oliveros, Peter Gabriel, Suzanne Vega, and the Karnataka College of Percussion. But, also, with one of the world’s longest-living insects, the ones with the longest beats in the world of synchronized animal sounds: cicadas.

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Playing to the Beat of the Birds

Sierra Club  online


Podcast: Composers and musicians who draw their inspiration from birdsong

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Wild Voices: In Tune with the Animal Kingdom

Podcast: So Curious  online


Musician David Rothenberg joins to speak about the music he makes in collaboration with animals, from his philosophy behind doing so to the logistics of playing music deep in the wilderness.

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Zoo Musicology

Podcast: Beatseeker  online


Jamming with Animals: Interspecies Musician David Rothenberg

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Music in Nature

Bird Buddy Tales  online


We caught up with him to talk about the relationships between nature, humanity, and music, and whether science now agrees that his question all those years ago was onto something.

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Making Music with Birds and Bugs

City of Books  radio


“Birds sing because they have to – because they must,” says the man who knows more than most about the subject, Professor David Rothenberg, an American musician, philosopher and writer whose books include Why Birds Sing, Nightingales in Berlin and Bug Music. “Birdsong is the real classic music, this is oldest music we know. It’s been around so much longer than the human species – it’s stood the test of time,” he says.

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Jamming with the cicadas in New Jersey: a once in 17 years event

Reuters  online


For some in the U.S., the emergence of billions of red-eyed cicadas this spring after a 17-year slumber has been met with annoyance – particularly over their loud buzzing calls. But for David Rothenberg, a professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, it has presented a unique opportunity for collaboration.

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This musician makes 'strange, but beautiful' music with Brood X cicadas

CBC News  online


Rothenberg plays the clarinet and the soprano saxophone, and his backing band consists of billions of five-eyed insects that just emerged from deep underground for the first time in 17 years — the Brood X cicadas. He spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off on Tuesday from a field in Princeton, N.J., where he was performing his latest "concert" with his beloved bug buddies.

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Music Professor David Rothenberg Makes Music With Cicadas

NPR  radio


NPR host Lulu Garcia-Navarro speaks to music professor David Rothenberg about the music of the Brood X cicadas and what it's like making music with them.

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‘Bug Music’ man from Cold Spring joins in swirl of sound created by cicadas

News 12 Hudson Valley  online


David Rothenberg, of Cold Spring, literally wrote the book on “Bug Music” – using a choir of insects as his muse. He spoke with News 12 Nadia Galindo about the hype surrounding the reemergence of cicadas after a 17-year slumber. "When I’m playing with them, I'm trying to join in the swirl of sound," he says.

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The Hills Are Alive with the Sounds of Bugs

Outside  online


Musician David Rothenberg plays his clarinet alongside insects on warm summer evenings. He creates melodies to the rhythms of crickets, katydids, and a whole orchestra of bugs. Summer Symphony Bug Music is produced by Oscillator Media.

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David Rothenberg Jams with the Cicadas

PBS NewsHour  tv


David Rothenberg, professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, takes his clarinet out to Ulster County Fairgrounds in New York to play music with the cicadas, which have emerged after 17 years underground. Their sounds are as musical as bird calls and whale songs, he says in his new book "Bug Music."

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Articles (8)

Do Whales Have Culture?


David Rothenberg


Sperm whales learn patterns of clicks and other social behaviors from their clans.

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Emerging From Darkness

The New York Times

David Rothenberg


Billions of cicadas will soon erupt in a symphony of sound after 17 years of silence. I'll be there with my clarinet.

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Mockingbird Morphing Music: Structured Transitions in a Complex Bird Song

Frontiers in Psychology

Tina C Roeske, David Rothenberg, David E Gammon

2021 The song of the northern mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos, is notable for its extensive length and inclusion of numerous imitations of several common North American bird species. Because of its complexity, it is not widely studied by birdsong scientists. When they do study it, the specific imitations are often noted, and the total number of varying phrases. What is rarely noted is the systematic way the bird changes from one syllable to the next, often with a subtle transition where one sound is gradually transformed into a related sound, revealing an audible and specific compositional mode.

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Spider Music

Performing Arts Journal

David Rothenberg, Tomás Saraceno

2018 Birds, whales, insects—sure, they all make sound. But spiders? I first came across the work of Tomás Saraceno climbing through some bubbles atop the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in his piece On the Roof: Cloud City in 2012. Later, I saw a much-enlarged related work, Cloud Cities, filling the great hall of the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. Here was an art everyone could appreciate—sublime in its scale, awe-inspiring, and surprisingly accessible because you could climb right in it.

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The Point Is to Change It: Can Philosophy Address Climate?

Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

David Rothenberg

2018 nn: Are you an optimist or a pessimist? an: Optimist! nn:(Astonished) Really? an: Yes, convinced optimist—When it comes to the 22nd Century. nn: You mean of course the 21st? an: 22nd! The life of the grandchildren of our grandchildren. Are you not interested in the world of your grandchildren! nn: You mean we can relax because we have a lot of time available to overcome the ecological crisis? an: How terrible, shamefully bad conditions will be in the 21st Century, or how far down we have to start on the way up, depends on what you, you, and others do today and tomorrow. There is not a single day to be lost. We need activism on a high level immediately.

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Temporal regularity increases with repertoire complexity in the Australian pied butcherbird's song

Royal Society of Open Science

Eathan Janney, Hollis Taylor, Constance Scharff, David Rothenberg, Lucas C. Parra and Ofer Tchernichovski


... We tested for a correlation between the complexity of song repertoire and the temporal regularity of singing performance. We found that different phrase types often share motifs (notes or stereotyped groups of notes). These shared motifs reappeared in strikingly regular temporal intervals across different phrase types, over hundreds of phrases produced without interruption by each bird...

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A New Morphological Notation for the Music of Humpback Whales

Art and Perception

David Rothenberg, Michael Deal

2015 The humpback whale sings a song that defies easy characterization and human perception. This paper attempts to develop a new form a visual notation for this song which enables humans to better perceive its musicality, tonality and morphology, combining elements of sonographic and musical notations. The beauty of the humpback whale song is considered as to whether it is an inherent characteristic or a human projection.

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The Concert of Humans and Nightingales

Performance Philosophy

David Rothenberg

2014 Of all the days to schedule a midnight concert live with nightingales in the Treptower Park in Berlin, why did we have to choose May 9th? This could very well be the only night when the park was going to be full of people. This night and this night alone was the 69th anniversary of the end of World War II. Victory Day, a big holiday in Germany although not in the United States. I can see why. We bundle all our war holidays together into Memorial Day and Veterans Day at opposite times of the year to cover all our bases.

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