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"Becoming-Still: Perspectives in Musical Ontology after Deleuze and Guattari"

                                            Michael Szekely

A child in the dark, gripped with fear, comforts himself by singing under his breath.  He walks and halts to his song.  Lost, he takes shelter, or orients himself with his little song as best he can.  The song is like a rough sketch of a calming and stabilizing, calm and stable, center in the heart of chaos.  Perhaps the child skips as he sings, hastens or slows his pace.  But the song itself is already a skip: it jumps from chaos to the beginnings of order in chaos and is in danger of breaking apart at any moment (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 311).


We differentiate, for the purposes of theoretical explication, but with an ear attuned to any praxeological ramifications, between the musical space and making-music.   Musical space is better initially apprehended as a paradigm rather than as a totality.  With all the technical implements, imaginative intuitions, and methodological strategies, the performer is situated within a musical space.  There is not yet any ambition here – only an as yet open territory of possibility.   But in a musical space this territory is agitated.  The performer simply finds herself there: will she be trapped or will she be still?  To an extent, this very question involves a tension within making-music.  For making-music will either psychologize itself into a motivation toward aesthetic value structures or become dissolved, albeit with discontinuous agitations, into a smooth surface.  Will the performer be ambitious or will she become…?

Starting from the forms one has, the subject one is, the organs one has, or the functions one fulfills, becoming is to extract particles between which one establishes the relations of movement and rest, speed and slowness that are closest to that which one is becoming, and through which one becomes .


Becoming-music is defined by the trajectory from making-music to the musical space, but this trajectory operates as a break.  Making-music gives itself ecstatically over to the musical space.   There is indeed a momentary sense of emptiness here, or, better yet, of numbness, but it is perhaps better described as a fullness-to-explosion.  Fullness-to-explosion is precisely the confrontation between the totality of historied having-to-do-with-music strata and the paradigm of a musical space.

One opens the circle not on the side where the old forces of chaos press against it but in another region, one created by the circle itself .


            There is some truth to an adage amongst some musicians that one learns everything about music, about music-making, in order to “unlearn” it.  If the above trajectory from making-music to the music space were “full,” it would mark the performer attempting to remember all that she has learned, to utilize efficient memory instead of desirous forgetting – short-term memory, forgetting as a process – precisely in order to “create” a musical space.  With the same result, if the above trajectory from making-music to the musical space were “empty,” it would mark the performer feeling as though she has not learned enough.  “Becoming is an antimemory” .
But is there a reverse trajectory – that is, from a musical space to making-music? 
In one sense, it would simply be the depletion of what we have described thus far:
the musical space is in some way questioned as to its fullness, or emptiness, reterritorialized in order to “make this music.”  Thus, the totality of historied having-to-do-with-music strata resurfaces in some form, and the performer objectifies the musical space in order to “make” music; the musical space exists merely as an opportunity for making-music.  Now, superficially, this is true – that is, “musical space” does have the connotation of something created beforehand, e.g., via categorization, instrumentation, and configuration (duo, trio, quartet, quintet, orchestra), venue, and audience, expected or presently gathered.  It would be said that all of these “contribute” to the actual performance; and that the performer especially is well-aware of them.  However, these might better be described as a way of making-music “outside” of the making-music in the performance.  They constitute the discourses and social conditions of music as an historical entity.  Indeed, we make most of our music outside of picking up any instruments.  Music is prostituted in this way; one need not play music in order to play at making music.  Thus, in the case of music the discourses and social conditions coincide with how we imagine it to participate culturally, and how we imagine our cultures to participate in it.  But here too there is a break: expectations of music will never be completely fulfilled.  It is a matter of gradations, of the intensity of such expectations.  So, within a somewhat superficial field our playing-at-making-music is indeed a kind of “musical space,” a savoir of music.  Of course, there are other intensities present in a performance.

            There are intensities of expectation constituted by the savoir of music, but the suggestion that they will never be completely fulfilled entails precisely that they will be uprooted, then left, or changed – which is to say, deterritorialized: intensities of expectation becoming performance intensities.  Once again, there is no “outlook” for these intensities, and certainly no judgment.  There is no outlook, i.e., of intensities of expectation affecting the performance “negatively” or “positively.”  For it is by way of an event that they affect the musical space at all.  There is no judgment, i.e., of the performance being “bad” or “good” from having been affected by intensities of expectation.  For if we wonder at this we are simply playing at music, resisting the musical space.   Fair enough.  But what of a recording?  This would seem to present a slightly different problematic.

            Certainly it could be argued that, although one performance of Edgar Varese’s “Ameriques” will nonetheless be different from the next, that one performance of “Ameriques” which is “captured” by a recording is available to us again and again as the “same” performance, not just the same notes, but the same attacks, the same inflections, the same rhythmic and temporal milieu.   The problem with this example, as an objection to what we have said about performance, is that in order to make it an objection one must paradoxically deny somewhat the musical space of this performance of “Ameriques,” looking instead to the savoir inevitably built-up around this recording’s performance, and the piece itself.  We tend to rely too much upon what “grows” on us as “moments” of the performance we do or do not enjoy.  We rely upon things about which we are value-neutral, but which we can nonetheless anticipate again and again, whenever we slip this recording, this “immortalization” of “Ameriques” into our player.  Still, we somehow cheat the musical space “Ameriques” creates – thus cheating our own experience of it each time – by letting its immortalization collapse solely into the savoir built so readily around it.  Actually, we make “Ameriques” an arborescent structure, a totality, a hierarchy of moments, by rooting it in a recording.  We stop listening to it.  Our expectational intensities have been, if not completely fulfilled, directed toward “what I will hear,” generally, and “what will happen here,” specifically, in the music.  In a recording, even more so than in a performance, the intensities of a performance requires more deterritorializing impetus.  In a performance, our expectational intensities are more and more transformed by intensities of performance simply by the musical space in which we find ourselves, insofar as there is fullness-to-explosion.  In a recording, however, intensities, even expectational ones, are increasingly rooted, as we have suggested, as we come to “learn” the recording.  In a performance, we are inevitably deterritorialized, at least initially, at whatever gradation our intensities of expectation at the onset.  In a recording, however, we are inevitably handed a reterritorializing card.  Recording is a recoding.  With a recording there is a tendency to not only recodify the music, but to recodify ourselves in the process.  If we can acknowledge that each time we listen to this particular recorded performance of Varese’s “Ameriques” the music, through whatever intensities and discoveries enthusing us, is not the same, not phenomenologically-in-itself, not the sum of its sounds (in essence, potentially decoding), then the same must be true for ourselves.  We bring the difference and singularity of our lives to the operating table each and every time we experience even that same (i.e., recorded) performance of “Ameriques.”  This speaks of us more generally that we experience any music at every turn improvisationally.  This speaks of music that it is essentially deterritorializing.

            Now, we will still look to the savoir surrounding Varese’s piece and find that the methods, techniques, and approaches involved are not at all “improvisational,” as they are in improvisational jazz, for example.  However, what are these methods, techniques, and approaches but precisely that which constitute the savoir built-up around Varese’s “Ameriques”?   Indeed, it should strike us as odd that such aspects of certain types of music have stood as the inventory for various Western cultural elites as to why improvisational jazz, which is said to lack these aspects, is not as “serious” a music.  First of all, if it is to be at all acknowledged that improvisational jazz does implement methods, techniques, and approaches, only perhaps not necessarily the same ones as Western classical music, then the challenge is based on an arbitrary distinction regarding which aspects constitute seriousness.  More profound, however, is the fact that, even here, we can only make the claim against “Ameriques”-as-improvisation from outside the musical space created by the music, outside of the endlessly different musical spaces created every time we experience the music.  Still, one might insist, “Ameriques” is a composed piece; the players read from a score; there is no interpretation involved.  Let us move backwards through this objection.

            Firstly, no interpretation?  Would we actually have the audacity to assert that there is an “original” version of the Varese piece?  What is this original?  The score?  Whose scoring of it?  Varese’s own?  The Boosey and Hawkes’ printing of it?  A particular recording perhaps?  Whose performance of it?  The Ensemble Modern conducted by Ingo Metzmacher?  The Ensemble Intercontemporain conducted by Pierre Boulez?  You get the idea.

            Secondly, what after all is a score?  If we insist on asking the question this way, we run into some interesting but ultimately futile discussion, trying to negotiate the balance between the real and the virtual, the sound and the image, the action and the symbol.  Here we are deducing the having-to-do-with-music.  But a musical space strikes us, upon ecstatic induction, as already virtual reality, as sound-image, as symbolic action.   So, instead, we might ask the question, “How after all goes a score?”  We can discover this only by playing it: “I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later” (Miles Davis).  A score is not a way to “create” a musical space.  Playing a score is a musical space.   Simply apprehending a score implies precisely the arborescence of rooting music in that score, whereas a musical space implies the nomadism of playing.  Alas, we do more than “interpret” a score; we experiment with it, from it.  When we come to the “composed” elements, then, we see yet again a break – a break in methods, techniques, and approaches:

1)      from composer to composition – an urge-writing improvisation.

2)      from score to performer – a symbolic-interpretive improvisation.

3)      from performer to the air, to the world – a sound-release improvisation.

Now, the question of how and when these operations occur is a question for every

musical space, occurring with different multiplicities of intensities, with different interest, within different capacities and contexts.  Choosing to compose one note against another, indeed to compose one note instead of no note, is to make an improvisational choice.  Choosing to play just so soft when you see “ppp” written in a score is to make an improvisational choice.  But here still we must speak of the gradations of experiencing a musical space, of gradations as regards ways of improvising a musical space.

            As it turns out, that which we say of the performer is to be said of the listener is to be said of the composer, etc.  We say “spectrum-modes” to emphasize the praxeological anarchy of these various lines of flight to and from music, a resistance to their hierarchizing tendencies, even as is possible merely in the theoretical explication of them.  For we are tempted by the savoir of music in which we are situated to apprehend these as more and more specialized, a broader to thinner, as larger to smaller, when in fact they all negotiate their own spectrum, which may or may not involve these types of trajectories.  Experiencing-improvising music is playing, is listening in it, is composing it, is thinking it, is reading it.

One launches forth, hazards an improvisation.  But to improvise is to join with the World, or meld with it.   One ventures from home on the thread of a tune .


            We are at any point engaged in any or all of the above spectrum-modes.   But it would be significant, of course, if we were to say essentially the opposite – that is, that we are but one of these spectrum-modes, or none of them at all.

            The former marks the schizophrenic musician.  Albeit with intensities that always have the potential to be oriented toward a certain spectrum-mode at the expense of any others, she nonetheless extended outward from the musical space in which she has been (de)territorialized.  She extends her ear outward to listen in the musical space, an ear swallowed by the musical space.  She extends her lips and her limbs, her bowels and her groin, outward to play in the musical space, a playing situated in the musical space, as it is given force by it.  She extends her hand-brain outward to compose on a blank page, a page that acts like a fetish.  She extends her sound-thoughts outward to think in the musical space.

            However, the initial, “given,” (de)territorialization is not at all enough for the schizophrenic musician.  Although it was in resisting the reterritorializing strains possible in any musical space that she extended outward to become any number of spectrum-modes (e.g., as performer-becoming-listener, as listener-becoming-thinker, as thinker-becoming-composer, as composer-becoming-performer), the schizophrenic musician ultimately stretches to extend so far outward as to touch the impossible.  Her desire for a completely smooth, flattened, musical space from which she would be all but indistinguishable is so positive that she will risk herself again and again, becoming-music to the point of stillness.  Somehow, like the musical space in which she finds herself simply by playing, this stillness toward which she ultimately extends herself seems inexorably attached to her desire, presenced simply by her desiring.  She desires to extend so far that she would even defy extension: “…spatium not extension, Zero intensity as principle of production”.

            The paranoid musician is concerned with isolating, or obliterating, spectrum-modes.  Albeit with expectational intensities that could just as easily become performance intensities, she nonetheless retracts her ear inward to listen for the music-making, an ear straining to listen for “things” in the music.  She retracts her lips and her limbs, her bowels and her groin, inward to play at music-making, a playing-at situated outside the musical space, as it attempts with such defeated precision to force a musical space, to create it.  She retracts her hand-brain inward to control the musical space by composing on a blank page, a page she imagines already written, already played, already heard – a page which is truly blank.  She retracts her sound-thoughts inward to think about music, to play at the having-to-do-with-music, to trace her knowledge of its strata: “The map has to do with performance, whereas tracing always involves an alleged ‘competence’”.  The paranoid musician is the one who consistently looks to the savoir of music, who consistently describes music in terms of methods, techniques, and approaches, who consistently asks, “Did you hear this in the music?” or “How will I play this type of music?”  Of course, some discourse is unavoidable.  Even a multiplicity of performance intensities could be said to activate discourses, and somehow, as we have suggested, the savoir of music can slip into even the smoothest, flattest, musical space imaginable.

            Still, the schizophrenic musician – like the avant-garde artist, the surrealist, who forced the confrontation between art-as-institution and art-as-life praxis – has some desire, enough so that she may let go, parody, transform, deterritorialize the savoir, sabotage the discourse.  It is the opposite with the paranoid musician.  She uses discourse to sabotage the musical space, uses the savoir to reterritorialize performance intensities into expectational ones, attempts to form a musical space by making-music, attempts to redirect subversions, attempts to grab onto a territory.   But “there is a territory precisely when milieu components cease to be directional, becoming dimensional instead, when they cease to be functional to become expressive.   There is a territory when the rhythm has expressiveness” (315, my emphasis).

            The generative activity of a musical space is precisely such that there is a sense of singularities (i.e., events occurring at an extremely localized level) that just were and singularities that are not just yet.   Our schizophrenic musician “gets on the train” of these singularities, blowing them up into sustained intensities.

…as the work develops, the motifs increasingly enter into conjunction, conquer their own plane, become autonomous from the dramatic action, impulses, and situations…(319).


            A tone, for example, is not only generative in that it always stands in relation to other tones, or groupings of tones, which move through the musical space, but because its duration, attack, and inflection propel that tones and other tones forward.  A tone is not a note, or, a tone is not merely a note, or, a tone is a more subtle, profound, acute quality of a note (either of these could suffice).  We are tempted to describe tones the same way in which we describe notes.   Indeed, “duration,” “attack,” and “inflection,” are all terms which have meaning as regards directives for making-music – i.e., how to play at that note, how to listen to that note, how to compose that note, etc.  But notes remain functional.  Even beyond their ultimately arbitrary designations (“C#,” “F,” “Gb,” “B”), they can exist only in the having-to-do-with-music, only in the discourses of music, only as regards the savoir of music.  Notes thrown into a multiplicity of performance intensities – whether played or read from a score – inevitably lose their functionality and become dissolved into the musical space, disseminated into the performative territory, arousing perhaps newer “functions” which, far from being grounding attributes, are immanently deterritorializing.  They become affective.  They become tones.  Moreover, this becoming does not express a one-to-one relation: a note does not become a tone, but is already a multiplicity of tones.  [Even if we choose to play at music in terms of notes, we find that a note is of course experienced differently depending on where, how, why, on what, from what, through what, it is played].  If notes are to constitute the “material” of making-music, tones constitute the sensations felt within a musical space.

Every sensation is a question, even if the only answer is silence
(What is Philosophy?, 196).


            So, not only notes, but all methods, techniques, and approaches brought to a musical space become sensation in some way, become multiplicities of sensations.   Now, for the sake of our theoretical explication, could we say that these sensations are essentially singularities, or, more commonly, that they constitute “moments”?  Well, first of all, we know that an analogous relationship between notes and intensities would be incorrect, though tempting.  In some sense notes and intensities are not only categorically contrasting – the former savoiric, the latter performative – but functionally contrasting.  The former are “broken down” into tones, whereas the latter are “built up” from singularities.  But we might also say that sensations are both more pervasive and more acute than singularities.  Singularities mark a more present-at-hand, active becoming, while sensations mark a passive becoming, underlying our experience.  Active becoming of singularities: the circulation of desiring-music.  Passive becoming of sensations: the blood of desiring-music.

            Meanwhile, it must be remembered that although a train is “confined” to a track, a pattern, a direction, it nonetheless moves ahead.  The trajectory of the train moves through the instantaneously changing content of the world.  Although there is an effort to expand a singular occurrence, to convert it, the rhythmic-horizontal plane upon which that occurrence is resituated nonetheless moves through an invariably changing chaotic-vertical plane (we may call these the two planar tendencies within the plane of a musical space).   The musical space becomes surreal: the result being exemplary of a meeting between chance and necessity (le hazard objectif).

What chaos and rhythm have in common is the in-between – between two milieus, rhythm-cosmos or the chaosmos…In this in-between, chaos becomes rhythm, not inexorably, but it has a chance to (ATP, 313).


            Ultimately, there is involved at any point in a musical space a kind of phenomenological “horizon” of sorts, with an Husserlian emphasis on retention on one end and a Heideggerian emphasis on protention on the other end.  Schizophrenic music is in a sense the ecstatic becoming in-between these ends.  The flattened stillness of the musical space mentioned above is approached the more and more agitated this ecstasy becomes.  Now, it should strike us as a somewhat paranoid, reterritorializing tendency to fabricate a build-up of intensities from a singular occurrence.  Indeed, it would seem to be exemplary of making-music, of looking to the having-to-do-with-music, of trying to create a musical space, or at least create a “moment” in a musical space.  For in order to engage this one must step away from the musical space and toward making-music.   Alas, our suspicions are not unfounded: reterritorialization will inevitably happen in performance.  Points of convergence will be contrived at times.  However, from what has been said about the meeting of rhythmic-horizontals and chaotic-verticals, we find that there is the stubborn deterritorializing tendency of a musical space which forces any attempt at making-music into a multiplicity of performance intensities.  We may say that it forces a line.

A line of becoming is not defined by the points that it connects, or by the points that compose it; on the contrary, it passes between points, it comes up through the middle, it runs perpendicular to the points first perceived, transversally to the localizable relation to distant or contiguous points.


            In a musical space there is no intention, only retention, protention, ecstasy.  A truly depleted paranoid making-music, whether in performance or not, would involve merely retention.  Even repetition, firmly placed in the savoir of various types of music, whether more or less manifest (more in the minimalism and “phase” music of Terry Riley and Steve Reich, for example; less in most improvisational jazz), and seemingly based on retention, is nonetheless made sheer difference by its protention.  In repetition, a protention-diagonal cuts through and across the rhythmic-horizontal and chaotic-vertical.  Indeed, a rubbing between repetition and time, between repetition and becoming, marks the sheer difference in repetition.  For instance, the balalaika player who effortlessly repeats that one note in the context of a flowing, almost rubatoesque, melodicism, approaches something ecstatic.   Indeed, she approaches the smooth surface of a musical space, perhaps even more differentiated in this case for the fact that, unlike an instrument with a natural sustaining mechanism, or even a stringed instrument with a bow, a note on the balalaika is sustained only by repeated attacks.  So, one is “aware” of the repetitions, the repeated attacks, while becoming increasingly “unaware” of them over time.  Repetition is a paradoxical breeding ground of sorts.  On the one hand, when engaged in a musical space it is present so unabashedly that it easily risks reterritorialization; it can be sustained, or “taken up” again and again, for effect, for usefulness.  On the other hand, when engaged in a musical space, it forever deterritorializes, cutting abruptly through the meat of the chaos while simultaneously retaining the chaotic flows – a sudden shift barely felt.

Repetition is truly that which disguises itself in constituting itself, that which constitutes itself only by disguising itself.  It is not underneath the masks, but is formed from one mask to another, as though from one distinctive point to another, from one privileged instant to another, with and within the variations (Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 17).


            A “repeated” rhythm is not a repeated sameness, but is always rhythm differentiated, always potentially “poly-rhythmic,” precisely because repetition thrusts it against time, even against its own weave of forces, accents, and intensities.  In contrast to cadence and metricality, repetition and rhythm mark the kind of “unbalanced” quality of a musical space.  They express the production of difference in a musical space, which may, paradoxically, be expressed in terms of cadence and metricality, which may, in turn, differentiate the pulse of the musical space even further, and so on: “…a period exists only in so far as it is determined by a tonic accent, commanded by intensities.   Yet we would be mistaken about the function of accents if we said that they were reproduced at equal intervals.  On the contrary, tonic and intensive values act by creating inequalities or incommensurabilities between metrically equivalent period or spaces…Here again, the unequal is the most positive element.  Cadence is only the envelope of a rhythm, and of a relation between rhythms”.

            We tend to think of repetition in terms of continuity, and there may be some truth to this assumption.  Alas, we experience it as a very distinct quality occurring in the musical over time, and in a certain way.  But this assessment of repetition is isolatable only for a paranoid reception of a musical space, only for a one-dimensional (if at all dimensional!) critique, only for someone who insists upon asking, “How exactly is repetition functioning here?”  Assessing repetition in this way represents it – but this endeavor denies the fact of repetition’s presencing: “…within representation, repetition is indeed forced to undo itself even as it occurs.  Or rather, it does not occur at all.  Repetition in itself cannot occur under these conditions”.   Representation is a way of paranoia, added to difference but reducing it to sameness.  Repetition is a way of schizophrenia, an anarchic, infinitely primary affectation that is expressed through difference.

There is…nothing repeated which may be isolated or abstracted from the repetition in which it was formed, but in which it is also hidden.  There is no bare repetition…


            Meanwhile, the affectation of repetition is happening elsewhere and everywhere, its emergence has already taken to its subversive, deterritorializing flight and spread like a virus.  Repetition is infinitely more generative than cumulative, more regeneration than reiteration, more an arouser of difference than a sponge of sameness.  What we hear is never the same, at any instant, but infinitesimally different and infinitely repetitive.  Repetition: build-up of intensities: fullness-to-explosion: ecstasy: (stillness).



Deleuze, Gilles, Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia University

            Press, 1994).

Deleuze, Gilles, Negotiations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995).

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis:

            University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy? (New York:

            Columbia University Press, 1994).



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