“For me, the system must not only be in perpetual heterogeneity, it must be a heterogenesis.”Gilles Deleuze in Jean-Clet Martin’s The Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze
“Je bâtis à roches mon langage (I build my language with rocks).”Édouard Glissant, L’Intention poétique
Continents and Archipelagos
Among the most vestigial of the philosophical assumptions that predominate in the contemporary world is the concept of hylomorphism. A combination of the Greek υλο (hylo), meaning ‘wood or matter’ and μορφη (morph), meaning ‘form’, the hylomorphic model stretches across history – from Ancient Greece to Kant to Silicon Valley. In this view, originally formulated by Aristotle, matter is inert and needs to be imbued with form from the outside. We can see this schema echoed in everything from the religious doctrine of emanation where inert matter is given life by a transcendent God, to Hobbesian-style political assumptions around the role of the transcendent State in lending order to the chaos of the matter of individual bodies, to the Cartesian dualism that still lingers insidiously in so many of our ontological and epistemological assumptions, through to agricultural mono-cropping systems that treat nature as a passive medium to be subjugated to the whims of humanity. Examples proliferate largely because the hegemony of the hylomorphic view is embedded in the very core of how hierarchies and relations of domination function – it echoes through the many spheres of social relation between classes, genders, race-classified groups, species, and so forth. Its hierarchical structure relies on a master/slave style dichotomy between dominator and dominated; between passive matter (the raw material fungibility of enslaved peoples, for instance) and divine form (the closely-coupled colonial and Enlightenment humanist projects).Kathryn Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes Or None, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018.
While the hylomorphic schema remains prevalent in many spheres of human life, there is also an equally venerable subterranean tradition that eschews transcendence and views matter as alive, pluripotent and bearing immanent, self-forming potential. In this view, which we can provisionally term emergentist, matter is dynamic, embedded with possibility and contains many singular emergent properties that are manifested in different contexts without exhausting the endless potential for variation and expression. Instead of a divine Demiurge directing the unfolding of matter, matter contains the divine within itself, or is self-emanative. Instead of the State, the emergentist view valorises messy assemblages of bodies that express their collective being and becoming via emergent forms of social organisation that do not subscribe to transcendent norms separating those bodies from their capacities. Instead of industrial mono-cropping, a view of life as pluripotent preferences ecosystemic practices that allow for a contextual unfolding of the innate potentials of heterogeneous actants brought together in complex webs of non-linearity. And, while the hylomorphic view sees cause and effect as linear and reducible to the exactitude of laboratory conditions, the emergentist view (in line with contemporary life sciences, climatology, chaos mathematics, catastrophe theory, complex systems theory and the other nomad sciences discussed in Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus) recognizes the non-linearity of natural systems, especially since these systems more frequently exist in far-from-equilibrium states rather than the close-to-equilibrium default assumptions of what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as the Royal mode of science.Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, 362.
The emergentist worldview gives rise to a different mode of thought too – one the poet-philosopher Édouard Glissant refers to in his Poetics of Relation as archipelagic as opposed to continental.Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. This is a thinking that unfolds in relation across dense, decentred networks of connection that relate other to other and different to different without any homogenization.Glissant uses the term le’divers, or diversity, but it is clear that he is describing difference in the Deleuzian sense when he observes that diversity is given, but difference is that by which the given is given as diverse. This mode of thinking of the heterogeneous and multiple is an acknowledgement of what Glissant terms a digenesis of multiple origins and complex interminglings – various dynamisms and unfoldings of matter in relation.Édouard Glissant, Traité du tout-monde, Paris: Gallimard, 1997, 36. Digenesis echoes Deleuze’s idea of philosophy as a system that is a heterogenesis as such.Jean-Clet Martin, Variations: The Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, trans. Constantin Boundas and Susan Dyrkton, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010, Preface. This is a philosophy that does not attempt to posit fixed identities (passive matter imbued with form by the philosopher) but instead remains true to the constant creative unfolding of possibility that defines the world-in-process – Glissant’s chaos-monde.Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997, 94. It is open to new beginnings and otherness, because, as Glissant says, “what Relation relates, in reality, proceeds from no absolute, it proves to be the totality of relatives, put in touch and told.”Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997, 28.
Sonopoietics of the chaos-monde
The hylomorphic schema also weaves its way through the history of creative practices, reflected in the dominant social conception of great artists as having ‘mastered’ their skill, or as lending form to inert matter with their brushes, chisels, musical canons and so forth. In music (which, as David Stubbs reminds us, is at least fifty years behind the visual arts in terms of public understanding and appreciation of the role of experimentation)David Stubbs. Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko but Don’t Get Stockhausen, New Alresford: John Hunt, 2009. the idea that sound-making involves the assertion of form via a transcendent system of rules onto sound-producing matter is so prevalent that it seems almost like a description of music-as-such. Here too, however, there is a subterranean tradition wherein artists compose immanently with the chaotic flows and dynamisms of complex fields of matter and becoming, drawing together assemblages of heterogeneous elements and exploring their potential as equals – the human actant as one participant among many.
Generative approaches to composition are perhaps most evident in the history of alternative creative practices that seek to open sound art up to chance and emergence, thereby disentangling composition from the hylomorphic schema. Limning this history, we can begin somewhat arbitrarily, and with a significant degree of Western bias, with early forays into aleatoric techniques such as Mozart’s Dice Music (Musikalisches Würfelspiel).
Here, albeit in nascent form, we have a generative composition, specifically one comprised of discrete musical excerpts that can be combined to form a waltz in an order determined by rolling two six-sided dice. It is in the 20th century, however, that the space of possibilities really opens up. An early example here is Messiaen’s 1949 piano etude, Mode de valeurs et d’inensites, which employs a thirty-six pitch series in which each pitch is assigned a specific rhythm, dynamics and attack which is to be realized in the composition in an almost algorithmic fashion.
It is with John Cage, though, especially in pieces like Chess Reunion
(where photosensors on an electronic chess board, in a game played by Cage against Marcel Duchamp, trigger various sounds) and Atlas Eclipticalis
(where the position of stars in an atlas are superimposed onto a musical stave), and the use of tools like dice and the I-Ching, that we see both chance and a generative “outside” (Duchamp, chess, astronomy) enter into the compositional space of possibilities.
Stockhausen also combined generative methodologies and various forms of randomness in much of his work, using both mathematical calculations to pre-compose his music and integrating operations of chance into its performance. Klavierstück XI, for instance, is printed on a sprawling score measuring almost a metre across, and consists of nineteen carefully composed segments that are performed in whatever order the pianist’s eyes fall upon the score.
It took the emergence of early computers, however, to realize the ambitious modes of generative practice earlier composers could only gesture towards. In the Illiac Suite, commonly held to be the earliest instance of computer-generated composition, Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson used the Illiac computer to program a collection of structural and stylistic parameters that the computer then used to compose an entire score, in turn performed by a string quartet.
Xenakis, along with others at his Centers for Mathematical and Automated Music, took this idea further, creating programs to produce data for his stochastic compositions that relied on various forms of randomness and probability, evidenced in early 1960s works like Atrées and Morsima-Amorsima. These programs would ‘deduce’ the score from an array of note densities and probabilistic weights provided by the composer, with further decisions as to the execution of this score relying on random number generators.
An entirely novel approach to generative composition was David Rosenboom’s Brainwave Music. Instead of employing pre-programmed computer software, Rosenboom instead used the complexity of his own biology – brainwaves, temperature and galvanic skin response – to control electronic musical equipment via various sensors and measuring equipment.
In the piece Chilean Drought, Rosenboom reads out a text describing a drought while electroencephalographic equipment records the modulations in his alpha, beta, theta and gamma brainwaves and uses these to control various sonic generators. With Rosenboom there is an important shift from the linearity of computer software with parameters predetermined by humans to the non-linearity of complex biological systems.
Roland Kayn’s ‘cybernetic music’, inspired by the then popular fields of first- and second-order cybernetic systems theory, is a related attempt to model the complex feedback networks prevalent in natural systems using self-regulating networks of electronic equipment. In cybernetic music, the performer is merely one more node in the network, using their limited control to modify direct flows of feedback in a system that is largely autonomous and exhibits complex, unpredictable behaviour that cannot be explained, even retrospectively, by appealing to its individual elements.
The various autopoietic models developed through this subterranean compositional practice are surprisingly widely deployed today. Brian Eno’s generative music and apps are perhaps best-known, but a wide range of contemporary electronic and experimental artists from Ryoji Ikeda to Autechre to Holly Herndon to Milton Mermikides make use of tools and techniques like Markov models, generative grammars, fractals, recursion, genetic algorithms, cellular automata, neural networks, deep learning, big data sonification, real world analysis, motion sensors and custom-built electronics. Via software such as pureData, Max/MSP, SuperCollider, Tidal Cycles and Chuck, they explore the sonic possibilities of musical spaces where the composer/performer has ceded control and has become a participant in the emergent properties of complex systems. Generative methodologies have even found their way into what is known as adaptive micro-scoring, which is now used in a large number of computer games – the algorithmic jazz of SimCity was pioneering in this regard, as was the entirely generative Spore.
[Figure: a SuperCollider script]
Composing with the Forces of the Cosmos
“Learning takes place not in the relation between a representation and an action (reproduction of the Same) but in the relation between a sign and a response (encounter with the Other).”Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition
My own approach to composition combines various arrangements of the aforementioned techniques with modular synthesis. Echoing Deleuze’s views on learning, I operate with what I term a pedagogy of non-mastery.Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 164. My practice draws together various heterogeneous series – mathematical chaos, plant biology, human movement and data streams, for instance – in order to produce a complex ecosystem of patch cables and electronic circuitry. Applying Deleuze’s idea of the dark precursor as that which brings these series together and causes them to resonate,Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 119. I can then perturb these ecosystems by pushing them into and out of equilibrium, shifting them from stable basins of attraction to sites of instability, turbulence or even bifurcation. This allows for the system to express through sound its pluripotence and its myriad creative dynamisms and possibilities. Or, as Deleuze and Guattari describe it, to make audible “the nonsonorous forces of the cosmos that have always agitated music.”Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, 96.
Aragorn Eloff 20 October 2019
Deleuze and Guattari clarify their views on music and how they intersect with their idea of deterritorialization in their observations on tonality or diatonics, explaining that if we destabilize the linear, codified system of the diatonic via the minor mode and then, in turn, via tempered chromaticism, we eventually arrive at a situation in which “chromaticism is unleashed, becomes a generalized chromaticism, turns back against temperament, affecting not only pitches but all sound components-durations, intensities, timbre, attacks…”Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, 95. Once this destabilization has reached its zenith, “it becomes impossible to speak of a sound form organizing matter; it is no longer even possible to speak of a continuous development of form.” Instead, “it is a question of a highly complex and elaborate material making audible nonsonorous forces.” Here, they continue, “[the] synthesizer has taken the place of the old ‘a priori synthetic judgment,’ and all functions change accordingly.” With all of its components placed in continuous variation, “music itself becomes a superlinear system, a rhizome instead of a tree, and enters the service of a virtual cosmic continuum of which even holes, silences, ruptures, and breaks are apart.”Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, 95.
Modular synthesis is a perfect exemplar of Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy, which is perhaps why they mention the synthesizer explicitly in several key passages in A Thousand Plateaus,as well as in Deleuze’s book on the painter Francis Bacon, where Deleuze, in discussing the conceptual differences between the analogue and the digital, notes that “analogical synthesizers are ‘modular’: they establish an immediate connection between heterogeneous elements, they introduce a literally unlimited possibility of connection between these elements.”Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon, trans. Daniel W. Smith, London: Continuum, 2005, 116.
The discussions of synthesis in Deleuze and Guattari resonate strongly with the earlier so-called ‘West Coast’ ethos pioneered by Don Buchla and Serge Tcherepnin, inventors of the Buchla and Serge modular synthesizers respectively, and their focus (inspired by the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s) on eschewing the limitations of tradition and creating an entirely new way to explore sonic possibilities. The West Coast approach relied heavily on randomness, iterative feedback loops and other methods for allowing aleatoric elements into the compositional space, and its language of complex oscillators, sources of uncertainty, slope generators, low pass gates and control voltages owed little to standard ideas about how music is made.
Todd Barton’s famous generative Buchla ‘Krell’ patch:
From the perspective of information science and complexity theory, however, randomness can be as uninteresting as order. An ordered system at equilibrium is entirely predictable and exhibits only simple, linear behaviour; a random system, on the other hand, is entirely dissipative and exhibits only noisy, entirely unpatterned behaviour. It is at the thresholds between these states or phases of systems, close to phase transitions, that complex non-linearities arise. It is also at such thresholds that we can best describe the behaviour of many natural systems and phenomena, from rainforest ecosystems to cognition to migration patterns to climactic variation. Deleuzian interlocutor Manuel DeLanda uses the example of water molecules to describe the emergent dynamisms of non-linearity: below freezing point, H2O molecules exhibit highly ordered behaviour in the form of ice; above boiling point, H2O becomes a diffuse gas with entirely random behaviour; however, close to boiling point H2O, as water, expresses all sorts of complex non-linearities, as seen in the chaotic yet patterned forms of turbulence, convection and so forth that emerge as the temperature draws closer to the phase transition threshold of 100 degrees Celsius.Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, London: Bloomsbury, 2002, 11-12.
Figure: Modelling the behaviour of a two-dimensional chaotic system
Expanding the West Coast ethos into the 21st century, several modular synthesizer designers, most notably Nonlinear Circuits (NLC) and Ian Fritz, have begun to develop circuits, primarily influenced by the research into analogue chaotic electronic circuits undertaken by Chunbiao Li, Julien Clinton Sprott et al.,Chunbiao Li, Julien Sprott, et al, ‘A New Piecewise Linear Hyperchaotic Circuit’, IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems II: Express Briefs, 61(12), 977-981,. that exhibit these forms of mathematically chaotic behaviour, allowing modular synthesizer users to create their own ecosystems comprised of various kinds of chaos that they can then connect together in multiple ways to influence and generate sonic environments. Examples include the well-known NLC Sloth circuit, the Squid Axon (which emulates an aspect of the neurobiology of the giant squid), the Hypster (a four-dimensional chaotic system that can operate at a vast range of speeds, from several minutes for a single cycle to several thousand cycles per second) and the wonderfully named Brain Custard, a model of nine interacting neurons that produces highly non-linear yet patterned behaviour that exhibits astonishing complexity.
The NLC Sloth second-order chaotic circuit:
The NLC Hyperchaos Deluxe 4th order hyperchaotic circuit:
Composing with these kinds of circuits by connecting them together into complex assemblages of electricity, capacitors, resistors, diodes, operational amplifiers and logic circuits suggests a different relation to the ends and means of the creative act. Instead of the imposition of mastery on a passive material, composing becomes an act of open and immanent exploration of the inherent possibilities of a vibrant and vital matter, using patch cables to diagram sonic ecosystems that contain and modulate a wide range of flows and processes across heterogeneous registers. Given that the composer is merely one equal participant among many in an ecosystem that exhibits behaviour far too complex to model comprehensively or even to anticipate, a modest, Zen-like practice of non-mastery becomes a better way of thinking about the creative role.
Aragorn Eloff – 15 February 2020
There is also, following Deleuze, a fundamentally pedagogical aspect to this practice. For, as he reminds us, learning is not the rote repetition and internalization of predetermined categories and relations of knowledge but more like learning to swim. Deleuze expands on this via Leibniz’s idea of the sea as a “system of liaisons or differential relations between particulars and singularities corresponding to the degrees of variation among these relations – the totality of the system being incarnated in the real movement of the waves.”Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 165, If we are to swim this sea, we need to learn “to conjugate the distinctive points of our bodies with the singular points of the objective Idea in order to form a problematic field.” These problematic fields or Ideas “are precisely the ultimate elements of nature” and therefore learning represents “a profound complicity between nature and mind.” In other words, we will never learn to swim, nor will we learn much about the possibilities of the sea, if we merely observe it disinterestedly from the shoreline via the conceptual frameworks handed down to us as part of what Deleuze calls the dogmatic image of thought.Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 129-167.Instead, with art as with swimming, we need to bring together the various singular points of multiple heterogeneous systems in order to see what emerges and to limn the problematic fields, the infinite spaces of real possibility, the tendencies and dynamisms, immanent to them. By allowing ourselves to become complicit with the pluripotence of matter without imposing a transcendent form or system upon it, we reach the open sea – the first glimmerings of a creative process of non-mastery that is sufficient to the material complexity of the world. In Deleuze and Guattari’s words, we open “the assemblage onto a cosmic force” that was “already present in the material, the great refrain in the little refrains, the great manoeuvre in the little manoeuvre.” Except that we will never master this force, or we can never be sure anyway, “for we have no system, only lines and movements”.Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, 350.
|1.||Kathryn Yusoff, A Billion Black Anthropocenes Or None, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018.|
|2.||Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, 362.|
|3.||Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.|
|4.||Glissant uses the term le’divers, or diversity, but it is clear that he is describing difference in the Deleuzian sense when he observes that diversity is given, but difference is that by which the given is given as diverse.|
|5.||Édouard Glissant, Traité du tout-monde, Paris: Gallimard, 1997, 36.|
|6.||Jean-Clet Martin, Variations: The Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, trans. Constantin Boundas and Susan Dyrkton, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010, Preface.|
|7.||Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997, 94.|
|8.||Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997, 28.|
|9.||David Stubbs. Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko but Don’t Get Stockhausen, New Alresford: John Hunt, 2009.|
|10.||Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 164.|
|11.||Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 119.|
|12.||Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, 96.|
|14.||Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, 95.|
|15.||Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon, trans. Daniel W. Smith, London: Continuum, 2005, 116.|
|16.||Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, London: Bloomsbury, 2002, 11-12.|
|17.||Chunbiao Li, Julien Sprott, et al, ‘A New Piecewise Linear Hyperchaotic Circuit’, IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems II: Express Briefs, 61(12), 977-981,.|
|18.||Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 165,|
|19.||Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 129-167.|
|20.||Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, London and Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, 350.|