Nomadic and Transverse Artistic Practices

In the spirit of Deleuze and Guattari’s complexity of knots (rhizomes) as contrasted with linear, arborescent, or binary structures, this paper proposes to reflect on today’s artistic practices that can be classified as “nomadic and transverse.”

For the authors of Mille Plateaux, concepts that are related to the ideas of nomadism and transversality tend to operate in relationships that mingle differentiation and solidarity:

  1. The smooth in relation to the striated (taken from Boulez), the continuous hydraulic flow in relation to specific points of reference.
  2. A minor or eccentric science proposing infinite problematical processes in relation to a royal science of definitive theorems.
  3. Processes of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation in relation to stable
  4. The double capture or wedding against nature between two entities having absolutely nothing to do with each

Additionally, the concept of transverse implies references to hybrid forms (for example graphic scores), multimedia, interdisciplinary approaches, plurality of cultures (de Certeau), and creolisation of the world (Glissant).

The nomadic and transverse artistic practices can be here defined as activities that are not definitely fixed in works of art, that imply never-ending projects and refusal to be defined by particular aesthetic labels. What is at stake is an everyday tinkering with elements and contexts, an endless travelling with no particular issues. The crucial two points of the paper are centred on the ambiguous relationships of nomadic practices with sedentary ones (see Stengers, Cosmopolitiques 7):

  1. The network that continuously forms, informs, and deforms itself cannot be limited to a single focus on the production of artistic materials for the benefit of a The processes are no longer defined in a specific specialised space: they also are concerned with collective creation, socio-political contexts, informal/formal relationships to institutions, transmission of knowledge, various ways of interacting between humans, and between humans and machines. Curriculum  design, research  projects, teaching  sessions, and so on become, in this context, fully-fledged artistic situations outside the exclusivity of performances onstage.
  2. In improvisation, to produce unprepared results onstage, one has to be intensively prepared beforehand. How can timbre production be differentiated, if all the bodies of the performers are shaped in institutions to produce the same sounds? How can it be differentiated if the bodies are not shaped to do this? In collective elaborations, the real meeting of different people, of which the result should remain unpredictable, requires at the same time the presence of strong protocols, systems of constraints, or “dispositifs” (as defined by Michel Foucault) that oblige the participants to acquire some knowledge of each other’s practices, and to develop projects or objects together, mingling a respect for the diversity of their practices and the necessity to work for a collective creative

Geomusic, Ecosophy and Molecular Oscillators

The thrust of both Deleuze and Guattari’s thought on music is ecosophic, in that it treats music as a component within a process of chaosmic symbiogenesis whose aim is the deterritorialisation of the ritournelle and the creation of a new people and a new earth.  A Thousand Plateaus develops the concept of the ritournelle and its relation to milieus, territories, and cosmic lines of flight; What Is Philosophy? elaborates on those themes and ties them to the project of creating a new people and a new earth; and The Three Ecologies, Chaosmosis, and What is Ecosophy? integrate these elements within a general ethico- aesthetic paradigm. Deleuze’s 1978 IRCAM presentation on musical time (published in its manuscript form in Lettres et autres textes) precedes A Thousand Plateaus by two years, but in large part it partakes of the same trajectory of thought. Though Deleuze does not mention the “ritournelle,” he speaks of the musical mode of individuation of a “sonic landscape” inhabited by “rhythmic characters,” and of music’s coupling of an “elaborated sonic material” and “imperceptible forces that the material renders audible, perceptible.” In a similar ecosophic vein, he refers to “molecular oscillators” in biological systems and relates them to the non-pulsed time of contemporary music, which is “a time made of heterogeneous durations whose relations rest on a molecular population, and no longer on a unifying metrical form” (Deleuze, “Le Temps Musicale,” in Lettres et autres textes). The correlation of musical time and molecular oscillators does not appear again in Deleuze (though biological molecular oscillators are referenced briefly in A Thousand Plateau’s ritournelle plateau); nonetheless, the correlation merits detailed consideration. The molecular oscillators Deleuze refers to are chemical clocks that regulate organisms’ circadian rhythms internally and entrain them externally with variations in daily light–dark cycles. Circadian clocks arose 2.5 billion years ago during the Great Oxidation Event (GOE) and persist across all three phylogenetic domains of Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukaryota. In humans, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) serves as the master clock, but clocks have been discovered in red blood cells and other tissues and various organs (colon, kidney) that interact with the  SCN.  Besides  circadian  clocks,  oscillators  have  been  identified at timescales of less than a day (ultradian sand circartidal) and greater (circalunar, circannual, and multi-year cycles). Although Deleuze stresses the temporal heterogeneity of molecular oscillators, their fundamental characteristic is that of a periodicity entrained to georhythms.

Broadly speaking, music occurs at the interface of geo- and biorhythms, articulated through the tekhnē of parajective instruments (as opposed to projective weapons and introjective tools). Human tekhnē threatens multiple aerobic life forms emergent from the GOE through global warming, and the ecosophic response must include a transformation of the ecology of mentalities. The music of John Luther Adams (not to be confused with the John Adams of Nixon in China) may be seen as such a response, especially in his interactive site “The Place,” the site-specific performances of Inuksuit and Ten Thousand Birds, and the orchestral compositions Dark Wave and Become Ocean.

Time, Territorialisation, and Improvisational Spaces

The ongoingness of improvisational musical space is productively described by a creative engagement with Deleuze’s three syntheses of time. The first synthesis describes a process of contracting the past into the ongoing, living present and the projections onto an open range of future actions engendered by such a contraction; the second synthesis confirms the present as the now-actual instantiation of the trajectories that determine the past’s own contraction. Both these syntheses are in continuous dialogue with each other, as well as with the third synthesis, which involves recognising the “event” as a location where actions take place that engender movement into the future. Interactive musical improvisation consists of an ongoing flow of such events, which give meaning to past trajectories and partially determine future ones.

For any improvisational utterance this can be thought of as the continuous, ongoing instantiation of a living present territorialised by the particularities of its past—dimensions or manifolds. Because the kinds of improvisational utterances I am concerned with represent singularities within loosely-defined ranges of “types” (the real or imaginary syntactic constraints of jazz improvisation, for example), the notion of territorialisation (and de- and reterritorialisation) is particularly apt, since it involves bringing milieus, strata, and codings into communication, from an action-first perspective. For example, an external milieu of jazz syntax comprises notes, chords, rhythms, conventional gestures, histories, exemplary recordings, and so on, while an internal milieu comprises the semantic and syntactic connections between them: teleological harmonic motions, voice-leading behaviours, cumulative rhythmic impulses, motivic developments. Connections between the raw data of external milieus and the behavioural considerations of internal milieus are drawn within the territory to create meaning and expression. It is in the territory, therefore (and in deterritorialisations within the territory) that innovation happens, that conventions and performance practices are decoded and transcended, and that possibilities arise for differentiation, individualised/singular interpretations of codes, and plural communications across strata.

These actions occur in time, are constituted in time, and constitute the time of the improvisational performance. This paper engages the identity-generative aspects of Deleuze’s three syntheses to consider carefully the ways in which the singularities of the now-past that constitute the ongoing living present are assembled within the collective improvisational territory to project a virtual future (some version of which will become actual at the point at which it becomes a living present), and how through the ongoingness of that action the identity of the improvisational utterance is formed. By considering an improvisational utterance as a territorialising act, with multiple rhizomatic connections and multiple entry and exit points, we can consider Deleuze’s larger thematisations of repetition as difference and difference as identity in two ways: by foregrounding the internal repetition that characterises the types of improvisational spaces here under consideration (involving cyclical forms, creative variations, and call and response—this is Deleuze’s “refrain” taken in its most purely musical sense) and by locating a performative utterance along multiple historical trajectories, foregrounding the ways in which it defines the temporal space where its identity is acted out.

For a Nanomusic: “Sound Desiring Machines” and Multiple Time

Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts had an important impact on my musical thinking. When I started reading both philosophers, I had been working for several years at the intersection of musical writing and psychoanalysis. In Order of Release, Border of Relish (2002–4), I developed a transversal between musical time and the time of the unconscious. Echoes, resonances, and rebounds between sound fragments build a complex and non-linear temporal form. Processes of condensation or dissolution induce a mutative and elastic musical matter with heterochronic textures, a multiplicity of strata, and transitory sound objects.

When I read Deleuze and Guattari, it occurred to me that the minimal units I was combining in ever changing sound constellations—their capacity for connection and propagation through the sound field—could be referred to the “asignifying” particles of the “machinic unconscious (Guattari 1979; Deleuze and Guattari 1980). In my music, small modular three-pitch pendular figures are the elementary constituents of a sound “abstract machine,” and are pushed by antagonistic forces: stratification or “destratification,” “territorialisation” or “deterritorialisation” (Deleuze and Guattari 1980), repetition or mutation.

These pendulums, with their modular quality and their constant pivoting movement, keep forming evolving “assemblages” (Deleuze 1964; Deleuze and Guattari 1980) whose ramifications (chains of interconnected pendulums) can either converge towards one centre, such as Guattari’s “black hole” [Guattari 1979], with the condensation on one object or figure, or create independent lines and migrate toward other zones. Since they keep circulating and building ever renewing fleeting configurations, they can be considered as sound “desiring machines” (Deleuze and Guattari 1972). In these sound rhizomes (Deleuze and Guattari 1980), repetition has an important function. It is a step-by-step process. Each repetition of a pendulum alters its envelope, generates a small gap, a small differance (Derrida 1967). It is a “differentiating repetition” (Deleuze 1968). Being caught in a permanent flow, these elementary figures both repeat and mute, simultaneously form and dissolve. This formal paradox characterises all my pieces. Abstract figures are elaborated only in order to show that they can be undone, that they are plays of forces. They are perceptible only because they insist. Their appearance/disappearance reveals not only a “capture of forces” (Deleuze 1981) but also the paradoxical “becoming” of a present that suggests before and after, past and future, “Aion” (Deleuze 1969) or the “empty form of time” (Deleuze 1968)—time as a pure process.

The musical form is not preformed; it is the result of the sound trajectories, of different “becomings” according to the different pieces.

Psyché-Cité/Transversales (2005–7) is a psychogeography. The sound topology is both a becoming-machine and a becoming-scream, a “zone of indiscernibility” (Deleuze 1981) between the brain and the metro, the psyche and the city, scream and noise. It is a hybrid sound territory. Mutatis mutandis (2008) is a whole set of vibrations. Fluxes of particles coagulate or trace more or less dense migratory paths. It is “musical genetics,” with repetitions and errors (such as DNA). It is a becoming-filament and a becoming-molecule. Shel(l)ter (2009–10) refers to an atomic bunker in Berlin and to nuclear physics. It is a becoming-atom, a “nanomusic.”

From the Body Without Organs (Deleuze 1981; Deleuze and Guattari 1972, 1980), a kind of “organum-body” underlies my music topographies—that is, a never definite and never stabilised sound body since the invested vibratory fields are never frozen.


Deleuze, Gilles. 1964. Proust et les signes. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

—. 1968. Différence et répétition. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

—. 1969. Logique du sens. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

—. 1981. Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation. Paris: Editions de la Différence.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1972. L’anti-Œdipe. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

—. 1980. Mille plateaux. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

Derrida, Jacques. 1967. L’écriture et la différence. Paris: Editions du Seuil.

Guattari, Félix. 1979. L’inconscient machinique: Essais de schizo-analyse. Paris: Recherches.