David Rothenberg ’84 lives on the brink of discovery.
A composer, Rothenberg takes the familiar sounds of birds singing, insects chirping, ponds bubbling, and combines them with music, creating a melodious and distinctly unique mélange from what others might hear as background noise — or miss entirely.
“Nature is just there, it shows up, but we are not always paying attention, so we don’t actually listen,” he said. “If you listen, you can hear amazing things.”
Whether he is recording the sounds of nightingales in Berlin, whales in the ocean, or cicadas that found their way onto his shirtsleeve, to Rothenberg the unconventional sounds are a door to a world of information.
“I always thought animal music should be something music students do,” said Rothenberg, a jazz clarinetist, composer, and professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. “You should study these sounds that are millions of years old, the way they are put together, and figure out how they fit in now.”
Rothenberg grew up interested in math and science, but when he went to Harvard in 1980, he became absorbed in music, philosophy, environmental science, and “unusual things.” Some of his professors helped him learn to apply what he calls “mystical approaches,” or personally inspired approaches, to music. It transformed him.
“I was always looking for somewhere else to go, some other thing,” Rothenberg said. “I was in between disciplines until I graduated in 1984 so I actually created my own discipline — music and communication. Not communication in any technical sense, it was anthropology, literature, and spiritual things.”