Filk is a Fuzzy Concept

The Difficulty of Defining Filk

So, what is filk? Well, there are a zillion different definitions on the web for "filk." Even the ones origianating from within the filk community do not always agree. There are even sites indexing the myriad defintions.
I'm not particularly interested in creating yet another definition. Instead this page is dedicated to explaining where all those differing definitions come from.

Filk and Fuzzy Logic

I read a lot of non-fiction on a wide variety of topics. I go browsing in libraries and grab whatever looks interesting, and one of my finds was a book on Fuzzy Logic. The book included a description of a little experiment where a list of items was given out and students were ask to put them in the order of most bird to least bird. According to the results robins are the most bird, but eagles are also very bird. Penguins are less bird than eagles, airplanes are more bird than rubber balls.

I tried a similar experiment by asking for filkers to rate a list of songs from most filk to least filk. The results did not seem to be as consistant as the results for the bird test. Also, I had far too few responses to consider the results comprehensive. Nonetheless my observations follow.

I asked the people who replied to try assigning numberical ratings to the songs as well, and although not everyone did, there was a strong indication in that people tended to "bunch" the songs into categories, indicating that they were judging a songs "filkishness" on more than one criteria.

My belief is that the category "filk music" has four main criteria.

Each individual rates these categories differently when mentally deciding what is filk and what is not.

Subject Matter-- So What's this About, Really?

The filk category of music originated at Science Fiction conventions. Anything in any way vaguely related to that venue is a valid topic. That covers a lot of ground. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Fandom & Conventions, and Science & Technology would be the four biggest categories, but by branching out into related subjects,the song subjects become very diverse. Minor categories include (but are not limited to) History, the Society for Creative Anacronism, Cats, Dinosaurs, Food, Paganism, and Roleplaying Games. The closer the song is to one of these categories, the more likely it is to be considered filk.

Authorship-- Is a Filker when he Singeth?

Some members of the filking community think that a song is only filk if it is written by a filker. Others think that authorship is beside the point entirely. Some think that every song written by a filker is filk. This is a highly variable arena. Within the filking community this criteria is the basis of a sub-grouping called "found filk", which is songs with strong filk content that originate from outside of the community. Individuals disagree on whether or not found filk is included in the category of filk music, or excluded from it. However even individuals who include found filk as a part of the filk category seem to rate it lower on an ordered list than songs with similar content that originate from within the filk community.

Community Acceptance-- Who Let Him in Here?

Most filkers don't think that if a song is sung at a filk-circle it is automatically a filk song, too wide a range of songs are sung at filking events. But if songs that otherwise are only marginally related to filkdom are widely sung, well, somehow that makes them more filk than they otherwise would have been. This criterion is probably only used by members of the filking community, as who else would know which songs had gained acceptance?

Borrowed Tunes (or Words)-- They Stole my Tune, Ma!

Outside of the filking community this is a dominating factor. The filking community resents this. Especially those, like myself, who write original tunes, and borrow only infrequently, or perhaps not at all. But it is easier to distribute the words to a song than the tune to a song, and so filk songs written to commonly known tunes easily reach outside of the filking community, and the name has become attached to this practice.

Within the community no particular importance is placed on these sorts of songs, in fact the vast majority of the winners of the Pegasus Awards for excellence in filking are songs to original tunes. However the practise is common, and well accepted, and there are verbal constructions using "filk" that indicate this practise. "I just filked [title of tune]" or "I did a filk of [title of song]". There are also many filksongs that are musical settings of borrowed words.

A song that has no substantial filk content, and is not by a member of the community will be rated as more filkish by most members of the community if it happens to be written to a borrowed tune.

Putting it Together

For the most part the songs with clear "filkish" subject matter and authors who were filkers rated the highest. However a song with essentially no filk content but very high community acceptance was rated first by one respondant, and another placed the found filk on the list in widely divergent spots, based aparently on his personal content criterion, and possibly community acceptance, and totally without regard to authorship.

I would be interested in collecting more data to further refine this breakdown. Perhaps someday I will enhance this page with a questionaire.

Other Sources of Information and Songs

Well you can try the Filker's Bardic Ring. It should be found at the bottom of my main music page. The Filker's Bardic Ring is a series of connected Filk Related Sites, you can cycle through each in turn, or pick a site randomly, however the ring cycle page changed owners, and I'm unsure of how well it is being upkept anymore.

If you just want to find as many songs as quickly as possible, you should try "Darn Near All the Filk on the Web" by Maureen S O'Brien
. This listing is conveniantly arranged by subject.

Or you can visit Rich Brown's Filk Page. He is the only filker I know who has had the good taste to barrow one of my tunes. He is also a part of the Filker Bardic Ring.

Skylarker, who runs the filk group I left behind in Minnesota, has some filk lyrics on her page, and also some really great artwork.

You should also check out the Pegasus Pages at the OVFF site.


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