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New City of Books Podcast Featuring David Rothenberg


“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 tells Martina Devlin in the latest City of Books podcast.

“It’s in their very nature to need to sing, just like humans need to make music – we just have to do it. It’s part of the very essence of being a bird, of being a human, a humpbacked whale, a cricket or a cicada.”

Professor Rothenberg, distinguished professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, has played music live on location with creatures large and small, from insects in ponds to whales in the middle of the ocean.

He says people try to analyse why birds and others animals sing or make rhythmic sounds, and what they are communicating. The consensus is it’s to attract a mate or defend their territory – but this is the wrong approach, he insists.

“Don’t just say what it’s for. That’s boring. Why do people read novels, why do they write novels?” Prof Rothenberg says it’s not because we need to keep our brains active, helping us to do our jobs and make more money, but because something in us needs to engage with music, art and literature.

Other books by Prof Rothenberg include The Possibility of Reddish Green, about the philosopher Wittgenstein.

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