Philosophy, Guitar Pedals and the Postmodern Condition: An Essay Addressing how the Ideal of Local Control over Global Knowledge is the Problem Embedded into Modern Philosophy


I play guitar. In case anyone does not know, there are these small devices, mostly for electric guitars, that go between the guitar and the amplifier that alter the sound of the plain guitar signal.  These devices are called guitar pedals. Guitar pedals are electronic devices that alter the incoming signal of a guitar or other instrument. There are all sorts of them, but the one type I am going to compare to philosophy are of the saturation/distortion kind, the phenomenon of there being so many pedals of this kind. Simply speaking, these pedals “overdrive” the signal; they are the sound you are listening to most of the time when you listen to any type of rock and roll. Early rock and roll and classic rock had less distorted tones, and Heavy Metal and Punk Rock have the heavily distorted sounds.

Bye the way; this is not the same kind of analysis as my earlier post, which was an analogy of sound and philosophical signal (digital and analogue). This post is about content.


We still exist in the post-modern condition.

I would assert that any philosopher who does not recognize this doesn’t know their philosophy. And that’s fine. If they want to discuss this, I am surely open.

Link to the PDF of “The Post Modern Condition”.

The very short short version of that short essay by Jean Francois Lyotard is that knowledge, as a category that attempts to engage with the universe in its broadest sense, is limited by an operation of its own reason to give a proper universe which no longer is concerned with what actually may be given to knowledge by the universe itself. The main point here is that knowledge is no longer about finding truth, or to see what is really there; on the contrary, it is about control of knowledge. From his essay we can draw out a couple necessary subsequent results: A thinker qualified as a free thinker must arise within one of two fronts. And, this is because the control of knowledge is done by “the experts”, who are, in truth, convicted to the self-regulating ability of being human and its reason, which then require that all those who propose upon knowledge represent themselves as “experts”.

Ok. I wont go on with that here. More to show through a picture of things, a comparison how both the current boutique guitar pedal interest is similar to the current philosophical interest.

Boutique Guitar pedals and guitar sound.

The main thing that anyone should know about guitar sound is that you can manipulate it with pedals, and that there are different ways to achive saturation/distortion. Saturation and distortion, by the way, are two different ways to say the same thing; saturation is generally low-level distortion, and distortion is considered high level saturation. Without going into all the technical mumbo-jumbo, a signal becomes distorted when the incoming signal is too much for the processing amplifier. If the incoming signal is just barely too much, you get a slightly saturated signal, and we can turn up the incoming signal until it is so much that all you get is distorted noise with no actual tonal-musical guitar signal. For all you guitar smarties: Yes that is an oversimplification of what is occurring, but the description is correct. In between “barely” and “noise” you can get various types of pleasing, or not so pleasing tones (opinion varies). Also, depending upon the transistor, or signal processing device, different sounding of distortion occurs, but along the same continuum.

The point I will make is that there is only so many distortion sounds you can get, but there are 100’s, (Id bet there is at least 1000 different kinds) of saturation pedals. There are only so many ways to distort a signal, and there are only so many types of signal saturation processors. Now, to be honest, the variation of types of processors that can be made is probably quite infinite, but the key is whether or not we can hear the difference; in a way I guess we could compare it to phenotype an genotype, the former is the observed expression of a trait, and the latter is the invisible actual genetic organization. Its kind of like digital media; the early digital recordings sounded terrible because there was not enough processing power to accommodate the vast amount of information in a sound or visual signal, but they realized after not too long, that the human eye and ear cannot distinguish quality past a certain point; with sound it is probably less than 32 bits. For reference, MP3’s are 16 bit, and they sound pretty damn good. I think online platforms use 24 bit. But we are certainly able to process sound at higher bit rates, but if we just want to hear our music in high quality, the use of that is debatable. there may be hundreds of variations upon a circuit, but can we really hear the difference in practical use?

Go ahead and google “guitar pedal overdrive” and see how many pedals are out there.

My position is that for all the supposed different sounds you can get from each different pedal, after so many, I for one cannot tell the difference, and two, playing a live show and making recordings, no one can really tell the difference. You’ll get, say, 10 different blues bands, say, with guitar players each using a different amp and different pedals, and they pretty much all sound the same. Only the people who are invested in being able to hear the distinctions would be able to tell, and then I would say they could only generalize into “that’s a tube screamer, and that is…” whatever other category. I doubt, given a category of, say, hard rock/metal guitarists, any one listening could be able to tell what pedals 20 different guitarists are using.

I play guitar, and I have a pretty good (Id say modestly) handle on tone. And to me, punk sounds punk, metal sounds metal, dgent sound smetal, classic rock sound blusey, blues sounds blusey…etc…

Ill generalize and say that for 99% of people who like music, the minute, subtle differences in the hundreds of saturation pedals and amps out there, are lost and basically pointless for distinction. Only sitting on my room, comparing the pedals one by one can I, with a honed ear, tell the difference between pedals. The fashion is a phenomenon of pure marketing.

Now; do all those subtle variances mean that there is actually a significant difference in guitar tone? To those who are so anal retentive and audiophile yes. But I would ask, then, what is the point of playing music? Is it so I can sit at home and masturbate with my guitar and pedals? Sometimes yes; it is enjoyable. Yet one would have to admit that I am not playing music for myself; I actually want people to listen to it. I play music not for the musicians, really, but for the people who enjoy music. And very few of them can tell what pedal I am using, nor does the pedal I am using make a difference of whether people enjoy my music.

So. I would say that what is actually significant about the tone of my guitar is that people hear the same tone pretty much no matter what pedal I use because the variation in tone is so subtle (for a given style of music), that it makes no difference in the real world. One blues guy uses that pedal, another uses that one: Its all blues to me and the tone of their guitars all sound like Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughn now, and may some like BB King.


So now to the philosophy part.

If the philosopher (of ontology, which is usually the case: philosophers want to consider small things through first grounding them in large ontological truths) is speaking of big r “Reality” or big b “Being”, then why should not everyone be able to consider it? Why should the big t Truth, the truth of philosophy that no good philosopher would ever admit is a big t Truth, be something that you have to have a PhD to understand?

I mean this in a very normal manner: Philosophy is supposed to be about Everyone’s reality, THE world, THE Being, thought, mind, etc.. A medical doctor is not concerning these kinds of things, and so is justified in knowing stuff I should have to have a PHdD for. In fact, philosophy is the only discipline that supposes to be talking about a common Thing, Reality Being whatever, that speaks in such a way that requires anyone to whom it is supposed to concern must invest time in learning it. Physics doesn’t presume to be speaking of my reality; it speaks unapologetically of THE reality. Philospohy is the pnly one that supposed as part of its domain Every domain. Yet not Every domain is allowed to understand it.

If you ask a philosopher about what they mean by any point of contention, you will find that they will invariably not give you a straight answer. They simply cannot tell you what they mean, and I would say, because they themselves are caught in a meaning that they must avoid admitting. Philosophy, as a career but also as a self-righteousness, is the only discipline that must hold something back from the question to answer the question. I admit this because I am a philosopher; I know this to be true.

So I have to wonder what this is for, this philosophy.

What is the purpose of philosophy?  The question is not “what is philosophy”, we already know that, and it doesn’t really have to do with what individual philosophers tell us because they are not answering us directly. So I ask a direct question which short circuits the conventional philosopher’s method of never answering the question by continually putting the answer back onto the questioner:

Is it for mental masturbation or disciplinary group sex, or self-aggradizement?  Or is it for the purpose of involving everyone, of contributing?


Below is a quote concerning a term by Giles Deleuze. I pick on Delueze because I feel his philosophy is often misused as it is misrepresented. But there is a whole industry of congregants who consider themselves philosophers, who, in my opinion, are somehow involved in a different kind of philosophy than I am. I can explain it, but who would listen. lol

I don’t mean to pick on this particular blogger philosopher, because he definitely contributes, so I won’t cite who it is (unless he reads it and wants me to):

“Deterritorialising does not efface our cognitive map but opens it up to permanent revision and self-revision, making its use heuristic rather than dogmatic. It subtracts vertical transcendence.”

My question is, are we even allowed to ask what this means?

For you philosophers reading this, can you tell me what this means? Can you do it without referring to another compendium of philosophical discourses?

I am even having trouble telling myself what it means. lol.

First is the Deluezian “deterritorialization”. I would bet 100 out of 100 people who knows what this idea is, if you ask them what is means, will spout out a bunch a things Deleuze said, and will often even preface it with “to Deluze, it means…”

My question is if Deleuze is saying something important, why must it be referred back into the essay that he wrote about it to understand what it means? If I say “cat” I don’t have to pull out a veterinarian encyclopedia to know what it is.

And the thing is, if I give a definition of what “deterritorialization” means, I will most probably get a number of people who will say that I am incorrect in whatever way because…Deleuze says this about it. This is why I ask if I am even allowed to understand what he is saying without referencing back to what he is saying. If what he is saying is important, should it not stand on its own? which is to say, without having to constantly refer back to what he says about it? should not it be evident what he is saying such that it applies to various things so that I can actually tell someone the meaning of the term without having to refer them to his whole essay?

Here’s mine: deterritorialization is that existence that defies the territory of identity. In fact, as an ongoing critique of Deleuze, I would offer that the very concept defies the meaning of it, as I say, it gives as it takes away.

But some philosophers are so entrenched in the identity of terms to their objects that they will argue with me over my definition, where as if you read Deleuze concerning this very idea, the meaning of it, inscribes itself by taking itself out of the definitional equation, contradicting itself through the definition of what it means. There is simply no other way to say it.

So, that statement up there is saying that this deterritorialization does not suggest that cognition should be thrown away or is an invalid manner to understand things.

Of course it isn’t. Why would we even have to say that? When the concept itself is included in the concept that removes itself. To the reflective philosopher: Here I am reading it; how could it even be possible to think that the idea I had should be thrown away, somehow, even before I read it.

“but opens itself up to permanent revision”  Is that not a giving and a taking away? a permanent impermanence. That clause right there make me have to ask what the point of saying it is?

“..To constant revision..” There is is again.

“…making it meaningful instead of dogmatic…”

so really the idea of deterritorialization is the process of making meaning (a territory) that is permanently impermanent and under constant revision (difficult if not entirely contrary to the idea of territory) rather than according to some rules (of territoriality). But isn’t that very statement an assertion of the rule of how deterritorialization is supposed to be understood?

“It subtracts veridical transcendence.” ( did he mean vertical or veridical?) a transcendence that is “from up to down” is now not true, and or , the truth of transcendence is not true. Is that again not a giving and a taking away? The rule that I just gave you about how deterritorialization is to be understood, should be thrown away.


Sounds to me like everybody missed Wittgenstein so they could keep having something self important to talk about.


So. My question really just what such a philosophy is about, one that appears to reform itself in different terms that are taken to, at once, say something new or explain it, and yet, get us no further that what the original statement meant?

Why are we still going on about it? if we cannot agree about what it is? Because it seems to me this kind of conventional philosophy does its best to avoid having to account for itself.

It seems to me there are 1000 different manners of constructing sentences that are all really saying the same thing about the same thing. Yeah each one of those people, each one of those thousand ways see themselves as saying something significantly different than all the rest. Are we allowed to even say or suggest that we should dispense with all their identity politics? At least in philosophy? Granted there will always be those who insist that each identity is important and saying something unique, but cannot we also give credence to the fact that they’re all saying the same thing about the same thing without negating their privilege of being able to be unique? Would not a more constructive approach to truth and the existence of things take into account that the multitudes and variation of appearances can be categorized into saying something very particular and specific? Might with then be able to move forward?


14 responses to “Philosophy, Guitar Pedals and the Postmodern Condition: An Essay Addressing how the Ideal of Local Control over Global Knowledge is the Problem Embedded into Modern Philosophy”

  1. gnigg Avatar

    So I stumbled over your essay some years later, and it’s even decades since studying philosophy – nevertheless some points there look like familiar thoughts, I’d rather proceed in different directions, though.
    First, concerning music (and arts in general), I prefer the introduction of esthetics for consumers on one hand, and esthetics for producers on the other. It IS quite a different thing to listen to musich or to play it by yourself. The sound of two effects pedals might be indistinguishable to the audience, but to a guitar player the second pedal might FEEL different than the first one, it even might be a GAMECHANGER. So far to music and pedals. Shall we continue? Concerning arts in general, you observe quite right – the mainstream audience doesn’t care about the circumstances of art-production (= which OD pedal is used). People just enjoy things mainly the way every body else does, because music, arts and culture are also a collective experience. Also it’s a market and a big consumer-conditioning-machinery. Better you play that tune-tone they like, otherwise you risk being wiped right off that stage, if you managed to get there at all…
    Second, concerning Philosophy, I’d unnecessarily like to write some apologetic stuff about some Philosophers I remember heaving read.
    Certainly it is a great achievement to write about thoughts in a commonly comprehensible way. Different obstacles to do so impose themselves to the folks concerned with Philosophy. For example, thinking about things might get even trickier as a very complex game of chess, for not even the rules are set clear. Some Philosophers even tend to develope sort of an own language in support of their concepts, and one may have to learn their language to follow their thoughts (Heidegger? Wittgenstein?). If one is interested enought, one might not bother to do so. Or one might ask a teacher of Philosophy. There are certainly more interesting things for a Philosopher than bothering people that are too lazy to give thoughts a thought.
    I remember Deleuze classes a little bit. Was he writing Zen Koans or simple nonsense? Concepts which dissolve themselves? An attempt of explanation was: Deleuze writes aganinst our philosophic tradition: Stop concentrating too much on the subject in the sentence, consider the predicate. Do not rely too much on concepts, consider the relations between them. Search for dynamic thinking in stead of a static one. Maybe Deleuze failed there somehow? Someone will come, follow his lines and push thoughts a little bit further!


    1. landzek Avatar

      Oh yes! You are so right about Delueze: I tend to say that he just writes Zen nonsense. Yes, I pretty much get everything he’s saying, but it doesn’t really mean anything. It has no application. Rather, the application is just the masturbation that one is going through in reading him and thinking that he’s telling you something really profound. lol.

      But my point is that if indeed I’m talking about reality, I am not talking about my own reality. I’m talking about everyone’s reality. And so why would it be the case that as a talk about reality that no one gives a shit about what I’m saying?

      I’m saying this happens everywhere that Philosophy is asserted. And, I might add, where D find his ground is by just admitting that it’s all bullshit. Ultimately all he is doing and all anyone that thinks that they’re involved in some big profound ideas about anything at all, is there just sitting around in a circle jerk. They’re not talking about “reality“, he is merely arguing for the bullshit that he is involved with. That’s what post modern is. It’s a perpetuated argument which says that we get to just argue whatever we want to because it makes sense. And in so much as that I’m talking to other people and they seem to be interested in what I’m saying, then there must be some sort of meaning that we are all involved with as a sort of “reality”. But it’s no different and no better than a bunch of Christians getting together and talking about theology. The Christians are no more talking about reality then the post modern philosophers: and that’s really the point of post modern that most academics will just conveniently forget about, if they even will admit the truth of it.

      People are making Guitar Pedal’s because that’s what they’re doing to make a living. And then they’re hyping it up with all this talk about feeling different and and soul and all this bullshit about self interest. It’s no different then post modern philosophy. And that’s why I say that we have gotten no further in the past 40 years in Philosophy. for the most part in academia then the post modern condition. Because The postmoderns described a redundant operation.

      Anyways thanks for reading and replying!

      And this isn’t to say that I don’t have my particular set of overdrives and saturators that I use in that I enjoy for the sound that I’m trying to get.



  2. endlessnameless Avatar

    I appreciate this is a somewhat late post but it got me thinking. For years I have immersed myself in FX pedals and participated in online communities that endlessly compare them. Go on Youtube and you can find a wealth of A/B comparison videos of ‘tone’. I am not necessarily proud of it. In fact i see how ridiculous it is to many music fans. My non guitarist and somewhat un invested bandmates always joked with me that a ‘pedal is a pedal’ and basically they couldn’t tell a difference with any of the many and ever changing pedals at my feet (somewhat close but cruder than the point you have made). Yet I went on buying pedals and comparing them and i still go on questioning my current setup and look to change it and tweak it. I read forum posts about boutique delay pedals and insist on certain tube driven variants. Yet, would the average listener know or care?- probably not. In fact the acoustics of the room or the reproduction of different PA systems probably change the tone more than a different distortion pedal would. You make a good point that is often made as an opposition to those who appear to be ‘cork sniffers’. buying insanely priced limited run ‘transparent overdrives’. Yet I do think you can apply it to most hobbies whether that be those who enjoy artisan coffee, wine or collecting vintage He Man figures. A figure is a figure? Or is it? Not unless it is mint in box limited ‘wrong head’ edition. Who cares? No one but you – the collector – enthusiast. But just because pedals are connected with a performing art doesn’t mean (to me) these are intended for others any more than the bloke who drinks artisan coffee made at home. There is not some special case that you make music so it is primarily for others and the audience won’t care so why should you. Of course I want people to enjoy the music – but I actually think there are deeper more personal reasons people get into FX pedals that are purely self fulfilling and probably closer to addiction/therapy than we immersed in that world would like to think. I also think that the audio production world, particularly the obsession with swapping and comparing VSTs and summing solutions etc. is rooted in the inner psychology/mental health of the producer/mixer rather than the concern for the average person who listens to music (which we all know will be through a mono phone speaker while they are eating dinner and half listening). It almost doesn’t matter what happens to the product once it leaves the door – if you analogue summed it and have (in your mind at least) given it that boutique warmth that satisfies your inner need. I won’t go into the connections with the person who constantly watches A/B compares of distortion pedals and carries these out themselves and particular personality types/mental health conditions. Because i frankly don’t know. But i suspect there is something in it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. landzek Avatar

      I too have about 20 different overdrives. Three different tube- pedal preamps. So. …Lol. Thanks fir the comment ! I literally had have to stop myself from buying more. I figure. I already have access to every possible saturation that is possible. 🤣. I just keep reminding myself of that.


  3. landzek Avatar

    But tomorrow specifically address your comment; I would agree, if I get bored of a certain set of materials then I change the materials that I’m working with. Maybe I would play with the new configuration of paddles or maybe I get more into synthesizers type sounds or just completely different style such as maybe electronic music as opposed to rock ‘n’ roll. Maybe try to write a song that starts with a synthesizer instead of a guitar, and maybe write the song first and then try to fit the lyrics and because I tend to write lyrics and music at the same time. Maybe sometimes I’ll take a poem that I wrote or some lyrics that had no music to it and then I’ll try to write a song around it.

    I suppose I’m always kind of ready to break up my method.


  4. fieldworkstudios Avatar

    Tweaking your pedals, you are calibrating a seemingly infinite set of possible sounds to the spectrum of your ‘ear for sounds.’ This ear is unqiue and unrepeatable – it is unique to your own development as a musician, aggregated against the backdrop of influences, and just as everyone sees color differently, everyone also has a different sense of sound (as for example, by playing through the possible set of tones, your ear develops and you can hear variations that others cannot). Another example: If you produce, then the sum of your hours begins to manifest an ear for frequencies and eq way beyond the unfamiliar ear. The familiar translates to quality of tone and balance. This, I think, is quite different than recourse to the “expert.”

    The familiar is searching for the unknown and is unique in its approach, whereas in my eyes he expert has recourse only to dead culture.

    By playing guitar for years and years, this familiarity translates to a unqiue identity. That is what the creative is after, if they are honestly approaching their art: to ‘develop their own sound,’ so to speak. That is extremely difficult. I think you can call it aesthetic taste but it is also more than that because it is not just trivial preference. It is your own translation of order out of chaos, and of translating and distilling actuality out of potential.

    Or, perhaps, it is your venture into that which is “deterritorial” or outside identity and a retrieval of possible fragments out of this domain that can be used to fit together a coherent menaing. The familiarity of your tone allows you to delve into the unknown and come back with bits and peices. This retrieval is unlike all other retrievals done by others. It is your signature. That is creative identity that familiarizes itself with its tools of trade but does not create as facsimilie.

    …like the facsimilie of thought that has to refer back to “experts” to give it interpreative coherence.

    In my opinion, having to refer back to the “experts” as is perhaps the case with Deleuzeanism (or other isms) is like everytime you use the A chord having to concede to how it has been used in an already given interpretive model, say of Prog or New Wave or whatever. Sure, style is important and influences of the dead are there constantly, but familiarity over a course of time with your instrument will lead to something beyond original statements.


    1. fieldworkstudios Avatar

      In reference to the last line, I ought to have said, instead of “something beyond original statements,” something ‘beyond statements in their original manifestation’ that are then completely original.


    2. landzek Avatar

      That is an excellent description of what occurs. I would only add that once I develop this identity, I have capitulated to the “expert”, that is, I have shaped what could be sad is a true form into the real form that has been decided by “experts of knowledge”. It indeed may appear as a unique identity, but reality is filled with unique identity is only to the extent that there has been a method of definition by which to establish that identity. No longer do people just play guitar play music and people love it and they dance; Music has to appear within a certain framework that has been defined as “music”. Everything else would be counted as something else, maybe “untalented” might be a definer.

      Yet. Like your mineralization, I would say it is analogous to the “substantialization” of what music is, identity under a different term.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. fieldworkstudios Avatar

        Once you achieve a level of expertise, how do you maintain experimentation? I’d like to hear your opinon relative to your own explorations of sound.

        I noticed in my art practice that I can only take certain approaches and materials so far before I feel like I have exhausted their relevance. Relevance is measured against a constant search for something more – to attain towards a more accurate configuration and ideal. When potential is drying up, I can feel that is just about the time to grab at something else entirely. It is not languaged, it is a feeling. It is an attempt to break open, and maybe experimentation with a new material, or maybe a deliberate shift in process in order to attempt to stumble upon something else.

        …One of my all time favs is Neubauten because I love their constant inquiry of materials… In studio process they created a collection of notecards with different actions, instruments, ideas, etc., and would draw at random and then interpret it out in a recording. ..


      2. landzek Avatar

        Einstradne neubaten. Whoa


      3. landzek Avatar

        Who knows that band? Like no one


      4. landzek Avatar

        I kind of have a means to split up my creative faculties.Because I write not only blogs but I’m working on my third book right now. But with music I play in a band, but we haven’t played any gigs yet any shows. But then I also have my home studio, through which my musical process is a little bit different than the process that I play live with.

        I suppose, though, that I am using the word “expertise“ in the context of that essay the postmodern condition. Which I read in a particular way. I don’t really know if I’ve mastered any of my hearts or even that I have perfected any of my art forms to an expert level. But I am using that term to indicate a kind of exclusion, which in a certain way I could call “improvisation”. Even though I do like improv, I love the grateful dad but I don’t love all jam bands. For example if I want to make it in the music industry I necessarily have to conform my music within certain norms. So it appears to me that if I’m going to be heard philosophically than it appears that I would have to speak in a certain way. I am calling this kind of certain way of having to be in order to get heard, “expertise”. It is not so much a quality or inability to do something very well and precise as much as I am indicating a kind of attitude that limits what is considered art and music and philosophy and etc..

        I think you’ve expressed something similar in one of your blogs that I think I agreed with one of your posts, which appeared to me too very much echo my sentiments that if it is too popular it is probably not very good. Lol. …


      5. landzek Avatar

        ….an example of what I am meaning by “expertise”: It is a referent to a state or condition: the postmodern condition, in particular.

        For example: When punk rock came about, many of the bands that were considered “punk” would not now fall into eh category. Like DEVo was thought to be punk for a minute. The talking heads. the police. Lemme, from Motorehead, did an interview where he said he couldn’t understand why he started being associated with Heavy Metal, because he considered himself a punk.

        Punk Rock was just a loose category which meant kids playing music the was not the previous “hippie rock”, like Niel going or the giant rock like led Zeppelin , Rush or Deep Purple. Punk was am undefined space where sound was made.

        Now, on the other hand, Punk is a genre of sound and image, which really was only a small part of what Punk “was”.

        Now punk is qualified by “experts”.

        Thats just an analogy though. Philosophy could be said to be the same: the postmodern was at first just a space where ideas were put out. Now it is a particular method by which one is legitimized as a critical theorist or philosopher.


  5. Hesiod Avatar

    Guitars are good, I approve. Piano is better. More philosophical instrument it is! :p


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: