Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


What are Songs? (Video)

Hey y’all,

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!



Much ado about The Smiths

While I might deliver my dissertation on the Smiths posted above another day (or how they should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year), we did talk a little this morning about Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s children, Willow and Jaden, and an interview they recently gave to T Magazine, wherein they discuss several topics that sound a little like they might enjoy our course.

These two quotes struck me. For starters, this metaphysical riddle sounds familiar:

…this is a fragment of a holographic reality that a higher consciousness made.

As well as this perspective on the mind and consciousness:

Because your mind has a duality to it. So when one thought goes into your mind, it’s not just one thought, it has to bounce off both hemispheres of the brain. When you’re thinking about something happy, you’re thinking about something sad. When you think about an apple, you also think about the opposite of an apple. It’s a tool for understanding mathematics and things with two separate realities. But for creativity: That comes from a place of oneness. That’s not a duality consciousness.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one to take note of the sheer exuberance of what the interview contained, or wondered about the caveat offered following the piece:

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Hazlitt humourously wondered what might have been edited out of such an interview, and presented a fictionalized run down of what may have been cut:

What would it be like if human beings showed no outward signs of pain? If we didn’t groan or grimace, et cetera? Then it would be impossible to teach a child the use of the word “toothache.” Well, let’s assume the child is a genius and itself invents a name for the sensation! But then, of course, he couldn’t make himself understood when he used the word. So does he understand the name, without being able to explain its meaning to anyone? But what does it mean to say that he has “named his pain”? How has he done this naming of pain? In giving a name to his sensation one forgets that a great deal of stage-setting in the language is presupposed if the mere act of naming is to make sense. And when we speak of someone having given a name to pain, what is presupposed is the existence of the grammar of the word “pain;” it shows the post where the new word is stationed.

Now, as humourous as we might find these adolescent philosophers’ ideas, my question this morning was about whether or not we should. If Jaden and Willow were in our philosophy class, for instance, would we (or you, if you did upon reading the interview) be laughing at them? Or would they be leading our discussions down all kinds of interesting paths.

As someone mentioned this morning, might such minds be the Philosopher Kings who have made it out of Plato’s proverbial cave? By mocking them, are we not those still in chains poking fun at the enlightened?

McSweeney’s takes this notion a little further, asking if its readers can distinguish between quotes from the Smith children and notable eccentric genius William Blake.  After all, is

In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between, there are doors.

so much different than

When you think about an apple, you also think about the opposite of an apple?



The Art of Silence- Dylan

I sat in my chair, in this little restaurant in downtown Vancouver, listening intently to the music being performed in front of me. I could feel the twenty or so other bodies in the room sitting at tables nearby , all of us within a few meters of the performers. Of all the pieces that were played that night, this slow, emotionally vibrant,  peice had us all completely hooked. Everyone in the restaurant had stopped eating, stopped talking, and were completely committed to what was happening with the music. We were all hooked to every single note, every single beat of the whole song, following the band as the lead us on journey to some unknown destination. As we intently followed the piece, it began to wind down, slowing down as the final notes were being played. We were all caught in some almost hypnotic trance. And as last note of the trumpet sounded out and stayed with us for some time we were still completely absorbed in the beauty of the piece and then, absolute silence. Everyone in the room was completely still. It felt as if everyone was suspended in time, with the last note still resonating in the air around us, wrapping us in a communal tension. I was aware of everybody in the room, aware of the music, aware of the performers, and aware of the.  And then, just as the tension became almost too much, applause. The silence was broken, and we all were acknowledging what had just happened. These three moments of silence that still lay so vividly in my mind.

That was the most memorable moment of the whole night. Not to say that the music throughout the whole night wasn’t fantastic, but that to me was such a powerful moment, that it still sticks out in my mind.  Taking that moment to appreciate the music that we had just heard in silence, and the fact that the music had made us silent, is still so astonishing to me. Silence is such a powerful force. There are so many moments in life where it’s true that a thousand words can be said with a single moment of silence. This moment to me, was a true testament, to the power of silence. But was the silence itself, an aesthetic experience? If nothing is really happening, can that still be called an aesthetic experience? There have been many others who have taken a look at the power of silence in art, and to really try to get down to the bottom of this experience, let’s take a look at one of these first.

One man, took the study of silence so far as to make an entire piece of music about it. Inhttp://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/52/Anechoic_chamber.jpg 1955, minimalist composer John Cage composed a piece entitled “4’33″”. The piece is an entire composition of complete silence, which includes three movements. The title of the piece changes depending on the length of the performance, with the first performance having been four minutes and forty-three seconds long. John Cage composed the piece after a long time fascination with silence, and after having made silence a big factor in a lot of his compositions beforehand. In 1951, Cage visited an anechoic chamber at Harvard University. An Anechoic chamber is a room designed to absorb all sound coming from within the room, and block out any external sound as well. Cage went to the room expecting to hear absolute silence, but instead he reported hearing two sounds, one low and one high. When he described this to the engineer in charge, he told Cage that the low sound was his blood in circulation, and the high sound was his nervous system in operation. Cage was astonished. He went to a place where he though there would be complete silence, and yet still heard sounds. He was reported saying, “Until I die there will be sounds. And they will continue following my death. One need not fear about the future of music.” This experience, and being influenced by other experimental artists at the time creating similar works, composed this piece as a study into the world of silence.


Cage was very passionate about this piece, his purpose was to envelop the audience in the natural sounds of the environment that was around them while the piece was going on. Because he considered sounds themselves, completely pure and untouched, to be music, he completely presented this as an aesthetic experience. But this piece, as you can probably guess, caused a lot of controversy. There are many who considered this piece to be a great look into what constitutes as music, a can be taken as a challenge to the very definition of music. But there are also others who point this out as having absolutely no point at all. And being that it is a piece of music, that it is completely silence, it’s not hard to see why people could see this as self-indulgent, and even pretentious. But maybe it doesn’t matter whether or not you agree with the pieces usefulness of honesty,  maybe the aesthetic experience doesn’t have to have you agree with it.  Before we get down to that, let’s take one more look at what John Cage has to say about silence.

It’s interesting to wonder what makes some people love the piece, and some people hate it. The experiences that people could have while experience John Cage’s “4’33″”, and the one I had in the restaurant could be considered to be quite similar. Being enveloped in complete silence, especially with other people in the room, is going to create some sort of feeling with in you. For people like John Cage who view sounds as a part of music, this piece becomes about the positive effect that silence can have on you. For others, it becomes a something that they dismiss as having any real meaning. But either way, the piece becomes something in that person’s mind. Whether it be positive or negative, it has stirred something inside of that person. One of John Cage’s reasons for creating the piece was the he knew that different people would experience it in different ways. He knew that some people might take it as a joke, while others might not. But what he wanted, was for it to do something. and I think that’s where the aesthetic experience comes from. Just like that moment in the restaurant, even if it was just silence, that silence became something inside my mind and it made me think about that experience. The aesthetic experience is an experience becomes something inside of you, and has left an impression that you later can think about. It’s an experience that while you’re having it, allows you to complete concentrate on what’s going on in front of you. And that can be anything. Even silence.



Selected Readings for Philosophy 12 from SoundEagle for mid 2013

SoundEagle in Art and DecorHello readers, learners and teachers,

SoundEagle would like to introduce to all and sundry the following multidisciplinary posts as additional materials for reading, learning and/or discussion. Please note that some of the extended discussions in the commenting sections of the posts are also illuminating. Further comments and discussions are welcome.



Calling All Dawns – Emily

Album artwork  –  Source: christophertin.com

Video game music is hardly the most prestigious or recognized form of art. Sure, it’s music, but it’s not a very common definition of “art” or “beauty”.

Christopher Tin composed the first ever piece of music written for a video game to receive a Grammy – Baba Yetu. Some of you might recognize it from our choir performance at the end of last year. This song was not only the theme music for Civilization IV, but also the first song on Tin’s album Calling All Dawns. This album, started in 2005 and released in 2009,  features twelve songs in twelve languages with lyrics coming from all over, including sacred texts, prayers, blessings, proverbs, and traditional poems. The album is done in the form of a song cycle. The songs are divided into three movements: Day, Night, and Dawn; corresponding to life, death, and rebirth.

The first movement, Day, has five songs – Baba Yetu (Swahili), Mado Kara Mieru (Japanese), Dao Zai Fan Ye (Mandarin), Se É Pra Vir Que Venha (Portuguese), and Rassemblons-Nous (French). These songs are about the future, joy, mystery and mortality. To me, all these songs make you want to move.

Night, the second movement, has three songs: Lux Aeterna (Latin), Caoineadh (Irish), and Hymn do Trócy Świętej (Polish). They are about death and sorrow; Caoineadh is even a traditional grieving song. These ones would fit perfectly in a sadness montage in a movie. Reflective and sobering.

Finally, we come to Dawn, the final movement of the album. Hayom Kadosh (Hebrew), Hamsáfár (Farsi), Sukla-Krsne (Sanskrit), and Kia Hora Te Marino (Maori). They are triumphant, joyful, and bring the cycle back around to life. In fact, the last song ends with the same chord as the first song opens with. All the songs flow through each other almost seamlessly – not only representing the circle of life, but also making it all one song, when it all comes down to it. It’s unifying – all the languages and styles together as one, even text from different religions’ holy books. To add to that, bits and pieces of some songs find their way into others, tying the whole thing together even further. To me, the whole album is like a journey. You are led through different emotions, countries, cultures and styles. The feeling I get at the end of Kia Hora Te Marino is the same as when I hear the finale of a musical as the curtain closes, or after I’ve watched a great movie or read the last few pages of a really good book. This album has even been described as “a musical story” in some reviews.

The mystery of hearing the music and lyrics in a foreign language is beautiful already. But upon reading the translations and meanings of the songs, they take on another level.

I find it beautiful in a descriptive way: this is my kind of music, and it makes me feel. It’s not your average piece of classical music, yet it’s so much more than just another pop song about another breakup, it’s about life, death, and the future. It makes me feel happy, energetic, pensive, peaceful, sad, welcomed, hopeful, and triumphant; all throughout these 45 minutes of art. This is one piece of art and beauty that makes me feel strongly again that art is anything that can make you feel like that. Many people who know me will remember me trying to tell them about this album at some point or another. I know that every time, I try to convey just how pretty it all is and how it makes you feel, but there aren’t really words for it. You just need to hear it yourself. So I think Tin really used a thirteenth language – music.

It’s also beautiful by normative standards: Calling All Dawns has won two Grammys and every review I’ve read has been outstandingly positive. Tin, Baba Yetu, and Calling All Dawns seem to have a massive fallowing on the internet as well. Not bad for a composer’s debut album.


Listen on.



“It was a musical thing and you were supposed to dance…”


I have to thank GNA Garcia for referring me to this brief animation from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, set to the narration of philosopher Alan Watts. It is an interesting thread to connect to some of the conversation in the comments of the Cornell West video post, where Tobey Steeves has pointed out Deleuze’s fascination with philosophy’s need “to go to school with the musicians.”

What do you think about Alan Watts’ musical analogy? Is the comparison he is making to our education system, or our societal view of ‘success’ apt?