Desire Constructs The Assemblage

Desire Constructs The Assemblage

by Alex Grimes

In his 2010 masters thesis, Timothy Mccormack makes a loaded proposition: “an instrument must be held in the hands of a human being before it is that instrument” (Mccormack, 2010, 5). That is to say when human and instrument interact a new entity may emerge with capacities and properties not possessed by its component parts (De Landa, 2011, 1). In order to talk about the conditions of this transformation, I employ a theory of instrument/performer assemblage as a conceptual framework. That is, the instrument/performer as a contraction of elements into an observable unity, which is irreducible and decomposable, and satisfies the epistemological demands of both synthesis and analysis (De Landa, 2011, 188). Throughout this essay I will use instrument/performer assemblage to explode certain oppositions and construct others. However, at this point, some key aspects of the assemblage remain unidentified. In order to better understand the conditions in which an instrument may ‘become’ an instrument, we should examine more closely the notion of instrumentality, which Oxford dictionaries defines as “the fact or quality of serving as an instrument or means to an end.”

In taking this definition as a necessary condition of an instrument’s ‘becoming instrumental’, I can account for additional elements within the assemblage. One may ask towards what end is the instrument a means? What entity determines the nature of these means-ends arrangements? If the assemblage requires a synthesis that yields novel properties, analogous to a chemical interaction between molecules, we must account for a catalytic space or field of universal singularities from which individual singularities may emerge (De Landa, 2011). This macro-level field of possibility space catalysing and defining the performer/instrument contraction is commonly referred to as discourse,[1] and is the result of the ordering of forces and powers within the social field (Murray, 2013) which defines those sounds to be regarded as music and those disregarded as not-music. An instrument’s instrumentality is therefore conditional upon its concatenation within a particular constellation of diachronic means-ends arrangements. Musical training can be regarded as an act of contemplation, characterised by a contraction of three elements: a performer and an instrument acclimatizing within the space of discourse.

There is one more force to account for, that of desire, which lies at the heart of any means-end arrangement. According to Gilles Deleuze, the eminent philosopher of assemblages, desire both constructs and establishes itself within the assemblage (Deleuze, D for Desire, 1988). In the case of learning an instrument, desire achieves this by prompting the activity of training, characterised by an accumulation of distinctions, which open spaces for activity along the instrument’s surface. As distinction spaces collect – along with the pleasure we derive from our engagement within them – they manifest difference, which inscribes itself into instrumental surface.[2]Along these fields or structures of difference – what I call Instrumental Topologies of Enunciation (IToE)[3] – the perceptual apparatus that interfaces performer and instrument – what I call Instrumental Surface-in-Perception (ISiP)[4] – traverses, and makes possible the projection of psychic states characterised by the becomings instrument that synthesize the assemblage.

[1] Discourse includes all repertoire, pedagogical resources, analysis, commentary, criticism, etc.

[2] Here I make a careful distinction between ‘the instrument’s surface’ and ‘instrumental surface’. The former refers to the thing-in-itselfness of the object, what of the object is irreducible to our engagement with it (Bennett, 2009). The latter refers to that which does change via our engagement with it, namely the conditions of that engagement, which is to say us.

[3] A virtual and implicit structure of possibility spaces that induces the musical figure; results from the accumulation of diachronic means-ends arrangements that characterise a given repertoire on a given instrument.

[4] The perceptual apparatus, itself a concatenation of cognitive and biomechanical perception, that interfaces performer with instrument in the moment of rendering a given musical figure.