A film has a mood, a story has a mood. What is the mood of philosophy? What is the beauty in a particular argument, its grotesqueness, its tensions, and resolution, and what does that mood sound like?
This is an odd question, but for Hi-Phi Nation, I had to assume that these questions had answers, and I had to answer them. That’s because a good sound-rich piece of audio production has music, sound-tracking, and sound design in general, and that’s the show that I wanted to make for philosophy, which has a lot of other wonderful alternative forms of audio, like Philosophy Bites, Philosophy Talk, Elucidations, History of Philosophy without any Gaps, and so forth. Story-driven audio has an emotion and aesthetic component that you might not notice just like you might fail to notice sound design in film when you are completely engrossed in it, but when you watch a film without a soundtrack, its isn’t a coherent experience. And when you’re trying to do story-driven audio for philosophy, you’re left with this odd, almost category-mistake of a question. But it isn’t a category mistake, and it turns out there are good and bad answers to it, though I will spare you the bad answers in this post.
One note about soundtracking for podcasting; I had to rely on the corpus of open licensed music available for podcasts due to the outdated laws concerning copyright in this country, and my own limitations as a musician (I’m not going to compose and score the thing!). Given these constraints, at the end of a particular edit of an episode, I have to think long and hard about the mood of a piece of philosophy. These are two decisions I made from Episode 3 too illustrate, which features a discussion of revisionist just war theory with Jeff McMahan, Helen Frowe, Major Ian Fishback, and others.
This little clip from a piece by musician Jason Staczek is the most used piece in this season of Hi-Phi Nation. I just love it for philosophy. Its a perfect mix of wonder and puzzlement.
Here is where I use it to explain a famous thought experiment from revisionist just war theory, followed by a statement of the conclusion by Helen Frowe.
The following piece by the group Blue Dot Sessions, who create so much of the music that podcast producers are using these days because they’re open-licensed, is one I put in the folder of “nicely moves the discussion along.” There is a kind of tension I want to create in the presentation of certain philosophical views I think are deserving of tension and anticipation, rather than reflective contemplation. I love this piece for that purpose, and use it a lot in other episodes.
Here is how I use it to draw out one of the most objectionable consequences of Jeff McMahan’s revisionist just war theory.
Scoring and soundtracking has been one of the most pleasing surprises in this project. I definitely do not want to farm it out in the future. If you’re a philosopher, I’d be curious to know what the soundtrack you think is to your work.