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Whale Songs: Music or Nature's Noise?

Thursday, June 26, 2008 - 01:02 PM

Humpback Whale TailIs THAT music? It’s a question that has often been asked, usually in an incredulous tone, often by parents who greet their teenagers’ choice of music with a mix of confusion and revulsion. But it’s a question that critics asked when Beethoven premiered his later works. It’s a question that the late John Cage asked about everything – except he wasn’t implying “no” as an answer.

David Rothenberg is a clarinetist who is also a philosopher. Really – he is a professor of philosophy at NJIT. And his last few book/CD projects have invited us to ask that question… about birds (in Why Birds Sing) and now whales (in Thousand Mile Song). Scientists and musicologists look for certain characteristics that reveal an intention behind sounds – periodicity (does that series of sounds repeat, form a pattern?) being a key element. I don’t think anyone doubts that bird calls and the incredible array of noises that whales make are communication. But are they music?

Tell us: What do you think?

Photo Credit: MuhammadSarwar/Flickr)


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