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ISSUE 44 : Non-Intentional Sound
How Do You Make Music a Body without Organs? Gilles Deleuze and Experimental Electronica [Excerpt]
March 11th, 2020Type: Sound Scene, Translation
Author: Christoph Cox, 王婧 (翻譯) Editor: Rikey Tenn
Quote From: 撒把芥末(sub jam blog)、《生產》叢刊

The Plane of Consistency and the Body without Organ
What is a body without organs?

Rewind. All of Deleuze’s philosophy is an effort to construct a post-theological, naturalist ontology that reconceives beings in terms of becomings and events, actual existents in terms of virtual potentialities, fixed forms in terms of mobile particles and flows, homogeneous structures in terms of heterogeneous aggregates and connections, and hierarchical organizations in terms of a smooth horizontal surface populated solely by dynamic singularities, affects, intensities, speeds, and haecceities.(註2) Beings, forms, structures, and organizations, Deleuze tells us, are simply ways in which an essentially fluid and heterogeneous nature is temporarily contracted, captured, contained, or slowed down to the point at which its movement is imperceptible.

The theologian or philosopher of being (the Platonist, the Christian, the Kantian) will always assert the existence and primacy of a transcendent plane (a “plane of transcendence” or “plane of organization,” Deleuze calls it) that directs, organizes, and forms nature and becoming from without. (The philosopher of being says: beings are what becomes, the subject organizes experience, providence or progress directs the movement of history, the score governs musical performances, etc.) Yet, true to the naturalism of his philosophical heroes—Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Bergson—Deleuze asserts that there is only one plane, “the plane of immanence” or “the plane of consistency,” and that the existence of all beings and organizations can and must be accounted for by reference to materials and processes operating on this plane alone.(註3)

“Plane of consistency” is one name for Deleuze’s basic conception of nature and the world. Another is the body without organs (BwO): “the unformed, unorganized, nonstratified, or destratified body and all its flows,” “that glacial reality where the alluvions, sedimentations, coagulations, foldings, and recoilings that compose an organism—and also a signification and a subject—occur.” In short, the BwO is the virtual field of the body, the domain of the basic particles and forces (“singularities,” “affects,” “intensities,” “ideas,” “perceptions,” etc.) from which an actual organism composed. “[I]n order to extract useful labor from the BwO,” Deleuze writes with Félix Guattari, the organism “imposes upon it forms, functions, bonds, dominant and hierarchized organizations, organized transcendences.

Yet, Deleuze and Guattari insist that the BwO always subsists and reasserts itself: “the body suffers from being organized in this way, from not having some other sort of organization, or no organization at all”; hence “a body without organs [. . .] is continually dismantling the organism, causing a signifying particles or pure intensities to pass or circulate.”(註4) Through experimental practices, Deleuze and Guattari tell us, we can make ourselves BwOs.(註5)

So long as we think of the body as a given functional form, says Deleuze alluding to Spinoza, we will not know what a body can do, what it is capable of.(註6) To become a BwO is to destratify the body, to reconnect it with the intensive, impersonal, transhuman matter that composes and surrounds it, to open it up to new connections and assemblages, to explore the innumerable things it can do beyond the restricted set of habitual actions that characterize the organized body.(註7) When one does this, one transforms the body from a given entity with a specified functionality and direction of activity to a construction site of exploration and connection. One no longer actualizes merely the specific set of affects that constitute, for example, Man as a normal, rational, heterosexual, productive human being but the entire (or, at least a larger) range of affects of which this body is capable.(註8)

Fast Forward: An ontology of being—that is, an “arborescent,” taxonomical ontology of things, forms, and species—will insist on making distinctions between nature, the human body, and music. (Music, it says, is a particular product of human beings who are particular parts of nature.) But Deleuze’s ontology of events, becomings, and haecceities does not distinguish in this way. For Deleuze, a body is simply a contraction of forces and flows. “A body can be anything,” he writes; “it can be an animal, a body of sounds, a mind or an idea; it can be a linguistic corpus, a social body, a collectivity.”(註9) If music can be a body or an organism, so, too, can it become a body without organs, a plane of consistency, or plane of immanence. With reference to John Cage and the classic minimalists Steve Reich and Philip Glass, Deleuze and Guattari hint at this possibility:

Certain modern musicians oppose the transcendent plan(e) of organization, which is said to have dominated all of Western classical music, to the immanent sound plane, which is always given along with that to which it gives rise, brings the imperceptible to perception, and carries only differential speeds and slownesses in a kind of molecular lapping: the work of art must mark seconds, tenths and hundredths of seconds. Or rather it is a question of a freeing of time, Aeon, a non pulsed time for a floating music, as Boulez says, an electronic music in which forms are replaced by pure modifications of speed. It is undoubtedly John Cage who first and most perfectly deployed this fixed sound plane, which affirms process against all structure and genesis, a floating time against pulsed time or tempo, experimentation against any kind of interpretation, and in which silence as sonorous rest also marks the absolute state of movement.(註10)

Suggested by Deleuze and Guattari passing, it is this musical idea that I want to unfold here. In the process, we will see that Cage and the classic minimalists, to whom Deleuze and Guattari attribute this practice, mark only a few of the many efforts at making music a BwO. Indeed, over the course of the twentieth century, through a kind of uneven development and by way of clandestine connections, each of the major domains of Western music (classical, jazz, and rock) has been submitted to this process—a process that experimental electronica takes to its nth power.


The Classical Work of Music and Its Deterritorialization

The 18th and 19th centuries in Europe saw the development and perfection of the classical work of music. Emerging from a fluid and non-literate musical practice, the classical tradition gradually instituted fixed works of art embodied in transcendent musical scores.(註11) Once thoroughly temporal and open-ended, existing only as evanescent performance and non-identical iterations, music became a thing, a being, a kind of Platonic model that governed performance from without and infidelity to which it was judged. This musical work (the score or Platonic ideal of the work) was (and is) not only a temporal but silent. Instantiated in musical performances, it nonetheless remained outside of their temporal and physical flow.

The classical work is governed by another transcendent mode of organization: tonality. The tonal system insures that musical unfolding is always tied to the tonic, from which it emerges, to which it returns, and which governs its selection of pitches along the way. Thus is musical becoming tied to being in the form of origin and telos; and thus is that thoroughly temporal art, music, transformed into a mere passage between those two fixed points. The sonata, song, and rondo forms that developed concurrently with the tonal system provided more overarching conceptions of development, tying musical becoming to formal and narrative expectations (absence-presence, conflict-resolution, etc.).(註12) Finally, the classical work found its apotheosis in the symphony, performed by an orchestra that is a vast hierarchy of parts, levels, and structures comparable to a military organization, governed by the authoritarian conductor, himself subservient to that absent (transcendent) genius, the musical composer.(註13)

Such was the elaborate organization of music at the beginning of the 20th century. And it is this that the vanguard music of the 20th-century slowly dismantled. Arnold Schoenberg accomplished arguably the first deterritorialization of the classical work. Between 1907 and 1909, Schoenberg abandoned tonality altogether, allowing his music to flow over the entire range of the chromatic scale. As such, his atonal pieces are fluid and without any inclination to resolve. No longer unfolding according to given external principles, they force the listener to follow their errant path from within. But Schoenberg would soon reterritorialize his music via the twelve-tone system, which again constrained tonal variation and directed musical development according to a pre-given scheme. Indeed, in the decades that followed, this reterritorialization became more and more severe, as Integral Serialism submitted every musical element (rhythm, dynamics, texture, etc.) to serial organ-ization.

Several other musical personae contributed to the deterritorialization of the classical work. Notable among them was Edgard Varèse, who freely abandoned the term “music” in favor of the description “organized sound,” calling himself “not a musician, but ‘a worker in rhythms,frequencies, and intensities.’(註14) Varèse equally abandoned any real interest in form, pitch, or melody. Instead, he turned to the substance of sound itself, to the exploration of timbre, color, and loudness.(註15) In place of properly musical descriptions, he characterized his compositions in richly physical terms, drawing conceptual resources from chemistry, geometry, and geography. “Thinking of form as a point of departure, a pattern to be followed, a mold to be filled,” Varèse wrote, is a mistake. “Form is a result—the result of a process,” an impersonal process that, he believed, mirrors the formation of crystals:

There is an idea, the basis of an internal structure, expanded and split into different shapes or groups of sound constantly changing in shape, direction, and speed, attracted and repulsed by various forces. The form of the work is the consequence of this interaction. Possible musical forms are as limitless as the exterior forms of crystals.(註16)

Prophetically anticipating the advent of electronic music and noise composition, Varèse wrote in 1936:

When new instruments will allow me to write music as I conceive it, the movement of sound-masses, of shifting planes, will be clearly perceived in my work, taking the place of the linear counterpoint. When these sound-masses collide, the phenomena of penetration and repulsion will seem to occur. Certain transmutations taking place on certain planes will seem to be projected onto other planes, moving at different speeds and at different angles. There will no longer be the old conception of melody or interplay of melodies. The entire work will be a melodic totality. The entire work will flow as a river flows.(註17)

Varèse’s American successors, John Cage and Morton Feldman, further deterritorialized the musical work. Cage’s major contribution was to liberate music from human subjectivity, thereby opening up the “transcendental” or “virtual” field of music.(註18) Cage insisted that music precedes and exceeds human beings. “Music is permanent,” he wrote “only listening is intermittent.”(註19) “Chance” and “silence” were his transports into this transcendental domain. “Chance”procedures allowed the composer to bypass his subjective preferences and habits in order to make way for sonic conjunctions and assemblages that were not his own, or, indeed, anybody’s (an“impersonal” and “preindividual” music, as Deleuze would call it). And “silence,” for Cage,named a sort of musical plane of immanence: not the absence of sound (an impossibility, he pointed out), but the absence of intentional sound that opens our ears to liberated sound molecules.(註20)

Feldman, too, dedicated himself to exploring this “transcendental” sonic field. Claiming no interest in musical systems, structures, or forms, Feldman tried simply to provide a space for the experience of sounds themselves: their births, lives, and deaths. “I don’t have any secret,” Feldman once remarked, “but if I do have a point of view, it’s that sounds are very much like people. And if you push them, they push you back. So, if I have a secret: don’t push the sounds around.”(註21) As a result, Feldman’s compositions (or “assemblages,” as he preferred to call them(註22)) drift, devoid of syntax or connective tissue, concerned only with the growth and decay of sounds, which glide by a different rates and speeds.(註23)


Musique Concrète and Elektronische Musik: Schiz/Flux and the Univocity of Sound

An even greater shock to the classical musical work came with the advent of electronic music in its two basic forms: musique concrète (the tape composition that emerged from Pierre Schaeffer’s Paris studio in the late 1940s) and elektronische Musik (the classic electronic music of the European and American studios established in Cologne, Milan, and Princeton during the 1950s).

Both practices bypassed musical notation and the standard chain-of-command that ran from the composer through the conductor to the performer and listener. Instead, concrète and electronic compositions were experimentally constructed in the studio by a composer who was also the sole performer. At the same time, musique concrète and elektronische Musik foregrounded the univocity of the aural plane. Recording tape effectively dissolved the distinction between “music,” “sound,”and “noise,” providing a neutral surface that could register any sound whatsoever and make it the raw material for composition. Hence, musique concrète could dispense with the entire tonal and instrumental apparatus, ignoring traditional musical sonorities and the various discrete instruments and instrumental families that produce them. The electronic signal equally affirmed the univocity of sound, folding the entire musical apparatus back onto a stream of electrons generated by an oscillator. Emerging from this univocal sonic phylum, electronic sounds are distinguished solely by speeds and slownesses, by the contraction or dilation of flows by way of filters and modulators—a fact beautifully illustrated in Stockhausen’s Kontakte, where, half way through the piece, a gurgling sweep is slowed down to the point at which it is heard as a woody pulse.

Though distinguished by the sources of their material (musique concrète works with found sounds, elektronische Musik with sounds built, or “synthesized,” from scratch), both compositional practices operated essentially by way of collage or montage: the cutting and splicing of sonic fragments to create musical assemblages. As such, they very literally model the “schiz” and“flux” that characterize Deleuze and Guattari’s “desiring machines,” those basic connections between singularities and intensities that arise from and dissolve back into the body without organs. Indeed, in relation to the highly regulated and controlled body of classical music, musique concrète and elektronische Musik are polymorphously perverse, celebrating the ability to connect any part (or sound) with any other. This is particularly evident in musique concrète, which (like its heir, turntablism) delighted in connecting, for example, piano tones and percussive knocks with the sounds of train whistles, spinning tops, pots and pans, and canal boats.(註24) As such, a musique concrète composition is what Deleuze calls a becoming or a rhizome,

a pure and dispersed anarchic multiplicity, without any unity or totality, whose elements are welded and pasted together by the real distinction or the very absence of a link.(註25)

Like Cage and Feldman, musique concrète and elektronische Musik also disclosed music’s transcendental dimension. Though they began with documentary material, musique concrète composers such as Pierre Schaeffer celebrated the fact that tape music could give access to sound itself, liberated from source or reference.(註26) Via various techniques (eliminating a sound’s attack or decay, slowing it down or speeding it up, playing it backwards, etc.), Schaeffer and others succeeded in abstracting sounds from their sources, thus eliminating all referentiality and short-circuiting the auditory habits of listeners. Their ability to do this was aided by the fact that tape music was “performed” without any visual element to speak of: no performers or instruments, just pure sonic matter emitting from loudspeakers.

As such, electronic music is often criticized as “cold,” “impersonal,” “dehumanized,”“abstract.” Indeed, these descriptions are apt. Electronic music is anti-humanist music and ought to be affirmed as such. It opens up music to something beyond the human, the subject, and the person:the veritable non-organic life of sound that precedes any actual composition or composer, the virtual realm of preindividual and prepersonal sonic singularities and affects. Rather than a music of human desire (the singer, the performer), it is a music of machinic desire: the desiring machines of music and of the musical body without organs.

[2] These interrelated terms are discussed more fully below. Rigorous definitions would take us too far afield. For the moment, suffice it to say that all of these terms are ways of describing and individuating entities from the standpoint of nature conceived as a collection of heterogeneous flows rather than from the standpoint of the stable, bounded subjects and objects that make up our ordinary ontology. For Deleuze, what is given is this univocal, fluid nature; and ordinary entities are seen as temporary accumulations or contractions of the flows and micro-particles of which Nature consists. Hence, entities (or “bodies”) are individuated in respect of their relative speeds and slownesses (the internal, kinetic relationships among the elements that compose them), their “affects” (their dynamic relationships with other entities), and the degrees of intensity (accumulations of energy, force, or power) of these affects. Deleuze often calls such fluid, event-like individuals or entities “haecceities” or “singularities,” which he opposes to stable beings, subjects, or things. We can think of music in this way too. Instead of conceiving it as a set of given entities (tones, pitches) that are articulated into scales, melodies, forms, and narratives, we can think of music more physically or materially as a heterogeneous fluid substance (the sonic phylum) that is momentarily articulated into various speeds, intensities, and affects. All music can be conceived in this way. But, as Deleuze argues—and as I argue here—certain forms of music make this more evident and palpable than others.
[3] On the “plane of immanence” and “plane of transcendence,” see Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), pp265–72 and Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), pp92ff. Manuel De Landa nicely develops the concept of the self-organizing “plane of immanence” in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (New York: Zone Books, 1997) and Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (London: Continuum Books, 2002).
[4] Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), pp8, 4.
[5] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, pp43,159ff.
[6] Spinoza’s text reads “no one has yet determined what the body can do,” and, later, “they do not know what the body can do, ”Ethics II, P, S in A Spinoza Reader, ed. and trans. Edwin Curley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp155, 156. Deleuze often refers to this text, paraphrasing it “we do not even know what a body can do.”
[7] Of course, “[y]ou never reach the Body without Organs, you can’t reach it, you are forever attaining it, it is a limit,” a regulative ideal for experimental practices. Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p150.
[8] Brian Massumi offers a nice description of this process in his User’ s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia (New York: Zone, 1992), 93ff.
[9] Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988), p127.
[10] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p267. Deleuze and Guattari refer to Reich and Glass in a footnote to this passage. A rather similar paragraph in Dialogues runs: “Some contemporary musicians have pushed to the limit the practical idea of an immanent plane which no longer has a hidden principle of organization, but where the process must be heard no less than what comes out of it; where forms are retained only to set free variations of speed between particles or molecules of sound; where themes, motifs and subjects are only retained to set free floating affects” (94; cf. 33). Indeed, when describing the “plane of immanence,” Deleuze often raises the example of music. In addition to the passages just cited, see Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, pp123, 126, 128 and Negotiations, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), p43.
[11] See Deleuze and Parnet, Dialogues, pp91, 93.
[12] Deleuze and Guattari discuss this briefly in What is Philosophy? trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchill (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), pp189–91, 195.
[13] For a short characterization of the classical work, see Robert P. Morgan, Twentieth-Century Music (New York: Norton, 1991), pp1ff. For a similar critical analysis, see Christopher Small, Music, Society, Education (Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1996) and Chris Cutler, “Necessity and Choice in Musical Forms,” in File Under Popular: Theoretical and Critical Writings on Music (New York: Autonomedia, 1993).
[14] Edgard Varèse, “The Liberation of Sound,” in Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music, Expanded Edition, ed. Elliott Schwarz and Barney Childs (New York: Da Capo, 1998), p207.
[15] See Varèse, “Liberation of Sound,” p197.
[16] Varèse, “Liberation of Sound,” p203. This is precisely how Bernhard Günter describes his own process of composition. See “Interview for The Wire”.
[17] Varèse, “Liberation of Sound,” p197. This is an astonishingly apt description of the way in which much noise composition (e.g., Merzbow, PanSonic, Fennesz, Fenn 0’ Berg) works.
[18] A composer, Cage remarked, should “give up the desire to control sound, clear his mind of music, and set about discovering means to let sounds be themselves rather than vehicles for man-made theories or expressions of human sentiments.” Cage, “Experimental Music,” in Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1973), p10. Note that, following Kant, Deleuze distinguishes the “transcendental” from “the transcendent.” The former names the conditions for the possibility of actual sensual experience, while the latter names what transcends sensual experience altogether. The description of a “transcendental” or “virtual” field that precedes the subject occupied Deleuze throughout his career, from The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), pp100–17 to “Immanence: A Life,” in Pure Immanence, trans. Anne Boyman (New York: Zone, 2001), pp25–33. In the latter text, Deleuze elaborates on the distinction between “the transcendental” and “the transcendent.”
[19] Cage, Themes & Variations (1982), in Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, ed. Paul Hoover (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994), p623. Compare Deleuze and Guattari: “music is not the privilege of human beings: the universe, the cosmos, is made of refrains.” A Thousand Plateaus, p309.
[20] “There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot,” Silence, p8. “[T]o me, the essential meaning of silence is the giving up of intention.” John Cage, in Conversing with Cage, ed. Richard Kostelanetz (New York: Limelight Editions, 1988), p189.
[21] Morton Feldman, "The Future of Local Music,” in Give My Regards to Eighth Street: Collected Writings of Morton Feldman, ed. B.H. Friedman (Cambridge, MA: Exact Change Press, 2000), pp157–58.
[22] Feldman, Give My Regards to Eighth Street, p196.
[23] I owe this fine characterization to Kyle Gann, writing on Feldman in The New York Times (February 17, 2002).
[24] Such are the sounds that make up Pierre Schaeffer’s Études de bruits (“noise studies). Pierre Schaeffer, L’Oeuvre musicale (EMF).
[25] Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, p324.
[26] See Pierre Schaeffer, Traité des objets musicaux (Paris: Éditions de Seuil, 1966), ch. IV.
See Also
Radio Enemy 002 - Christoph Cox - How Do You Make Music a Body Without Organs? ,Radio Enemy
How Do You Make Music a Body without Organs? Gilles Deleuze and Experimental Electronica ,Christoph Cox