Magazine article The New Yorker

Brood Dude

Magazine article The New Yorker

Brood Dude

Article excerpt

Yes, the cicadas are here, or somewhere, anyway. This would be Brood II of the periodical seventeen-year cicada Magicicada septendecim, last seen on the Mid-Atlantic Coast in 1996. It's tempting to say that the din of anticipatory/celebratory/cicadapocalyptic news coverage has been as noisy as that of the cicadas themselves, but the bugs, once they get going, are really loud. No hype can compete. We might as well play along.

Their most persistent and tuneful accompanist is the "interspecies musician" David Rothenberg, a professor of philosophy and music at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Over the years, Rothenberg, a jazz player and composer, has studied, collected, and played along with the sounds and songs of whales and birds. Out of this has come music that is, in every sense, totally wild. The shrieks, bleats, and moans of his clarinet and saxophone forge a notional call-and-response with the beasts of air and sea. Seven years ago, Rothenberg took up bugs, under the premise that insects were the world's original musicians--that the primordial thrumming of crickets and cicadas was a kind of Cro-Magnon Juilliard. During the thirteen-year emergence of Brood XIX, two years ago, he improvised on a soprano sax with some cicadas near Springfield, Illinois. Now the release of his "Bug Music" album and book (subtitled "How Insects Gave Us Rhythm and Noise") coincides with the emergence of Brood II. (Insects give us pub dates, too.)

For the past month, Rothenberg has roamed the tri-state area, seeking cicadas to jam with, and people who might dig it. The emergence has been erratic. In New Jersey, and Staten Island, and in pockets upstate, billions of nymphs, which have been living underground for seventeen years, sucking on tree roots, have crawled out of the earth, shed their chrysalides and migrated to the tops of trees, where the males have commenced the septendecimal mating drone, and the females their come-hither clicks. Down on the ground, the humans plug their ears and swap cicada facts. Some places are cicadaless, though: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens. Citizens either make do with recollected broods or wonder if it's all a hoax--an entymological Y2K.

On a recent evening, Rothenberg imported a jarful of bugs for a performance at the Judson Memorial Church, on Washington Square South. …

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