Last night on Insight the title of the forum was ‘MiTunes’ and looked at some issues, from a variety of stakeholders, in the file/music sharing community.  The show had quite an economic focus which, I felt, didn’t do the theme justice.

I’m interested in what others have to say about the philosophical concepts that are employed in thinking about sharing music files, perhaps via bittorrent, and the philosophical implications of the businesses that have moved into this new arena that are attempting to manage the way end-users engage with their music.

One topic that I wanted to see discussed was the metaphysical nature of a track of music.  Of course there are easily identifiable ethical considerations regarding what one does with a physical CD, including its box, but this gets blurred when we are talking about the non-tactile track of music contained on that CD.  If the syntax that is on the CD is altered into an entirely different syntax, one that is unrecognisable in relation to the syntax on the CD, then is what results still the same and should it be treated in the same way as the original CD even though it’s not just the syntax that has changed but the fact that the new ‘file’ is non-tactile too?

When a CD is transcoded into a .ogg file, for example, the file is so syntactically different that it is a fraction of the size of the original file.  This, I feel, this position alone defeats the argument that the new file should be treated in the same way as the first.  It is often argued that transcoding CDs into other formats is analogous to photocopying books, for example.  This is just not the case.  When I photocopy a book I (assuming that I woud wan’t to do this of course!) would desire to reproduce both the syntax and the semantics as closeley as possible.  If either is too drastically altered then what results is useless.  When a CD is transcoded into another format, however, even the semantics may no longer be the same, and the syntax is a given.  The bit-rate can alter the way the new file is perceived and open up new environments where only the new file can be perceived.

This brings us to an issue of what it is that we are purchasing on a CD.  Are we simply purchasing a data disk containing a particular syntax or is it a semantics that we are purchasing?  If it’s the first then transcoding into new formats, or even better, downloading files that have already been transcoded, is dealing with an entirely defferent entity.  If the latter then how on earth do we define a universal semantics for a given CD?  Quick example, if the qualia I experience when listening to CD a is different to the qualia the composer of the NY Symphony Orchestra experiences then is one of us being ripped off by the record company for not inducing the same response in both of us?

Comments please.


1 Response to “MiTunes”

  1. 1 Brad June 5, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Old Fogie (as defined by – An older or elderly person, or someone younger who resembles or has the traits of an older/elderly person in thinking, actions, or demeanor.

    That pretty much summarises the position I take on music and file sharing, so forgive me if I start to sound irrelevant….

    I think your question “what is it that we are purchasing on a CD?”, needs to be answered first, since that answer will define how I approach the variety of departures from the so called original. Personally, when I buy a CD, I am paying for an emotional experience. There are a number of qualities of a CD that contribute to that experience. First, of course, is the capacity of the music and/or lyrics to touch or move some part of my soul (if that’s what we should call the part that gets moved). The second important quality is the physical nature of the CD and the cover. Most CD’s are themselves rather bland, but some can occasionally demonstrate an original idea (such as the scratch and sniff debut Moloko album). The cover sleeve is where the physical action takes place. The type of paper used, the smell, the inclusion of printed lyrics, artwork, biographical info, photo’s of the band, etc. Finally, my payment is a deliberate show of appreciation for the musicians who make this experience possible; though it is also quite common for me to spy an album about which I know nothing, and to hand over my cash in a display of trust or faith. In this latter case, part of the experience is rooted in the anticipation. Music has the power to move. Music that surprises can blow you away.

    Being of the old school, I do prefer the Vinyl record experience. It has its own unique qualities. I can see the disc spinning hypnotically on the turntable. I can take satisfaction from being able to drop the needle smack bang at the beginning of track 3 without a scratch or a pop. The sleeve is bigger and gets in my face. Aside from the physical qualities, I also get the experience of reliving the past. Reminiscing about the days when Joe Walsh inspired me to pick up a guitar and learn how to play. Putting Stevie Ray Vaughan on the turntable and grieving his death. The CD experience can provide these glimpses into the past as well. The point here is that when I purchase music in a physical format, I am also purchasing a memory; a memory that can get in my face from time to time without the need to actually hear it.

    MP3 files are capable of creating an experience too. The emotional experience that the music itself creates is always, for me, the basis of my purchase. The purchase is a necessary part of the enjoyment. For two years I payed eMusic for the privilege of downloading MP3 music from their database. I have all of those files stored neatly on my hard drive. Many of the good ones I have copied to CD so that I can listen to the music in my car or the lounge. I think that’s potentially illegal, but I payed for it and my conscience is clear.

    In conclusion, I don’t think the format of the music really matters as much as it is often claimed. If the music can affect me, it has served its purpose. The way that an MP3 file affects me is very different to the way that a Vinyl record or a CD does, but it is an emotional experience nonetheless.
    The “original”, at least in common experience, will always be the live experience. Alternatively, one can always pick up an instrument and create something truly original.

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