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  1. Of the many forms of expression through which their thought moves, flowing and multiplying without privilege or hierarchy, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari number "pop" among the most powerful (in the Spinozian sense, of that which affords the greatest potential for further connection and ramification). In what might at first seem a wildly inappropriate context—their analysis of Kafka's production of a "minor literature"—they define "pop" as:
    An escape for language, for music, for writing. What we call pop—pop music, pop philosophy, pop writing—Wörterflucht [word flight]. To make use of the polylingualism of one's own language, to make a minor or intensive use of it, to oppose the oppressed quality of this language to its oppressive quality, to find points of nonculture or underdevelopment, linguistic Third World zones by which a language can escape, an animal enters into things, an assemblage comes into play. (Kafka 1986, 26-27)
    "Pop," then, is for Deleuze and Guattari a form of multiplicity, a rhizome; indeed, in A Thousand Plateaus they insist that "RHIZOMATICS = POP ANALYSIS" (A Thousand Plateaus 24).1 The rhizome, of course, is their well-known image of a decentered system of points that can connect in any order and without hierarchy, a term drawn from botany that names a network of stems, like the strawberry plant, that grows horizontally and discontinuously by sending out runners.

    Pop can be conceived as a rhizome because it develops by fits and starts, in a messy, practical, improvisational way rather than in a refined, programmatic, theoretical way. The logic of the rhizome is opposed to that of the tree, which is a hierarchical structure centered around a fixed root, a structure that grows continuously and vertically (A Thousand Plateaus chapter 1). If pop is a rhizome, then it may be helpful to think of the Germanic tradition of formal composition from Bach to Schoenberg, along with the classical musicology that studies that tradition, as an example of the linear tree system: a continuous sequence in which each successive composer extends the rigorous line of harmonic development established by the previous composers further in the same direction.

  2. Although a detailed comparative examination of the two models would certainly be rewarding, it is beyond the scope of this essay. We have chosen specifically to limit our discussion to the pop realm or regime, defined as follows: the regime of music production that is tied neither to the European composer/concert tradition and its strict division of labor, nor to any of the various historical traditions of indigenous music making around the world, but rather to the bricolage of modern recording technology (electric/electronic instruments, studios, overdubbing, mixing, etc.) and its media of distribution. This definition of pop obviously has little to do with the neo-Romantic "popist/rockist" genre distinction that dominates many popular music studies, and even less to do with market demographics; it’s intended to be a productivist model that can in principle unite disparate phenomena like dub, musique concrète, dance remixes, electronica, and stadium rock along a coherent conceptual axis without necessarily claiming that it can account for all the differences among these phenomena. Because of the productivist nature of our model, we will be dealing exclusively with recordings; recordings are the unequivocally privileged form of production, distribution, and consumption of this musical rhizome. We are not particularly interested in whether the recordings in question sell ten or ten million copies; pop in this sense is not essentially a quantitative term but rather a qualitative one, just as it is not a marker of generic distinction, but rather a productive potential of all music. This is what Deleuze and Guattari’s claim concerning "pop music, pop philosophy, pop writing" demands.

  3. Their functional and differential theory of pop intersects with more traditional critical definitions of the term at several points, but it also escapes from tradition in a number of significant ways, and provides contemporary musicians with new points of departure for musical composition.2 Indeed, we propose that any valid theory of contemporary music must be similarly double: descriptive of existing musics, and enabling of future musics. Deleuze and Guattari’s theory meets this criterion. We will first lay out the descriptive elements of their general theory of music, which must be assembled from a number of published sources since Deleuze and Guattari never dedicated a text exclusively to the exposition of their ideas on music. A second descriptive section will also attempt to identify the specific pop music artifacts and experiences from which Deleuze and Guattari drew the key elements of their pop rhizome. This will serve as a transition to the final section of our argument, which will examine a number of electronic pop recordings explicitly dedicated to Deleuze and Guattari in order to determine the ways in which their theory has enabled innovative new forms of music to arise.
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