Out from the Egg of Silence: For a Topology of Song

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.

Machining the Voice Through Continuous Variation

The main aim of my artistic research project is to investigate the interactions between the phonetic characteristics of a text and the timbral and formal features of a composition, including voice, instruments, and electronics, and to explore the transformations between sound and sense.

According to Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 97), it is impossible to conceive a separation between linguistics and stylistics “because a style is not an individual psychological creation but an assemblage of enunciation.” In this regard, a writer’s style will be characterised by the attempt to expand the limits of the standard language by making “the standard language stammer, tremble, cry or even sing” (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 176). “Making language itself stammer . . . involves placing all linguistic, and even nonlinguistic, elements in variation” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 98). Therefore, all the phonological, syntactic, semantic components can be affected by a process of continuous variation leading to the creation of “a language within a language” (ibid., 97).

If every linguistic element contributes to the development of a literary style, vocal music, in turn, will be stylistically determined by the possibility of interacting with all the linguistic dimensions. In this perspective, the dissemination of new linguistic theories, the improvement of vocal and instrumental techniques, and the development of new technologies, enabled Luigi Nono to establish in his compositions an interaction with all the linguistic elements, especially focusing on the phonetic features of a text, thereby emphasising the timbral dimension of the language. As stated by Deleuze and Guattari (1987, 96): “Only when the voice is tied to timbre does it reveal a tessitura that renders it heterogeneous to itself and gives it a power of continuous variation: it is then no longer accompanied, but truly ‘machined,’ it belongs to a musical machine that prolongs or superposes on a single plane parts that are spoken, sung, achieved by special effects, instrumental, or perhaps electronically generated.” As a paradigmatic example of a musical machine, I will present an analysis of Omaggio a György Kurtág (1986) by Nono. Through the phonemic analysis (International Phonetic Association 1999) of the text and the analysis of vocal and instrumental techniques, I will demonstrate how Nono could explore a “zone of indetermination” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 273) within which “something or someone is ceaselessly becoming-other (while continuing to be what they are)” (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 177), giving rise to “that secret neuter language without constants” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 96) where a voice never ceases to become an instrument and an instrument to become a voice. This analysis will be linked to my compositional practice, being a substantial part of my research, which is based on the use of music as a tool for text analysis through the composition of a piece for voice, instruments, and live electronics. The creation of a musical machine will be based on the application of the continuous variation to the invariants of language, such as the phoneme’s distinctive features (Jakobson, Fant, and Halle 1961). Since the distinctive features are classified according to a binary opposition, and since each pair of features implies the presence of a specific acoustic characteristic, I aim to explore the continuum between opposite terms forming a series of distinctive features. In this regard, the “continuum of values and intensities” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 98) was identified by Deleuze as one of the key factors characterising Bene’s theatrical practice when, writing about Manfred (Bene 2008a), Deleuze (2008, 1466) highlighted Bene’s ability “to fix, create or change the basic color of a sound.” This ability allowed Bene to blend his voice with the sound of the orchestra, thus creating a “single sound plateau” (Giacchè 2007, 84).

As my composition is still a work in progress, my presentation will highlight the early stages of my creative process, such as the phonemic transcription of the poem by Caproni (1999, 724–25), the phonemic analysis of the text, and the adoption of heterogeneous techniques of text fragmentation.


Bene, Carmelo. 2008a. “Manfred. Byron–Schumann. Versione italiana e rielaborazione per concerto.” In Bene 2008b, 925-51.

—. 2008b. Opere: Con L’Autografia di un ritratto. Milan: Bompiani.

Caproni, Giorgio. 1999. “Il mare come materiale.” In Tutte le poesie. Milan: Garzanti.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2008. “A proposito del Manfred alla Scala.” Translated into Italian by Jean Paul Manganaro. In Bene 2008b, 1466–67.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

—. 1994. What is Philosophy? Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell. New York: Columbia University Press.

Giacchè, Piergiorgio. 2007. Carmelo Bene: Antropologia di una macchina attoriale. Milan: Studi Bompiani.

International Phonetic Association. 1999. Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A Guide to the Use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jakobson, Roman, Gunnar Fant, and Morris Halle. 1961. Preliminaries to Speech Analysis: The Distinctive Features and Their Correlates. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Re-Notations III: Schumann’s Kreisleriana, I Molto Agitato

What is a score? What is notation? What is the function of notation? These ontological questions assume that we can capture some essence of a particular thing. But essences can transform and thus we have to dismiss the concept of essence, or transform it with difference à la Deleuze. The answer to such questions is therefore an invitation to experiment with transformations.

If we say that a score under normal circumstances has the potential to release a certain sound world through the engagement of performers, then we must say that the Re-notations project does not release an audible world but a visual world of patterns through the engagement of particular diagrammatic relations. Thus, notation has been transformed in the sense of direction, aim, and function. The notation employed by the Re-notations project does not aim for performance and sonification, rather it contemplates the materiality of performance; it looks back on a particular musical situation, a specific musical location, and fuses time and spatial elements. Is it still notation? “Is” is the wrong word. This way of looking (notating) is both deterritorialisational and reterritorialisational. By extracting the specific stratum of the musical situation in question and replacing/releasing it into another notational context, the “music” or certain music forces escape for a moment and we experience the interplay of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation (both of notation itself and the music being notated). At the same time—the multidimensional potential of music is intensified—music is always becoming (even the classics).

Re-notations is a project/machine that re-notates classical piano masterpieces from a specific angle and with an entirely different aim from the original. It is notation that folds itself onto other notations, other scores, other musics, examining their signifier–signified relations with materiality. Re-notations are always in-between, they do not have their own music; they relate, they repeat, they allow escape. Re-notations focus on the materiality and physical context of the works examined and give us a specific perspective on music, a perspective that maps out the activity in space and time of the physical materials involved: hands and fingers on specific locations on the piano keyboard. Through this, the intensity and density of the involved activity is revealed as an overcrowded space of movements.

A pattern emerges, but not from design or from an author but from a specific diagrammatic relation. Music seen from this perspective is constantly occupying the same locations where actions keep folding one another, repeating differences. A performance of spatio-temporal multiplicity is disclosed. Each keystroke (depression) is accounted for as a link between a spatial location on the keyboard and a temporal axis. Exhausted location, excessive quantity, superimpositions, and interpenetration become the subject of this notational act where the relationship between hands and keyboards, time and materiality, are put to the foreground. The “score” is becoming an abstract, virtual, diagrammatic “recording” of the physical and material situation the music demands: a limited number of space-points are occupied and activated in specific temporal order. This order becomes obscure within a multiplicity of condensed locations. This is the escape of a clandestine stratum of a musical multiplicity (a slice). Thus, notation reverses or diversifies its direction and becomes an active post-performance activity, not instructional, not authoritative, but speculative, reflective, and itself performative.

Afterimage: The Dark Precursor

One morning in September, during the preparations for the conference, we noticed these large black-and-white photographs hanging on the walls of De Bijloke. We learned that every season, De Bijloke invites a visual artist to reflect on music: Michiel Hendryckx (2011/12), Randall Casaer (2012/13), Jan Van Imschoot (2013/14), Dirk Zoete (2014/15), and, this season, Iphygenia Dubois and Lore Horré with their new series Afterimage. No other relation between Afterimage and DARE 2015 was apparent, except that we would soon be sharing the foyer. A small incident we were about to ignore and yet the conference topic forced us to think again.

We can recognise an ambivalence important to Nietzsche: all the forces whose reactive character he exposes are, a few lines or pages later, admitted to fascinate him, to be sublime because of the perspective they open up for us and because of the disturbing will to power to which they bear witness. They separate us from our power but at the same time they give us another power, “dangerous” and “interesting.” (Deleuze 1983, 66).

There and then, external circumstances were forcing an encounter, inducing a double capture (Deleuze 1987, 7). Artistic research is made of such encounters. Sometimes, something passes across disparate series in art and research, producing when it happens the tingling electric feeling of the sublime and, when it has happened, the electrifying fascination with what it creates. In this passage, Lyotard seems to capture the dark precursor at the highest intensity:

Sublime feeling is analyzed as double defiance. Imagination at the limits of what it can present does violence to itself in order to present that it can no longer present. Reason, for its part, seeks, unreasonably, to violate the interdict it imposes on itself and which is strictly critical, the interdict that prohibits it from finding objects corresponding to its concepts in sensible intuition. In these two aspects, thinking defies its own finitude, as if fascinated by its own excessiveness. (Lyotard 1984, 55)

A few weeks later, I remembered where in Deleuze I had found something about the afterimage and found the reference in Brian Massumi’s translator’s foreword to A Thousand Plateaus. I quote it here as a conclusion to this short introduction and as a good omen for Iphygenia and Lore and for the entire DARE 2015:

In Deleuze and Guattari, a plateau is reached when circumstances combine to bring an activity to a pitch of intensity that is not automatically dissipated in a climax. The heightening of energies is sustained long enough to leave a kind of afterimage of its dynamism that can be reactivated or injected into other activities, creating a fabric of intensive states between which any number of connecting routes could exist. (Massumi 1987, xiv)

Paolo Giudici


Deleuze, Gilles. 1983. Nietzsche and Philosophy. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson. London: Continuum.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Claire Parnet. 1987. Dialogues. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lyotard, Jean-François. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Translated by Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Massumi, Brian. 1987. “Translator’s Foreword: Pleasures of Philosophy.” In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, ix–xv. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.