What are Songs? (Video)
One of the main things that I’ve learned about philosophy so far is how a lot of it is basically asking, “What is ______?” I combined this knowledge with my obsession with music and the creation of it and found a video that asks the question, “What sort of things are songs?” Olly, the person who created this video, asks some questions using “Suffragette City” by David Bowie as an example:
[“Suffragette City”] is not like the Mona Lisa, where there’s only one of it and if I asked you “Where is it?” you could point to it and say, “There it is.” “Suffragette City” is more like Hamlet, or Kill Bill Vol. 2 in that it exists in multiple copies in different times and different locations, and different formats. Sometimes they’re played live, sometimes it’s recorded, sometimes somebody might do a cover version of it, and someone other than David Bowie plays it. Do all of those count as “Suffragette City?” Or do only some? And why?
The two theories of musical ontology that Olly mentions are songs as types (songs exist as abstract objects that are spaceless and timeless, and any performance of it is a token of that type) and songs as sets (songs are every instance of it being played at once). Another person in the video says that songs could be whatever the artist decides it is, which I think is also interesting, being an amateur songwriter myself. Does this mean that I get to decide how my song exists and under what terms it exists as?
All of these theories are pretty interesting, but of course I don’t strongly believe in one over the other. I’m curious as to what y’all think about this subject, so if you have any ideas or opinions, please feel free to share!