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The sonorous, the haptic and the intensive.

In a recent discussion of his work, the Australian composer David Chesworth described his Melbourne-based sound installation 'Proximities' as an example of 'disturbed space'. (1) Conceived by Chesworth and his collaborator Sonia Leber as 'a sonic corridor of human voices', 'Proximities' is a soundscape built up from the artists' recordings of the singing voices of people from fifty-three Commonwealth nations now living in Australia. The work is situated on the William Barak Bridge (a broad pedestrian bridge near the centre of Melbourne, named after a leading nineteenth-century Aboriginal painter and activist) and allows its visitors to hear the sounds of the city alongside those of the installation. The sounds of the installation, moreover, are evenly distributed throughout space, via computer-fed speakers along both sides of the bridge, in a manner directly opposed to that of the concert tradition, where the listener is seated before a performing group. Does this 'disturbed space' constitute the disruption of a natural condition--the postmodern composer's typically transgressive attempt to work against the natural orientations of the human body? This would certainly seem to be the case according to one particularly dominant strain of postmodern theory, which insists that we perceive the world through always already ordered systems and that there can be no experience or event outside these systems. (2) This particular strain of postmodern theory, which we may broadly characterise as the deconstructive approach, would present a distanced, critical and oppositional perspective with respect to its object of study (in this case, music). Theory, in this acceptation, would thus constitute a continuation of the transcendentally ideal turn of Kantianism: (3) we cannot know things as they are in themselves, it would argue, for we always experience the given world as other than, or in relation to, ourselves. There is no unmediated reality or event; the world is always lived and experienced as this or that determination of being, in relation to our own point of view. The 'sense' of Chesworth and Leber's soundscape would thus appear to lie in a reaction against the history of art itself: in its refusal, for example, both of the staging of the musical work of art and of the recorded piece that may be repeated through time. (4)

This position may be productively contrasted, however, with another, equally postmodern sense of theory: that to be found in the vitalist, expressivist and intuition-oriented philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. Resolutely refusing a pre-established world of relations, systems and points of view, this theoretical enterprise aims instead to experience the differential power of life in its very potential to constitute relations. According to this perspective, music would not constitute a referential system: we would read or hear music not as it relates to a system of signs always already given in advance but, rather, according to its capacity to transform bodies, organs and territories. This 'sense' (5) of Chesworth and Leber's soundscape would thus enable a distinctly positive understanding of the postmodern, in which the transformation of the system (the preestablished organisation of sound) would disturb the form of content, enabling bodies to be affected in ever new ways. (6) There would be not so much 'a' musical work, which may be heard from various distances or points of view, as a distribution of sound that is each time different depending on the situation of the visitor, with every position generating its own discrete network of sound relations. (7)

This essay aims to explore and defend the sense of this second postmodern theoretical approach to music. Only if we think beyond the first sense of theory as a critical relation to life and experience, we argue, will we able to encounter the force of music. Music is not one system among others (akin to the formal systems of language in the narrow sense); rather, it is only because there is musicality--which Deleuze and Guattari variously refer to as the 'refrain' or as 'rhythm' (8)--that more narrowly formal linguistic systems are themselves possible. In contrast to the notion of theory as a philosophical and literary movement that might be applied to a musical text, then, we will argue that one can only have theory (especially 'poststructuralist' theory, broadly understood as theory situated beyond structures and systems) because of musicality itself. In order to ground this claim, however, we will first outline the largely 'linguistic' theoretical approach of deconstruction, before examining theory in Deleuze's vitalist and expressivist sense.

In its first deconstructive mode, postmodern or poststructuralist theory, with its attention to conditions of possibility, to meaning in general and to systems and relations, would be a mode of knowledge that illuminates aspects of a text or practice that are not immediately apparent. Jacques Derrida himself always insisted that no text, practice, event or experience could be present to itself: to be, to exist or to maintain itself through time, an event or an identity must be marked or traced as this or that sameness--and, to this extent, must always already have been submitted to processes of ordering and synthesis which would transcend any supposed pure presence. (9) In this account, theory, understood as the experience of an event from a specific, decided and determined point of view, would not be added on to experience, for there could be no pure and unmediated experience. Rather, theory would constitute the recognition of the distance and difference that necessarily haunts every event.

By taking up a relation to what is always other than itself, theory would find itself in a process of mutual production with the events that it encounters. In this respect, deconstruction could be considered both as theory par excellence and as a rendering impossible of the theoretical enterprise. It is this emphasis on the always necessary, yet impossible, theoretical distance that has often allowed deconstruction to be read as an emphasis on language. The insistence on textuality--the notion that we are always already caught within difference and relations, rather than occupying distinct positions that enter into relations--has often been equated with a kind of linguisticism or linguistic narcissism. (10) Derrida was always adamant that deconstruction was not simply an emphasis on the linguistic mediation of experience; but this was because, as he argued, those features usually attributed to language pertain to all of life. There can be no life or presence that enters into relations: in the beginning there is difference (or differance), which, in its rhythm or its pulsing, allows 'a' term or 'an' event to be in its relation to an ongoing and traced out time. Theory, in this acceptation, would be a highly critical and always provisional sense that one is always already situated, differentiated and placed within networks of relations--that there can be no presence, experience or entity that is not also marked by a certain non-presence.

With respect to music, this sense of theory can be immediately contrasted with the Romantic or Rousseauian idea of music as the original purity of the voice before being submitted to systems. (11) There are not self-present bodies whose first utterances are those of the emotive cry. To the contrary, the supposedly original, immediate and pure verbal expression is possible only because the self (which purportedly exists as the condition and ground of difference and expression) is first instituted through a system of differences and relations that allows each body to recognise and experience itself as a singular and self-present body. Accordingly, theory would attend to the ways in which musical events were possible only through already given and accepted systems and relations. A compositional practice that was mindful of this theoretical or linguistic turn would relate to sound in its already differentiated and systematised form. A modernist form of this critical relational attitude can best be discerned in the often-cited work of Luciano Berio, whose Sinfonia juxtaposes fragments from the Western canon of symphonic tonality with sound variations that allow for those organised fragments and motifs to be heard, precisely, as fragments, in their difference from an already canonised and structured sound-language. Jean-Francois Lyotard has argued that natural languages rely upon a repression of primary processes to ensure that the system of phonemes is not marked or inflected by variations in sound that would not contribute to sense: 'The acquisition of articulated language requires the repression of sonorous value'. (12) He insists, however, that there is nothing radical about sound in itself, liberated from natural languages. Music itself has formalised sound, both through the system of tonality and through the practices of metre and time signatures. Whereas language in the narrow sense differentiates the sound spectrum to constitute a system of arbitrary signifiers, music in its conventional form differentiates the sound spectrum to institute regular forms and stable tones, rhythms, chord sequences and cadences. There can only be this organised relation of musical sound, Lyotard argues, if a strict contrast is made between musical language (the relation of sounds among themselves as sound) and natural languages (where sounds are signifiers of some intended sense). To explore this point Lyotard cites Berio's Visage (1961). Here, Berio has the human voice, usually subjected to communication, indulging in noise, laughter, nonsense and rhythm: 'The phonological units are no longer interpreted as parts of a system, but according to their immediate sonorous value. They are withdrawn from their system, displaced'. (13) Music, Lyotard argues, has always provided an arena in which the exploration of sound liberated from representation could be maintained; but in the development of music history, he continues, 'sonorous material' has been given its own systems and regularities. (14) Sound has been measured in rhythm, metre and intonation, and orchestras have subordinated tonal colour to sense. (We can think of this in quite simple terms, with Beethoven's introduction of the trombone into the orchestra to signal darker moods, or the use of double-reed instruments to signify pastoral.) Berio does not allow the opposition between the speaking voice of communication and the sonorous rules and cadences of music to be maintained; the voice becomes sonorous and the instruments take on a systematicity or periodicity that is destructive of the conventions of music.

Lyotard, like many postmodern or poststructuralist thinkers, frequently draws upon high modernist examples to argue that there can only be a signifying system (such as language) or an expressive system (such as music) that refers to some outside world if we first repress or occlude the primary differentiation from which all systems and differences emerge. Art is radical, then, when its differences are no longer differentiations of some matter that would allow 'us' as speakers, composers or auditors to convey information and communicate, but when differences appear as difference. High modernist modes of quotation, fragmentation, juxtaposition and variation foreground sound as always already differentiated, thereby drawing attention to the processes through which an extended, ordered and synthesised reality is made possible.

It is possible, however, to consider such deconstructive and critical modes of theory beyond their high modernist examples. If modernism recognises that there is no life 'in itself ' but only experience as already systematised and mediated by language, it nevertheless indicates that systematisation has un unthinkable or unrepresentable outside or exterior, which can only be indicated as outside from within the limitations of the system. This is how Lyotard has defined the modernist notion of the sublime, as a gesturing within representational systems to the unrepresentational. (15) Derrida, however, has argued that while there can be attention to moments of play and instability in a system that preclude direct knowledge of the world, a more radical movement occurs when the system or structure is not that which mediates a prior reality but that which is itself nothing other than the 'play of the world'. (16) This might lead us to think another, less mournful (or in Fredric Jameson's terms) 'non-parodic' mode of quotation. (17) It is not that we are trapped within systems, presenting signifiers as worn-out tokens that preclude our grasping life itself: there is no life, presence or plenitude other than the play of differences and relations. Quotation would not be, as in Berio, a gesturing toward the limits of a system, but a celebration that there is nothing other than system, difference, relation, quotation, repetition or simulation. John Zorn's 'Cat O' Nine Tails' (commissioned by the Kronos quartet for their 1993 Short Stories album) no longer uses materials from a high culture of Western music that would then indicate a border beyond which one might gesture to sound as such, but instead it cuts, pastes and repeats the music of Warner Brothers cartoons. What is abandoned is a high modernist yearning for an impossible outside, beyond all systematicity, in favour of a celebration of formed sounds in their popular, repeatable, circulating and always already familiar everydayness.

This particular mode of poststructuralism or postmodernism might be defined, then, as a recognition of the limits of systems. In its modernist form, there is a recognition that we are always already within systems, that there is a pre-systemic or primary process that we can now only indicate or intimate. In its postmodernist form, on the other hand, any notion of sound 'in itself ' is completely abandoned: there is nothing other than always already formed, quoted and determined materials; no sound matter, but only sound as it has already mattered in some system or other. In either case, however, according to the 'linguistic' paradigm, an event can only be understood as always already situated within a system of relations. In its modernist form, this allows one to think or to imagine (but not to know) that which must be presupposed beyond any relations; in its postmodernist form, it precludes the very possibility of anything but relations: the simulation cannot be a copy or sign of some original for there is no origin.

Such a theoretical perspective will always yield a negative concept of time and repetition. The present is always already anticipated, mastered and grasped in advance through the very relations that make experience possible. The understanding of conditions of experience is derived from the structures of experience--as it were, after the event. Accepting these premises, we would have to understand all art--and not just postmodern art--as essentially parodic and parasitic: we repeat the conventions that are already given, but we do so with some deviation, disruption or disturbance. Which is to say: if life, time, experience, the self and the world are conceived as always already captured within systems of relations, then the aim of the work of art can only be to refigure, defamiliarise or foreground these relations. There can be no outside of the text.

A different perspective, however--one that is not negative and extensive, as it would be according to the 'linguistic' paradigm, but positive and intensive--is offered by the philosophy of Deleuze. Theory is not, here, a critical position that would discern the conditions of possibility for an event by referring to a transcendental system of relations. Instead, Deleuze's 'transcendental empiricism' insists that conditions do not exceed the given.18 It is not the case that there is a system of relations--whether that of the logic of grammar or that of the transcendental conditions of being in general--that then allows for individuated being. Rather, there are potentialities for relations that in turn produce individual events. Theory, accordingly, is an intuition of the multiple relations that unfold, both actually and virtually, from any force or power. Such a perspective not only allows us to hear what is truly new in recent music, it allows us also to think of music as a positive contribution to renewed thinking.

Relations, Deleuze insists, are external to terms. (19) This has two decisive inflections. First of all, the sense of an event is not exhausted by the set of relations within which it is situated. Any sound, refrain, fragment or even chord progression possesses a potentiality that exceeds its already actualised form. Deleuze argues for a potentiality for relations within any event that enables a far more positive sense of repetition and quotation than that offered, for example, by postmodern notions of pastiche. When a jazz saxophonist quotes 'Bye Bye Blackbird' she is not referring to the system of wartime melodies and merely placing sound within an already related and determined system; she is taking up a formed matter and drawing out its potentiality for variation, difference and repetition. The simulacrum, in Deleuze's thought, is not a mournful recognition that all we have are copies and doubles without any grounding original; for Deleuze, repetition takes an actual fragment and draws out its originality. (20)

It is the second sense with which Deleuze argues for the externality of relations, however, that gestures toward a new sense of theory, situated beyond the linguistic, critical and Kantian paradigms. For Kant, there are conditions and categories through which experience is possible: there is no world in itself, only the world as given for 'a' transcendental subject possessed of categories. (21) But when Kantianism is translated into the linguistic critical paradigm, as we have seen, conditions are no longer attributed to a subject situated at the limits of the system: they become themselves linguistic and have to do with the system of relations--the grammar--through which all being (including the subject itself) comes to be constituted. Deleuze, however, turns to Leibniz (and not Kant) in order to think the world, not as composed by 'a' system of relations, but by multiple unfoldings. Each monad perceives, or is affected by, a world of differences and events--indeed, there are not subjects who perceive, but sites of affection that constitute each monad's individuality. Theory is not, therefore, a transcendental recognition of the system of relations through which the world is given; theory occurs, rather, as an intuition of the infinitely multiple unfoldings of the world, with each perceptual point of view being but a relative variation of the world's potentialities. Deleuze's philosophy is poststructuralist, then, in a quite specific sense. There is not a structure, system or paradigm that would constitute each event as what it is because of its relation to a whole: an event is not reducible to actual relations, for any event--given other encounters--may unfold further relations. This poststructuralism differs markedly from the Derridean model, which allows for the sense of an event that can never be thought or intuited. For Deleuze, it is possible to consider the mode, style, manner or regime of structures--and this is because any structure has its condition in a potentiality for variation or difference, which it is the task of the theorist, precisely, to intuit. Any structure or network of relations is but one actualisation of a potentiality for difference.

The specific implications of this theory for music are expanded in Deleuze's book on the Baroque. (22) According to Deleuze, it is in the Baroque that we move from a classicism of substance, in which there would be some ground or being that only subsequently possessed predicates, to a notion of individuating events. From this perspective, we would no longer think in terms of the distinction between form and matter or, indeed, in terms of the ideality of a concept or system through which we would experience the undifferentiated; instead, following Leibniz, we would think in terms of 'mannerism.' There would not be a form instantiated in matter, nor even--as in deconstruction--an impossible oscillation between the ideality of form and the singularity of matter. Instead, there are differential relations, or what Deleuze will also refer to as the 'ideal genetic element' or 'differential element'. It is from this positive potential for difference that events are individuated; an event is therefore not the negation of difference, or the production of identity in relation to an undifferentiated chaos. An event is an expression of the power of difference that brings with it the power to continue to differ in its own manner. The world is nothing other than converging series of affections and inflections. Every point of view or 'monad' is a view onto the infinite, but each in its own variation. Point of view, or difference, is not what conceals or limits truth, for truth is just the capacity for variation and difference: 'perspectivism amounts to a relativism, but not the relativism we take for granted. It is not a variation of truth according to the subject, but the condition in which the truth of variation appears to the subject. This is the very idea of Baroque perspective'. (23)

Deleuze ties this discovery of Baroque mannerism to a specific aesthetics of the fold, harmonisation and principles. The fold: rather than seeing a substance that is only subsequently differentiated by features or predicates, we can see one differentiating life given in series of inflections. In architecture this means that the Baroque interior strives to produce the influx of light into a room in such a way that the background or surface of the interior reveals its own capacities for illumination; there is no window that represents some outside world, but a play of light, mirrors and rays that disclose matters now in one way, now in another. In visual art, the fold discloses pleats of matter: matter is not the blank and neutral stuff that must be delimited by form, but can itself be inflected, turned, folded and unfolded. As in his earlier work Difference and Repetition, Deleuze's The Fold places the idea of differential calculus at the heart of a new ontology of difference. (24)

For Deleuze, differential calculus may have been instantiated in mathematics but indicates a way of thinking about mannerism in general. A sound is a relation among potential differentials of pitch, timbre, vibrato, tessitura and duration. The individuation of sound is produced by the encounter of various series of intensities, with only some differences being heard by some points of view. Instead of a world of undifferentiated matter and differentiating systems (as in the linguistic paradigm), Deleuze describes infinite series of differences or folds, with 'souls' being the individual affectations produced by powers to differ. (25) In terms of music, we can understand this new way of thinking about difference positively through three concepts: the sonorous, the haptic and the intensive.

Deleuze sees the Baroque as a potentiality opened in the seventeenth century that nonetheless possesses a power that goes well beyond its historic instantiation. Any actual form is the expression of a power to create difference. This allows us to think positively about the sonorous, the haptic and the intensive. If the Baroque is an art of principles, it achieves this not by discovering some law that would account for systems and relations, but by taking any event and discovering the potential for its emergence. The Baroque capacity for variation and the exploration of a chord or motif 's inner power of movement reaches its highest power in the art of the sonorous, where the event of sound is not that which instantiates a form but is heard in its own right. Consider here David Chesworth's Badlands Suite (1998). Already we are given a positive notion of repetition: Chesworth draws upon the music composed by Carl Orff that was used for the soundtrack of the film Badlands. The music is not quoted in a postmodern ironic fashion, with the sense that we can only re-use and repeat a past within which we are situated. Nor is the use deconstructive: whereas Berio, for example, will place fragments of musical greats alongside shouts and cries, drawing attention to the binary between sound as noise and sound as sense, the Badlands Suite repeats chords and motifs and draws out variation and difference. Sound variations are not disruptions or distortions of form or system; sound is a potentiality for series of difference, with each repetition of a chord or motif disclosing the potentiality for sound to differ. It is not surprising that Chesworth draws this power from Orff, whose notion of repetition and variation was tied intrinsically to pedagogy: one learns music not through the reading of forms that are then practised to greater or lesser extent by submissive students. (26) One repeats in order to take part in a milieu and rhythm, with the player becoming adept through the repetition and feel for the sound's potentials.

The Baroque concert, and its contemporary extension of lines of sound that do not express the same harmonic accord but one sonorous power of difference, is a way of thinking ontology and politics beyond the imposition of form on content. There is not a subject who speaks, perceives and synthesises, modelling and mastering the world in his own will and image; instead, the world is composed of differential relations and encounters, none of which is the privileged cause or ground of anything else:
   A concert is being performed tonight. It is the event.
   Vibrations of sound disperse, periodic movements go through
   space with their harmonics or submultiples. The sounds have inner
   qualities of height, intensity, and timbre. The sources of the
   sounds, instrumental or vocal, are not content only to send
   the sounds out: each one perceives its own, and perceives the
   others while perceiving its own. These are active perceptions
   that are expressed among each other, or else prehensions that are
   prehending one another: 'First the solitary piano grieved, like a
   bird abandoned by its mate; the violin heard its wail and
   responded to it like a neighbouring tree. It was like the
   beginning of the world'. (27)

Contemporary music analogies would be the jazz mode of improvisation: sometimes branching out from a chord progression, sometimes allowing for so many chordal substitutions that what results is a plural multiplicity, as it were, with each voice in the assemblage becoming according to its surrounding members while also affirming its difference. Another example would be the mode of relations in sound installations, where the composer is less a governing artificer, inscribing a score to be obeyed, than a body who assembles elements that create their own interactions, including (as in the Chesworth installation mentioned earlier) effects that intrude from outside onto the space of performance. We arrive, then, at the sonorous: not sounds as they are articulated and combined, but vibratory powers from which heard sounds are actualised. It is this non-sonorous element--that which cannot be heard--that is intimated in those moments of performance when we move from barely formed or audible sound matters to relatively stable and recognised points. This, in turn, yields the intensive. If we think of life not as a matter that is then perceived but as a field of forces entering into relations, then we think not of an extended space--a world composed of units distributed and measurable on a uniform plane--but of qualitative spaces instituted through intensification.

The intensive--or the relations of force from which quantities of qualities emerge--is experienced directly in contemporary music. Thus we might say, paradoxically, that Deleuze's aim of arriving at an analogical language, (28) where we no longer accept the already formed digits or units of sounds, is achieved most completely in the digital synthesiser, where components of sounds are varied, bent, doubled, combined and inflected, to range from quantities of variation that are indiscernible to the production of new sound relations. Finally, this would also be in accord with a haptic aesthetic, implying not so much a man of reason who surveys the world as measurable and manipulable data, but a plane of sounds where the ear can feel the hand across the violin string, where the body is disturbed or struck by surrounding sounds that cannot be located in a single performance space. We might see all three of these features of the modern Baroque in an example from Chesworth's 50 Synthesizer Greats (1979). In his tribute to Billy Holiday we begin with seemingly random sounds produced by a digital synthesiser, until rhythm and chord eventually form to produce a repeated pattern, and the short piece eventually arrives at a repeated 'swing' motif. The positive mode of repetition is clear: Billy Holliday is not quoted or repeated actually, for the emergence of the swing motif from digital sounds developing into chords and then melodic components does not repeat one of Holliday's already existing tunes so much as repeat the power of sound to produce and differ. This is the sonorous: it repeats, not the sound as it already is, but that which in the sound allows for the creation of new sounds; it moves from the sonorous (or sound as it is) to the non-sonorous (or the virtual power in sound to differ). This is also the haptic: from sounds that are liberated from the voice and the hand through the digital synthesiser, this piece--like Chesworth's earlier Badlands and Lacuna suites--proceeds to include melodic motifs from stringed instruments, with these instruments, in turn, moving from melodic motifs to the free variation and production of upper level harmonics, such that the ear can 'feel' the hand of the player traversing the strings of the instrument. Both the sonorous and the haptic, in turn, lead to a consideration of intensive quantities: at what point does a quantitative change become a qualitative one? At what point are digital variations heard or actualised by the ear? And at what point of the entering-into-relation of two sounds is something like harmony or accord effected?

Indeed, music, as Deleuze elsewhere suggests--in his collaborative work with Guattari--offers an aesthetic that allows us to think of art in general. (29) Language-dominated models suggest that we have the world, on one hand, and then sign systems, on the other, with signs being an abstract and formalised system of differences relating to an undifferentiated matter. But such an approach fails to take into account both the genesis of the relations of a sign system and the relations of the bodies that it expresses. Although music is certainly formalised (with its systems of modes, scales and combinatory rules), and although it does have some form of content (for we can only have symphonic music with the arrangement of bodies in concert halls, conservatory-trained musicians and state-funded arts councils), Deleuze and Guattari frequently cite music as their privileged analytic example because it discloses the potential of all art: higher deterritorialisation. (30)

Music becomes a privileged example in their work precisely because, as a non-referential regime of signs, it enables us to think how a form of expression (a relation among sounds) enables a form of content (a body and its orientations). In the beginning is neither the body that cries nor the system through which we speak, but a distribution of matters that itself produces relations. There is neither a self that sings nor a pre-established system within which all demands must be articulated--but a production of relations (or territories):
   Perhaps art begins with the animal, at least with the animal
   that carves out a territory and constructs a house (both are
   correlative, or even one and the same, in what is called a
   habitat). The territory-house system transforms a number of
   organic functions--sexuality procreation, aggression, feeding.
   But this transformation does not explain the appearance of the
   territory and the house; rather it is the other way around: the
   territory implies the emergence of pure sensory qualities, of
   sensibilia that cease to be merely functional and become
   expressive features, making a possible transformation of
   functions. No doubt this expressiveness is already diffused
   in life, and the simple field of lilies might be said to
   celebrate the glory of the skies. But with the territory and the
   house it becomes constructive and erects ritual monuments of an
   animal mass that celebrates qualities before extracting new
   causalities and finalities from them. This emergence of
   pure sensory qualities is already art, not only in the treatment
   of external materials but in the body's posture and colours,
   in the songs and cries that mark out the territory. It is an
   outpouring of features, colours, and sounds that are inseparable
   insofar as they become expressive (philosophical concept of
   territory). Every morning the Scenopoetes dentirotis, a bird of
   the Australian rain forests, cuts leaves, makes them fall to the
   ground, and turns them over so that the paler, internal side
   contrasts with the earth. In this way it constructs a stage for
   itself like a ready-made; and directly above, on a creeper or
   a branch, while fluffing out the feathers beneath its beak to
   reveal their yellow roots, it sings a complex song made up from
   its own notes and, at intervals, those of other birds that it
   imitates: it is a complete artist. This is not synesthesia in
   the flesh but blocs of sensations in the territory--colours,
   postures, and sounds that sketch out a total work of art. (31)

The contrast is clear: Deleuze and Guattari are critical of the linguistic paradigm, the idea that we are produced as subjects through the adoption of a language, to the extent that it fails to ask just how such a system of signs may have emerged and also assumes only one systematic model: that of the speaking subject always already caught within a web of signification. Music, by contrast, offers itself as a formal system (for musical writing can express a melody or progression that can be played on any number of instruments and transposed into different keys) at the same time that it privileges the least formalised elements: variations of tone, timbre, intonation and vibrato are inflections that constitute the event of music as such. This is why Deleuze and Guattari define their key political motif of becoming-minoritarian through the potential of music. (32) One does not place oneself in relation to a system and ask to be recognised or included: this is the majoritarian mode, as when a woman strives to be equal to a man. In minor music, one is only insofar as one inflects, varies, modulates; becoming-minoritarian does not entail possessing an identity that demands expression, but beginning from the variation of expression that would itself open the space for new modes of bodies. The minor mode is not so much a step outside the system as the system's capacity to take its formalised elements--the scale--and produce an immanent variation, such as the minor mode, which in turn might open a more general chromaticism.

As an example of the minoritarian we might think of the use of the didgeridoo in Peter Sculthorpe's orchestral work Earth Cry (1986). This may be heard as an extension of Western tonality and orchestration, but it may also open out onto different modes of synthesis and audibility, irreducible to the site of its initial articulation. In the first instance, it is possible to consider Earth Cry as a majoritarian work: the tonal, symphonic and orchestrated tradition of music includes an outside element, the didgeridoo, as a way of expanding the horizon of the 'we', which now includes Indigenous Australia. In the second instance, however, we could see the event of coupling the orchestra with the didgeridoo (with its entirely different modes of differentiating and inflecting sound) as not yet possessing a people. Minor music, as Deleuze and Guattari insist, is not the expression of a minority, but gestures toward a 'people to come'. A minor music is a music of non-localised souls and inflections. In Earth Cry, it is the didgeridoo that opens the concerto: this suggests that, far from being enframed or placed within the work, it presents a new matter of sound that would then allow us to hear the orchestra, not as one more composed piece in a linear history of music, but as one modality of sound among others. On the one hand, then, music offers itself as the purest of structuralisms: a system in variation that has neither a referent which it claims to denote nor a subject which would constitute the site of its enunciation. On the other hand, music (and especially minor music) would be presented as the most positive way of thinking beyond the 'despotism' of the signifier and structure. The idea that we are nothing other than points of subjectification--speaking positions--produced through the system of language, needs to be countered by looking at the ways in which relations among bodies or matters are formed into substances and the way in which operations or functions produce forms of expression.

Consider two further examples: the first is Gil Evans's version of the swing classic 'King Porter Stomp', from his album There Comes a Time (1975). The tune opens with random synthesiser effects, not of chords or motifs, but of single, periodic and oscillating or pointillist notes. Gradually, the brass section of the orchestra produces the chord of the tonic and then the full orchestra enters to play the tune in its diatonic and harmonic form. Another example is the contemporary Scottish composer James Macmillan's opera The Confessions of Isobel Gaudie, which opens with barely audible unpunctuated chords from the string section, until the full orchestra enters to fill out a plane of sound. In both cases, we are presented not with a framed composition or melody but with the emergence of a plane of sound from zero intensities; it as though the ear can hear, again, the formation of articulated relations from a sound continuum. And this is in accord with Deleuze and Guattari's ontology: there is not a space that is then filled with different beings; rather, differential relations themselves produce a space. There is neither a subject nor a world that would speak, cry or perceive; instead, there are encounters among elements that produce discernible points. This ontology also has direct political implications, for as long as we think of a subject who submits himself to a system of differences we will always remain within a majoritarian politics and its attendant problems. If, however, we think that in the beginning there is variation, from which spaces, points, fields and territories are effected, then we will open up a minoritarian politics: not how might 'we' liberate ourselves from an imposed ideology, but what variations might effect new events no longer premised on the norm of speaking and reasoning man? Music is always to some degree minor music precisely because what it is is always also its mode of variation. The value of Deleuze's (and of Deleuze and Guattari's) philosophy for a consideration of music and postmodernism lies both in its critique of structuralism, for it seeks to define the specificity of different modes of structure (such as major and minor), and in its extreme structuralism, since it insists that both matter and functions must be structured to create substances and forms.


(1.) David Chesworth, 'Floating Worlds', unpublished paper presented at the Music and Postmodern Cultural Theory conference, University of Melbourne, 5 December 2006.

(2.) This is how Richard Rorty defines postmodernism, for example, in 'Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism', The Journal of Philosophy, 80, 10 (October 1983): 583-589.

(3.) On the Kantian and critical legacy of deconstruction, see Irene Harvey, Derrida and the Economy of Differance, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1986.

(4.) Such transgressive gestures have been criticised by Jurgen Habermas, for whom postmodern art is merely an extension of the avant-garde's narrow refusal of the institution of aesthetic autonomy. For Habermas, such merely reactive gestures fail to deal with the diremption of aesthetic experience from a fuller understanding of the lifeworld. See Jurgen Habermas, 'Modernity: An Unfinished Project', in Maurizio Passerin d'Entreves and Seyla Banhabib (eds), Habermas and the Unfinished Project of Modernity,Nicholas Walker (trans), Cambridge, Polity, 1996, pp38-55.

(5.) Throughout his corpus Gilles Deleuze creates a quite distinct notion of sense that has very little to do with linguistic or structuralist accounts of meaning (where the sense of a term is its difference from other terms). In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze argues that in addition to states of affairs (or relations among bodies) there is also an incorporeal dimension of sense, which we might summarise as a virtual plane of potentiality (see Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, New York, Columbia, 1994). In the case of the Chesworth/Leber event, the 'sense' of the work would lie in its capacity to transform the orientations, motilities, expectations, anticipations and affects of the bodies who traverse its space. In his book on Nietzsche, Deleuze defines sense as an orientation of forces, best understood--via Nietzsche--as a drama (see Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy,Hugh Tomlinson (trans), New York, Columbia University Press, 1983).

(6.) Defending a positive understanding of the postmodern (from the tradition of pragmatics) against an 'academic' and deconstructive postmodernism, Jerome McGann has also argued that we can understand artworks as acts that transform social domains and conditions of intelligibility (see Jerome McGann, Social Values and Poetic Acts, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988).

(7.) This subordination of the closed work to the open relations of a 'text' that would be activated and recreated on each occasion is expressed most stridently in Roland Barthes, 'From Work to Text,' in Image-Music-Text, Stephen Heath (trans), New York, Hill and Wang, 1977, pp155-64.

(8.) Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, Brian Massumi (trans), Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1987, pp378-79

(9.) See Jacques Derrida, 'Differance', in Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs,David B. (trans) Allison, Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 1973, pp129-60.

(10.) John Ellis, Against Deconstruction, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1989.

(11.) Downing Thomas, Music and the Origin of Languages, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

(12.) Jean-Francois Lyotard, 'A Few Words to Sing', in Robert Harvey and Mark S. Roberts (eds), Toward the Postmodern, Atlantic Highlands, NJ, Humanities Press, 1993, p48.

(13.) Ibid., p49.

(14.) Ibid.

(15.) Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, Geoffrey Bennington and Rachel Bowlby (trans), Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1991.

(16.) Jacques Derrida, 'Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,' Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1978, pp278-293.

(17.) Fredric Jameson, 'Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,' New Left Review, 146 (1984): 65.

(18.) Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, Paul Patton (trans), New York, Columbia, 1994.

(19.) Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, Martin Joughin (trans), New York, Zone Books, 1990.

(20.) Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, op. cit., p297.

(21.) For a reading of Kant in contrast with Leibniz and on the importance of the externality of relations, see Rae Langton, Kantian Humility: Our Ignorance of Things in Themselves, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1998.

(22.) Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, Tom Conley (trans), Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

(23.) Ibid., p20.

(24.) Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, op. cit., p301.

(25.) Gilles Deleuze, The Fold, op. cit., p88-89.

(26.) Andreas Liess, Carl Orff. His Life and Music, trans. Adelheid and Herbert Parkin (trans), New York, St. Martin's Press, 1966.

(27.) Gilles Deleuze The Fold, op. cit., p80.

(28.) Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. Daniel W. Smith (trans), London, Continuum, 2003.

(29.) Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, op. cit., p116.

(30.) Ibid., p147.

(31.) Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (trans), New York, Columbia University Press, 1994, p80.

(32.) Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, op. cit., p288.
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Author:Colebrook, Claire; Bennett, David
Publication:New Formations
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 22, 2009
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