While attention has been paid to the role that the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze (1925–95) can play in theorizing music since as early as the 1970s, what had been a loose grouping of diverse approaches has recently taken the form of a distinct strand of musical research. Following the work of Edward Campbell’s Music after Deleuze (London, 2013) especially, musical research has witnessed what has been termed a ‘Deleuzian Turn’ (Music’s Immanent Future: The Deleuzian Turn in Music Studies, ed. Sally Macarthur, Judy Lochhead, and Jennifer Shaw (London, 2016)). An increasing number of musicologists have joined the many scholars across the humanities who have looked to the experimental, fluid, transformative concepts Deleuze develops, both in his individual writings and his collaborations with the psychoanalyst and activist Félix Guattari, in order to develop new approaches to their research. The use of Deleuze in musical research is often posed as an attempt to move beyond the presuppositions that underpin traditional scholarly approaches to music. The project of Musical Encounters with Deleuze and Guattari is presented in a somewhat different manner. In their informative introduction to the volume, Moisala, Leppänen, Tiainen, and Väätäinen make clear that the essays are not to be thought of as the imposition of a philosophical system from above, but as a dialogue. Not only do they insist upon a reciprocity between the interpretative models drawn from Deleuze and Guattari’s thought and the musical and sounding processes to which they are applied (p. 1), but they also stress that if there has been a ‘Deleuzian Turn’, the work it has produced is not sui generis—indeed it exhibits a certain continuity with ongoing strands of critical musical research, especially in cultural musicology and ethnomusicology (p. 21). This is a more modest proposal than some other instances of Deleuzian work on music, then, yet not one that leaves the foundations of musical research untouched. This is evident in how a Deleuze-inflected language is used to frame the ten essays presented in this volume—a language of ‘encounters’, ‘events’, ‘experiments’. While these need not imply ‘grand revelations or breaks with the past’ (p. 6), we nevertheless find significant challenges to the perceived assumptions and limits of music scholarship, traditional and otherwise. Perhaps the most notable example of this comes through the sustained engagement across this volume with Christopher Small’s thesis of Musicking (Middletown, Conn., 1998). Small’s emphasis on the contribution that any and every actor within a performing situation can make to the performance is here affirmed, but, through Deleuze and Guattari, numerous critical engagements with and expansions of the idea are developed. This derives, in the first instance, from Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the assemblage—a constellation of heterogeneous components, brought together into a relative stability that is nonetheless always provisional and productive. In the assemblage, the theorists here find the opportunity to extend and enrich the idea of musicking. Marie Thompson, in one of the most theoretically illuminating essays, draws from Deleuze’s interpretation of the seventeenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza, and in particular from another key Deleuze–Guattari concept deployed across this volume, that of affect, in an attempt to move beyond the binary of active musicking subjects and passive musical objects she finds in Small’s notion of musicking. By making Spinoza’s maxim that ‘we do not know what the body can do’ central to her analysis of experimental music, Thompson shows how the assemblage can expand our understanding of musicking beyond human actors towards the possibility of a non-human musicking in which instruments, media technologies, and environments are equally considered as active and affective components of the musicking process. For Thompson, the non-anthropomorphic notion of the affective body that Deleuze offers us via Spinoza provides the basis for ‘a materialist account of experimental musical praxis’ (p. 150). Likewise, in Milla Tiainen’s analysis of Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta’s The Algae Opera, the assemblage is used to articulate how the relations that hold between the ‘artifactual, technological, social, sonic, alimentary, human bodily and non-organic’ (p. 88) elements that make up this piece are themselves productive. With the assemblage, Tiainen demonstrates that we find a notion of relationality that brings into existence something which was not within and could not have been predicted through the elements brought into relation with each other. By elaborating on this point, Tiainen shows how this performance’s system of singer, technology, and algae feeding on the singer’s breath cannot be understood in terms of a technological domination of nature, but only as exhibiting a complex ecological sustainability, seen in how each aspect is mutually shaped by the assemblage of which it is a part—as, for example, in how the singer was pushed to transgress traditional notions of vocal beauty and sustainability for the benefit of the system as a whole. Tiainen’s chapter shares many of the strengths of Thompson’s, both carefully examining a specific aspect of a concept drawn from Deleuze and Guattari and elaborating on the effects this might have on our understanding of musical practices and situations. For the reader less initiated in the work of Deleuze and Guattari, this is of the greatest benefit: alongside the editor’s introduction, these two essays set a clear context for how Deleuze and Guattari’s thought can be used to engage with music both with and against the grain of ongoing research. Taru Leppänen, in her study of the Finnish Deaf hip-hop artist Signmark, elaborates further on the transformative capacities implicit in the assemblage by considering another important Deleuze–Guattari concept, becoming, understood as a form of transformation not conceptually determined by origin or goal but by the character of the transformation itself. For Leppänen, central to the form of musicking that Signmark develops is a sense of unpredictability in who or what gets to participate in this musicking, and how. In so doing, Leppänen argues, Signmark’s work produces a dynamic relation between non-Deaf and Deaf to challenge audist premisses in the understanding of music. Pirkko Moisala also emphasizes becoming while drawing Deleuze and Guattari into her forty years of ethnographic and ethnomusicological work on musical practices in the Nepalese village of Klinu. Analysing how the recent phenomenon of women giving musical performances has contributed to transforming the village’s social order and even the form of its gender categories, Moisala counters the ideas of unification that often accompany ethnomusicological thought on the construction of identity by indicating the importance of viewing such performances as events. As an event, it is not only the components of a performance that are important, but even more so its capacities to enact change. Such a notion is key also to Michelle Duffy’s critical engagement with Small’s musicking. Looking at Images of Home, a community project and sound-art piece produced with the children of a fast-growing Australian township, Duffy affirms Small’s emphasis on the specificity of performance contexts. Yet in seeking to show how these children not only describe their space, but also negotiate their place within it and attempt to rework it, Duffy argues that Small’s musicking ‘operates within existing structures of power’ (p. 190). Understanding Images of Home instead through the assemblage, Duffy argues, indicates a musicking that brings to light the destabilizing and transformative capacities of its actors. While the editorial introduction notes the slowness of musicology in recognizing the impact of social factors, we see here that Deleuzian musical research has emerged with such concerns intrinsic to it. Though in some ways this work represents a continuation of cultural musicology and related fields, there are crucial distinctions to be made. Sally Macarthur’s study of Moya Henderson’s Rinse Cycle, for example, urges a move beyond the identity politics and calls for representation that she argues characterizes much feminist practice within music circles. In addition to the more traditional negative construction of woman as other to man, Macarthur finds in Rinse Cycle a ‘Henderson-machine’, combining music, theatre, and text as well as the social context of gender, in a way that experimentally tests the boundaries between them and seeks lines of flight out of them. Jay Hammond’s ethnographic work with the jazz drummer David Pleasant similarly sees in Pleasant’s music, read alongside Deleuze and Guattari, an approach to anti-racist scholarship that can understand race through ‘materiality, the body and creative expression’, rather than only social construction (pp. 67–8). Hammond’s essay, however, perhaps more than any other in this volume, both utilizes and challenges the thought of Deleuze and Guattari. For Hammond, Pleasant’s use of the polyrhythms of Gullah-Geechee music questions Deleuze and Guattari’s criticisms of metrical time and more widely their resistance to quantification—a matter that for Deleuze and Guattari runs deep into the ontological stakes of their project. In making this challenge, Hammond seeks to deploy historical narratives in a way that Deleuze and Guattari tend to resist, and to develop a notion of race that accommodates both the materialism that is prominent throughout this volume and a discursive, historical articulation. This points to a question that runs through the essays here, and through music scholarship that draws on Deleuze and Guattari more generally. While Hammond is among those who stress that the discursive or semiotic realm cannot be left behind, nevertheless the materialism we see drawn from Deleuze and Guattari can often seem troublingly at odds with the engagement with social and political forms we find in the cultural musicology with which it is here said to be contiguous. For example, while Janne Vanhanen’s reading of John Cage and Pauline Oliveros through his notion of the ‘Inorganized Ear’ offers some keen insights into the challenges these composers pose to musical tradition, its grounding in a physicalist materialism suggests what can feel like an unbridgeable gap between this kind of musicking and political concerns. Vanhanen’s essay also points towards avenues of potential Deleuzian musical research left largely untouched, which I would be intrigued to see developed in dialogue with those present in this volume. Noting Deleuze’s remarks that while painting concerns the body, music involves a kind of disembodiment and dematerialization, Vanhanen goes on to critically associate this notion with the unearthly transcendence that traditional ideas of music have often posited (pp. 184–5). This is not a criticism of Deleuze that should go unconsidered, and there is perhaps more to be said on this topic. Certainly Deleuze’s use of the Stoic theory of incorporeals in The Logic of Sense (New York, 1990) and his remarks in Difference and Repetition (New York and London, 1994) on the stark and static nature of material repetition are far from reasserting a traditional Platonic transcendence, and indeed are formulated as challenges to any such notion. An encounter between this aspect of Deleuze and the Deleuzian materialism investigated across this volume could be a greatly fruitful one. That these questions about opening the field of Deleuzian musical research arise indicates the depth of what Deleuze and Guattari offer to music scholars. This volume already covers an impressive span of work—Deleuze and Guattari are drawn on to put music into productive contact with, to name but a few fields, feminist theory, disability studies, environmental studies, ethnography, new materialisms, and, elsewhere in this volume, queer studies and dance research. We can equally envisage other fields of musical research, more and less traditional, being subject to such an encounter. The authors of this volume set a fine precedent for how such work should be conducted. We have seen how through Deleuze and Guattari the concept of musicking can be expanded beyond its initial formulation, and perhaps in this we see the greatest contribution that Deleuze and Guattari can make to musical research: to span and draw together disparate lines of enquiry in unpredictable and mutually enriching ways, to reveal unforeseen capacities in our methods and our objects of inquiry, and to open the field of musical research as a whole to transformative encounters with its outside. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Music and Letters – Oxford University Press
Published: May 15, 2018
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