Ticket to Ride…the cognitive express! (Joe and Jameson)

51 years ago four young,intrepid, mop-headed boys went into a recording studio and played “Ticket to Ride.” To be able to perform this track they had to first write it, a process in which they came together and each extended their creative, musical ideas into song form. Each of them had distinct cognitive abilities and talents, which, when brought together in the group, interacted in order to develop the song as we know it. John Lennon’s songbook functions in the same way Otto’s notebook does. He could probably play the song from memory, but having musical notes written out and standardized enabled there to be future reproductions. Anyone with the skills (linguistic competency) to read the notes and play the music could look at the notes and play the song, but no reproduction would ever sound the same. Of course, most people want to hear it from the source, and recording allows the extension of the performance into the future an infinite amount of times. In effect, listening to the recording allows you to time travel to Abbey Road studios and meet The Beatles.

The music itself conforms to the structure we think of in a pop song in terms of duration, instrumentation, key signature, tempo, chord progression, etc. They took the signifiers we know to be pop music from a long history of other intersubjective accessible meanings and generates a new iteration of it. We recognize “Ticket to Ride” as its own distinct, identifiable song, but understand it within the context of pop music forms. This allows their musical ideas, brought together in the form of a song, to be distributed in a cultural language that fans of the form will understand.

Today you would not be able to experience the Beatles music through the original lineup performing it to you. We rely on reproductions, whether that be other musicians re-interpreting it, or recordings on vinyl, cassette, digital, etc. In active externalism your environment drives your cognitive processes. If we wanted to go and purchase a Beatles album, we would go to a record store but we are limited by what they sell. If we go to a digital store, we can buy any Beatles album (assuming they have the rights). The digital musical library offloads these physical recordings into the digital sphere. In other words, a press of a record and an mp3 have the same affordance, they play the same tune, but how we interact with them as external cognitive artifacts are completely different. To play the Beatles on a vinyl record is to be limited to how they sequenced their music, hitting shuffle in a library we can listen to their entire archive instantaneously.

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This whole process began with social cognition—one of us hummed “Ticket to Ride,” and, because of our shared repertoire of sign and symbol systems, the other could recognize it, even though it was a recreation of one distinct melody. As far as the lyrics go, we assumed the meaning of the song to be literally about a train ticket, but apparently Lennon and McCartney can’t even agree on the meaning.