Desire Constructs The Assemblage

The Role of Distinction in Becomings Indistinct

In topological mathematics, discrete elements come together to form sets. A neighbourhood is defined as a particular point within a set – a subset of a given set of points – and is specified by some concept that binds points together and implies a degree of connectivity. There is the recursive axiom: “every arbitrary union of sets in the topology is in the topology.” (Compact, 2011, videos 14-21)Repertoire can be considered a topology in the sense that all of the singularities that comprise it fall within a neighbourhood at the union of three sets: i) sounds that we might like to hear; ii) sounds that a given resonant object may afford; and iii) our capacity to engage elements i and ii cognitively, biomechanically, and technologically. Where there is a contraction between these three elements there is a given example in a given repertoire. The performer manifests this operation, and the relationship between a macro IToE at the level of repertoire and a micro IToE at the level of the performer is autological.

Earlier I mentioned the role of discourse in distinguishing between ‘music’ and ‘not-music'. It is the function of discourse to make this distinction – where what is distinguished is seen to differ in value from is distinguished from (Spencer Brown, 1994, 1) – and to reproduce this distinction, and thus reproduce this perceived value. Musical discourse is characterised by the recursive certainty that it is based on musical discourse, and, to the extent that it can couple that which it distinguishes to economic forces, it conditions what can and will be considered music in the future (Luhmann, 2013, 53). Composer 2 is inspired by piece A written by composer 1, and writes piece B (or perhaps piece √A). Music “re-enters itself, or copies itself into itself” (Ibid). There are, of course, lines of flight and movements of deterritorialization, but because musical discourse contains within it and reproduces the difference between music and not-music (self-reference and hetero-reference) it alone can observe this difference and thus conditions the nature of these deterritorializations. Discourse, as a social structure, manifests the virtual field of possibility spaces that informs our expectations of what music is and may become. Standard repertoire becomes standard precisely because of how it positions itself in convergent and divergent relations to these expectations. This circularity has nothing to do with an opposition between the structure – as discourse – and agent – as instrument/performer. Rather discourse and instrument/performer designate two faces of the same circular phenomenon (Latour, 1998).

Perhaps nowhere is this operation of the distinction more clear than in the very beginning, with the initial indication of a distinction in the student’s very first lesson. The condition of a student’s introduction to the instrument’s surface is a radical severance of the space: isolation of middle C on the keyboard cuts in the instrument in half, while the first pentachord opens an ergonomic black hole. The necessary condition for the teacher to communicate this distinction is a bijective association with some title or name, in other words an indication of a distinction (“here is middle C”). The two terms necessitate each other as a function of communication and can be considered coupled: an indication/distinction. Within the indication/distinction a unity is defined and a space is opened for activity. There can be no distinction without motive (Spencer Brown, 1994, 1), so this space is not arbitrary but one with the capacity to tap into some of the means-ends arrangements afforded by instrumental surface. Within this space further discrete entities are identified (Do, Re, Mi, etc.), as well as some general rules of connectivity, as entities are linked by their differences. Every subsequent practice session applies and re-applies this indication/distinction differential, reinforcing previously navigated spaces and adding new ones. Every space we open lures us in with the promise of some virtual object – a particular piece of music and the pleasure we draw from reproducing the literature. This ontogenesis of distinctions that forms the performer in training opens spaces for the projection of psychic states, which influence the states themselves and gives them spatial form as extensive magnitudes (Deleuze, 1994), characterised by the bijective association implied in the indication/distinction.

So what is the expert performer?The expert performer is formed by a vast accumulation of distinction spaces and thus of the zones of indiscernibility that synthesize the assemblage. This individual has developed and strengthened their capacity to interface – via ISiP – by a careful contemplation of the means-ends arrangements concealed within the instrument’s surface. In the course of this contemplation – the countless repetitions of scales, exercises, and repertoire impressed into the muscle memory by force of desire and habit – IToEs are constructed, which condition the performer’s present state without being its determinate (Bergson, 1911). ISiP manifests this accumulation, and can be understood as the site of a concatenation of three elements: the instrument and the performer within the space afforded by the IToEs.

Figure: A diagram of the performer/instrument assemblage, moving along a perceived path toward a given virtual object, constructing and contracting along a given IToE. Desire prompts the activity of training, which oscillates between smooth and striated space. The striations of discourse open and indicate distinction spaces for the projection of psychic states and in accordance with the pleasure principle. This site of contraction, as it repeats and fortifies itself, renders the ISiP interface or zone of indiscernibility characteristic of the assemblage. A given virtual object, such as an example in the repertoire, attracts the assemblage and in the process structures the conditions of our engagement with instruments.