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

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.

Perform Now! Musical Performance as Affective, Disruptive Practice

Musical performance is an encounter. It is an encounter between sounds, bodies—both human and otherwise—and ideas. All these actants are affected by this encounter, just as the encounter itself is influenced by the actants involved. Consequently, this encounter co-determines how the performance will continue. Put differently, an encounter is disruptive: it disturbs the actants’ state of rest and incites them into action, into doing something that they did not intend to do before the encounter.

Gilles Deleuze suggests that disruptive encounters between bodies, objects, sensations, and thoughts can be conceptualised in ethical terms. He asserts that bodies and thoughts can be defined as capacities for affecting and being affected. For Deleuze, ethics is the study of the relations of speed and slowness, of the capacities for affecting and being affected that characterise each thing. These things can be anything: an animal, a body of sounds, a mind, or an idea. According to Deleuze, this amounts to an ethics of joy, in which the production of joy is a positive expansion of affective capacity, while sadness is a negative stagnation of feeling.

In my presentation I will propose that a musical performance, being a disruptive encounter itself, also always has an ethical dimension. Through an analysis of a performance by my free improv trio Molloy, I will argue that musical performance is an act that infringes the autonomy of the performers, instruments, and sonic bodies. Because of its intrusive nature, it is a performance that influences the capacity of these bodies to undergo joy.

I will analyse the recording of a collective improvisation by Molloy as well as my own and my fellow band members’ impressions of this performance, using autoethnography and interpretative phenomenological analysis. In this investigation I will focus on interaction: interaction between performers, performers and instruments, sounds and performers, sounds and instruments, and so on, and the manners in which these interactions contribute to the improvisation as it develops during performance. As these interactions are responsible for the infringements on the autonomy of all actants, human and non-human, that are involved in the performance considered as encounter, a proper examination of these interactions may lead to a greater understanding of what musical performance is, or can be.

My aim is to demonstrate the productivity of Deleuze’s theory of ethics in the analysis of musical performance. Following authors such as Suzan Kozel (2007) and Anthony Uhlmann (2009, 2011), and building on the ideas I introduced in Meelberg (2011), I will argue that interaction is the core of those encounters we call performance, and that Deleuzian ethics is able to articulate the specificity of the interactions that constitute a performance. Conversely, I will suggest that musical performance may be a very productive means to teach us what ethics is really about. It is about the way we human subjects deal with encounters between bodies, ideas, sounds, and minds, and vice versa.


Kozel, Susan. 2007. Closer: Performance, Technologies, Phenomenology. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Meelberg, Vincent. 2011. “Moving to Become Better: The Embodied Performance of Musical Groove.” Journal for Artistic Research (JAR) 1. Accessed 18 October 2015.

Uhlmann, Anthony. 2009. “Expression and Affect in Kleist, Beckett and Deleuze.” In Deleuze and Performance, edited by Laura Cull, 54–70. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

—. 2011. “Deleuze, Ethics, Ethology, and Art.” In Deleuze and Ethics, edited by Nathan Jun and Daniel W. Smith, 154–70. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Peau/Pli: A Skype Performance and Its Metamorphoses

An actor reciting Deleuze and Anzieu and a dancer in a bubble. A delirium of words, electric signals, movements. Criticising and exploring connections, intercorporeality, and processes of embodiment.

The outside is not a fixed limit but a moving matter animated by peristaltic movements, folds, and foldings that together make up an inside: they are not something other than the outside, but precisely the inside of the outside (Deleuze 1993, 96–97).

In the performance PEAU/PLI the ubiquity of different media moistens the physical sensation of the participants. Enfolded by the noise of the data cloud, the “Skin-Ego” (Anzieu 1985) loses its contour, the boundary between the self and the environment is no longer clearly determined. Thousands of Deleuzian “folds” are to be experienced.

An actor performs texts by Anzieu and Deleuze in a former worker’s pub. He interacts via Skype and electric vibrations with a dancer in a plastic bubble, enfolding his “Skin-Ego” in the streets of the surrounding quarter. In the hyperlocal encounter of the interacting improvisation, dissonant presence experiences are evoked by the artists. The performance was folded again and again, for example, at gallery Schaufenster in Selestat (France), at Regionale 2014 and in the book Intercorporeal Splits (Fetzner and Dornberg 2015).

Which forms of artistic encounters and of collective forms of thought and affect arise in this performance and its metamorphoses? What kind of place, time, and body relationships emerge? Which roles play the technical, medial, and topological agents in the formation of the common intercorporealities and in the emergent socio-technological processes? How can the philosophy of Deleuze contribute to our understanding or/and influence these projects and the corresponding processes of artistic research, its methodologies, and its transdisciplinarity?



Anzieu, Didier. 1985. Le Moi-Peau. Paris: Dunod.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1993. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Translated by Tom Conley. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Fetzner, Daniel, and Martin Dornberg, eds. 2015. Intercorporeal Splits: Künstlerische Forschung zur Medialität von Stimme, Haut, Rhythmus. Leipzig: Open House.