David Rothenberg is an associate professor of philosophy at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He has released five CDs on which he plays clarinet. Among the books he has written are Hand's End: Technology and the Limits of Nature and Blue Cliff Record: Zen Echoes. This bold, inventive, and pensive volume celebrates improvisation or play in music, life, and nature.

"Don't plan it out, just go," writes Rothenberg. "This is improvisation — it will happen without the studied plan. You constantly train for it, and then you're ready. To hear, to see, to bring the disparate and far-flung together in an instant you've prepared for all your life: this is improvisation."

A well-read and seasoned traveler, the author brings in colorful anecdotes and teaching stories from all over the world. He catches the flare in a story by the Hasidic Rebbe Nachman, the pleasurable sounds of Shakuhichi music, the ecstasy of Arabic music that puts audiences and musicians in a mutual swoon, the strange soundscape of the Arctic, the film Latcho Drum by Tony Gatlif, and the chance street encounters between individuals that opens up new possibilities.

For Rothenberg, music connects us to nature, puts us in a dance with animals, and links us with people around the world who share our yearning to ride the beat and to savor the thrum of life. "Art's primary purpose," notes the author, "is to show us beautiful and wondrous ways of making something new out of the old, familiar materials of the world."

Rothenberg's playfulness will transport you to strange places, exercise your imagination, and stir your soul. Set your plans aside and go with the flow of the book. Near the end, Rothenberg says that Henry Miller used to think of himself as a park, a place where others in his orbit would come to rest and collect themselves for a while. The accompanying audio disc features eleven original compositions by Rothenberg. Receive them gratefully as a player in a park.