- How are we to think of the explosive potentiality of "pop,"
this "minor" or "intensive" use of music
in Deleuze and Guattari's work? In A Thousand Plateaus,
Deleuze and Guattari take as the starting point of their analysis
of music the concept of the "refrain" or ritournelle
(literally "little return"), which they define as
a rhythmic pattern that serves to mark a point of stability
in a field of chaos, like the tune a child hums in the dark
to comfort him- or herself. Refrains can be of many types, with
many uses and motifs: not only the refrains of pop music, but
also nursery rhymes and lullabies, the folks songs and Lieder
of a people, national anthems, sacred or liturgical hymns, the
drinking songs of friends, or even the songs of birds. What
is common to all such refrains, however, is that they are linked
to the spatio-temporal delineation and organization of a territory.
Deleuze and Guattari begin with this notion of the refrain,
not because it lies at the origin of music, but rather because
it lies at its middle, and thereby gives them the means of assessing
both the reterritorializing and deterritorializing potential
- Music can be said to reterritorialize on the refrain when
it moves in the direction of what Deleuze and Guattari call
a "punctual system," which is like a house erected
on the territory of the refrain. This music-architecture parallel
(architecture as "frozen music," and music as "moving
architecture") has often been used to characterize the
representation of music in the classical Western tradition,
from Goethe and Schelling to Varèse and Xenakis. Each
sound becomes a "note," a point whose position is
determined within a system of coordinates having two basic axes:
the horizontal axis of the melody, in which the points form
horizontal lines which are superimposed vertically on the bass
line, thereby entering into polyphonic relations of counterpoint
with each other; and the vertical axis of harmony, which moves
along the horizontals but is not dependent
on them, in which the notes form a harmonic chord that runs
from high to low and links up with the following chords. Between
these two axes, diagonals of modulation or transposition can
be drawn that establish localizable connections between points
of different levels or moments, thereby instituting various
frequencies and resonances.3 From
this point of view, canonical genres like the sonata, with its
three movements, each of which has specified sections (theme,
exposition, development, coda, etc.), can be seen as "enframing"
forms, like a house whose internal architectonic structure encloses
various rooms and passageways. The music unfolds in a "pulsed"
or metric time, which is marked by the inscription of a certain
number of beats in the determinate time of a measure (tempo),
and constitutes a striated space-time. Audiences, when listening
to such a piece of music, are expected to focus on its "plan
of organization," that is, on the relational network of
points and lines, whose unfolding they try to follow during
the course of the piece in order to infer or reconstitute the
structure of the whole.
- However, music is deterritorializing when it moves in a different
direction, that is, when it no longer gives primacy to formal
structures, but to the sonorous material itself. The musician
no longer demands that the note function in relation to the
harmonic or melodic axis, but rather considers the sound in
its singularity, as a pure force. It is as if the structure
of the house, in an act of deframing, opened out onto the sonorous
forces of the Cosmos, following a deterritorializing "line
of flight" that makes possible an almost limitless plane
of composition. Even within a punctual system, this takes place
whenever the diagonal is liberated as an autonomous dimension
of space and time, when a pure "block of sound"
is created that escapes the coordinates of the melodic horizontal
and the harmonic vertical and forms a "transversal"
that passes between the coordinates. Modern Western music, as
Deleuze and Guattari suggest in What is Philosophy?,
can in fact
be read as the progressive conquering of such a sonorous plane
of composition: the abandonment of the strict sonata form in
favor of more open "compositional studies" on the
piano (Chopin, Schumann, Liszt); the liberation of variations
of speed between sound particles (Wagner's recurrent "leitmotifs");
the opening up of local, territorial refrains to the great refrain,
the powerful song of the Earth (Mahler,
Berg, Bartók); the focus on timbre (Stravinsky, Boulez);
the proliferation of percussive effects or "densities"
(Varèse); the placing-in-variation of the voice (Stockhausen,
Berio); the redefinition of sound in terms of noise and silence
(Cage); the movement toward a non-chromatic use of sound in
an infinite continuum, in which the sound itself becomes an
autonomous motif that ceaselessly transforms itself, diminishing
and augmenting, adding or subtracting, varying its speed and
slowness (electronic music, synthesizers) (What is Philosophy
- From this point of view, music can be said to be made up of
mobile or "floating" blocks of sound that enter into
composition with each other on the smooth space-time of a cosmic
plane, outside of points, coordinates, and localized connections,
in a "non-pulsed" time (nontempo) made up of nothing
but modifications of speed and differences in dynamic.
There is no longer a predetermined "plan of organization"
to be recovered or inferred, but only a "plane of consistency"
on which these blocks of sound or "percepts" enter
into various connections, convergences, and divergences. In
Deleuze and Guattari's terms, these blocks form a rhizome. Under
these conditions, it is the "color" of the soundits
timbre, intensity, duration, densitythat assumes increased
importance, insofar as it constitutes an exploration of the
deterritorializing potential of the "sonorous phylum"
shall see below how a number of contemporary musicians have
taken this "deterritorializing" aspect of music in
- These two
formally different conceptions of music are not opposed to each
other, even in the Western tradition, but rather they are complementary;
they mark out a single field of interaction in which the deterritorializing
force of sound continually cuts loose the contents of a punctual
system, which in turn continually reappropriates the blocks of
sound into new systems of coordinates (e.g., serial music in relation
to free atonality). This is precisely why Deleuze and Guattari
define music in terms of the labor of the refrain: "Does
[the refrain] remain territorial and territorializing," they
ask, "or is it carried away in a moving block that draws
a transversal across all coordinateswith all the intermediaries
between the two? ... In each case we must simultaneously consider
factors of territoriality, deterritorialization, and reterritorialization."
And they pose the problem of pop music in exactly the same terms:
is precisely the adventure of the refrain: the way music lapses
back into a refrain (in our head, in the pseudo probe-heads
of TV and radio, the music of a great musician used as a signature
tune, a ditty); the way it lays hold of the refrain, makes
it more and more sober, reduced to a few notes, then takes
it down a creative line [of flight] that is so much richer,
no origin or end of which is in sight... (A Thousand Plateaus
a concrete example of the deterritorializing potential of the
refrain, Deleuze and Guattari cite the analyses of LeRoi Jones
(Amiri Baraka) who shows in Blues People how black slaves
in America, in the conditions of forced labor, took their old
African work songs, which were originally territorial refrains,
and made use of them in a "deterritorialized" manner,
in the process producing an "intensive" and plaintive
use of the English language by blending it with their own African
languages; these songs were in turn "reterritorialized"
by whites in minstrel shows, and the use of "blackface"
(Al Jolson); and then taken back by blacks in another movement
of deterritorialization and translated into a whole series of
new musical forms (blues, hootchie-koochie, etc.) (cited in
A Thousand Plateaus 137-138).
- Clearly, their claims for pop as an inventive and intensive
usage of the heterogeneous elements of different sonorous territories
are a far cry from the pessimistic account of popular or mass
culture articulated by T.W. Adorno in his writings on popular
music (primarily commercial jazz) and the culture industry.
For Adorno, mass culture in general and popular music in particular
represent not merely the commodification of art, but, more insidiously,
the systematic enforcement of the false universality of commodity
relations and profit that rationalizes all difference, what
he called the "non-identical," out of social life.
Even if at one time a genuine people's culture did express itself
directly in the form of folk tales and musics, Adorno considers
that by the late twentieth century the "culture industry"
had taken control of this art and turned it into a means of
administration (Horkheimer and Adorno 120-167).
Popular music in particular, Adorno claims,
enacts through its repetitive verse/refrain form and superficial
fashion shifts the debasement and conformity that capital imposes
on its subjects: "The subject which expresses itself [through
jazz] expresses precisely this: I am nothing, I am filth, no matter
what they do to me it serves me right" ("Perennial Fashion,"
132; see also Introduction to the Sociology of Music, chap.
2).6 Such a
culturally debased and subjectively debasing form of expression
could not possibly assist an individual performer or listener
in "deterritorializing" the determinations of capital,
but this is precisely what Deleuze and Guattari implicitly claim.
- In this,
Deleuze and Guattari's work resembles the criticism articulated
by the consumption theorists of popular music, particularly Simon
Frith's studies of youth culture and, in a different vein, Dick
Hebdige's analyses of punk as subculture. For these analysts,
the commodity form of mass-produced popular music (as opposed
to spontaneous folk forms) cannot fully determine the uses to
which those commodities are put by consumers any more than commodity
relations can completely reduce the singularity of avant-garde
modern artworks, celebrated by Adorno for their formal resistance
to the false universality of profit.
Inspired instead by Mikhail Bakhtin's vaguely subversive model
of dialogism and Walter Benjamin's (perhaps overly) optimistic
analysis of mechanically reproducible works of art, consumption
theorists (and their fellow-travelers like cultural historian
Michel de Certeau) focus on the inventive ways that consumers
find to de-contextualize and remotivate commodities and signs,
often against the grain of capitalist ideology and market logic
(see Bakhtin, Benjamin, and de Certeau). Deleuze and Guattari
would make a similar argument in terms of the way these deterritorialized
components can be reterritorialized, inserted into assemblages
of desire that act as "war machines" against the market.
Indeed, in Anti-Oedipus they follow Marx in insisting that
consumption is itself a circuit within a more broadly conceived
model of production, and they recognize that every economy must
produce consumption at the same time that it produces products,
and produces the network of distribution or communication that
disseminates those products (Anti-Oedipus 68-106; Marx
83-100). As (part of) such an economy itself, music must produce
listeners as well as sounds.
- Yet Deleuze
and Guattari differ significantly from these consumption theorists
in their refusal to posit the consumer's subjectivity, constructivist
though it may be, as foundational in a phenomenological sense.
If for consumption theory the individual subject, constituted
by and within capital, subsequently constitutes or assembles an
unforeseen or uncontrolled expression of its desires and dissatisfactions
through its manipulation and remotivation of the commodities provided
for it by the market, for Deleuze and Guattari the innovative
expression precedes and constitutes the subject rather than issuing
from that subject as an after-effect. That is, the subject that
is expressed via the assemblages of desire is not prior or transcendent
in relation to its expressions but immanent within and alongside
them. It is in the middle of everything and open to discontinuous
variation, like a refrain. The subject of/in pop music is not
a source or origin but a surface effect, a wave of difference
resonating across disparate regimes of signs; as participants
in the production and consumption of pop music, we become pop