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.

References

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.

No Voice Is Lost

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari write that “There is always a woman, a child, a bird to secretly perceive the secret. There is always a perception finer than yours, a perception of your imperceptible, of what is in your box.” Our proposition is concerned with the perception of this imperceptible through the practice of the refrain (ritournelle) and how this is able to make visible long-hidden experiences and reunite scattered memories. The core argument is that the ghosts remaining after a catastrophe such as a genocide are still active as long as their role has not been properly worked out. One way of doing so is to let the ghosts speak through the gestures and words of the living, and the way they speak can be described using the notion of refrain, introduced by Deleuze and Guattari. Our project tells the story of Gülizar (1875–1948), an Armenian girl who became a legend during her lifetime because she was abducted by a powerful Kurdish tribe chief as a fourteen-year-old girl, but resisted him and managed to return to her village. Gülizar’s story lives on not only in Armenian communities but also among the Kurdish people living today in the area where she lived, in the Plain of Mush (Eastern Turkey). We have explored different ways of letting her presence be felt, and found that the different versions of her story, from the Armenian or Kurdish oral traditions, formed a territorialising refrain that asked many important questions connecting the unconscious, memory, and the politics of resistance.

The legacy of historical collective traumas has been widely discussed in psychoanalytical contexts. The works of Abraham and Torok, or of Janine Altounian, among many others, have shown that collective traumas can be transmitted through several generations. But this approach is centred on the individual perspective; the collective dimension of the traumas requires an approach to memory free from the individual psychic space and on another plane. On this question, Deleuze and Guattari’s suggestions in the “Refrain” chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, as well as Guattari’s own developments in his Machinic Unconscious, are useful. They understand the notion of refrain as both the intimate and the collective “temporalisation of our relation to landscapes and to the living world”; as such, it seems to be a necessary component of collective memories.

The issue is then on two levels: first it is about bringing a collective unconscious to the foreground; second, it is about mobilising a vivid memory in order to favour social change. The contribution will show the video No Voice is Lost, featuring the memory of Gülizar’s story through the testimonies of different people (Kurds and Armenians) for whom this story is important, along with the landscapes where she lived before 1915. The song (lament) about Gülizar is the refrain able to reconnect the living and the dead with this space, with this landscape, and cast a bridge over the breaches of time.