Change in the Event of Music

By Steve Tromans

“If you believe in the world you precipitate events, however inconspicuous, that elude control.” – Gilles Deleuze [1]

“There is more philosophy in one sound than in a million words … As long as we continue to live this musical existence, there will always be a tomorrow.” – William Parker [2]

The writing of this month’s Deep Thought was motivated by my very recent involvement in a performance of Terry Riley’s 1964 minimalist epic, In C. [3] The performance of 4 April 2014 at the new Library of Birmingham was part of the Frontiers Festival in Birmingham (see http://www.frontiersmusic.org), and featured members of Sid Peacock’s SURGE (Peacock, myself, guitarist Simon King, violinist/vocalist Ruth Angell, trumpeter Aaron Diaz, and saxophonist Lluis Mather), the drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders, and the assembled marimbas, vibraphone, strings, winds and brass of the Thallein Ensemble (from Birmingham Conservatoire).

A moment during the performance of Terry Riley's In C at Birmingham Library (Photo © Hugh Lawrence)

A moment during the performance of Terry Riley’s In C at Birmingham Library (Photo © Hugh Lawrence)

Experiencing In C, as listener and performer, is profoundly personal and social, and not easy to put into words after the event without biasing that experience in light of one’s own perspectives within it. This was especially so for the performance of 4 April, since the collected musicians were arranged over two floors of the library, spread out in and around the circle of the atrium, offering a multitude of aural and visual perspectives on the music-making, and encouraging the audience to move within the performance space to further personalise their own experience of the event.

Of course, all performances offer those in attendance multiple experiential perspectives, dependant on complex factors of personal history, cultural-social factors, musicians’ various and varied ways of practising their artistry, and the contingencies of live environments. And so, in what follows, I am concerned with exploring that most public of acts in a working musician’s life: the live performance. Specifically, I am interested in our understandings of what goes into, and what comes out of, these events, as well as how we can model, with a degree of adequacy, that tangled web of happy confusion that is the event’s emergence to and for itself.

Pre- and post-gig states of existence

There is a distinction between the before and the after of a musical event (or any event, for that matter) that is more than that marked by the chronology of the clock. Each of us may think that we are one and the same person (player or punter) who arrives at a gig and subsequently leaves a while later, but the experience of music has changed us in its process. That change is a take-home effect of the eventness of live music-making. Such change need not be a major effect of the event, although – and happily – all music fans can think of at least one of those kinds of life-changing encounters with the transformative dimensions of great music made live. So live with it (and live it, literally): live music changes who you are simply by virtue of having experienced it, as a living, breathing entity (you and it) in the multifarious world of experience out there.

Although, I’m stating things far too simply; living experience is far more complex. In its “eventness” (by which I mean its singular quality as a unique event in itself, and in relation to all other events), an event of music-making is far more disruptive of the condition of the person than a mere change in one’s state of being-in-the-world. It is, in fact, constitutive of one’s condition of being-for-the-world. [4] That difference – “for”, rather than “in” – is key to how we conceptualise our place and importance as part of the world around us. In other words, are we fixed entities populating a world separate from us, or are we a way for the world to experience itself, through our temporal becoming? Thinking from the latter of these two perspectives, then, you yourself are a take-home effect of the complex relations of emergence of the musical event in question.

Inside out

If this suggestion seems ludicrous to the reader, maybe it does so on account of our tendency to assume we are impenetrable in ourselves, remaining unchanged by the food we eat, the drink we imbibe, the air we breathe – or the music we listen to. However, as the philosopher, Brian Massumi, has recently, and succinctly, put it: “the body is radically open”. [5] Massumi strips away the veneer of the lie of the closed body, finding no “inside” independent of a posited “outside”. Massumi’s stance is reflective of his (acknowledged) debt to the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. To quote from Deleuze: “an animal, a thing, is never separable from its relations with the world. The interior is only a selected exterior, and the exterior, a projected interior”. [6] The idea of a clear distinction between inside and outside a self thus becomes a contrivance: a device of our anthropocentric models of the world and our (supposed superior) place in it.

In the event of change

So events change us, and not just traumatic ones – and musical events are no different. To return to Terry Riley’s In C, I would argue its performance in terms of a practice-as-research experiment, theorising (in music, not in words) the process of the change of the self in one’s participation in events, musical or otherwise. Performers begin a performance of the piece as independent entities – at least (and in line with the above arguments) in principle. But, from my own recent experience, very swiftly all feelings of the discreteness of being give way to an unsettling (though not unpleasant, if your body is “open” to it, in Massumi’s terms) experience of becoming. Becoming a-personal, a-selfish; becoming social, in the widest sense: this is the lesson (or the practice-as-research experiment) of In C.

In the process of the event, individual musicians cease to be individuals to become part of the emerging, evolving pulse of the music – to become the music; to become with the music. Audience members are no longer mere recipients of cultural stock (i.e., sitting politely in theatered rows to receive a given performance of a canonical work), they too are implicate in the event of becoming. Nothing will, or could, even, be the same again, post festum. And it is political, in the most optimistic sense – hence my choice of quotations to open the body of text, above. From the field of philosophy, Gilles Deleuze: “If you believe in the world you precipitate events, however inconspicuous, that elude control.” [7] From the field of music, the bassist William Parker: “There is more philosophy in one sound than in a million words … As long as we continue to live this musical existence, there will always be a tomorrow.” [8] And so, engrossing and thought-provoking as they may be, enough of words for this month. Back to the main event; back to the music…

Notes

[1] Deleuze (1995, p. 176).
[2] Parker (2008, p. 179). The quote comes from the bassist William Parker’s contribution to the third volume of John Zorn’s anthology, Arcana III: Musicians on Music.
[3] For those unfamiliar with Riley’s work, check out his website: http://terryriley.net/.
[4] The terms “being-in-the-world” and “being-for-the-world” are from the work of Gilles Deleuze, in his encounter with the philosophies of Martin Heidegger and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (Deleuze 2008).
[5] Massumi (2002, p. 29).
[6] Deleuze (1988, p. 125).
[7] Deleuze (1995, p. 176).
[8] Parker (2008, p. 179).

References

Deleuze, Gilles. Negotiations, trans. Martin Joughlin. New York: Columbia University Press. 1995.

—————-. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley. San Francisco: City Lights. 1988.

—————-. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. Tom Conley. London: Continuum. 2008.

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 2002.

Parker, William. “Reflections on Tomorrow”, in: Zorn, John (ed.). Arcana III: Musicians on Music. New York: Hips Road. 2008, pp. 174-179.

 



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