Thursday, April 24, 2008


First of all, thanks for your comments on my last post. I agree with most everything that was said, though for now I'm going to leave it at that, so I can get on to the problem I need to work through.

I wrote a paper a few years ago called "The Myth of Inaccessible Music," using Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus (TP) to argue in favor of both music theory and avant-garde music (especially that of the atonal, high-modernist variety).

My argument was based on the assumption that the avant-garde is inaccessible because it is unfamiliar, and listeners tend to approach music in search of a familiar discourse.  By this assumption, people like Beethoven, or Coldplay, or whatever, because they are familiar with the language used and they can understand what's going on (I mean language and understand in very general senses--I'm not trying to start a "music as language" argument).  People do not enjoy the avant-garde because they approach it with similar expectations--understanding--and are let down.  Webern (the musical example with which I began the paper in question) simply does not employ the rhetorical devices people expect from music, and their absence is alienating ("why can't I understand this? does this mean I'm stupid?")

From the perspective of TP this is a problem (or instance, more properly) of territorialization.  Expectation and identification are mechanisms of ordering, which mark out a territory from surrounding chaos.  Belonging to (read: understanding) the musical tradition presented grounds the listener in a secure cultural environment.  The memory triggered--the long-term memory--territorializes the musical object, letting it function as a poster or sign-post.  Long-term memory acts as an instrument of arborescence.

The two solutions I propose involve seeking a rhizomatic listening.  The first is the attempt to push aside long-term memory and experience music without expectations.  I lack the sophistication to suggest a legitimate program that would lead to this position, but in theory it would be the same project as the body without organs: a (nearly) complete destratification of the subject (which at that point would not be, properly speaking, a subject at all).  (Can there still be music in this space?  Does the organization of sound require stepping back from the milieu?)

The second solution is to over-stratify.  Through studying music--theoretically, historically, aesthetically, etc.--one could so over-stratify music as to effectively overpower expectation.  This is not the same as learning harmony and counterpoint to appreciate Beethoven.  Studying common-practice music to understand common-practice music only reifies and contextualizes expectation (at the same time? can you do both?).   But placing the avant-garde in the context of radically divergent possibilities would open the listener to these different possible lines of flight.  This is, in effect, creating too many expectations.  When an listener with long-term memory hears Beethoven, there are a set (and quite small, really) number of possible next moves.   But when a listener with long-term memory and an extensive knowledge of new music hears something "inaccessible," the lines of flight are not blocked, but instead opened in advance.

Now, a few years later, I understand the book quite differently.

The first solution is partially consonant with TP.  It acknowledges the machinic relation between the listener and the music.  Music territorializes the person as a listener (a listener to this music), and the person territorializes the music as music (as this music).  In order to dismantle this mutual constitution, one goes in search of absolute deterritorialization: the rhizome, short-term memory, the BwO.  But it is problematic because it leaves intact, after the fact, music.  To argue for a rhizomatic listening experience is to invoke an Idea of music that exists separate of reality.  I do not mean (and D+G would not mean) that music is "just" a construction, that it is not real.  On the contrary, territorializing sound as music is precisely what makes it real.    This is the double motion that rejects Platonic Idealism, in the interest of recuperating matter, while simultaneously retaining the idea, not as exterior or mystical, but as real.  However, given that it is listening (perceiving) that makes music real, there doesn't seem much point to talk about music after absolute deterritorialization.   Indeed, this critique could be leveled at al the various quests for "Deleuzian music" (leaving aside what "Deleuzian" could possibly mean).

The second position is significantly more problematic from the perspective of TP, if we accept the position that deterritorialization is a good thing.  After all, it's pretty clear that what I'm doing is not deterritorialization, but the opposite.  Indeed, we might even argue that education isn't a means of opening lines of flight, but of contexutalizing the avant-garde.  It doesn't so much allow for radical possibility, but instead creates the expectation of radical divergence, and an expectation that is of course founded upon long-term memory and its contingent narratives.

Where does that leave this project?  In a position to question its opening question.  I asked--tacitly--"Why is some music inaccessible?"  The question should be "Why am I concerned with making [my] music accessible?" (mine in the sense of cultural ID, not actual composition.)

To answer, first I would need to radically critique the possibility of music, its relation to the politics of territories, and what remains at the (impossible) position of absolute deterritorialization.

The first part of this critique (the possibility of music) would be a book.  And a long, complicated one that only French people read.  Music plays an ambivalent role in TP, certainly in part because it lies beyond the authors' areas of expertise.  It appears on the list of becomings, but the obviously metaphorical nature of these undermine any attempt to generalize this passage (music's role in the development of the cult of genius suggests that it is not always--or maybe even ever--so subversive as becoming-music implies).  It also is central to the section on the refrain, in which it functions as a territorializing, organizing force (as discussed above).

Which bleeds into the territoriality of music.  Ultimately this will bring us back in circles, because now the question must be raised: "What do you mean by music?"  It seems supremely silly to suppose that music is all the same, and only slightly less so to suggest that all music shares some common characteristic.  Thus there is in basis, absent of an argument, for assuming that music's role as a refrain prevents it from also being a becoming.  Indeed, unless we adopt the notion of a "work," unless we assume that a particular piece is always that piece regardless of who is listening and how and why, we cannot even argue that there is only one role that one piece can play.  Memory is key here.

Lastly we face the unknown.  My reading of TP makes it very problematic to even talk about the plain of consistency.  I read this book as an extended polemic against the coherent subject and its constitutive other.  For Deleuze and Guattari, there is always first "we," not "I."  But they continue to do a few things "just for kicks," like say "I," or talk about the orient or "primitives."  Their own text, which is meant to undermine centuries of relying on the subject/object positions, turns on these moments in which I and they return.  I think this is because language is intimately tied into subjects and objects (which are named not by mistake). This is confirmed in TP.  The state apparatus, Jesus, etc. are all intimately tied to the face, the white wall of which comes from language, and the black eye of which comes from the subject.  Ultimately we cannot talk about the place TP wants to take us, and that is why it doesn't take us there.  Utopian without leading to Utopia.  So there can be no comments on "Deleuzian" music because we cannot speak there: there is no we, and there is no speech.  Whether or not there is music becomes irrelevant as soon as we ask, because both asking and being we dismantles the BwO.

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