In this essay, I will be focusing on the idea of consciousness. To begin, I listened to the piece of music ‘Adagio for Strings’ – a progressive trance song released in 2005 by the Dutch musician, DJ and record producer – Tiesto. This is a take on the original composition by Samuel Barber arranged for string orchestra, made in 1936. As it can be seen in the music video, this piece of music is created for people to move their bodies to. It is focused on energy and like all music, is all about vibrations. In a live setting some say it is undeniable that it is connecting with your body as you feel rumbles of the low end bass frequencies shake your legs. It is thought by many that music can affect you physically.
Hazrat Inayat Khan said “A person does not hear sound only through the ears; he hears sound through every pore of his body. It permeates the entire being, and according to its particular influence either slows or quickens the rhythm of the blood circulation; it either wakens or soothes the nervous system. It arouses a person to greater passions or it calms him by bringing him peace. According to the sound and its influence a certain effect is produced. Sound becomes visible in the form of radiance. This shows that the same energy which goes into the form of sound before being visible is absorbed by the physical body. In that way the physical body recuperates and becomes charged with new magnetism” (Khan, 1996).
However, German philosopher Emmanuel Kant believed that if a piece of music is physically pleasurable and does not challenge a person to carefully think and analyse then it is not as beautiful or meaningful as a piece of music that does these things. In his work, Kant distinguished between ‘beautiful’ and ‘pleasurable’. This particular song would be seen as pleasurable as it’s associated with sense experience. For him, only the fine arts which you can appreciate through reflective judgement are seen as truly beautiful.
Philosopher Robert Pepperell argued that physical and mental pleasures cannot be separated. Pepperell came up with the Posthuman Manifesto which he included in his book ‘The Posthuman Condition: Consciousness beyond the brain’. In this idea of Posthumanism, humanism, a set of beliefs that valued human beings highly, is overtaken and ended. Posthumanism involves understanding that what we once thought about human beings may be wrong as well as understanding the growing relationship between biology and technology and the effects that may have on life as we know it.
In his book, he said “Complexity theory holds that the overall behavior of a system cannot be explained by reference to any of its individual components… the brain contributes to consciousness but does not determine it” (Pepperell, 2003 p26).
Pepperell’s views imply that the body and mind are one thing meaning that music is felt mentally and physically – all at once. With our bodies and minds connected, we can begin to think about things in a different light. Perhaps the body is a starting point and speech, heartbeats and other movements are reassembled in our minds and released back out in the form of music.
Looking at Pepperell’s quote and applying it to Tiesto’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ suggests that the song is a byproduct of Tiesto’s own consciousness – his body and his mind, as one thing. The music then connects with our consciousness – not just our body or mind as separate entities. If one is absent then consciousness ceases to exist. Consciousness is not restricted to our brain and those who try to understand it by studying the brain alone will inevitably fail. It is only through the cooperation of the body and mind that thoughts can be developed – we think with our whole body. We may not understand why this happens, but Pepperell claims that “A complex machine is a machine whose workings we do not fully understand or control” (Pepperell, 2003 p.177).
If this is the case, then could it be possible that instead of each of us having our own consciousness we are in fact all part of one consciousness – a shared consciousness that none of us are capable of understanding or controlling. Taking it further, perhaps the body, the mind and the environment are connected into one consciousness. Consciousness arises from a given set of conditions. All elements need to be there for it to exist. Without this environment, this body would not exist. Without this body, this mind would not exist. Without this mind, this environment would not exist. So what if, in a similar situation to Samuel Barber and Tiesto, an artist uses another artist’s work in their own song? Is that simply this ongoing consciousness that we perceive as life recycling ideas? As we are one with everyone there was, everyone there is and everyone there will ever be, does anyone actually own anything? Is there one human responsible for an idea or a creation or are we all responsible?
What we can then think about is whether or not the body and the mind are the only part of this consciousness that makes music. What about the environment? Khan said “When we pay attention to nature’s music, we find that everything on the Earth contributes to its harmony” (Khan, 1996). The noises of a gentle stream, a strong wind, a bang of thunder or torrential rain to name a few are examples of the environment’s contribution to music. Again, it is this consciousness as one thing that creates everything. The body, the mind and the environment are all part of the process.
If we are all part of one consciousness then we are a rhizome. Rhizomes can be broken but they cannot be demolished because they will simply start up on a new line or one of their old lines. For example, when a rat breaks away from the pack, the pack will continue moving anyway and another rat will join to fill the gap. The pack cannot fall apart just because one part of it breaks away. Following the idea that we are all one consciousness and therefore a rhizome, when human beings, plants or trees die the rhizome breaks as one of its parts have gone but it does not disappear as there are more human beings, plants and trees still living. When human beings are born and plants and trees grow it represents the constant flow and continuation of the rhizome as no matter how many times it breaks, there will be more being added all of the time. Perhaps there are still connections to be made that we are currently unaware of. In the same way certain creatures become extinct and are therefore broken away from the rhizome, other things may still be connected to the rhizome in the future.
The French philosopher Gilles Deleuze argued that the real is always ‘actual-virtual’. By this he means any actual thing was already an image. So, if you had a bookcase for example, there would be some general image of it before it was put together and recognized as a bookcase. If we are all one consciousness it is inevitable that we will use ideas again. Within our consciousness we recognize what is a good idea and what is a bad idea through past experience and we also continue to develop new ideas – some of which will work and some of which will not. Tiesto reused ‘Adagio for Strings’ because it was an idea that worked. It was a successful and well written piece of music that he realised he could do something of his own with. Other artists in the electronic dance scene who have remixed it include Ferry Corsten, William Orbit and Armin van Buuren. So, in other words, “The musician’s action consists in deframing, in finding the opening, taking up the plane of composition once more” (Deleuze & Felix, 1994 p.191). This song, being a creation of the shared consciousness, will continue to be used. It is almost certain that this song will keep being played around the world as well as remixed by many people in the foreseeable future. It was first presented by Barber but it belongs to the consciousness of us all. “We tend to think that we have an actual world which precedes simulation, but for Deleuze there is an ‘original’ process of simulation. Beings or things emerge from processes of copying, doubling, imaging and simulation. Each unique work of art or each human individual is a simulation: genes copy and repeat, with deviation, while art works become singular not by being the world but by transforming it through images that are at once actual and virtual” (Colebrook, 2002 p.98-99).
If this is true, then what happens to copyright laws? If all music belongs to all that is part of the consciousness, nobody can own anything and nobody can be accused of plagiarism. Copyright laws would be non-existent. Musicians would have no control over their music. Many people may stop making music as a result. However, does this necessarily mean there would be a decline in music? After all, music is created by all parts of the consciousness. The environment would continue to make its music regardless and although humans may stop making certain types of music, the human being will always make music as long as it lives. “For twenty-five centuries, Western knowledge has tried to look upon the world. It has failed to understand that the world is not for the beholding. It is for hearing. It is not legible, but audible. Our science has always desired to monitor, measure, abstract, and castrate meaning, forgetting that life is full of noise and that death alone is silent: work noise, noise of man, and noise of beast. Noise bought, sold, or prohibited. Nothing essential happens in the absence of noise” (Attali, 1977 p.3). The most relevant part of this quote is “life is full of noise and that death alone is silent”. It is only when something breaks away from the rhizome, whether it is a dead plant or a human being, that it no longer creates music. As long as you are still part of the consciousness, you are contributing to the music it creates. In this case, music will never die out because the rhizome will be unbroken and will always continue.
The philosopher Plato recognized the inherent power of music and as a result the danger it could hold. For him, music that is not tied down by words and therefore has no fixed meaning by language is dangerous. This being the case, the music of the environment can only be seen as a dangerous and negative thing. However, the environment has simply bounced off the body and mind to create the music it does in the same way the music that does have a fixed meaning by language was created by the body and mind bouncing off the environment. Each component of the consciousness contributes to all the music that is made. So, although music can still be made with or without lyrical constraint, it all comes from the same collective input.
So with the idea that we are all one continuous, unbreakable consciousness that is essentially a machine that we cannot fully control or understand, where can we draw the line? If we never fully understand ourselves, we never know how much is possible. We are part of a machine that creates machines. Every bit of technology created is a step closer towards a new era in which humans are of less importance. Tiesto’s and Samuel Barber’s different versions of ‘Adagio for Strings’ shows the advancements of technology in the past century. Barber created the piece for a string orchestra where as Tiesto uses a variety of machines including mixers and computers to recreate that sound and apply it to his own style. We can also take note of the amount of different devices, some of which fit in our pockets. We can now listen to either of the two versions of this song on these types of devices– something that wasn’t possible in the 1930s.
At this point in time, certain machines are complex, but not beyond understanding. They cannot be beyond understanding because they are logical. They are fed organised data in order to perform as they should. Pepperell stated that “What is essential to the functioning of human consciousness is that the mind receives a continuous input of random stimuli from the environment. The human mind has evolved to absorb the unexpected — the discontinuous stimulus” (Pepperell, 2003 p.186). So, in order for any machine to inhabit human characteristics and think freely and artistically, it must receive random stimuli like humans. The closer machines get to imitating human characteristics, the more humans like them. It is basically what technology strives for – to create the most intelligent and responsive thing imaginable. It is likely that we as humans are capable of eventually creating beings with human thought and emotion that equal us or even overtake us.
The point here is that in this continuous rhizome of consciousness there is a chance that humans are eventually going to break away completely. Humans will become unnecessary in the continuation of consciousness. This could be in our lifetimes or it could be thousands of years away but with the fast moving rate of technological advancements we are growing ever closer to developing something we cannot control. It may be that humans slowly break their link with the rhizome and the machines they have left behind will take their place. This doesn’t matter to the overall consciousness as long as there is still a body, mind and environment. “For more than three thousand million years, DNA has been the only replicator worth talking about in the world. But it does not necessarily hold these monopoly rights for all time. Whenever conditions arise in which a new kind of replicator can make copies of itself, the new replicators will tend to take over, and start a new kind of evolution of their own” (Dawkins, 1976). Whatever it may be, music will still exist. It may not be how we know it or understand it, but in some form it will always be around. As Posthumanism states – “humans are no longer the most important things in this universe” (Pepperell, 2003 p.177) and they are not absolutely necessary in the creation of music.
Attali, J (1977). Noise: The Political Economy of Music. France: Presses Universitaires de France.
Colebrook, C (2002). Gilles Deleuze. Routledge.
Dawkins, R (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press.
Deleuze, G & Felix, G (1994). What is Philosophy? Verso.
Khan, I (1996). The Mysticism of Sound and Music. Revised Edition. Shambhala Publications Incorporated.
Pepperell, R (2003). The Posthuman Condition: Consciousness Beyond the Brain. Great Britain: Intellect Books.
This is my mid term brief for this module. I had to choose 3 pieces of music to talk about and link them in with all that we have learnt so far in Philosophical Encounters.
Here is the full essay..
The first piece of music I will be focusing on is Tiesto’s ‘Adagio for Strings’. As it can be seen in the music video, this piece of music is created for people to move to, dance to and jump to in whatever ways they feel. It is focused on energy and like all music, vibrations. In a live setting some say it is undeniable that it is connecting with your body as you feel rumbles of the low end bass frequencies shake your legs. It is thought by many that music can affect you physically. However, what would someone like Plato have thought of this song?
Within Plato’s Republic there is some fear and disillusion that comes from music. This is the fear of the power of music and what it’s capable of. Plato holds that music is devalued once it is associated with physical pleasure and this song is a prime example of that. However, this song contains no lyrics and is therefore not given a fixed meaning by language and for Plato this is viewed as dangerous. The philosopher Emmanuel Kant may have agreed with Plato on this. In his work, Kant distinguished between ‘beautiful’ and ‘pleasurable’. This song would be seen as pleasurable as it’s associated with sense experience. For him, only the fine arts which you can appreciate through reflective judgement are seen as beautiful. So perhaps this comes down to the separation of body and mind. Both Plato and Kant believed that if a piece of music is physically pleasurable and does not challenge a person to think and analyse then it is not as beautiful or meaningful as a piece of music that does. However, some argue these distinctions between body and mind are wrong and judging music in this way is useless.
Robert Pepperell said “Complexity theory holds that the overall behavior of a system cannot be explained by reference to any of its individual components… the brain contributes to consciousness but does not determine it” (Pepperell, 2003). Pepperell’s views on this topic imply that the body and mind are one thing meaning that music is felt mentally and physically – all at once.
With our bodies and minds connected, we can think about different possibilities. Perhaps the body is the starting point and speech, heartbeats and other movements are reassembled in our minds and released back out in the form of music. It may be that Tiesto’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ is a byproduct of his own consciousness – his body and his mind, as one thing.
The next song I will be looking at is ‘Eighties’ by Killing Joke, which was popular in the 1980’s and had a reasonable amount of success. However, ‘Come as You Are’ by Nirvana, released about seven years later, gained more widespread success. The reason these songs get put together in this way is because they both have a similar riff and there were arguments over it which almost culminated in a lawsuit. It could be regarded as a process of deterritorialization and reterritorialization in which Nirvana created a new assemblage in a simple action of finding an opening and exploring other possibilities. Even if the Nirvana riff did plagiarise the Killing Joke riff, perhaps the Killing Joke riff plagiarised something else.
Deleuze argued that the real is always ‘actual-virtual’. By this he means any actual thing was already an image. So, if you had a chair for example, there would be some general image of it before it was put together and recognized as a chair. In terms of the Killing Joke/Nirvana situation, perhaps Nirvana did plagiarise it but in an actual-virtual world, Killing Joke plagiarised it from somewhere else first. For Deleuze, things emerge from a process of copying, imaging and simulating. Although it’s not often as obvious and noticeable as this situation, each piece of music has copied something from somewhere else. What we hear when we listen to the Killing Joke song is not a solid thing. Although we hear it as one piece of music it is in fact many pieces of music and many different objects forming together. So does this mean music is a rhizome?
Any point of a rhizome can be connected to any other. From the start of time, or at least as far back as we can trace, there has been sound and with sound comes music. So perhaps it is possible that music today has traces of the first piece of music ever created. Through time it has been rearranged and warped but without that first piece of music, maybe music wouldn’t be the same today. Of course, one thing can be connected in various different ways that result in different outcomes. Rhizomes can be broken but they cannot be demolished because they will simply start up on a new line or one of their old lines. So, certain elements of music may disappear with time but music as its own thing will never disappear.
The last song I will be analysing is ‘Gloomy Sunday’ composed by Hungarian pianist and composer Rezso Seress. This song is best known for the myths surrounding it. It is believed that many people have committed suicide after listening to this song and as a result radio stations banned it. Whether or not these myths are true, they provide some interesting analysis points. Take the following quote as an example; “For twenty-five centuries, Western knowledge has tried to look upon the world. It has failed to understand that the world is not for the beholding. It is for hearing. It is not legible, but audible. Our science has always desired to monitor, measure, abstract, and castrate meaning, forgetting that life is full of noise and that death alone is silent: work noise, noise of man, and noise of beast. Noise bought, sold, or prohibited. Nothing essential happens in the absence of noise” (Attali, 1977). The part that is particularly interesting here is “life is full of noise and that death alone is silent”. ‘Gloomy Sunday’ in this sense is the last noise in a life that is full of noise. Only when this noise ends is there absolute silence. Why is this noise the last one for these people and not something different?
This is where music precedes understanding. It creates knowledge instead of having knowledge applied to it. Perhaps it is not this song that holds certain emotions that possess you to kill yourself but instead when listening to it we are having a unique experience that will affect us differently to how it affects others. For some, the experience has been ugly and pushed them to make this the final sound they hear in this life. It is this idea that reinforces the view that all music is unpredictable to some extent and therefore how we will react to it as an individual is uncertain until we have that experience.
“Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn. They teach you there’s a boundary line to music. But, man, there’s no boundary line to art” (Reisner, 1977).
Attali, J (1977). Noise: The Political Economy of Music. France: Presses Universitaires de France.
Pepperell, R (2003). The Posthuman Condition: Consciousness Beyond the Brain. Great Britain: Intellect Books. p26.
Reisner, R (1977). Bird: The Legend of Charlie Parker. Da Capo Press. p27.