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The Book of Music and Nature

An Anthology of Sounds, Words, Thoughts

David Rothenberg

Publication Year: 2013

This innovative book and online CD, assembled by the editors of the renowned periodical Terra Nova, is the first anthology published on the subject of music and nature. Lush and evocative, yoking together the simplicities and complexities of the world of natural sound and the music inspired by it, this collection includes essays, illustrations, and plenty of sounds and music. The Book of Music and Nature celebrates our relationship with natural soundscapes while posing stimulating questions about that very relationship. The book ranges widely, with the interplay of the texts and sounds creating a conversation that readers from all walks of life will find provocative and accessible.

The anthology includes classic texts on music and nature by 20th century masters including John Cage, Hazrat Inrayat Khan, Pierre Schaeffer, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Toru Takemitsu. Innovative essays by Brian Eno, Pauline Oliveros, David Toop, Hildegard Westerkamp and Evan Eisenberg also appear. Interspersed throughout are short fictional excerpts by authors Rafi Zabor, Alejo Carpentier, and Junichiro Tanazaki.

The virtual CD at http://www.wesleyan.edu/wespress/musicandnaturecd/ includes fifteen tracks of music made out of, or reflective of, natural sounds, ranging from Babenzele Pygmy music to Australian butcherbirds, and from Pauline Oliveros to Brian Eno.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: Music Culture


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Does Nature Understand Music?

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pp. 1-10

Some say music is the universal language. This couldn’t possibly be true. Not everyone speaks it; not all understand it. And even those who do cannot explain what it says. No one knows how music speaks, what tales it tells, how it tugs at our emotions with its mixture of tones, one after another, above and below....

I. Roots of the Listening

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The Music of the Spheres

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pp. 13-20

By this title I do not wish to encourage any superstition, or any ideas that might attract people into the fields of curiosity; but through this subject I wish to direct the attention of those, who search for truth, towards the law of music which is working throughout the whole universe and which, in other words, may be called the law of life, the sense of proportion, the law of harmony, the...

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Primal Sound

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pp. 21-24

It must have been when I was a boy at school that the phonograph was invented. At any rate it was at that time a chief object of public wonder; this was probably the reason why our science master, a man given to busying himself with all kinds of handiwork, encouraged us to try our skill in making one of these instruments from the material that lay nearest to hand. Nothing more was needed than a piece of pliable cardboard bent to the shape of a funnel, on...

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Happy New Ears

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pp. 25-29

Max Ernst, around 1950, speaking at the Arts Club on Eighth Street in New York City, said that significant changes in the arts formerly occurred every three hundred years, whereas now they take place every twenty minutes.
Such changes happen first in the arts which, like plants, are fixed to particular points in space: architecture, painting, and sculpture. They happen afterward...

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Diary: Emma Lake Music Workshop 1965

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pp. 30-33

August 15. The role of the composer is other than it was. Teaching, too, is no longer transmission of a body of useful information, but’s conversation, alone, together, whether in a place appointed or not in that place, whether with those concerned or those unaware of what is being said. We talk, moving from one idea to another as though we were hunters....

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An Interview with Pierre Schaeffer

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pp. 34-44

Musique concrète is music made of raw sounds: thunderstorms, steam-engines, waterfalls, steel foundries. The sounds are not produced by traditional acoustic musical instruments; they are captured on tape (originally, before tape, on disk) and manipulated to form sound-structures....

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Deus ex Machina

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pp. 45-57

Is music about human feelings, or is it something more?
The best case for the first alternative is made by Suzanne Langer in her classic study of symbolism, Philosophy in a New Key. Music, she argues, is not self-expression in the usual sense. Instead, “it expresses primarily the composer’s knowledge of human feeling. . . .” It is not precisely a language of emotion, as it has no vocabulary; but though denotation is lacking there is connotation to...

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Music and the Soundscape

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pp. 58-68

In The Tuning of the World I predicted that by the end of the century music and the soundscape would draw together. We have passed the end of the century; there is no need to retract what I said. I meant that the reciprocal influences between what we call music and what we refer to as environmental sound would become so complex that these hitherto distinct genera would begin to syncretize...

The Music of the Earth

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pp. 69-74

II. Wild Echoes

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From The Bear Comes Home

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pp. 77-80

In the event, the music had been interesting.
After standing with the band in silence facing east—a nice moment actually, an eVective tune-up—things had begun in a rumor of gongs and birdcalls, and the Bear had stayed out of it, a few stray notes excepted. Standing at his bass, Malachi Favors began muttering into a bullhorn, Lester was breathing hoarsely in and out of his horn, and something in these gathering strands of...

STEVE LACY, Sax Can Moo . . .

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pp. 81-83

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From Piano Pieces

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pp. 84-90

To play the piano is to consort with nature. Every mollusk, galaxy, vapor, or viper, as well the sweet incense of love’s distraction, is within the hands and grasp of the pianist. The result may be a mess or a blessing, but too often resembles a de facto hand-me-down, a vestigial imitation, a weary if wily synthetic....

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Music, Nature, and Computers: A Showdown

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pp. 91-94

Whenever we hear the manipulative sedation of Muzak or witness the visual horror of franchise logos that surround us like wildflowers, we should be grateful. These are high expressions of the side of human nature that is able to stand apart from nature. Ugliness is the apparatus of our ability to have object relations with nature. We are unique among creatures in this respect, and it is...

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Nature, Sound Art, and the Sacred

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pp. 95-107

In the conclusion to his book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee describes the depth of meaning and intelligence conveyed through the late night calls of two foxes. In his nine-page description of these calls he invokes archaic sentiments and a profound contradiction that humans must always have felt. We hear in the world talking to itself a sense of otherness that simultaneously...

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My One Conversation with Collin Walcott

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pp. 108-115

In the mid-1980s, during a severe August drought, I stopped by to gab with my neighbor, Jon (who pronounces it “Yawn”), and happened to arrive at his house just as his Baldwin upright piano (Yawn called it his “Ax”) was heading out the door into the local piano-tuner’s van. As I grabbed a corner and helped lift, I learned that a jazz quartet called Oregon was going to be playing an outdoor...

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From Coming through Slaughter

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pp. 116-118

March is slowing to a stop and as it floats down slow to a thump I take oV and wail long notes jerking the squawk into the end of them to form a new beat, have to trust them all as I close my eyes, know the others are silent, throw the notes off the walls of people, the iron lines, so pure and sure bringing the howl down to the floor and letting in the light and the girl is alone now mirroring...

III. The Landscape of Sound

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From Rubicon Beach

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pp. 121-122

I kept asking people where the sound came from and finally someone explained, The sea, the sound was the sea, seeping in under the city and forming subterranean wells and rivers. The rivers made a sound that came up through the empty buildings, and the echoes of the buildings made a music that came out into the streets. One day you’d see a building standing upright and the...

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The Sharawadji Effect

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pp. 123-130

A defining moment in my life came in 1993 while driving alone, from Ottawa to Montreal, in a dense snowstorm. I was listening to the radio, and the composition that was playing literally “lifted” my spirit into another level of perception. The work carried me into listening. I don’t recall what this particular piece was about, but I clearly remember and cherish the sensation it has left...

Sonic Images

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pp. 131-132

The Poetics of Environmental Sound

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pp. 133-138

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Ambient Music

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pp. 139-142

In 1978 I released the first record which described itself as Ambient Music, a name I invented to describe an emerging musical style. It happened like this. In the early seventies, more and more people were changing the way they were listening to music. Records and radio had been around long enough for some of the novelty to wear oV, and people were...

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Speaking from Inside the Soundscape

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pp. 143-152

I am speaking to you primarily as a composer who chooses to compose with the sounds of the environment. But I am also speaking as someone who once emigrated from one culture to another, someone who is concerned about the health of the soundscape, someone who is still learning to listen and remains astonished and fascinated by the complexities of listening. Astonished, because...

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pp. 153-162

The plane climbed and whined away toward the fish cannery for the next leg of the Togiak run out of Dillingham, Alaska, and we were left with our gear on the runway at Twin Hills. A ship and scattered flotilla of small craft were marooned in the marshy tundra and tidal swamp that stretches from Twin Hills to Togiak. A group of girls raced by on a four-wheeled all-terrain vehicle,...

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Blind Listening

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pp. 163-168

Many nature recordings as well as some current sound art embody an aesthetic that is governed by traditional bioacoustic principles, which emphasize procedural, contextual, or intentional levels of reference. Whenever there is such a stress on the representational/relational aspect of nature recordings, the meaning of the sounds is diminished, and their inner world is dissipated....

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From Exotica

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pp. 169-176

Exotica is the art of ruins, the ruined world of enchantment laid waste in fervid imagination, the paradox of an imperial paradise liberated from colonial intervention, a golden age recreated through the lurid colors of a cocktail glass, illusory and remote zones of pleasure and peace dreamed after the bomb. Nothing is left, except for beaches, palm trees, tourist sites with their moss-covered...

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From Brother of Sleep

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pp. 177-178

Sounds, noises, timbres, and tones arose, the like of which he had never heard before. Elias not only heard the sounds, he also saw them. He saw the air incessantly contracting and expanding. He saw into the valleys of sounds and into their gigantic mountain ranges. He saw the hum of his own blood, the crackle of the tufts of hair in his little fists. And his breath cut his nostrils in...

IV. Many Natures, Many Cultures

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The Place Where You Go to Listen

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pp. 181-182

They say that she heard things.
At Naalagiagvik, The Place Where You Go to Listen, she would sit alone, in stillness. The wind across the tundra and the little waves lapping on the shore told her secrets. Birds passing overhead spoke to her in strange tongues.
She listened. And she heard. But she rarely spoke of these things. She did not question them. This is the way it is for one who listens....

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TORU TAKEMITSU, Nature and Music

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pp. 183-192

This summer [1962], walking through the fields of Hokkaido, I could not help thinking that my own thoughts have come to resemble the sidewalks of a city: rigid and calculated. Standing there in a field with an uninterrupted view for forty kilometers, I thought that the city, because of its very nature, would someday be outmoded and abandoned as a passing phenomenon. The unnatural...

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Lift-Up-Over Sounding

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pp. 193-206

One way to imagine the potency of “nature” as a cultural construction is to imagine the appropriateness of the word “aesthetic” in each place where Roy Rappaport1 uses the word “adaptive” in his essay on ecology and cognition. To do that I will review two intertwined dimensions of a mutualism of adaptation and aesthetics among the Kaluli people of Bosavi in Papua New Guinea: the...

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Sweet Singer of the Pine Barrens

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pp. 207-214

The song of the hermit thrush is exquisite, some say the most beautiful bird music there is. The time and place, the last light of day and the most solitary woodland, are an essential part of the appeal. We used to have a favorite spot in the Long Island pine barrens where, in the fading light of a spring evening, we would go to hear the hermit thrush sing....

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Where the Sounds Live

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pp. 215-224

I worked with the Nez Perce in Idaho and central Washington in the late sixties and early seventies, recording oral histories, music, and natural ambient sound. Many of the Elders, wishing to have their traditions preserved, generously permitted us to record their stories. These exchanges of family histories played an important role, establishing a mutual trust over a period of many months. One member we interviewed, tribal Elder Angus Wilson, suddenly...

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From “A Portrait of Shunkin”

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pp. 225-228

When a woman is blind and never marries, there are limits to her extravagance. Even if she has expensive tastes in food and clothing, and indulges them, the sums involved are not likely to be very great. However, Shunkin’s household included half a dozen servants, and the monthly expenses were substantial. As to why she spent so much money and kept such a large establishment, it was....

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V. The Disc of Music and Nature: The Disc of Music and Nature

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pp. 229-248

“To search for models in nature is . . . to seek the most eVective use of freedom, the measure of this eVectiveness being joy, whose conquest is one of music’s missions, and which is nothing but power over oneself and one’s things.” So writes François-Bernard Mâche in Music, Myth and Nature (Harwood Academic, 1992), one of a handful of existing books on our theme. Finding music in...


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pp. 249-252


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pp. 253-254


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pp. 255-260

Further Information

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pp. 261-262

E-ISBN-13: 9780819573902
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819569356

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 2nd edition
Series Title: Music Culture