Book of Music and Nature:
an Anthology of Sounds, Words, Thoughts
David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus, editors
A Terra Nova book, 2001,
Wesleyan University Press: Middletown Conn.
by Barbara Speed
a professional musician and ambitious gardener, I was doubly pleased
to be asked to review "The Book of Music and Nature",
edited by David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus, as I might never have
allowed myself the luxury of reading it just for pleasure. The book
deals with many issues that are difficult to put into words, and
there are a few chapters in this book which are hard going. But
for the most part, this is a fascinating compendium of points of
view on this huge subject.
David Rothenbergs introduction is articulate and inspiring.
He tells us that music ties "humanity to the rhythms of the
world". "Once trained to listen, you will let the sounds
and their significance find you, not just hear what you are listening
for; "If we treat each sound we hear as part of a potentially
meaningful sonic world, then the environment might have a place
for us humans after all."
The book is divided into 4 sections. The first section, the roots
of listening, begins with Hazrta Inayat Khans "The Music
of the Spheres", where he tells us that "music is not
only lifes greatest object, but music is life itself
origin of the whole creation is sound." An interview with Peter
Schaeffer discusses the fascinating subject musique concrete,
music made of raw sounds, and includes the question of when sound
The second section, Wild Echoes, includes fiction by Rafi Zabor,
a prose poem by soprano sax player Steve Lacey, an excerpt from
Russell Shermans "Piano Pieces" (To know the
piano is to know the universe), Jaron Laniers "Music,
Nature, and Computers; a showdown", and a wonderfully vivid
description of an outdoor concert given by Oregon.
The titles in the third section, "The Landscape of Sound",
are particularly intriguing, especially "The Sharawadji Effect",
"The Poetics of Environmental Sound", "Speaking from
Inside the Soundscape", "Blind Listening", "Toothwalkers",
and "Brother of Sleep".
Section four, "Many Natures, Many Cultures", includes
perhaps my favorite article in the whole book, "Nature and
Music", by well known composer Toru Takemitsu. There are 8
parts to this section, all fascinating.
The first includes these thoughts: "A lifestyle out of balance
with nature is frightening. As long as we live, we aspire to harmonize
with nature. It is this harmony in which the arts originate and
to which they will eventually return
I wish to free sounds
from the trite rules of music, rules that are in turn stifled by
formulas and calculations. I want to give sounds the freedom to
breathe. Rather than on the ideology of self-expression, music should
be based on a profound relationship to nature sometimes gentle,
sometimes harsh." In other sections he describes gagku (Japanese
court music): "
in this stream of sounds that is gagku,
a richness of sound undivided by rigid classifications can be recognized",
and contrasts Japanese and Western senses of self and self expression.
I would say that for anyone who loves sound in all its forms, this
book will be a pleasure. And for anyone unfamiliar with the concept
of the soundscape as being just as vital to the health and beauty
of the world as the landscape, this book will be an important ear-opener.
Book of Music and Nature is a Terra Nova Book, which is a series
that aims to "show how environmental issues are relevant not
only in scientific and political spheres, but also on a cultural
and artistic level. The books combine essays, reportage, fiction,
art, and poetry to reveal the complex and paradoxical ways the natural
world and the human are continually redefining the other".
books available include 'The New Earth Reader', 'The World and the
Wild', and 'Writing on Water'. You can contact them through firstname.lastname@example.org,
or visit their website on www-ec.njit.edu/~tn/