Integrating the musical, the natural, and the improvised: David Rothenberg and multispecies musicking

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Jazz Education in Research and Practice


Indiana University Press


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)




Ryan, R. A. (2020). Integrating the Musical, the Natural, and the Improvised: David Rothenberg and Multispecies Musicking. Jazz Education in Research and Practice, 1(1), 167-184.


It is in musical performance, suggests Ingram (2010), that our relationships with environments most cogently sustain and enrich ecology (p. 11). Ecology informs and inspires music, but it does not govern music (Boyle & Waterman, 2016). Composers have long incorporated the sounds of birds and animals into their music, and in recent years, technology has played a role in the study and development of more-than-human “musi-cality.”1 However when jazz musicians improvise in or out of sync with the acoustic presence of wildlife, creativity remains in flux.2 This baffling anti-institutional practice furnishes new combinations of sound, but it remains subject to philosophical questions that deflect attention away from the music’s inherent artistic worth. For the purposes of this reflective essay, there exists a gap in the literature around fresh approaches to jazzing within—and with—nature. Likewise, a pedagogy is needed to explain the benefits of multispecies musicking. In privileging musical engagement with natural ecologies of sound, the essay revolves around the American jazz clarinetist David Rothenberg’s use of nature as a model and resource for improvising musicians.3 Process is the underlying principle in his organic prac-tice of knowing through doing. Rothenberg (b. 1962) works in a variety of international fields, scenes, and settings as he challenges the boundaries of experimental jazz. He displays considerable technical knowledge of the clarinet, saxophone, and synthesizer, having per-formed and recorded music with Peter Gabriel and countless other jazz musicians. His extensive literary output provides explanations for consumers of his concerts and recordings.



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