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.

References

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. http://www.sfmelrose.u-net.com/.

Maintenant: Seeing the Untouchable, Touching the Unseen

We can say . . . of time . . . that it is the whole of relations.
—Gilles Deleuze (1986, 10)

A cinematic screen is filled with the image of my hands conducting, caught from above and behind my left shoulder. The motion and the touch of my hands captivate as they reach out into the blackness of empty space to make visible the materiality of sound as I sculpt and shape the evolving music. The image of sculptor Joël Prévost’s hands appear deeply immersed in the sensuality of their touch as his fingers probe what lies hidden beneath the surface of his clay. It is an unexpected pairing—music and sculpture—yet, centre stage at a slightly forward angle, Prévost’s finished sculpture of my hands, suspended in motion, draws the images together. Its form as sculpture speaks to the fleetingness of the unfolding moment and its longevity as a present grasped. The play between the sculpture and the images, the fleetingness and the grasping, points to the image of the hand that holds time embodied in the roots of the French word for now, main-tenant. This exposition explores the transformational power of the moment in all its temporal complexity.

The project stems from the long-standing gap between knowledge about music and that garnered through its embodied experience in the moment. Driven by a definition of music as a temporal art, the gap has framed listening as a function of the ear alone. Deleuze (2004, 73), however, argues “even in the joining of sensations . . . there is resonance.” Hearing has a tactile dimension. Touch is also a movement, a gesture through which one situates or places oneself in relationship to an evolving whole; and, as both a touching and being touched by, it “necessarily constitute[s] couplings of sensation. . . . [that] produce resonance” (ibid., 66). Prévost’s sculpture of my hands, made while I conducted, allowed me to cultivate these relationships and marry my own touch and hearing to the tactility of the sculpting clay to make visible the thought—the grasping—that had been hitherto hidden in my gestures.

These couplings also make tangible the “invisible,” “insensible,” “dark precursor” that precipitates the paradigmatic transformations of sudden flashes of creative insight. As in a developing variation, the multi-sensory, temporal, and spatial possibilities of film are used in combination with the sculpture onstage continually to “look again,” each time from a different perspective. Enhanced through a kinaesthetic memory invoked by my (live) voice, the ensuing rub of sight, sound, motion, stillness, past and present, spawns the echoes from which Michel Serres (1995, 119) argues time itself is born. My hands are constantly “re-membered,” as echoes, many “unheard” and seemingly without a past, become an opening to the future. Time itself is set in motion and sound renews Deleuze’s concept of touch. The exposition unfolds around Pászti Miklòs’s Fekete Lány and is based on a poem by Federico García Lorca originally “found” through gestures of the hand.

Web: eleanorstubley.com; joelaprevost.com

References

Brunner, Christopher. 2013. “Affective Timing and Non-sensuous Perception in Differential Media,” Simondon and Digital Culture Conference, Leuphana University.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1986. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

—. 2004. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Translated by Daniel W. Smith. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Serres, Michel. 1995. Genesis. Translated by Geneviève James and James Nielson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Fluxus Affects of Indeterminacy: An Aleatory Point Between Art and Philosophy

Deleuze is interested in exploring the dark night, the outside of thought. He addresses the emergence of thought itself, the event whereby sense is wrested from a mute, immanent field of sensibility: “that blind, acephalic, aphasic and aleatory original point which designates ‘the impossibility of thinking that is thought,’ that point where ‘powerlessness’ is transmuted into power” (Deleuze 1999, 199). This event occurs when something forces our faculties to communicate their intensive differences between one another, producing a “phenomenal flash”: the sudden shock of sensation (ibid., 30/20). This event of thought is provoked rather than internally generated, and it is provoked by the “dark precursor”—the being of the sensible. For Deleuze, provocation of thought is an ethical imperative, yet the dark precursor is dark in relation to thought, to which it is imperceptible, unthinkable (ibid., 236–37); this is the paradox of thinking about that which cannot be thought. Our claim is that to “think” this event means to change the nature of thought, to think affectively. This is why we are particularly interested in the idea of art as a kind of thinking—a thinking by and through the intensification of affect. We are interested in the creation of new affects that have a potential to change the flows and cadences of present configurations, and in amplifying affects that contribute to or engender a sensitivity to the immanent intensive and affective processes that condition thought. Whereas thought cannot directly apprehend the dark precursor, artistic affects can usher us toward an experience that more closely resembles the intensive level at which it operates. Given that the dark precursor is both pure disparity and the absolutely indeterminate, we are particularly interested in affects of indeterminacy as possibly contributing to this sensitivity. This is particularly important for our interest in the performances of the neo-avant-garde art collective Fluxus, which creates new affective spaces by merging the artist and audience, generating the indeterminate performance. The question we wish to develop is, what do Fluxus affects do? Preliminarily, we propose that Fluxus performances are paradigmatic of resistance and mobility, providing a model of the becoming of thought and providing an affective encounter with indeterminacy.

This presentation will focus on the early musical performance of Phillip Corner’s Piano Activities (Wiesbaden, 1962) and the later performance of Dick Higgins’s Danger Music as examples of two signature features of Fluxus “score events”: the integration of chance and contingency and an intentional liberation of affective potentials through the deconstruction of traditional assumptions of the nature of the art genre itself. Both of these features are integral to developing what I am calling the “affect of indeterminacy,” which could serve as a visceral experience to bridge the gap between the dark precursor as a theoretical construct and what Deleuze truly would like us to understand—the affective power of the dark precursor as a transformative moment. Art does not provide a theoretical application, but enacts the real provocation of thought.

References

Deleuze, Gilles. 1999. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. London: Athlone Press.

New Islands: The “Manifold” of Performing Gestural Electronic Music

New Islands is an entwined, manifold, physical, sonic, gestural, electronic, mediated, yet immediate musical performance.

The performance’s main issues are presence, agency, and mediation. This manifests in an interwoven, complexly folded situation of physically performing with electronic sound processes and technological instruments. At stake are the relationships between the artist’s body, actions and affects connected to the resulting soundworld, abstract narrative, and the imagination triggered in the audience. This happens in the social situation of the concert space, the period shared in co-presence with the audience, by sharing the moment of shaping the sounds and the overall musical form.

The performance is tied to the key elements of the physical actions, the perceived intentionality and agency of the performer, yet also the invisible presence of the “machinic” agency, and the interaction and dialogue with the musical processes and structures. Algorithmic, rule-based processes are counterbalanced by a state of pre-reflective, intuitive “surfing” of the piece.

The stage situation represents an “island” in the flow of everyday life, which comes naturally for the audience but is equally true for the performing artist. The moment onstage represents the tip the iceberg, a singularity, a focal point, the compression moment of a practice that spans a considerably larger scope. This compression results in a “manifold,” a “fold,” and a “millefeuille” of elements that are infinitely entwined. Yet, given a beginning and an end in a performance, this multiplicity of elements becomes finite, at least in time, and can be perceived and experienced as a unified object, created and shared in the presence of the audience/viewers.

The metaphor of the “manifold,” a concept from abstract mathematics, serves to point toward a state of affairs where many dimensions intermingle, explode, and get wrapped and enfolded in such a way as to render nearly impossible the task of identifying, isolating, and evaluating the individual constituent parts; or at least it only permits approximations to singular exemplars of the experience in question.

This abstract model represents the multiplicities of implications, operational domains, and significances present in any musical performance situation, particularly when applied to non-predetermined or non-textual practices.

New Islands investigates a core question through “showing/doing”: whether and how the signifiers, act(ors/ants), and shifting scopes that get (re)present(ed) in the stage situation are organised hierarchically and how they represent a gridded cultural space; whether and how they embody a decentred, shifting, and enfolded web of relationships and strata that we are forced to continuously traverse in multi-perspectival, shifting perceptions.

Web: jasch.ch/islands