Towards a Political Ecology of Instrumental Surface
One of the most interesting findings in David’s research is the persistence of the normal distribution over the middle register of the keyboard in the repertoire we analysed. The more repertoire accumulates, the clearer the normal distribution becomes. I initially speculated that this could be due to the middle register’s proximity to the human body, and therefore biomechanical reasons; or to the clarity of the tonal intervallic relationships in that register. Beethoven is an ideal subject for this analysis for two reasons: i) he is generally known, when taken in the context of his time, to be exceptionally daring in his use of the extremes of keyboard register, and thus if the normal curve persisted in this work we can be fairly certain of its persistence in the work of other composers of the time; and ii) his career spans a time when the keyboard went through tremendous changes in range, and he composed works on instruments of different ranges and surface areas. What is fascinating is that the size of the normal curve is not constant but fluctuates in relation to the range of the keyboard in which it sits. This would make my prior speculations unlikely. One could infer that this is merely a reversion to the mean phenomenon, but must also consider the diachronic and intensive – and therefore circular – reality behind the individual singularities that accumulate into the normal curve. The implication is that the piano sonatas emanate from and enter into a particular spatial relationship with the instrument’s surface boundary along with the means-ends arrangements that conditioned the construction of its mechanism. If one is reminded of the circularity of discourse, how works lead to new works, how difference leads to more difference, and how the perceived value of means-end arrangements reproduces itself in this process, one can begin to tease out the mechanisms at work in the construction of IToEs.
These neighbourhoods of spaces opened along instrumental surface are characterised by intensive differences among the discrete entities that populate them. These differences should be thought of in terms of magnitude or depth. This was our intention when we adjusted the key size horizontally rather than vertically, as the latter would have been a direct inversion of the phenomenon we are trying to depict. The accumulated means-ends arrangements of discourse, projected onto the instrument’s surface via instrumental topologies of enunciation, do not extend outward towards us but rather pull us in. The size of the key is associated with the intensity of its vacuum. The diagrams are therefore the extensive shadow of this intensive negative structure or a kind of inverted topographical field that contracts into ISiP at the moment of rendering the musical figure. The imposition of instrumental surface onto the instrument’s surface is characterised by some displacement, though not a spatial one. So what is displaced? Can the instrument’s surface concatenation within the means-ends arrangements characteristic of instrumentality displace an object’s inherent thing-in-itselfness – that of the material object which exists outside of our engagement with it as a means?
As I noted earlier, the benefit of a theory of assemblages is that it allows for, demands even, the paradoxical situation of simultaneous irreducibility and decomposability. If I explode the agent/structure opposition by a synthesis of performer and discourse, and consider this new entity within the context of the instrument’s surface, the nature of this circular phenomenon becomes clear. Just as Narcissus contemplates and contracts his own image, the discourse/performer synthesis pursues its virtual object within the implicit field of means-ends arrangements it creates, and thus fills instrumental surface with an image of itself that is imposed on the instrument’s surface. The performer/discourse synthesis pursues its own end, attracted by a constellation of black holes, and the black holes are resonating (Deleuze & Guattari,2005, 133).
Every piece engages instrumental surface via a particular morphology of difference (IToE) that inscribes itself into that which interfaces performers with instruments (ISiP). The data and diagrams presented here are the extensive shadows of an accumulation of intensities that fuels the undulating IToEs which ISiP contracts in the genesis of musical figures. Where there is the affect of performing and listening – the intensity of that musical moment – there is the particular constellation of diachronic means-ends arrangements that foretold of its emergence without determining it. There is a gradient here moving the assemblage towards a given virtual object of (musical) desire, which is encountered via an engagement with instrumentality. Nemesis haunts these constellations, and lures the assemblage to the instrument’s surface, which reflects back this projection of our own psychic states. Musical discourse, as Narcissus, beholds itself as its own virtual object of (musical) desire, contemplates and attempts to interface with itself. This movement towards the virtual object inscribes its difference into our engagement with instruments as a necessary condition of the means-ends arrangements that characterize their instrumentality. Desire opens spaces mapped by the striations of discourse, zones of indiscernibility where becomings may occur – the synthesis that constitutes the assemblage.
A residual aim of this project is to speculate on the possibility of a political ecology of (musical) instrumental surface by exposing some aspects of its political economy– and to suggest that perhaps one begins where the other ends. If we consider ecological thinking and economical thinking as filters that mediate the interactions between desire and objects in the world, then what filter is applied can have profound consequences for those objects. To acknowledge an intrinsic vitality in non-human materiality that remains exterior to our appropriation of it is to acknowledge a limit to our domain over it. To work within this limit, to tease out the material’s inherent vibrancy or vitality, is always a condition of becoming. Is the instrument’s surface merely the handmaid of instrumentality?Are its capacities to affect reducible to its role in the recursive means-ends arrangements of discourse?Could this movement towards a virtual object be characterised by a correlative displacement of material vibrancy or vitality?
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