In nature, sounds abound.
Downed trees generate sounds,
Hounds in pounds make sounds;
Ants in mounds yield sounds.
Sounds are found all around,
On the ground, underground,
Often profound, Frequently astounding,
Nature’s sounds are everywhere, and many originate from living organisms. Chirping, growling, croaking, buzzing, hissing, and other sounds are sometimes described as music. Reflecting on the sounds of insects as examples of nature’s music and their influence on human music, Bug Music is a fascinating fusion of the arts and the sciences. The author considers insect music to be true music because “it communicates not as simple information, but as rhythmic flow and performance in a regular, aesthetically judged manner.”
Beginning with the cicada, wide-ranging information is presented on the different species, their history, complex behaviors, periodicity, genetics, and evolution. The point is made that much of cicada biology remains a mystery. Moving on to other insects, we learn that cricket music has attracted people for centuries. Although cricket fighting is a sport in China, with large amounts of money changing hands and champion crickets being awarded titles, most people still prefer to listen to cricket music. A man identified only as Mr. Fung actually raised an orchestra of 108 crickets (a number that is symbolic to Buddhists).
Cricket chirps exhibit rhythmic patterns that remind us of rhythms experienced in human music and dance movements. In fact, the author considers it likely that humans developed their love of rhythm from listening to insects. Studies of these rhythmic chirp patterns have been quantified using relatively simple mathematical models that show them to be similar to those of firefly flashing and frog croaking. Rhythms of insect music are also compared to the circadian rhythms that steer the life cycles of organisms. From the regular and predictable oscillations of atoms to the rhythm of the heartbeat to the periodic emergence of the cicadas, the suggestion is made that “life is a vast music.”
Composers and musicians have devised many ways to integrate insect music into human music, using both traditional instruments and electronics to imitate insect sounds and rhythms. A playlist of insect music included in the book contains familiar compositions, such as Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee, as well as more than two dozen lesser-known works. The author notes that Bob Dylan’s song “Day of the Locusts” was composed in honor of the cicada and was sung over organ music resembling the “insect orchestra.”
Besides analyzing insect music, the author describes performances of insect-infused music in a variety of locations, both in the wilderness and inside buildings. Impressive creativity is shown in such musical works as “Glittering Clouds,” British musician Imogen Heap’s piece based on a locust plague, and “Ghosts,” German musician Robert Henke’s composition based on a rainforest expedition. The author himself has released a 16-track CD, Bug Music, to coincide with the book’s publication.
Much information on insect biology and ecology, acoustics, evolution, art, literature, folklore, philosophy, music, and other subjects is packed into this fascinating book. The author’s passion for the subject engages the reader in writing that often captivates like science fiction. Science and math concepts regarding the life cycles and behavior of a variety of insects are expressed in considerable detail, while at the same time providing elegant comparisons to human music and other art forms. The theme of the book might well be expressed in the statement “If you learn to hear all sounds as music then the more you listen, the more you will be surrounded by beautiful wind and earth symphonies and will come to love the world.”
The text is enhanced by appropriate graphics illustrating anatomical structures, sonograms, and complex musical patterns. Also included are suggestions for further reading, detailed chapter notes, and a comprehensive index. Bug Music would be useful for supplementary reading in college courses on animal behavior or entomology. It might also be useful in certain music classes, as it brings in a fascinating new perspective on what makes music.