The Doors for dogs 
I am teaching Peirce's "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" in a course on American philosophy. In one passage, Peirce draws an analogy between music and belief. In the course of the analogy, he notes that you can play a song in a higher or lower octave. When you do it is still the same song.

There are some physical reasons why a musical work's identity is preserved if you shift it by a whole octave but not if you shift it by a fraction of an octave. Nevertheless, the fact that it remains the same work-- rather than just a perceptually similar work-- is clearly a contingent fact about the Western musical tradition. We can easily imagine a musical work that is constituted by absolute pitches.

Imagine a musical piece that is about memories of a specific train and in which the opening note is at exactly the same pitch as train's whistle. It is plausible to think that the exact pitch is constitutive of that piece, as an homage to that train. Once the first note is fixed, then the relative positions of the rest of the notes make it impossible to shift the song up or down an octave. Of course, you could begin an octave higher, but it seems plausible that you'd be playing a different work: a derivative work, mind you, but not the original train homage.

Most musical works are not like the imagined train homage, and Peirce is right about an ordinary tune written in the Western tradition. Note also that there are whole-octave transformations that you cannot perform without making a new work. For example, you would get a different work if you shifted every other note up one octave while leaving the notes in between the same.

I asked the class about this case: Suppose I took Ray Manzarek's keyboard solo from The Doors' Light my Fire and transposed it into the first octave above the range of human hearing, so that dogs could hear it but people could not. Would it still be Light my Fire? or would it be a different (admittedly derivative) musical work?

Most of my students chose the former option: same piece.

However, I think my students are wrong. The conventions of Western music do allow us to transpose a musical work up or down an octave. They do not allow us to transpose it outside the range of audible sound entirely.

When I was discussing the example with Cristyn, she pointed the obvious consequence that the resulting ultrasonic ditty would be a different piece. Since I came up with the idea, the new piece was composed by me-- much in the same way that John Cage composed a piece comprised of all of the Beethoven symphonies played simultaneously.

So I wrote a new musical work.

A work that only dogs can hear.

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