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Author In-Conversation: Nightingales in Berlin | City Lights Books

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Nightingales in Berlin: Searching for the Perfect Sound by David Rothenberg published by University of Chicago Press and IrRational Music by Elliot Sharp published by Terra Nova Books (distributed by The MIT Press) about Nightingales in Berlin:

A celebrated figure in myth, song, and story, the nightingale has captivated the imagination for millennia, its complex song evoking a prism of human emotions,—from melancholy to joy, from the fear of death to the immortality of art.
But have you ever listened closely to a nightingale’s song? It’s a strange and unsettling sort of composition—an eclectic assortment of chirps, whirs, trills, clicks, whistles, twitters, and gurgles. At times it is mellifluous, at others downright guttural. It is a rhythmic assault, always eluding capture. What happens if you decide to join in?
As philosopher and musician David Rothenberg shows in this searching and personal new book, the nightingale’s song is so peculiar in part because it reflects our own cacophony back at us. As vocal learners, nightingales acquire their music through the world around them, singing amidst the sounds of humanity in all its contradictions of noise and beauty, hard machinery and soft melody. Rather than try to capture a sound not made for us to understand, Rothenberg seeks these musical creatures out, clarinet in tow, and makes a new sound with them. He takes us to the urban landscape of Berlin—longtime home to nightingale colonies where the birds sing ever louder in order to be heard—and invites us to listen in on their remarkable collaboration as birds and instruments riff off of each other’s sounds. Through dialogue, travel records, sonograms, tours of Berlin’s city parks, and musings on the place animal music occupies in our collective imagination, Rothenberg takes us on a quest for a new sonic alchemy, a music impossible for any one species to make alone. In the tradition of The Hidden Life of Trees and The Invention of Nature, Rothenberg has written a provocative and accessible book to attune us ever closer to the natural environment around us.

about IrRational Music:

A memoir and manifesto by a pivotal figure at the junction of rock, the avant-garde, and an ever-widening spiral of art, theater, film, and dance.

For over five decades, Elliott Sharp has been engaged in a quest at once quixotic and down to earth: to take the music he hears in his inner ear and bring it to life in the real world. In this vivid memoir and manifesto, Sharp takes us along on that quest, through some of the most rugged, anarchically fertile cultural terrain of our time. Sharp, a mainstay of the New York Downtown scene beginning in the 1980s, has been a pivotal figure at the junction of rock, experimental music, and an ever-widening spiral of art, theater, film, and dance. Rooted in blues, rock, jazz, and the twentieth-century avant-garde, Sharp’s innovative music has encompassed fractal geometry, chaos theory, algorithms, genetic metaphors, and new strategies for graphic notation.

In IrRational Music, Sharp dodges fake cowboys’ real bullets by the side of a highway near Colby, Kansas; is called on the carpet by a prickly, pompadoured Morton Feldman (“Improvisation… I don’t buy it”); segues from Zen tea to single malt with an elfin John Cage; conjures an extraterrestrial opera from a group of high-school students in Munich; and—back in his own high-school days—looks up from strumming Van Morrison’s “Gloria” in Manny’s Music on 48th Street to see Jimi Hendrix smiling benignly upon him. A mix of tales from the road with thoughts on music, art, politics, technology, and the process of thinking itself, IrRational Music is a glimpse inside the mind of one of our most exacting, exciting creative artists.

David Rothenberg is the Series Editor of Terra Nova Books and is distinguished professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is the author of many books investigating music in nature, including Why Birds Sing, Survival of the Beautiful, and Bug Music: How Insects Gave Us Rhythm and Noise. His writings have been translated into more than eleven languages and among his twenty one music CDs is One Dark Night I Left My Silent House, on ECM.

Elliott Sharp is a composer and multi-instrumentalist. He was awarded the Berlin Prize in Music in 2015 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2014. His composition “Storm of the Eye” for violinist Hilary Hahn appeared on her Grammy-winning album In 27 Pieces.

Terra Nova Books aim to show how environmental issues have cultural and artistic components, in addition to the scientific and political. Combining essays, reportage, fiction, art, and poetry, Terra Nova Books reveal the complex and paradoxical ways the natural and the human are continually redefining each other.


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