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.

Two Shorts

And: Conjunction (2010, 14 min.). A new day is starting. While the city awakes, two clowns tell a story about a city and its people in an empty field without any population. Time passes away. Two men, two women seek for something lost . . . AND is neither one thing nor the other, it’s always in between, between two things; it’s the borderline, there’s always a border, a line of flight or flow, only we don’t see it, because it’s the least perceptible of things. And yet it’s along this line of flight that things come to pass, becomings evolve, revolutions take shape. (Gilles Deleuze, Cahiers du Cinema 271, November 1976)



The Four (2010, 8 min.). This short film tries to put into experience a combination of different planes of compositions—the ontological-mathematical logic of Hollis Frampton’s work (Zorns Lemma, 1970), William Burroughs’s cut-up method, and Georges Bataille’s scatological desire—across a theological and concrete field. Each part traces and repeats parts of Allah by Mansour Al-Hallaj. Hallaj is a symptom of heretical clashes in the middle-earth milieu, tortured and sacrificed by his society because of his (her)ethic(al) ideas about the relation between infinite and finite. An underground folk-rock singer recites the poem. This film is about the powers of chaos and the challenges with determined rational structures. In this experience every shot is one second.


Nomad dérive

The goal of the workshop is to create a sound map of the area around the conference and compose a soundwalk using mobile phones and GPS to augment the sensorial dimensions of experiencing the city. We offer to participants the use of Android mobile phones, headphones, software, and recording equipment. Participants are advised to bring their own laptops and Android OS devices if possible, although Akoo-o can provide a number of mobile phones. The workshop will be scheduled as follows:

(1) Theory (distinction of sound walks, listening walks, audio walks; promenadology; public space art; link with the Deleuzian notion of nomadism and rhizome; locative media art). (2) Walk around the area of the conference venue to get acquainted with conscious listening and the specific site; field recordings of the area. (3) Editing the audio material (field recordings); acquaintance with editing software and basic techniques. (4) noTours (getting acquainted with this open source locative media platform to create a sound walk using the area map). (5) Walk to the area to listen to the soundwalk. (6) Discussion.

Participants are inducted into the process of soundscape composition, sound design, and sound mapping within the framework of site-specific artistic practice and promenadology and are familiarised with the use of innovative locative media applications. We will exemplify in practice field recording techniques and sound editing, as well as reproduction and sound composition based on the map of the city, using the open-source platform “noTours.” noTours ( is an open-source software platform developed by collective for creating site-specific and interactive artistic works with the use of locative media technology, which results in an environment of “augmented aurality” within public space.

Starting from the situationist practice of “derive” and the Deleuzian concept of “nomadism,” we create itineraries that escape from concrete urban planning—which is primarily visual, geometrically aligned, and panoptically designed. We suggest a new cartographic model that could represent various layers of perception and experience of urban space and is based on mobility rather than stasis: this would include time as a fourth dimension, the subjective glance, the relational and emotional layers of experience; finally, it should be open to a polyphonic narration about space, at the process of its transformation into place. Strolling within an aurally augmented city is an open-ended artistic gesture that is ready to be reinterpreted and retoured by each listener. noTours is a tool for détournement and moving, appropriating the popular format of tourist guides and transforming it into a medium for non-touring and non-guiding.

The notion of “augmented aurality,” as used in the artistic practice of soundwalks, consists of intervening in space using audio means. It is an experience of immersion in a hybrid environment between material and potential reality, which employs the multiple levels of the constantly transforming notion of public space. As Deleuze and Guattari imply, many social activities, including art, can constitute a war-machine drawing, “a plane of consistency, a creative line of flight, a smooth place of displacement,” by reforming or acting against dominant systems and/or practices. In the case of soundwalking, nomadism is not relevant because it suggests fleeing the city but because it proposes wandering as resistance to the city’s confined and bordered space. In these soundscape compositions narratives prevail, communities acquire space and voice, and buildings are not the mere subjects of a sightseeing tour; the city is not a collection of historical information but a space to aurally, artistically, and socially wander within the microframes this space rhizomatically consists of. Music and narrative become tools; leaving behind ethnography, documentary, score, concert hall, museums, and institutions, they become pliable materials, fragments of a living organism, of a city-score whose music is made by and is addressed to people. Actually the notion of nomadism and war machine apply here “as a war of becoming over being, of the sedentary over the nomadic.”

Nevertheless, one should not assume that locative media soundwalking is in itself an act of drift against dominant systems. Locative media technology relies upon the ultimate panoptical device, satellite supervision, which in turn is adopted within the lures of postmodern, immaterial capitalism. But as the capitalisation of individual movement establishes itself alongside the colonisation of private space by “dotcom neoliberalism,” it is the movement between milieux, the reflection upon our shifting habitat, and the détournement of the parts of a well-oiled machine that can give us the ability to escape from a stagnant structure. From this perspective, we tend to view the work of art as a process, a dialogue between fields, a discursive negotiation with our social, physical, and digital environment, and an approach that reflects on the way the workshop is performed.

Strata: A Lecture Performance

My first creative gesture, always, is inwards. I look inside; I dive inside. I bathe myself in the numerous, interconnected yet distinct streams of sensations, thoughts, and feelings that incessantly rush through me. I drift upon them; I observe how they intersect, split one another apart, or converge. Amidst the buzzing of inner activities that living appears to be as soon as one suspends one’s project-oriented actions, one sees tentative tropes emerging, heteroclite assemblages forming themselves. Some persist, others vanish quickly to cohere later in a different combination. My work attempts to investigate how we constantly compose our experience from the multiplicity of which we are made. Artistic research too proceeds from an introspective drive: art turning itself toward art in an attempt to question anew its processes and its effects; research as a movement that goes nowhere but insists to be where it is, digging up the very place upon which it stands. Following such a self-reflexive movement, art encounters itself as not self-identical, animated as it is by multiple other practices—craftsmanship, daily life, theory, philosophy, politics . . .

Strata, the online publication on which this lecture performance is based, is an instantiation of such an introspective approach. It is a cross section of my own work, applying my compositional strategies to question my own practice. A collage of images, text, and video fragments on an endless white page, it was created in 2014 on an online platform for multi-modal publications, Oral Site, which is hosted by Sarma, a workplace focusing on artistic research and discursive creation. Although explicit references to Deleuzian concerns do surface in Strata—direct quotations as well as excerpts of an interview with I. Stengers—it is mostly through its rhizomatic mode of composition that it meets the philosopher’s work. With no centre, no end, no linearity, it offers itself as an environment to get lost in. By maintaining their reciprocal heterogeneity, clusters made of distinct documents create a wide constellation, a field of tensions where relationships are endless, yet (or because of this) are never totally effectuated. In this composition, gaps are pivotal and the trade with the non-actualised is constant. It invites the visitor to a diagrammatic experience in which meanings and affects emerge in the midst of invisible trajectories that saturate the page as one’s attention bounces from words to drawings to filmed movement, from personal anecdotes to art history to philosophical digression or political concerns. In its associated lecture-performance series, Strata is screened for the audience and offers itself as a score for a digressive exegesis. We navigate its large plane, unfolding one of the countless ways to think and feel its layering. Live dance and/or drawing extends its constellation into the room as the performer—myself—embodies the particular mythology instantiated by the publication.