IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor David Rothenberg, New Jersey Institute of Technology, New York, USA

David Rothenberg, IAS BMVP 2017 (May)Animal Utterance

22 - 28 May 2017

David Rothenberg is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Music at The New Jersey Institute of Technology. He has written and performed on the relationship between humanity and nature for many years. He is the author of Why Birds Sing (2005), on making music with birds, which has been published in seven languages. It was turned into a feature-length BBC TV documentary. He is also the author of Thousand Mile Song (2008), about making music with whales, and Survival of the Beautiful (2011), about aesthetics in evolution. His book and CD Bug Music (2013), featuring the sounds of the entomological world, has been featured on Radiolab and in the New Yorker.

As a composer and jazz clarinetist, Rothenberg has eleven CDs out under his own name, including On the Cliffs of the Heart (1995), named one of the top ten CDs by Jazziz Magazine in 1995 and a record on ECM with Marilyn Crispell, One Dark Night I Left My Silent House (2010). Other releases include Why Birds Sing (2005), Whale Music (2008) and, most recently, Berlin Bülbül (2016).

The cognitive biologist, W. Tecumseh Fitch begins The Evolution of Language (2010) with the Persian tale of the‘elephant in the dark house’: each villager touches a different part of the animal and tries to describe what its shape is ‘like’, but none can see, or comprehend, the whole. This parable, as Fitch suggests, raises questions that are particularly pertinent to those who seek to understand such a vast, complex and pervading faculty as language. This series of events at The University of Bristol invites scholars to share their knowledge of the different parts of the animal. 

The programme of events aims to draw together recent research in the Arts and Humanities, which has emphasised the difficulties of (mis-)translating non-human sounds into human forms of representations—words, music, poetry—-with recent groundbreaking studies of animal communication in biology, psychology and linguistics. It includes speakers whose scholarship models the kind of interdisciplinary thinking which these events seek to emphasise and cultivate: Dame Gillian Beer (Professor of English, University of Cambridge), David Rothenberg (Distinguished Professor of Music and Philosophy, New Jersey Institute of Technology) and W. Tecumseh Fitch (Professor of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna). 

Animal Utterance follows on from the series of interdisciplinary conferences and events held at The University of Bristol last summer, ‘Animals: Human and Non-Human Alike’ (May 2016). We hope to build on the research networks which have been developing here in Bristol in order to apprehend the body of research which is currently developing around one of the most pressing issues facing scholars of Animal Studies today—language.

During his stay in Bristol, Professor Rothenberg will be hosted by Professor Ralph Pite (English). Please see listing below of the events that he will be involved with.

Tuesday 23rd May 
Thousand-Mile Song, 12-1.30pm, G.11, 3-5 Woodland Road, lunchtime seminar
Convened with the Arts Faculty research cluster ‘Perspectives from the Sea’. This lunchtime seminar will focus especially on Professor Rothenberg’s work, Thousand Mile Song (2008). It will be open to members of the research cluster, academic staff and postgraduates, as well as undergraduates taking the ‘Literature and The Sea’ special subject module in English. 

Wednesday 24th May
Beastly Utterances, 1-2.30pm, G.05, 30-32 Tyndalls Park Rd,  postgraduate workshop
Convened with the Animal Studies research cluster at Bristol, ‘Beastly Histories’. In this workshop Professor Rothenberg will discuss the different approaches through which human beings have attempted to understand the sounds and songs of other species. The workshop will invite postgraduate students to compare and evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of these different approaches to this most elusive of subjects.

Wednesday 24th May
Birdsong: An Evening Chorus, 6-7.30pm, an evening talk and concert at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

Professor Rothenberg appears alongside the artist Andy Holden and his father, the ornithologist, Peter Holden (MBE). The evening begins with an interactive musical talk, exploring both the art and the science of birdsong with the help of live sound performances, moving images and archival footage. The second part of the evening will consist of a performance by Professor Rothenberg, who specialises in the relationship between art and the natural world; his performance will emulate the sublime rhythms of birdsong.

25th-26th May 2017
Animal Utterance Conference: Plenary Lecture 
Some animal sounds have characteristics that approach language, others are closer to music. Professor Rothenberg’s plenary lecture at this conference poses the question: When Are Animal Sounds Music? In his lecture Professor Rothenberg will compare formal media such as music and language, and invite delegates to reflect on the nature of their discipline and the form in which they work.

Thursday 25th May, 5.30-10 pm.
To meet at the Orangery, Goldney Hall
Nightingales at Highnam Woods, with David Rothenberg  
An evening visit to listen to and hear David Rothenberg play live with nightingales at RSPB Highnam Woods. A member of the team at RSPB Highnam Woods will guide participants through the nightingale’s haunts, with commentary and live performances by the musician and philosopher, David Rothenberg. The event will also include poetry recitals by members of the Bristol Poetry Institute, Jack Thacker (ARHC-funded PhD candidate in English, University of Bristol; first-prize winner of The 2016 Charles Causley International Poetry Competition) and William Wootten (Co-Director of the Bristol Poetry Institute).