Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

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Music, Theology, and Philosophy: A Conversation with Artist-Theologian Julian Reid

Image courtesy of Julian Reid

Artist-Theologian Julian Reid interviewed by Alex King

Julian is an artist-theologian who plays, speaks, and writes at the intersection of music, faith, and story. He is a founding member of the jazz-fusion group The JuJu Exchange and has two personal projects, including his solo show Inherited and his devotional series Notes of Rest. He also works with the grassroots organization Fearless Dialogues. He studied theology and the arts at Candler School of Theology and, before that, philosophy at Yale. He and his wife Carmen are based in his beloved hometown of Chicago. You can learn more about Julian on his website and keep up with him at @julianreid17 on Twitter/Instagram.

During or after you read this interview, please enjoy the sounds of the JuJu Exchange.

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Keeping Our Place

What follows is a guest post by Jennifer Judkins. Jennifer is an Adjunct Professor at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, where she teaches music bibliography for performers and guides graduate research. She spent many years standing in the back of orchestras counting rests, and her musings between timpani rolls have nursed many years of interest and writing in aesthetics, especially in regard to musical performance. Recently, she was a contributor to the Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music (2011)

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AFB Covers Contest WINNERS!

The AFB Cover Month Philosophy Contest tasked philosophers with providing (in 50 words or fewer) an answer to the question “Can a Band be its own Cover Band?”

I received nearly two dozen entries, which were anonymized and sent along to independent judge P.D. Magnus (Albany). Below are the results, followed by a nice summary from the honorable Judge Magnus.

1st Place: BP Morton (Winner of an AFB T-shirt & Sticker Packet):

2nd Place: Eric Wiland (Winner of an AFB Sticker Packet):

Honorable Mentions: Roy T. Cook, Jim Hamlyn, & Jonathan Weinberg


Judge’s Report
The contest grew out of a conversation between Christy and me about whether musicians adopting different personas might do a cover of a song they had recorded earlier. It would have been easy to get caught up in how to define a ‘cover’, but we quickly realized that the meatier philosophical question was about the identity conditions of a band. Neither of us have an account of that, so he decided a contest was in order. I agreed to be the judge, so that entries could be judged anonymously.

I expected the entries to fall into two broad categories: No, with general considerations to show that it is impossible for a band to cover itself. Yes, with a thought-experiment scenario in which we can imagine a band becoming its own cover band.

The first strategy calls for a straightforward deduction; something like this:

1. By definition: A cover version is performed by someone other than the original artist.
2. By definition: A cover band of X plays cover versions of X’s songs.
3. The original band is the original artist and not someone else.
Therefore, the original band cannot be a cover band.

To my surprise, nobody quite made this argument. In fact, out of 21 entries, only four answered no to the assigned question. (Most answered yes, and one equivocated.)

Several entries presume that the relation ‘A covers B’ is transitive. All of those entries got set aside, because their assumption is just false. There are two accounts of cover songs in the literature. Kania (2006) argues that the target of a cover version is a thinly-specified song. Magnus, Magnus, and Mag Uidhir (2013) argue that a cover version targets a specific prior version. In neither case is the relation transitive.

Another entry invoked the distinction made by Magnus, Magnus, and Mag Uidhir between mimic and rendition covers. Well played, given who organized the contest and who secretly was going to judge it, but not ultimately persuausive.

Three entries merit honorable mention. (I saw these as numbered entries, and I’ve asked Christy to fill in names.)

The entry by Roy T. Cook was the cleverest of the no answers. The author defines a [i]perfect cover band[/i] and goes on to give a natural deduction proof that it is impossible to know that a band is a perfect cover band of itself. The definition is that “A is a perfect cover band of B” iff we cannot determine whether A and B are the same or distinct. The proof submitted cuts a corner, presuming without mention that knowledge is closed under implication. I mark partial credit.
The entry by Jonathan Weinberg was written in a nice analytic style and posed a schematic scenario for a yes answer:

Suppose band B has sound S1 at t1, and then by t2 their sound evolves to S2. Now suppose by t3 they abandon S2, and pursue a career simply reproducing their t1 songs performed a la S1. Then B at t3 is a cover band of B at t1.

This answer plays nicely with the identity conditions for a band, suggesting that later time slices of a band might be a different band than earlier time slices. A few other entries similarly relied on different time slices of the same band, but this one was clearest. However, as Cristyn pointed out to me as I was mulling over answers, fans don’t actually think about bands this way as the bands get older. When a band is forced to play their old hits even though they have moved on musically, we might think it’s sad but we don’t call them a cover band.

The entry by Jim Hamlyn was the only one written in verse. It poses a yes-answer scenario that is similar to the one in the winning entry, but somewhat less precise. Perhaps imprecision is the price of doggerel.

    A band can be a cover band
    By a form of exaggeration and
    By mocking, shamming or otherwise hamming
    Their art as if by another’s hand.

Second place goes to the entry by Eric Wiland:

A band can be its own cover band. I’ll argue by example. The White Stripes would cover themselves if they were to play all their songs with Jack on drums and Meg singing lead and playing guitar. Interestingly, a solo artist cannot cover herself.

The crucial thing is that Meg played drums in the White Stripes while Jack played guitar and sang lead. We typically identify a band not just by its members but by what each member does in the band. So having everyone trades roles could constitute a different band and allow the same people to constitute a cover band. (I had to look up the lineup of the White Stripes to make sure I understood the crucial thing correctly. Points off for clarity.)

The winner is BP Morton, who wrote:

Sure! Imagine a band that secretly re-unites, pretends to be a cover band of itself, and is taken as such by its new audience. Whether they fess up or not, by posing as a cover band successfully and being taken as one, they have become a cover band of themselves.

The idea plays on an ambiguity of what it is to be the same band: The band in the scenario is the same band in one sense because it has the same members playing the same parts. The band is a new band in another sense because band identity is a social fact, constituted by the members presenting themselves in a certain way and being accepted by the audience. It’s even if just being a cover band is a social fact in that sense.

Congratulations to the the winners, but I had fun reading all of the entries. Thanks to Christy for the chance to decide the matter.



OUP Editor and Indie Rock Legend Peter Momtchiloff interviewed by Christy Mag Uidhir

Peter Momtchiloff has been philosophy editor at Oxford University Press since 1993. He studied classics at Oxford. He has played guitar in many bands, including Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, and currently the Would-be-goods and Les Clochards. Continue reading



Musician Ivan Anderson interviewed by Christy Mag Uidhir

Ivan Anderson is a guitarist and copyeditor living in New York City. He graduated from Brown University. Ivan plays lead guitar in SWEET FIX, a neon, futuristic, cyber rock band in NYC. Their first full-length album, Golden Age, was produced by Geoff Stanfield (Sun Kil Moon, Firehorse, Black Lab). Members of SWEET FIX are endorsed by Godlyke Distributing, Jo Lyon Underfashion, and ZU Shoes.
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August is Covers Month at AFB

The Cover Song is a wondrously magical yet terribly fickle alchemical creature: just as it may resurrect an otherwise lifeless subject, so too might it destroy all that’s good in it (or even worse, leave it seemingly altogether unchanged).
To pay tribute to this mysterious being, for the month of August Aesthetics for Birds will feature nothing but cover songs in its weekly music posts Musical Mondays & Fall Fridays.

As an extra bonus, AFB is holding a PHILOSOPHY CONTEST related to the philosophical issues surrounding the Cover Song. Here’s what you need to know:
Background: Cover bands (also known as tribute bands) aim to faithfully reproduce the music (live performances) of the bands they cover (e.g., Fan Halen is a Van Halen cover band, BC/DC is an AC/DC cover band from British Columbia, Iron Maidens is an all-female Iron Maiden cover band).

Assignment: In 50 words or fewer, provide a argument that answers the following question:

Can a band be it’s own cover band (e.g., can Iron Maiden be an Iron Maiden cover band)?
Submit your entries via email to [Subject: AFB Covers Contest] by August 30th to be eligible to win.

2nd Prize: a 6-pack of AFB Logo Stickers

1st Prize: a 6-pack of AFB Logo Stickers & an AFB T-shirt

All entries will be anonymized and evaluated by an independent judge who will then select the winners (in consultation with/pending final approval from yours truly).

In the meantime, celebrate the appropriation of others’ work ostensibly in service to some emulatory end by kicking out the cover jams AFB-style with the Aesthetics for Birds Awesome Cover Song Playlist of Awesomeness:

  1.   Sonic Youth, “Rowche Rumble” (The Fall)
  2.   The Meatmen, “How Soon Is Now?” (The Smiths)
  3.   The Slits, “Heard It Through the Grapevine” (Marvin Gaye)
  4.   The Cardigans, “Iron Man” (Black Sabbath)
  5.   The Fall, “Jungle Rock” (Hans Mizell)
  6.   The Screamers, “And The Beat Goes On” (Sonny & Cher)
  7.   Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (The Arrows)
  8.   The Dickies, “Nights in White Satin” (Moody Blues)
  9.   Melvins, “Lexicon Devil” (The Germs)
  10.   L7, “Cherry Bomb” (The Runaways)
  11.   The Replacements, “Black Diamond” (KISS)
  12.   The Fever, “The Glamorous Life” (Sheila E)
  13.   Guitar Wolf, “Summertime Blues” (Eddie Cochran)
  14.   Nick Cave, “Rainy Night in Soho” (The Pogues)
  15.   The Cramps, “Surfin’ Bird” (The Trashmen)