It's summertime, which [as in past years] means it's music time! As longtime readers of the Cocoon may [or may not] know, I used to be a musician -- so I like to share music I like from time to time. Today I'm going to share a few songs by my favorite Swedish group [well, besides the obvious]: the band Kent, who just released their final album after 26 years together. Enjoy!
This is the third installment of my featured author series on the Cocoon. I have argued in part 1 that skilled performance (I focused on skilled epistemic practices such as birding and reading x-ray scans, but the point can be generalized) has a unique phenomenology. I will now examine how my cognitive account of skilled performance can shed light on this.
I remember when I bought my lute (quite a while ago now!), the lutemaker said that initially, there'd be a large distance between me and the instrument, but eventually, we would grow closer and it would feel like second nature to play it (he gestured it by holding the lute far away from his body, then slowly holding it closer and closer). He was right. A lute is not ergonomically designed: its awkward sleek pear shape drops from one's lap, the neck seems to broad to play comfortably, the strings' tension seems too loose (especially when you are a guitarist), but gradually I overcame all these obstacles and I am now an decent enough (albeit not an expert) player.
When I pick up the instrument to play now, it doesn't seem to require any conscious effort, and often, there is a positive sense of focused enjoyment in the absence of conscious effort (a state termed "flow", although Dicey Jennings prefers "conscious entrainment" because it is not always a positive affect). How did I get to that point?
Given the long Independence Day weekend here in the US and the fact that I will be away for a few days on a (much needed) vacation (and wedding anniversary!), I thought I might leave you all with a few tunes to relax to. Enjoy!
I know that other blogs have musicfeatures, but I have decided to start one of my own this summer for several related reasons. First and foremost, it's summer, and summer is a great time for music! ;) Second, I've been reflecting quite a bit lately on Anna Christina Ribeiro's recent post over at Aesthetics for Birds, "The Philosophical Importance of Aesthetics", and, more recently, Peter Kivy's 3AM interview about the philosophy of music -- both of which reminded me of just how central aesthetic experience is in my own life, and how unfortunate it is that aesthetics has increasingly been relegated to the backwaters of philosophical discourse. As Ribeiro points out, aesthetic experience is a significant part of human life. Almost all of us find ourselves deeply moved, at one time or another, by aesthetic experience -- whether it is the experience of a great song, a beautiful sunset, or a beautiful passing moment. And yet, Ribeiro points out, we hardly ever discuss these things philosophically. Finally, it has occurred to me, more and more recently, just how much of a role music has played in my life as a philosopher. Music has increasingly inspired my philosophical thinking on everything from free will to the philosophy of religion and morality. And yet, although music moves me personally and philosophically, I've never really had the opportunity to discuss it with any other philosophers (well, besides my wife!).
For all of these reasons, I thought it might be good to bring some music and aesthetic discussion to the blog. Aesthetics is something that I have neglected as a professional philosopher, and it is something that I -- following Ribeiro -- would really like to see return to prominence in philosophical discussion. Perhaps we can contribute to that, at least in a small way! Anyway, I hope to post music quite regularly, and ocassionally discuss it philosophy. I'd also like to encourage reader submissions discussing aesthetic experience, whether on music, visual art, or whatever! :) (Interested readers should send submissions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org).
In any case, I'm going to start off easy. No pretentious philosophical theorizing today. Just a couple of songs I like by the group Phantogram. I'll save the pretention for later. :)
In response to my previous post, wherein I recounted that I now write while listening to music, 'S' asked me in the comments section:
What do you prefer to groove to while writing? I have been experimenting on and off with listening to music while writing, though I still write in near complete silence, aside from the sounds that travel in from the world outside my window. I find that it is not so much that I can't write with music on, it is that I can't find the right volume to write at. If the music is too loud, no good. If it is too soft I find that I will intuitively become more aware of the music as I try to pick out faint notes.
I was going to simply respond by way of a comment, but the more I thought about, the more I thought it might be worth writing a stand alone post on -- for I had S's problem for a long time, too (finding the "right" stuff to listen to, etc.). For a long time, I couldn't write to music. It always seemed to distract me. But then, one morning, I listened to a particular playlist, and all of sudden it just worked. The music inspired me to write with an unusual amount of energy and focus, and in a kind of counterintuitive way...which is why I thought it might be worth sharing.
At least offhand, you might think that soft, unobtrusive music might be the best to write to. After all, as S's comment indicates, "if the music is too loud, no good." But then, as S notes, if the music is too soft, one can get distracted by that. Further, I've noted that "easy-listening" music does not contribute to the kind of energy that (in my case, at least) motivates highly focused, efficient work. Easy-listening music can relax one too much. You can kind of get into a lazy state of mind where you're sort of enjoying the music, but not focusing that intensely.
So, then, how do you figure out the right stuff to listen to, and at the right volume? In my experience, it's not volume that matters. It's all in the music selection. You need to find work that impels you, that gets in your bones and just drives you to focus and have fun. For me, at least since 2012, it's been three albums by the Danish rock group, Mew. Super early one morning after a Skype interview, at a time when I didn't write to music, I was tired and decided just to throw them on repeat in my office. The next four hours were by far the most fun and productive hours I have ever had doing philosophy (I popped out the final 30 pages or so of "A New Theory of Free Will"). Ever since then, I've just popped them Mew in on repeat, and it never fails. I can play it at any volume, and it just gets my creative juices flowing. You'd think they'd get old, right? Nope, I love them as artists and can listen to them all day long! For some reason, listening to them gives me energy and focus, and makes writing fun. I suppose sooner or later I'll have to find something new, but for now, I go with them.
So, anyway, that's what I'd suggest. It's not about finding the right volume (at least for me). It's about finding that artist or artists that simply inspire a certain kind of energy, focus, and fun. I have no idea if this is true of everyone, but it can't hurt to try. So, I say, experiment! Maybe you'll find an artist that works for you. :)
Anyway, to answer S's question, here's what I "groove" to. What do you groove to?