In this essay we try to explore non-representationalism in music, which has to be connected to the question of non-representational aesthetics. The philosophers of immanence – Deleuze/Guattari and Laruelle – have something in common: Since the mid- 1980s they reject the discourses and techniques of post-structuralist interpretation of music and art in favor of constructing an aesthetics rooted in immanence and non-representationalism. Deleuze/Guattari work on the problem how the relationship between immanence and multiplicity could be thought. They describe a world of pure multiplicity in which all multiplicities are equally immanent und include immanent transformations within a given set of virtualities. Multiplicities actualize themselves as occasions/events or as blips of singularity in heterogeneous assemblages. In this way the transcendental must get immanent, which means, that the universe is not digital at its core, but analog. Deleuze/Guattari and Laruelle agree, that representational aesthetics has come to an end, but they do not agree on what form immanence should take in aesthetics. While Deleuze/Guattari prefer the productive capacity of matter, Laruelle insists on the immanent and generic logic of the Real/One.
For Deleuze/Guattari is one of the guiding questions in „music“, if the unformed can be heard as sound within the framework of the audible or music. But the unformed is not noise. So another question is, if there exists a passage between sound and noise, made possible by musical events (not music). When deterritorialisation brings a long a de-structuration of the articulated sound, which is a kind of deterritorialised and reterritorialised noise, this implies a state of the unformed that is still audible, but definitely not as organised music; such kind of „music“ or the audible is no more a representation or mimesis, but a becoming. For Deleuze/Guattari such (unformed) sound-becomings takes place within a three dimensional floating space (rhizom) rather than in a two-dimensional, vectorial one.
In his current period Laruelle is in search for a quantum thought, that is free from its mathematical expression, that he finds reductive. One of quantum thoughts principle is „superposition“ or the standing wave of rhythmic superposition, a kind of concept, that resonates somehow with the work by Lefebvre, Deleuze, Stengers, and Whitehead, but also with recent sound studies. The Laruellian concept of “superposition” neglects two treatments of sonic thought, so to invent sonic thinking as non-representation (that is, thinking sonically rather than about sound). Laruelle illustrates an incommensurability of sound’s closure, hermetically seperated from other material, theories; and he illustrates an incommensurability of the relation and exchange of sound, which is porous enough to permit heterogeneous assemblages without imposing them. While closure includes representation as thinking about sound, permanent exchange between sound and thought tends to confusion as it converts or even fuses thinking and sound. This con-fusion reflects the belief of experimental electronic music in its first period (from Russolo through Schaeffer and classic musique concrète) that everything in the world is musical, an unrecognized belief associated with what Jarrod Fowler calls the Principle of Musical Sufficiency.(1) Non-musicology by contrast breaks with the idea that everything is musical and develops a science of music as well as a „music“ related to science (e.g., Xenakis’ use of stochastic processes). For Fowler, “the program of Non-musicology is to use musicology to construct alien theories without those theories being yielded by the Principle of Musical Sufficiency: ‘All is not musical, this is our news.“ (2)
Sonic thought or Non-musicology composes theory as its own object and therefore delivers a kind of echo to the work of the muscians, to their way of the becoming-of-music. Laruelle starts to write a new music-fiction.
What is noise? The conception of noise under the aspect of irreversibility is associated to a logic of radical contingency. On one side noise is observer relative, so it may be measured by systems according to their degree of randomness, their algorithmic functions, on the other side noise is observer independent, as radical contingency or hyperchaos noise exceeds human capacity of perception for capturing it as a phenomenal information. The definition of noise as failure or disturbance presupposes the position of an objectivized ideal in and of science, to exclude noise and the composition of noise, thus thinking the Real always as a correlate of thought. Here we are already in the middle of the problematic of Laruelles Non-musicology, which situates music as a poduct of science, their methods of numerical measure (as material), and (which is more important) as the construction of some kind of audible non-order, which might be not measurable. Non-musicology starts on this plane as a different treatment of music and experimental science, breaking with the idea, that everything is musical and therefore developing a science of „music“, which does not become science itself. The infiltration of Non-musicology into musicology means the mutation of music using scientific methods to investigate a pluralism and hybridisation in a generic science, which does not comment musical objects in a reflective way, but concentrates them around a problem, of that Laruelle has had in his early phase no idea, but that musicians had already generated.
Non-musicology breaks not only with musical self-sufficiency or structured science of music, but also articulates another break that does not so much involve a new subversive immersion of the audience into the conditions of hearing as it leads to the ecological anticause, what Fowler calls a different hearing-in-Rhythm, which is identical with Rhythm insofar as Rhythm is different from metrics and recurrence.
What is Rhythm? First, Rhythm is a temporally extended pattern that can be described by information-processing systems through several parameters summarized by Inigo Wilkins: spatial, temporal, amplitude, frequency and superposition. (3) While processing systems involve an observer-dependent reality of Rhythm, it is possible to discover the existence of Rhythms that are beyond human sensory perceptual capacities through technology, math, and science. Second, it has to be asked whether or not there is a simple opposition between noise and Rhythm. The answer is no, because we can define Rhythm as the relation of identifiable and unidentifiable processes that allow the incommensurable chaos to pass into an order of difference, a degree or quantity of non-linear and non-rhythmic noise. Rhythm may exist at many degrees of dynamics and magnitude. It may emerge from noise, whereby the simulation of noise through stochastic processes demonstrates that the process of the enfolding of Rhythm and signals offers a large quantity of heterogeneous movements occurring at different time scales and frequencies. But still noise has a larger dynamics and magnitude than Rhythm. Noise is foreclosed to rhythm, to sound and music, to any ontological or epistemological theory.
If Rhythm is distinct from metrics, we enter the field of non-frequency politics, the politics of productive difference, which includes the fact, that Rhythm is distinct from science, and therefore non-musicians us science and music as pure material. Here, they also start to reduce discourses of philosophy to pure material to achieve – always in interaction with hearing-in-rhythm – pulse “rhythmights.” Parallel to the objects of non-musicians an unified and non-representational theory or a music-fiction has to simulate philosophy and to catch for the essence of music-being and the fractal-being of musical objects, and yet treat them through hypothesis, deduction and experimental tests.
The non-musicological term invented by Fowler, “rhythmight”, opens up to experimental methods of rhythm production: we can now speak of Rhythm in terms of non-periodic pulsed or clicked music. We find here transversal disjunctions, heterogeneous temporalities and spatial components, that overlap and coexist in a track; in the invincible evidence of its short signal and contextless reference, the click opens various potentials to move on without giving any noticeable association. Through the concatenation of signs something like indetermination starts to be indicated, whereby failure can become part of music. Failure is not an inscribed meaning in clicks and cuts, but rather a referential that indicates possibilities of previous and emerging sign concatenations. In the nameless “in between,” meaning is constructed with the help of signs that are not what they pretend to be.Through reference to other signs, a momentum of meaning is produced, because a sign like the click realizes différance, suspended presence, while also referring to signs to come. Similarly, the pulse can be understood as an inherent stress that falls on certain metrics or beats. While listening to the clock, one might hear “tick-tock” instead of “tick-tick,” because every other beat is more stressed than the beat before. This repeating stress is the pulse; and in music different sorts of pulses can be overlapped and constructed by grouping beats together in different milieus or patterns. The technique of inhuman music forces a temporal division into such nuanced patterns, which only machines can perform with perfect precision.
With Deleuze or Boulez we can speak of rhythm in terms of non-periodic pulsed or clicked music. There is a transversal disjunction, which is articulated in the track intern and in relation to other tracks, and this achievs the transition of „Clicks and Cuts“. Transversality is originally a topological concept meaning an extending over, lying across, intersecting without a resulting coincidence, while transversal music caulks the „cut“ between actual and virtual on the rise of the performance itself, by mutating from a device designed to connect the past with the present into a newly future-orientated one. If we listen to a track, we always hear other things, which Deleuze describes as forces, duration, sensation and lightness, depending how tempi, rhythm and sound are variied. For heterogenous temporalities and spatial components, which overlap and coexist in a track, the click opens in its invincible evidence various potencials to move on, as the signal is short and without contextual reference, so no remindable association can be given. Only through the catenation of signs something like indetermination starts to get indicatory, whereby failure can get part of music, but, as we said, failure is not a inscribed meaning in clicks and cuts, rather a referential, which indicates possibilities of previous and coming sign catenations. In the nameless in between meaning is constructed with the help of signs, which are not, what they pretend to be.
This is quite close to Heinrich Kleists proposal, that for producing powerful rhythmights the puppet player has to become itself an automat, insofar as a machinist has to relocate himself into the emphasis of the machine, while empasis is here armed with a new attraction, which correlates to the following: when non-frequency-politicians are listening to the clock, they hear “tic – toc – fuck the clock” instead of “tik – tik” because they know, that the beat or metrum has to be stressed: the relation between the different speed of waves and the maxima of intensity or timeless degree of different waves constitute a dispersion, which cannot be measured. Exterior to the clockban non-frequency-politics is the supertrace, is the tracing of the immanent rhythmicity of Rhythm in the hearing-in-Rhythm, as Jarrod Fowler says, it is „flow an sich“ or the quantum, because the generators of non-frequency-politics are always oversweeping the beat of the significant “ding ding ding ding.”
Here we find a hotspot to non-music in a Laruelian sense. Laruelle claims a dispersive a priori of theory, which is not primarly related to music, but related to the foreclosed and indifferent Real in-the-last-instance, posing the question: how can a generic and real but nevertheless transcendental and a priori term of difference be constructed, an a priori of difference that is a matter of an immediate given condition? (4) If we relate the apriori or the axiom to music, we will find an answer: The relation between the different speed of waves and the maxima of intensity (or the timeless degree of different waves) involves a dispersion. This is a oraxiom of Rhythmight, which means that the philosophical distinction between theoretical and practical aspects of thought has lost its power. For example, the theoretical practice of music, which invent new oraxioms, uses as ist material sample politics, which is oscillating between an actual pool of samples and the capacity to create new samples.
Samples are nowadays part of the mediapool, regardless of whether they are saved on analog or digital media. Sampling includes the program-controlled, machinic transformation of the musical material with special features, transposing, time-stretching or cut up, etc. Sampling is a technology for access and transformation of media material, by grasping the signals of the media of transmission. Sampling subverts the purposeful transfer from source to destination. Instead of an exact process of mapping the input onto the output, sampling activates a production process, using the signal subtracted from its functional and contextual environment. As condition of that production, it is a sampling-in-the-last-instance.
Going from sampling to so-called pulse rhythmights, produced with techniques through immanent and generic methods of percussive flights and differential structures of sound, attends not to being-in-the-world, but being in music. A music that remains radically immanent, Rhythmight is constructed from the heterogeneity of Rhythm as foreclosed and incommensurately sampled-in-the-last-instance and binds at the same moment the methods of Rhythmics to ecological hearing-in-rhythm. The relation between Rhythm and hearing remains still unilateral: it only goes one way. The unilaterality of Rhythm doesn’t imply that music can be reduced to Rhythm, but that, aside from its territorial motives and melodic landscapes, music is in-the-last-instance Rhythm and heard from Rhythm. While Non-musicology imposes a unilateral relationship between Rhythm and hearing, hearing-in-Rhythm cannot affect Rhythm, while Rhythm is foreclosed to hearing-in-Rhythm.The scientific exology (the scientific closure of paradigms, knowledge etc.) of hearing, which arises from the indifference of Rhythm, must hallucinate music as metrics, order, and composition by ignoring the radical ecology of Rhythm, which is related to non-music’s objectivity without representation. (5) At the same time, rhythmight corresponds to a relative ecology (perception of music) that is today permanently infiltrated by the convertibility of money, the processes in which the virtuality of value is actualized as price. At this juncture Non-musicology has to indicate a radical mutation of the radical ecology of Rhythm according to the foreclosed Real.
(Non-musicology countermands the inscription of the differenziant value, which is the prevalence of money in all his registers – semiotic value and the beat of the significant, which counts the metrum as price instead of the tic-toc of the pulsating difference as non-price. Punctuated production time of the code is permanently inscribed in the body of music. At this point, one may mention that there must be a clandestine relation between non-frequency-politics and High-Frequency-Trading. The latter can be understood as a complex technical system in capitalist finance, that generates the production of noise and at the same time reduces the information gradients, operating at a high rate of data streams and coding noise. With High-Frequency-Trading financial systems try to regulate the randomness of assets in minimal scales of time, to anticipate the fluctuations of price politics. Complexity is here the random effect of acceleration towards volatility, which can lead to an intentional production of noise, for irritating traders and the financial machines. But in relation to music we prefer here not to speak first of absolut contingency, like one might do with Quentin Meillassoux, instead we follow what distincts electronic music from High-Frequency-Trading, because the former in its decomposition in the form of non-music exceeds measurability; acceleration, which is necessary – it can be also slowness – for decoding scripture and codes, should not lead to the hyperreal of Baudrillard, which introduces the universal trauma of capitals realism, instead acceleration in its different modes should lead to a kind of non-dialectical negativism.)
Through tracing the rhythmicity of Rhythm in hearing-in-Rhythm, and thus through Sampling-in-the-last-instance, Non-musicology develops a new radical ecology of rhythm. It starts to sample material from science and philosophy, from musicial material itself, to construct the immanent generic matrix, which is no longer overdetermined by capitals relations of production and circulation, rather the transcendental construction of a kind of objectivity without representation.
If Non-music or non-standard music is, as Inigo Wilkins says, situated in the “non-standard phase space” between periodic sine tones and non-periodic or non-individual complex transformation and modulation, it might fall within the same theoretical neighbourhood as Dante’s bourdon or Messiaen’s compositional techniques. (6) The latter combines listening to the rhythmic singing of each individual bird and the overall Rhythm as an orchestra. On one side, there is no total rhythmic disorder, analogous to the incommensurability of closure, as unrelated tones do not couple with one another; on the other side, the birds are not synchronized to the ticking clock, as though a regular pulse would allow them all to share a common beat. Now, it looks as though non-frequency-politics would be nothing other than a re-invention of Dante’s bourdon; but the ritornello of the birds as accompanied by the noise of the wood is not only a musical sensation. It forces Rhythm via an interaction with hearing-in-Rhythm, in order to find a radical objective music, which includes the refusal of the world, even the refusal to create alternative worlds, yet demands the Real as foreclosed to the world. Rhythmight produces tension and solidification at the same time in hearing-in-Rhythm, while non-musicians become aware of how to subtract Rhythm from the metrum, endlessly mixing and remixing the conditions and relations of rhythmights and at the same time separating fragments from these mixtures in order to use these autonomous theoretical fragments indifferent to the musical structure.
Laruelle would reject Deleuze & Guattari’s treatment of music as the capture of affects and percepts (including relationship between material and forces) and would instead postulate to music an autonomous theoretical order, a non-scientific thought according to the radical immanence of the Real – the Real, here, understood as foreclosed and indifferent, without mirroring aesthetics or knowledge or being mirrored by science; the Real, which has to be thought as neither a meaning nor a truth but rather as immanently given-without givenness. The exteriority of the Real is being-nothing, which confronts being with nothingness. This demands the Real as foreclosed to the world. By reducing all transcendental thought to pure material, thought can be developed according to the syntax of the Real. Instead of a truth, which has its telos in the white silence of a full speaking, in which even the Real should be countable, Non-musicology presents an incestuous con-junction of the quantum-principles of superposition (immanence of one-in-one) and non-commutativity.
Where Deleuze & Guattari distinguish between scientific variables, artistic varieties, and philosophical variations, Laruelle’s Non-philosophy reduces all concepts of philosophy and philosophy itself to pure variables. (7) Non-musicology reduces philosophy, science, and musical objects to pure material, by starting to sample the material from within non-musical discourses such as science and philosophy. By cutting off the Principle of Musical Sufficiency, the immersive properties of sound in relation to perception and affect might be also cut off. Non-music instead produces an irreflective processing of variables by variables, a fractal proliferation of models without transcendence.
Here we are confronted with radical differences in the aesthetic conceptions of Deleuze/Guattari and Laruelle. The movement and the relation of sound molecules itself, their catenation happens for Deleuze/Guattari in the context of rhythmical territorialisation and de-territorialisation, which they describe as the ritornell, a kind of crystallisation of time-space, the temporalisation of space and the spatialization of time. Within the ritornell body, earth, rhythm and sound events are shortened with the intensity of the body without organs. Non-musicology in this context could be subsequent to Laruelle understood as the production and tracking of Rhythmicity of rhythm in hearing-in-ryhthm, as an event of compression, which writes itself as an effect of the rhythm construction of the ritornell. As such „music“ or the audible has a fractal dimension, which cannot be reduced to metrics, number and beat time, and maybe to objects for philosophers. And non-frequency politics would force the dance through the territorialised ritornell, which constituens is rhythm and its apparatus, the drum. Rhythmight is producing tension and solidification at the same time in hearing-in-rhythm, while getting aware, how to subtract the metrum. TIC-TOC- fuck the clock! means the principle, while endlessly mixing and remixing the conditions and relations of rhythmights and at the same time seperating rudiments from these mixtures, in order to use autonomous (theoretical) fragments, a theoretical order of contingency (to music), which implies to make use of artifical techniques in a different way as musicians do and at the same write new music-fictions, which are still related to music and the audible – a non-scientific thought according to the radical immanence of the Real in-the-last-instance, the Real here understood as foreclosed and being-nothing, without mirroring something or being mirrored. Laruelle’s generalized fractality of thought is a radically unfolded plane of immanence without reflection of the world, while destroying the empirico-transcendental doublet by its distanceless adequation.
This is to abandon also reversibility between philosophy and science, and between science and music; non-musicology leads to practice „music“ in a non-scientific stance to mutate music using scientific means related to the practice of science, as Jarrod Fowler says. The result of Non-philosophy and Non-musicology includes a generic matrix, which is transcendental at the same time, a generic matrix, whose idempotency functions are related to the Real as determination-in-the-last-instance. Idempotency is a term of informatics, that refers to function thats remains unchanged by doubling and iterating itself or by the addition of new functions, so the generic matrix is related to non-commutative Identity which persists across variations and does not need any transendence. Deleuze/Guattari renounce representation, but still in the name of perception and affects, which are always correlated to experience. And this concept correlates somehow to a certain phase of Laruelle, where the non-musical construction of the rhythmight of music and science is combined with hearing, hearing-in-rhythm, with musicological systems of listening. Laruelle would assert a further step, where non-musicology reduces philosophy, science and musical objects to pure material, by starting to sample the material from within music, non-musical discourses such as science and philosophy. By cutting off the principle of musical sufficiency, the immersive properties of sound in relation to perception and affect are also cut off. Instead non-music-fiction is producing an irreflective and automatic processing of variables by variables, which is a fractal proliferation of models without transcendence. Audio, as the material of media pools, is not further related anymore „to a transindividually constituted prosthetic extension with reversible intentionality“, as Inigo Wilkins says.
In his latest works, Laruelle speaks of the non-standard method as a kind of immanent fiction that includes invention, construction, performance, etc. as a non-representative and non-expressive method that uses only abstract and pure thought for non-aesthetics and that doesn’t need to appeal to the parallelism of philosophy and art. (8) This demands neither thinking of sound as sonic philosophy nor thinking about sound, but an abstract theory of sound, a radical abstract theory that is absolutely non-worldly and non-perceptual, as Laruelle says. Music is not oriented to a world, nor is it perceptual; rather it focuses on the immanent character of music as such, being in music. Music is radical objectivation without representation or intentionality. Following Laruelle, this semblance of music must be no longer an imitation, a tracing, an emanation or a representation of world or of language, of affect or whatever. Rather there exists a non-world of music for both the musician and the philosopher of music. This non-world still exists in the present and is real, while non-music is always rooted in matter. At this point Non-musicology stops tracing the Rhythmicity of Rhythm in hearing-in-Rhythm through sampling-in-the-last-instance. As a kind of objectivity without representation, Non-musicology begins instead to sample material from science and philosophy, from musical material itself, to construct the immanent generic matrix of non-music, which is no longer overdetermined by the capitalist relation of production and circulation.
1. Jarrod Fowler, „JMF075“ http://www.jarrodfowler.com/JMF075.html (accessed April 30, 2015).
2. Fowler, „JMF075“
3. Inigo Wilkins, “Enemy of Music,” http://irreversiblenoise.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/enemy-of-music (accessed June 14, 2013).
4. Laruelle, “The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter,” trans. Ray Brassier, Pli 12 (2001): 33-40.
5. Fowler, “JM075”
6. See Dante, Purgatorio, Canto XXVIII, 7-19, and Wilkins, “Enemy of Music.”
7. See Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994); François Laruelle, Introduction aux sciences géneriques (Paris: Editions Petra, 2008), p.200.
8. See, for example, Laruelle, Anti-Badiou: On the Introduction of Maoism into Philosophy, trans. Robin Mackay (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).
Novelist and psychoanalyst Gustavo Dessal interviews Karnac author Scott Wilson, author of Stop Making Sense
GUSTAVO DESSAL: Stop Making Sense introduces a special way of conceiving the relationship between psychoanalysis and art. There’s a long tradition of psychoanalysis applied to different cultural fields. In some cases the results have been fruitful, opening original perspectives and casting unexpected light on many subjects. But at the same time applied psychoanalysis runs the risk of becoming a sort of meta-language. You are very careful about this, and I appreciate the effort you make to prove that music can help psychoanalysts to go deeper in the comprehension of subjectivity, just as literature was indispensable for Freud to forge some of his concepts. How do you approach this exciting if delicate bond between psychoanalysis and cultural phenomena?
SCOTT WILSON: Thank you very much for your questions, and for addressing me in English. It is very generous of you, and I apologize for not being able to exchange with you in Spanish. I did not want to employ psychoanalytic discourse to discuss music without it in some small way contributing to the modification of that discourse. So while I do think it is possible and valuable to think about cultural phenomena from a psychoanalytic perspective – which is of course not the only perspective one can take – my initial impulse was in the other direction, to approach psychoanalysis from the perspective of music, or sound..
As you suggest, there is a long tradition of psychoanalysis applied to culture, particularly literature, art and film. The very best of this from Freud onwards has had a profound effect on psychoanalysis itself. What would psychoanalysis look like if Hamlet had not confirmed for Freud the Oedipus complex?
More recently, the clinic of the parlêtre and the sinthome was established by Lacan in relation to James Joyce. What is interesting about this long tradition, however, is the relative poverty of interventions on music. This flows directly from Freud himself of course, who disliked music and claimed to be stone deaf. Actually Freud gives a very specific reason for his dislike of music – which when viewed retrospectively, from the perspective of the late Lacan we can see is very significant. Freud says that his interest in art and literature is entirely bound to the intellectual challenge of interpretation that it poses, and he says that he dislikes music because he cannot interpret it. For Freud music is both beyond interpretation and experienced as something unpleasant, even painful.
I would suggest then that music was something real for Freud, in Lacan’s sense of the term. As we know, the contemporary Lacanian clinic is oriented precisely around the point where interpretation fails, thereby shifting our attention away from the unconscious structured like a language to lalangue or the real unconscious. This shift Jacques-Alain Miller actually describes as the ‘root chord’ of the late Lacan. By the way, when you start to look for musical metaphors in Lacan you suddenly find they are everywhere. Indeed, you do it yourself in your novel Surviving Anne. In the words of your analyst, ‘there is something that is always repeated, a tonal base that allows variations in every human being’. Your character goes on to say of his patients that this tone also lies at the basis of ‘the feeling that the world is not made for them’ and that ‘living can only be withstood if we admit the incurable discord within us’. You connect the individual’s discordance with him or herself, and with the world in sonic terms.
Is this tone another ‘name’ for the ‘signifier’ of ‘Y a d’l’un’? Is this tone something of the One-all-alone, the sound of the singular consistency of an individual’s mode of jouissance outside sense, experienced as a body event: a feeling of discord or dissonance? I don’t know whether you, or your character, intended this dimension of sound to be metaphorical, but I think we should take it quite literally, as a tone or a-tone that denotes the atonality of the One. That is why I appropriated the term ‘amusia’ where, to quote my book, ‘the “a” denotes the point of intimate exteriority of dissonance to the repetition that articulates music. The “a” denotes the noise not just left over from the cut in sound produced by music, but the point of singular enunciation and discordance with one’s own sonic reality’ (Stop Making Sense).
GD: When we read further in your book, we find that you make a turn and we are suddenly led to a ‘higher’ level: music is also a path to think about the contemporary social and economical paradigm. You don’t seem to be interested in Brian Eno and Yoko Ono (funny homophonies!) themselves, but as symptoms of the globalized discourse. This means going beyond their qualities as artists, but taking them as a way of dealing with the real. Anyway, it is not easy to understand whether you consider them as dystonic or syntonic symptoms of the capitalist discourse. For example, you state that Yoko Ono implies a rupture with the established conception of art, and nevertheless you admit her website is just a merchandising store …
SW: The idea that one can perceive a homology between music and a ‘social and economic paradigm’ was first suggested many years ago by Jacques Attali who argued that music, as a particular organization of noise, does not represent but provides a structure for future social order. This was what interested me about Brian Eno, Yoko Ono and Merzbow – all of whom produce music suggestive of future social order emerging from a present characterized by general (or ‘ordinary’) psychosis. One cultural symptom of this might be the dissolution of any clear boundary between noise and music that is heard in the ‘generative’ music composed by Eno’s computers, the John Cage-inspired silent national anthem of Ono’s ‘Nutopia’, and Merzbow’s noise-music of humanimality.
I’m interested in how many people have over the years found their work annoying or impossible to listen to – Merzbow’s goal, for example, was for a long time to produce music that was literally unlistenable. It is my contention that these artists amplify the amusical discontents of contemporary culture. In that sense, Yoko Ono is very much the patron saint of this book. I like those stories about how The Beatles’ recording engineers would routinely walk out of the studio the moment she began to sing. And yet, as a solitary voice said at the time, ‘Yoko takes music beyond its extremes … Yoko breaks through more barriers with one scream than most musicians do in a lifetime‘. (Stop Making Sense) Would it be totally outrageous to suggest that one would swap the entire Beatles oeuvre for one operatic Yoko Ono scream? In his own terrifying exchange, this was the sacrifice that Mark Chapman effectively made. But Ono did not scream the night he killed her Beatle.
GD: I found this concept of ‘amusia’ particularly interesting, because it has a ‘resonance’ (let’s keep the musical language) with the idea that writing springs somewhat from the impossible, from that which is impossible to write. This impossibility, as you say, is not what is left over, but the very cause of writing. Going back to music, I guess there must be a difference between this ‘a’ in the case of the subject who produces music, and the one that just enjoys (or not) music created by other. Is it so?
SW: One would assume there would be a different relation to music depending on whether one is a maker of music or an auditor, but I don’t think so. Music is always primarily about listening, and listening for that which escapes the grasp of hearing and of knowledge. One could say that one only hears what one already knows, one always hears an echo, but at the same time the music that animates and disturbs us always hints at something else, something strange and unknown. That is the same for the writer, the player and the listener.
Referring to his own music that he develops as part of a semi-mechanical process, Steve Reich says: ‘listing to an extremely gradual musical process opens my ears to it, but italways extends farther than I can hear’. (Stop Making Sense) This is a great description of a kind of wo es war of music, the effect of an audio unconscious. There are different types of knowledge and enjoyment related to music. On the one hand, there is the savoir-faire or technique of the musicians who know how to play. And there is unquestionably a specific pleasure related to playing music. But on the other hand, there is a knowledge associated with music that seems to be unrelated to this technical facility. How is it possible for an untutored listener to enjoy with great intensity music that he or she knows nothing about? Why isn’t music for that person just a jumble of sounds? Clearly we must suppose that someone or something somewhere knows something about it.
I would suggest that for musical beings, just like for speaking beings, enjoyment is related to knowledge, but that often we don’t know that we know. For example, it is a commonplace for musicians – even or perhaps especially great musicians – to have no idea where their inspiration comes from. Paul McCartney, famously, claims to have dreamt the melody to ‘Yesterday’, assuming that it had already been written by someone else. So we can then surmise that there is an Other, a locus of sound, of dissonance and repetition, that resonates through us and makes us musical whether we like it or not, whether we know anything about it or not. And that sound might be beautiful or it might not, but whatever it is, it is fundamentally related to the singular sound or noise that I am without meaning.
GD: Well, I’m not an expert on this matter, but as you say, it was a solitary voice who considered Yoko as someone who ‘breaks through more barriers with one scream than most musicians do in a lifetime’. Will history remember her in anyway, apart from being Lennon’s wife? Couldn’t we think that her screams wouldn’t have been so operatic if she hadn’t been who she was? In brief, can we in this case separate the scream from the screamer? In contrast, we don’t need Eno as a character to judge what he was able to do with those computers that make the music for him. In this context of, let us say, the social dimension of ‘ordinary psychosis’, how can we distinguish music (and art in general) from fraud?
SW: In this book I’m not really interested in whether the music I discuss is conventionally regarded as good or bad. I am not concerned to contribute to the canons of taste. The 20thC avant-garde has taught us not only that any sound can be music, but that music is an open system that can be defined by the most minimal principle of organization that need be only the distance between time t and time t’, as with Cage’s seminal piece ‘4.33’ where music is whatever sounds occur during the period of 4 minutes, thirty three seconds that the performance lasts.
At the same time, I would say in Yoko Ono’s defense that it is perfectly possible to demonstrate great skill, technique and savoir-faire in the art of screaming. She is an expert, but so was John Lennon, from ‘Twist and Shout’ to ‘Cold Turkey’. I find it slightly odd and interesting that you would refer to the possibility of ‘fraudulent’ music. That’s not the same thing as saying something is good or bad. It implies that there is some sort of theft going on. Fraud in art generally refers to someone faking the work of a famous painter, of course.
But I don’t think that is what you mean. Certainly it is true that this term ‘fraud’ came up regularly with regard to Yoko Ono, and for two reasons. First, because ordinary art lovers used to regard all conceptual art as a fraud, particularly in the UK. Second, this dimension of theft speaks directly to the sense that Yoko Ono ‘stole’ a Beatle, a ‘theft’ that led to the break-up of the group, thereby destroying all our Beatle pleasures. She attracted a great deal of hatred for that, and her work was described as ‘avant-garde crap’, ‘mumbo-jumbo’ and so on. Following the success of the YBAs (Damian Hirst, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas et al) in the 1990s, the British people these days love conceptual art; it is their favourite kind. And Ono’s influence on all this is now both recognized and respected. I have no idea what art or music will ‘stand the test of time’. It would no doubt depend on which history one read and who wrote it. If it was a history that valued the 20thC avant-garde, particularly Fluxus and the circle around John Cage to which Ono was a major contributor, then The Beatles would be a mere footnote to her esteem.
GD: Your answer clarifies a lot, and helps me to understand a little bit more about your concept of ‘amusia’. Beyond the specific jouissance a music maker can get from his or her capacity to play, you stress that we are all subjects of the audio unconscious. In other words, first of all we are listeners. I wonder if being listeners is comparable to being readers, or spectators. Does music involve the body like no other artistic expression? I don’t mean just the emotional response to art, but the way our body is summoned by music. In your book, you try to prove that nobody can get rid of the grasp of music, no matter if the subject loves it or hates it, because music seems to have a special connection to the mechanic of the drives.
SW: Yet again this is a very interesting and difficult question, the answer to which can only be speculative. In my book I suggest that it is always sound that ‘heralds the real’ and precipitates the ‘automaton’, as Lacan says. In Freud, as is well known, it is the trauma of ‘shell shock’ that provides the impetus for his reflections on repetition compulsion and the death drive. In Seminar XI Lacan uses the example of some mysterious ‘knocking’ that kicks off and forms the representational basis of one of his own dreams that was attempting to keep him asleep, poised between perception and consciousness.
But this kind of sound is always an echo of the traumatic encounter of the real that is missed, an echo poised between this encounter and the automaton. And we know from countless cultural examples how ominous can be those sounds in the dead of night that creak or bump without apparent reason. These are related to the unheimliche – there’s an excellent book on the uncanniness of sound by David Toop called Sinister Resonance that explores the way that sound, as Lacan says, ‘models the locus of our anxiety’ (Seminar X). Indeed, I would also point to Lacan’s Seminar X on anxiety, particularly the section on ‘What Comes Through the Ear’. It has been noted more than once that the ears – unlike the eyes – are always open and receptive to intrusions that directly shape and affect the body.
I do not want to speculate here about the effects of foetal audition, the idea that the foetus’s first intimations of an outside or an Other are heralded by sound, but Jacques-Alain Miller thinks it worth considering in his commentary on Lacan’s seminar. He suggests that the ‘anxiety of birth’ may be related to the ‘intrusion of the Other in the corporeal space of the subject’ (Lacanian Ink 27). And while he attributes this to the ‘intrusion of air into the aquatic space of the womb’ at the moment of birth, the violence of this intrusion has already been intimated by exterior noises, the bangs and crashes of everyday life, the mother’s voice of course, and her music. But above all, when looking briefly at Lacan’s seminar again, I was struck by the idea that sound shapes the body in the first instance in the form of the ear’s apparatus, in the very process of its audition. ‘The apparatus is what resonates and it doesn’t resonate at just anything … it only resonates at its own note, its own frequency’. Before it speaks, then, the parlêtre has a singular tonality that echoes around, even as it shapes, the ear’s cavity whose organic form Lacan suggests ‘bears a resemblance’ to the void hollowed out by the Other of speech. This a-tonality then subsequently haunts the speech of the parlêtre such that ‘our voice appears to us with a foreign sound’.
I want to ask you a question about the music of the analytic situation. I want to leave aside the specific question about music therapy, perhaps for another time. Rather, I want to return your previous question about the production and enjoyment of music to you in reverse form. To do this, I will ask you to consider the traditional analytic situation as a form of avant-garde music in the sense that it is an intense experience of listening. It has a definite time period, normally about 50 minutes – but as we know that can be curtailed if appropriate. It is an improvisation by two people for two people, but like all improvisations there is a framework, a set of conventions and expectations. One of which is that anything can be said.
While the term ‘performance’ does not do it justice, there is no doubt an element of performance. The main sound is speech, of course, but a very special kind of speech that is divorced from all other conventional forms of phatic or instrumental kinds of communication. You are not passing the time of day discussing football, ordering a coffee or explaining the theory of general relativity to a science class. Or indeed if any of these speech acts do arise, they instantly take on quite a different significance. And of course there is not just speech. There is silence. There are the noises of the body and its movement. There are the sounds of breathing. A sigh. Shuffling. The twisting of a chair or the creaking of a couch. There might be birdsong outside, or traffic noise. The ping of a mobile phone. Every sound may have a potential significance or indeed constitute a specific mode of jouissance. In the dialectic of this little duet-in-ambience, who is producing the music and who is enjoying it?
GD: You're right. The analytic session is an ‘intense experience of listening’, for both the analysand and the analyst. And I agree with you that a session entails speech, silence, and all kinds of phonic and sonic phenomena. When speaking, the subject enjoys and doesn’t want to know anything. He enjoys hearing the repetition of his same old story, or his same old chorus. The analytic experience should lead him away from hearing the bla bla bla of sense, to listening to ‘the sound of the singular consistency of an individual’s mode of jouissance outside sense’, as you say. The analyst, instead, is trained – or is supposed to be trained – not to enjoy while he performs his role. He must be a ‘saint homme’, who’s given up all jouissance.
SW: It was this idea about the priority of sound as bodily event that prompted me to ask the question concerning the analytic session that organizes sound into its own kind of music. In this music the (a)tonality of the body accompanies and renders strange the locus of speech along with all the other sonic contingencies that might interrupt it and set it off on another improvisation. I raised the matter of the location of enjoyment in an echo of your own question, and of course I know how essential it is that the analyst renounces all jouissance – in the same way that we would be appalled at the idea that a medical practitioner might get off on the bodies of his patients. However, I don’t see how it is possible for the analyst to engage his critical faculties through listening without the jouissance that underpins knowledge being somewhere on the horizon. Otherwise, we’d be computers. Is it the destiny of the analyst to be a robot fitted with a sophisticated listening device and interpretation software? It would have to be a quantum computer, of course, because ordinary digital computers can’t cope with the polyphony of signifiers.
GD: The concept of an ‘audio unconscious’ is quite challenging and not easy to understand. There is a tendency to conceive of the voice as object ‘petit a’ as soundless, with the exception of the psychotic verbal hallucinations. What do you mean by ‘audio unconscious’? Is it universal? Do all parlêtres have an audio unconscious? And if it were the case, do we have then two different unconscious, the audio and the other one ‘structured as a language’? Is your audio unconscious related to the Lacanian hint of a ‘real unconscious’?
SW: I coined the phrase ‘audio unconscious’ because I wanted to emphasize the sonic register of the unconscious not only in the sense of the ‘lalangue’ or ‘real’ unconscious, but also to see if we could think, in a way analogous to the unconscious structured like a language, an unconscious structured ‘musically’ in which sound is organized in a way homologous to social order. Silence is a crucial element in music, by the way, not just in the sense of its pauses and punctuation, but as its impossible yet logically necessary condition; the point around which the musical drive circulates. As I understand it, ‘lalangue’ is a site of pure difference that while it might be predicated on the mother’s tongue (or the mother tongue) is the basis not only subsequently of speech, but also music – and indeed in slightly different ways writing and other forms of mark making such as art and so on.
GD: Let´s move to another point in conclusion. You are in charge of a new Masters degree in Psychoanalysis in the UK. That’s great, psychoanalysis has had a long and successful existence in Britain, is that still the case in its universities? How about the Lacanian orientation? How did your project for a Master’s degree start?
SW: Thank you for this question! I am delighted to talk about this Masters course and the Graduate programme of which it is a part. The project had a rather glamorous start in the Eden Rock Hotel in Miami Beach (frequented by Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the 1950s) at a conference on ‘What Lacan Knew About Women’. I was there to help Marie-Hélène Brousse, Maire Jaanus, Véronique Voruz and Russell Grigg introduce the new journal Culture / Clinic. The impetus for that journal has now morphed into The Lacanian Review and The Lacanian Review Online.
At this conference, Véronique and Natalie Wülfing suggested to me that they would like to set up a Masters and Graduate Programme in a British University taught with the support of psychoanalysts from the New Lacanian School in connection with the Department of Psychoanalysis at Paris-8 University. This Department was founded by Lacan himself, and the idea is to try and teach psychoanalysis along the lines set out by Lacan. Since the Philosophy Department at Kingston University already has a close relation with Paris-8 and colleagues with a strong interest in Lacanian psychoanalysis, I was confident that Kingston would be enthusiastic about setting up this programme. This proved to be the case and I validated it within a year. Véronique and Natalie offer the core courses and there are a range of options offered by myself and colleagues from Philosophy and other departments. It is by no means the first nor the only Masters in Psychoanalysis offered in London – there are others at Middlesex and Birkbeck College, London, for example – but it is the only one that is closely focused on the contemporary clinic of the Lacanian orientation. The Masters is now in its second year, and we already have a small number reading for PhDs. Our students are fantastic, very committed, a significant number of whom have a keen interest in becoming theorists and clinicians. However, psychoanalysis has indeed a very marginal place in British Universities these days. This new course is a rare and beautiful thing.
Scott Wilson is Professor of Media and Psychoanalysis at the London Graduate School, Kingston University, London. His books include Stop Making Sense: Music from the Perspective of the Real(Karnac, 2015); The Order of Joy: Beyond the Cultural Politics of Enjoyment; Great Satan’s Rage: American Negativity and Rap/Metal in the Age of Supercapitalism; and Melancology: Black Metal and Ecology. He is the editor with Michael Dillon of the Journal for Cultural Research.
Gustavo Dessal was born in Buenos Aires but settled in Madrid in 1982, where he now lives and works. He is a psychoanalyst, trained in Argentina and France. He writes essays about his speciality, and also fiction. His last two novels are Clandestinidad (Buenos Aires, 2010) and Micronesia (Buenos Aires, 2014). In 2014 he also published the essay El retorno del péndulo (Buenos Aires y Madrid, 2014) with Zygmunt Bauman. His works have been translated into English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian. He works as a visiting professor in Spain, Argentina, France, Italy, England and Ireland. His most recent novel, Surviving Anne: A Novel, was published by Karnac in 2015.
The article is taken from:
Obsolete Capitalism - CALL FOR PAPERS: LA DELEUZIANA N. 10. RHYTHM, CHAOS AND NONPULSED MAN. TOWARDS A CHAOSMOTIC PHILOSOPHY.
music as particular art, musicmakers, music critique, albums reviews ...