The metaphorical example . . . of a fertilized egg which differentiates into a fully formed organism, can now be made quite literal: the progressive differentiation of the spherical egg is achieved through a complex cascade of symmetry-breaking phase transitions.
—Manuel DeLanda (2013, 11)
This paper will explore the ontology of song through the Deleuzian philosophies put forward by Manuel DeLanda and Elizabeth Grosz, with a focus on symmetry breaking and the fractal structure of (embodied) knowledge. Extending a notion I first put forward in What a Body Can Do: Technique as Knowledge, Practice as Research (2015), I argue that embodied research explores relatively reliable potentialities of human practice in a way that is closely analogous to laboratory research as understood by social and historical epistemologies. DeLanda’s rigorously analytical interpretation of Deleuze will form the basis of my proposal, while Grosz’s more impressionistic discussion in Chaos, Territory, Art (2008) will provide additional background for theorising the functionality of song as (topological) action.
While a typology of songs would aim to categorise and order songs as coherent units, a topology of song is concerned with the processual generation of song in time—that is, with defining the phase space of song into which individual songs, song fragments, and song-actions intervene. From this perspective, song is not an “object” in Graham Harman’s speculative sense but more like a Deleuzian “zone of intensity” or what Hans-Jörg Rheinberger calls an “epistemic thing.” While song as a cultivated organic resource may attain sufficient temporary individuality to be called upon at will, and thereby function as a relatively reliable bodily affordance, this individuality is nothing more than what DeLanda refers to as the virtual topological structure of a multiplicity. Hence, singing is an example of “the actualisation of the virtual in time” and the specific acts of symmetry breaking that we call “songs” are newly enacted each time we begin to sing—just as a natural symmetry returns in every moment of silence. In the case of song, silence is precisely analogous to DeLanda’s undifferentiated topological “egg.”
My presentation will include live vocal performance excerpts drawing on the ongoing embodied research project “Judaica,” which seeks to develop a technique of song-based practice grounded in the coordination of voice, movement, and association in the complete unit of human performance that twentieth-century theatre pioneers Konstantin Stanislavsky and Jerzy Grotowski called “action.” I will demonstrate how vocal actions may use rhythm, melody, timbre, and other embodied techniques to generate the symmetry-breaking events that we experience as song. I contend that the flexibility of song across these and other dimensions derives from its topological structure, a fact that is routinely concealed by the epistemological dominance of recorded audio tracks and written scores in the study of music. My analysis of song is intended to re-examine and foreground the centrality of embodied technique in human life and to support innovative analyses of embodied practice, which I see as fundamental to the future of artistic research.
DeLanda, Manuel. 2013. Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. New York: Bloomsbury.
Grosz, Elizabeth. 2008. Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth. New York: Columbia University Press.
Spatz, Ben. 2015. What a Body Can Do: Technique as Knowledge, Practice as Research. London: Routledge.