Introduction: Fold by Fold

…to approach something that would be the common ground of words, lines, and colours, and even sounds. To write on painting, to write on music always implies this aspiration. [Deleuze in interview with Hervé Guibert]

This thesis is a philosophical exploration of modern music in light of Gilles Deleuze´s transcendental empiricism. What makes music and thought circulate and communicate with each other is not only that they share the same clinical essence – a schizophrenia in principle, a galloping schizophrenia of becoming Other – but that they both share the same problem: rendering forces, the differential play of forces, as a common ground of words and sounds, lines and colours. Transcendental empiricism is an adventure of thought when it encounters those forces that belong to it, but to which it is never referred. Music opens to the possibility of such an encounter, and this encounter and its possibility is the fundamental object and aim of the present thesis.

The following pages attempt to outline a trajectory that weaves together the idea of a transcendental empiricism with that of music as ways of synthesizing time to create sonorous bodies of intensity. Its focus is on how modern music does this in an attempt to render a direct encounter with intensity. This is done by following Deleuze and Guattari´s sketch of a changing configuration of form and matter, thinking and sensation, arriving in the 20th Century with an immanent plane of composition where sensation is thought qua intensity, difference and becoming. The relation form-matter is exchanged for a new compositional problem; that of constructing a complex material capable of rendering sensible imperceptible forces.

By asking the question how composers incarnate sensation in a material that can render audible or sensible the differential play of forces, a response can be made on least two different levels. One is the compositional, technical plane of composition, concerning the “musical language”, new complexes of sounds, new timbre, rhythmic strucutres, etc. The other to which the first is inextricable linked is the properly aesthetic question of the being of sensation thereby sought to be realized or expressed. This plane is, very simplified and provisionally put, the experiential side of the technical. It concerns the nature of the sensible aggregate as sensation. If the first one concerns musicological problems such as the studies of compositional techniques, registering the palette of scales and rhythms, sound complexes, instruments and more employed in the composition, situating it historically and socially, then the second problem exists in a field of tension between a philosophical and aesthetic register. It reaches from the most general philosophical question of sensation and its epistemology and ontology, to the most particular aesthetic question of how a certain compositional artifact – a rhythm, a mode – dispose a certain sensation. But always with regard to the neither general nor particular but singular question of the reality of sensation.

The present thesis attempts to unearth aspects of this aesthetic plane; to look at some ideas, problems and experiments constitutive for the “project” or “directional meaning” of modern music as rendering forces. What are the experiments, the ideas and problems, the morphology of thinking responsible for this modern exploration of intensity? This means to ask and to take seriously: what have the composers said about their approach to sound, music, sensation? What do they say with regard to their understanding of art and its function, and what experiements, epistemologies and ways of thinking are at work in their creation of music? By this enumeration is obviously not suggested a complete survey of all these aspects, but to indicate a field which is relevant for the construction of an understanding of modern music as transcendental empiricism.

Of course, modern music is many disparate things. In the present work I consider as a defining mark of modern music the quest for difference as it is understood and articulated by Deleuze, and I do that via three composers that I consider as three representatives: Arnold Schönberg, Olivier Messiaen and Giacinto Scelsi. All of these have contributed to the revolution in music and listening that the 20th Century brought us. Looking at their ideas about music as expressive incarnation of intensity it is possible to develop a more differentiated understanding of modern music as transcendental empiricism. The transition and metamorphosis that Arnold Schönberg made from romanticism to a modern dodechaphonic music can thus be understood as expressive of a possible transition and metamorphosis in thinking and sensation. The motivating idea of dodechaphony becomes indicative of a new way of thinking about and experiencing relations in sound. Olivier Messiaen´s claims about the significant “directional” meaning of music can be understood not only in a general and abstract way, but as referring to a concrete and detailed trajectory of metamorphosis of sensation. His claims about sound-complexes and modes employed in his music as colours related to dazzlement thus get a new “transcendental” resonance and become visible as a potential experimental practice. Giacinto Sclesi´s writings can be made consistent with his (intensive) music, and his claims about music as a “path” to the interior “depth” of sound methodologically exposed by developing what lies implied in the indications and sources he gives.

This is obviously not to say that I am trying to express what these composers really meant, or to articulate something which would be absolutely agreeable to their own understanding. Rather, it is to tease out operative ideas and experimental approaches that lend themselves to the construction of a consistent image of music as transcendental empiricism. It is the productive potential – should it be found – that will show the truth of the work, and not a diagnosis that remain on the level of the history of ideas. To approach music as transcendental empiricism is, as far as I know, not yet something that is systematically and experimentally pursued in any educational frame. But perhaps it is something that could stir creativity and becoming – both with regard to the music that is to be made, played or listened to, and with regard to the one who does it.

The first chapter Transcendental Empiricism and the Disjoining of the Faculties outlines elements of transcendental empiricism. Taking as point of departure the phenomenological discussion of sensation as element in the constitution of a well-ordered perception, transcendental empiricism is outlined as a direct apprehension of the being of sensation. Beyond any representation mediated by the “common sense” determined by an organically disposed consciousness this apprehension is immanent to the apprehended. This presentation is centered around the notion of a disjointed exercise of the faculties which Deleuze presents in the third chapter of Difference and Repetition. In showing how the unhinging of the faculties from common sense returns them to their own element, as their own ontological equivalence, I first give a condensed exposition of the three syntheses of time as the genesis of representation. These are simultaneously the transcendental conditions for real experience and the domain that is unearthed and repeated in the transcendent exercise of the disjointed faculties. On this background I present the idea of an encounter with intensity as the event which raises sensibility, unhinges it from common sense and delivers it to a pure sensation in itself. To show how Deleuze indicates the practical experimentation involved in such metamorphosis of consciousness, I include some references and sections from What is Philosophy? and A Thousand Plateaus. This leads to a discussion of what it means to enter the body without organs as a speculative praxis. The last part of the chapter relates the foregoing to art and to what Deleuze says about art as a transcendental empiricism and a thinking in terms of the compound of sensation – percepts and affects. Art considered as aggregates or compounds of sensations that are real in themselves – beings that have their own consistency and reality independent of the one who undergoes them – makes artworks into “monuments” that individuate new modes of feeling and perceiving. As such, art creates, and the mode of individuation related to new ways of listening and experiencing intensity in music is briefly outlined as the closing section of this first chapter.

The next chapter Music as Temporal Synthesis and Intensive Body is a meditation on music as synthesis of time and the traditional elements of music as part of an intensive body. This is then read into Deleuze and Guattari´s sketch of musical individuation as determined by a matter-form configuration in Classisism, undergoing metamorphosis in Romanticism and reaching the modern question of a material which can render audible inaudible forces, bringing the impersonal individuations of music to the fore. Reaching this aesthetic situation, we can then see how the molecularized material of modern music asks us to acquire a new mode of listening. This new “impossible ear” means a molecularization of perception that no longer remains within the contraction of time in the imagination but reaches into the subrepresentative synthesis of time in perception itself; the being of sensation.

Chapter 3, Schönberg; Dodechaphonic Reflection of a Unitary Musical Space looks at Arnold Schönberg´s dodechaphony as a transition from a thinking strongly influenced by romanticism to the modern occupation with difference. The motivation and rationale for dodechaphony is explained by Schönberg in his lecture Composition with Twelve Tones. Here he refers to a unitary perception of a unitary musical space whose dimensions are reversible, and consequently also immanent to what populates it. Tracing the nature of this idea – by Schönberg referred back to Swedenborg – an image emerges that sheds light on Schönberg´s view of the musical Idea and the relation it has to its actualization in sound by means of the compositional principles of dodechaphony. Schönberg conceived of this Idea as equvivalent to Goethe´s notion of an Ur-Pflanze, and the dodechaphonic principles of composition serve as means of embodying a virtual structure in a musical material that constitutes the musical space into which it is projected. The reflection of this virtual Idea is omnipresent in all the actual structures as well as the space in which these structures are deployed. All tone-relations spring from the “same” virtual structure or relationship. On this basis, Schönberg´s musical thinking can be said to be goethean; a morphological thinking that thinks form as continuous formation. Such a morphological thinking must relate to transition as the very essence of formation, and not subjected to the forms that are expressed. But just as important for the question of music as transcendental empiricism is this: morphological processurality requires that listening-thinking encounters the force of transformation within its own imaginative contraction of forms. In this sense, we can see Schönberg as initiating a music which relates to the virtual in a new sense, even if he remained partly within a romantic paradigm of musical expressivity. For Deleuze (influenced by Boulez) this dodechaphonic revolution had its natural continuation in the serial organization of all the parameters of sound, virtualizing all themeatic identity and form such that music came to be in the service of “a cosmic continuum” as a virtual field of forces.

Chapter 4 is entitled Messiaen; Dazzlement and the Directional Meaning of Music. Here the focus lies on developing an understanding of what Messiaen means by dazzlement as the directional meaning of music. This is done by following a trajectory implicit in his own exposition of sound-colour as the ingredients of dazzlement through sound. By bringing his references to natural resonance and complimentary colours (or after-images) – phenomena he claims lies as the basis for everything he created! – into a philosophical discussion of sensation and intensity, we can gain a practical approach to the question of sensation as contemplation. It can then both be related to but also released from the personal synaesthetic experience of Messiaen that can often dominate discussions of his music. In following the trajectory implicit in Messiaen´s exposition of his experiences of sound, colour and dazzlement – primarily from his Notre-Dame lecture but found in a number of writings, interviews and scores – we come to see the summit of dazzlement as exhibiting many components resembling the life of the body without organs accessed in a transcendental empiricism.

The last quasi case-study is chapter 5, Scelsi; the Interior of Sound and Music as Intensity. Scelsi left us quite a few writings on music and aesthetics, an autobiography, as well as a number of interviews. Based on this material I give first an overview of some essential elements in Scelsi´s thought concerning the role of music and the musician, the nature of perception, and on the tone as a monadic entity. In his writings he traces this monadic conception of the tone back to Goethe. As is well known, Scelsi considered himself to have penetrated into a depth-dimension of the tone, something that became the defining mark and inspirational source of his own music. The modern link between Goethe´s monadic conception and Scelsi´s experience is Rudolf Steiner. Scelsi appears to havne been greatly influenced by Steiner who in 1920 suggested a possible future music to be created out of the interior depth of the tone. Scelsi´s musical thinking is inextricably woven together with ideas about contemplative practice, influenced by a number of religious and philosophical traditions, notably among them the Hindu conception of sound as creative power. Following an article of the spectral composer Tristan Murail, I consider Scelsi´s occupation with the “Orient” as being as much an imaginary and interior orient as the historical and geographical milieu. On this basis I construct a line from Goethe via Steiner to Scelsi as part of a modern European avant-garde tradition exploring sound as intensity. This line allows us to develop a consistent methodology that can be seen as corresponding to Scelsi´s aesthetics and his remarks spread around in his writings, even if this operation would not correspond to his actual practice which appears to have been an idiosyncratic mixture of very different elements. This methodology, based on the Steiner-Goethe constelleation, involves meditative concentration as creation of pure thinking and an active decomposition of representation into pure sensation. Despite the obvious differences in style and outlook, the decomposition of the mental picture and the reversal of the forces active therin excersised in Steinerian meditations can be productively related to the principles of a transcendental empiricism. By this route, also the music and aesthetic-philosophical project of Scelsi can be understood within the framework of transcendental empiricism. 

After having delved into some of the ideas and practices of these three composers the prospect of a transcendental empiricism is hopefully becoming more visible. Each composer naturally frame his creativity in his own theo- or pneumatology, but they exemplify in illuminating ways Deleuze´s diagnosis of modern art as experimentation and encounter with Intensity. But if as Deleuze says it is not a matter of putting philosophy to music or vice versa but of the one folded into the other, fold by fold, then the new conceptual creations that ensue should give rise to a new (continuous) way of moving between music and thought – one which always goes via the forces and intensities at work, and which incarnate these accordingly in words, sounds, tones. To do this the chapter Experiments with Intensity aims to harvest some tricks and procedures from the foregoing to approach an experimentation with the limits of perception and thinking.

The last chapter The Only Aesthetic Problem: Inserting Art into Everyday Life takes a quote by Deleuze as its point of departure. Here I argue that the developments we have studied in music refers us to the intensive nature and potential of our senses in general. The body is an intensive and virtual process as much as an actual entity. “Body” is much more than the organism. Deleuze´s concept of a body without organs as the stratum on which the organism inserts itself and organizes, stratifies and subdues life shows this. The concept of sensation includes both of these dimensions; the “empirical sensation” of the organism and sensation in-itself, sensation as contemplation, contractions of elements from which one originates. The three explorations that we have seen with Schönberg, Messiaen and Scelsi are examples of ways of thinking and experiencing this relation/metamorphosis. The displacements of the Deleuzian concepts that this has brought will here be discussed as part of a reproblematization of Deleuze´s concept of sensation. This will then give rise to the “vision” of folding subsisting underneath the trajectory of the thesis.

If the subject, i.e. our consciousness and self, is an outcome of the body as foldings of time – contractions and syntheses giving way to a pure and empty dead form of time – the relation between subjectivity and body needs to be rethought and acquired on this level of intensity and life. Music as part of a general aesthetics of living and conscious exploration and virtualization of our senses can contribute to a release of subjectivity from its entrenchment in structures of domination, stratification and suppression exerted by techno-capitalism today. Obviously, such a “release” is a metamorphosis, and it will only have a lasting impact if it gives rise to a new creative practice, expanding the field of music as much as that of thinking. This is a whole new vision of life; of what a body can do and what it means to think. If we can follow and make our own these explorations of the intensive nature of the world, and enter into that which lives imperceptibly in-between, we may begin to believe in this otherwise utopian vision, and a new belief in this world becomes not only possible, but natural. If this can become a real practice, then the hopes that Beethoven held for the ideal but real nature and task of music may indeed come to pass: von Herzen möge es wieder zu Herzen gehen