Chaosmic Nuptials: The Secret Language of Mondrian’s Jazz

In A Thousand Plateaus, the work of abstract painter Piet Mondrian is mentioned three times. The work and thought of Kafka, on the other hand, forms an unbroken refrain throughout the text, and for Deleuze and Guattari “No one is better than Kafka at differentiating the two axes of the assemblage and making them function together.” However, it is possible to contend that A Thousand Plateaus is an extended play of variables referring pre-eminently to Mondrian, as a constant variable, and that to read the book is to hear Mondrian, so that as a point of departure here the statement becomes “No one is better than Kafka Mondrian at differentiating the two axes of the assemblage and making them function together.” How does this work?

Listening to the diagonal in Mondrian’s work (which is never there), makes it possible to discern that he is painting something else—the trace(r) of a “plurality of straight lines”; the intersection of sound and non-sound (which is neither sound nor silence); or “absolute speed.” Absolute speed can be found in a jazz club/time machine (“Everything in the bar moves and at the same time is at rest”), which decimates time not by travelling but by staying where it is: a time-space vector, a bit of time in its pure state approaching the superlinear system of music—a haecceity. In the mode of “new music,” Mondrian’s works depict a future event that has already transpired, but what will it be?

This paper/riff uses A Thousand Plateaus and Dialogues II to map Mondrian’s secret language, to deterritorialise the paintings (or rather to hear the deterritorialisations already at work in the work), by following as many lines of flight as possible to their infinite dimensions in and beyond the canvases. Thus, while it is possible to construe Mondrian’s abstract compositions as rigid utopias or as othering grids, invoking the line of death and abolition (as I have done elsewhere), a proximal listening to the compositions reveals hidden forces in the works—their true power. The artist stealthily uses the language of binaries (non-sound/sound, non-colour/colour, male/female, abstract/concrete, culture/ nature) to create a nuptial assemblage, so that when he invokes “the new music,” he does so with the nuptial line of flight in mind, combining binaries in a double capture—neither the same neutralising and eradicating the other, nor “opposites” merely “coupled.” The concrete-abstractions, as Mondrian refers to them, are hence interpreted here as painted jazz, audible compositions in a time-space zone of indeterminacy that hosts aberrant nuptials across n vectors of “binaries.” The geometric canvases arrive fast and slow as nodes of becoming, functioning as the milieus for a swarm of becomings, or chaosmos. This writing is hence an attempt to sound the artist’s secret language, to make the book machine/s of Deleuze and Guattari form a bloc with the war machine of Mondrian’s compositions somewhere outside and between the perpendicular.

Alone/Together: Simulacral “A-Presentation” in/into Practice-As-Research in Jazz

No series enjoys a privilege over others, none posses the identity of a model, none the resemblance of a copy . . . Each is constituted by differences, and communicates with the others through differences of differences.
—Gilles Deleuze (2004: 348)

This lecture-recital, interposing live music making and spoken word is concerned with our understandings of the creative processes by which musicians make music with the core repertoire in their particular disciplinary field, and with how research in/into such processes can best be undertaken and communicated. It will draw on, as an exemplar, my ongoing practice-as-research in a duo capacity with the saxophonist Mike Fletcher—a fellow member of the contemporary jazz scene in Birmingham (UK). In this research, expert music making with the standard repertoire in jazz forms the basis for a range of “theoretical practices” (Melrose 2005), including (as will be discussed in the presentation) notions primary to the Deleuzian canon.

In Deleuze’s well-known attack on what he called “the failure of representation” (2004, xvii), he proposed the collapse of the Platonic model/copy concept of identity in favour of an ontology of difference grounded in heterogeneous “a-presentation” (ibid., 27) that privileges “no prior identity, no internal resemblance” (ibid., 372–73). Deleuze refigured Plato’s own term “simulacrum” to indicate this internally differentiated “positive power which denies the original and the copy, the model and the representation” (2004, 299). Resonating with Deleuze’s concerns, my own research has explored the theorisation of the ontology of musical works (in this case, jazz standards) with regard to the simulacrum, beyond the limitations of the model of the original and the copy that remains prevalent, however implicitly, in how we tend to think of the relationship between works in a canonical repertoire and performances of “the same” (see Brown 2011).

Through a series of practice-as-research enquiries, Fletcher and I have experimented with ways of playing jazz standards from multiple different perspectives, in the simultaneous performance of key aspects of the pieces in question. In so doing, we have sought to investigate a deconstruction of the original/copy model of the identity of the jazz standard via the apparatus of a simulacral “a-presentation.” “Simulacra are not perceived in themselves,” wrote Deleuze (2004: 313), “what is perceived is their aggregate in a minimum of sensible time.” By means of performing multiple perspectives of the same jazz standards in “aggregated” form, we will argue that my practice-as-research enables listeners—and, crucially, fellow researchers—to experience a temporally-grounded “sense” of the internally-differentiated, simulacral ontology of jazz standards, in terms of the complex manifold nature of their utilisation by jazz musicians.


Brown, Lee B. 2011. “Do Higher-Order Ontologies Rest on a Mistake?” British Journal of Aesthetics 51 (2): 169–84.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2004. The Logic of Sense. Translated by Mark Lester with Charles Stivale. Edited by Constantin V. Boundas. London: Continuum.

—. 2004. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. London: Continuum.

Melrose, Susan. 2005. “Words Fail Me.” Keynote address at “Towards Tomorrow?,” Centre for Performance Research, Aberystwyth, 6–10 April 2005. Accessed 29 July 2009.

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.