Of the Refrain Transcript

I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to rerecord this video. Here’s the transcript of what I wanted to say.

Published in 1980, A Thousand Plateaus was the second volume of the collaboration between philosopher Gilles Deleuze and militant anti-psychiatrist Pierre-Felix Guattari titled Capitalism and Schizophrenia. The ramifications of this text are still being dealt with throughout a multitude of lines of research, its influence reaching everything from linguistics to physical chemistry. In this video I will be discussing the eleventh plateau titled “1837: Of the Refrain”.

We enter into this plateau with a discussion of the three aspects or movements of the refrain which it makes or mixes. There is a movement from chaos to the beginnings of order, a movement which maintains an interior space for order, keeping chaos outside, and a movement which opens the interior space to cosmic forces. Paul Klee presents these three movements in relation to the black hole, or what he calls a gray point. The gray point begins its journey within the forces of chaos, then jumping over itself constituting the terrestrial internal forces of the home, then launching out from itself impelled by centrifugal forces of the cosmos.

Just as a bird sings to mark its territory, the refrain is a territorial assemblage, always carrying the earth with it throughout all its functions. Thus we may also understand the refrain in these terms: Sometimes there is a movement from chaos to the threshold of a territorial assemblage, what we will come to understand as directional components or infra-assemblages; sometimes there is a movement of the organization of terrritorial assemblages, otherwise referred to as dimensional components or intra-assemblages; sometimes there is a movement away from territorial assemblages for other assemblages or for somewhere else entirely, henceforth referred to as interassemblages or components of passage or escape; and sometimes all three movements occur at once.

Continuing, Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge that Milieus and Rhythms are born from chaos. Milieus, they say are vibratory, in other words, a block of space time constituted by the periodic repetition of the component. There are many milieus of the living thing, namely an exterior milieu of materials, an interior milieu of composing elements and composed substances, and intermediary milieu of membranes and limits, and an annexed milieu of energy sources and actions-perceptions. Every milieu is coded, understanding code as being periodic repetition; however they say of each code that “is in a perpetual state of transcoding or transduction”.

Transcoding or transduction is the process whereby one milieu serves as the basis for another, it is the communication of milieus. They say of milieus that they are “open to chaos, which threatens them with exhaustion or intrusion.” Rhythm should be understood as the milieus’ answer to chaos. Both chaos and rhythm are in between two milieus. Chaos is thus not the opposite of rhythm but the milieu of all milieus. There is rhythm in every communication between milieus. Being chaotic, rhythm is not meter. Meter assumes a quantifiable code in a noncommunicating milieu, whereas rhythm is always undergoing transcoding. They say “meter is dogmatic, but rhythm is critical […] It does not operate in a homogeneous space-time, but by heterogeneous blocks. It changes direction.”

To change milieus is constitutive of rhythm. Milieus exist by virtue of a periodic repetition whose only effect is to produce difference. The difference is the locus of rhythm, repetition being the locus of its production. It follows that productive repetition has nothing to do with reproductive meter. They highlight a particular case of transcoding, when a code only takes or receives fragments of another code. In transcoding, it is not simply a case of simple addition, but the constitution of a new plane, as of a surplus value.

We come to a point where we must account for the relationship between a Territory and a milieu. Deleuze and Guattari say “the territory is the product of a territorialization of milieus and rhythms.” There is a territory when milieu components become dimensional, opposed to directional, as such becoming expressive. The definitive characteristics of the territory is the emergence of matters of expression, or qualities. The expressivity of the territory arrives when it acquires a temporal constancy and a spacial range that make a territory, a mark, a signature. The territory is secondary in relation to the qualitative mark. The territory is a product of territorialization, understanding territorialization as an act of rhythm that becomes expressive, or of milieu components that become qualitative.

Is this becoming expressive of rhythm or melody art? If so, the territory is a result of art. The artist is the first person to make a mark. They say “the expressive is primary in relation to the possessive.” That is to say expressive qualities delineate a territory that belong to the subject that produces them. The quality is a signature, but the signature is the constituted mark of a subject. Like Duchamp’s fountain, the territorial mark is a readymade. However, in this respect art is not the privilege of humans. They cite Messiaen in saying many birds are artists in singing their territorial songs.

The refrain is the result of the territorialization of rhythm and melody via a becoming-expressive, and they become expressive because they are territorializing. This is not to go in circles. Instead, they are affirming the self-movement of expressive qualities. We should not reduce expressiveness to the effects of an impulse triggering an action in a milieu, otherwise referred to as subjective impressions. Instead expressive qualities should be understood as being auto-objective, that is to say they find objectivity in the territory they draw.

Expressive qualities enter into relations with one another which express the relation of the territory they draw to both an interior milieu of impulses and an exterior milieu of circumstances. There is an auto-expression of the quality. On the one hand, expressive qualities constitute territorial motifs in their entertainment of internal relations with one another. On the other hand, expressive qualities produce territorial counterpoints, that is to say they produce points in the territory that place the circumstances of the external milieu in counterpoint. These territorial motifs and counterpoints explore potentialities of the interior or exterior milieu. In the vocabulary of ethologists this is discussed through the concept of ritualization, however this does not account for the variability or fixity of nonpulsed motifs and nonlocalized counterpoints.

Instead, they argue that territorial motifs form rhythmic faces or characters and territorial counterpoints form melodic landscapes. There is a rhythmic character when rhythm is no longer associated with a particular character, subject or impulse and instead is the character in itself. The same general formula applies to melodic landscapes, which are found when the melody is no longer associated with a particular landscape and becomes a landscape in counterpoint to a virtual landscape. What then distinguishes a musician bird from a nonmusician bird is that the musician bird articulates rhythm and harmonizes melody, as opposed to a simple reproduction of a style. The same then is true for human music.

Debussy’s criticism of Wagner, that of comparing his leitmotifs to signposts, is true on some level. However in Wagner the motifs increasingly enter into conjunction, becoming autonomous to the point of auto-expression. Proust is cited as one of the first individuals to underscore this aspect of the Wagnerian motif. They say “the appearance of the motif itself constitutes a rhythmic character in” and here they are quoting Proust “the plenitude of a music that is indeed filled with so many strains, each of which is being.”

Returning to the territory, they say that it “is first of all the critical distance between two things of the same species.” This critical distance is a relation based on expressive qualities. It is a matter of keeping a distance from the forces of chaos. This distance is not a meter, but a rhythm. There are two aspects of the territory that we must keep in mind. Firstly, it ensures and regulates the coexistence of members of the same species by producing a distance, keeping them apart. Secondly, it makes possible the coexistence of a maximum number of different species in the same milieu.

The question arises of whether or not humans have made art in the first place. We are reminded that territories have two notable effects: a reorganization of functions and a regrouping of forces. When functional activities are territorialized they change pace. This is attested to by the theme of specialization or professionalism. The territorial refrain passes into professional refrains often as the professions assume that various activities are performed in the same milieu, with no other agents in the same territory. Professional refrains mark a territory in such a way that the same activities cannot be performed as a result of the rules of critical distance for competition.

We should also consider the other effects of territorialization. The territory unifies forces of different milieus constituted by the forces of the earth. Although in extension the territory separates the interior forces of the earth from the exterior forces of chaos, this does not occur in intension. Ultimately, territorializing marks develop into motifs and counterpoints, and reorganize functions and regroup forces. We will continue return to this moment. What is essential to the becoming-expressive of rhythm is the disjunction between code and territory. Each milieu has a code, and there is a perpetual transcoding between milieus, however the territory forms at the level of decoding. With territoriality comes the establishment of an intraspecific critical distance between members of the same species. It is through the disjunction of territoriality that it becomes an indirect means of differentiation. From this it follows that decoding is the negative of the territory.

What has been discussed up to this point is the movement from forces of chaos to forces of the earth, from milieu to territory, from transcoding to decoding, a passage from infra-assemblages to intra-assemblages. In this same way we cannot speak about intra-assemblages without discussing the passage of the refrain. As Deleuze and Guattari note, the refrain is “any aggregate of matters of expression that draws a territory and develops into territorial motifs and landscapes.” Let us not get too far ahead of ourselves though. Before we can discuss the refrain any further, we must approach a deeper understanding of the intra-assemblage and what it is sometimes plugged into.

What is included in the intra-assemblage is not just the territorial assemblage but also assembled, territorialized functions. The question is begged, what holds territorializing marks, territorial motifs, and territorialized functions together in the same intra-assemblage. Here we arrive at the question of consistency, that is the holding together of heterogeneous elements. Again let us not get too far ahead of ourselves. The intra-assemblage passes into the interassemblage through forces of deterritorialization, that is to say that the territorial assemblage passes into other assemblages. However none of these passages are necessary, but take place on a case-by-case basis. The ambiguity between territory and deterritorialization is what they call the ambiguity of the Natal, understanding the Natal as being outside.

There are a vast number of movements of deterritorialization which take off from the territory that Deleuze and Guattari list. Independent of the causes of the numerous movements, each movement is different in its essence and cannot be reduced to the interassemblage, or the passage from territorial assemblages to assemblages of another type. Instead, we should speak of a movement away from all assemblages which opens up onto the deterritorialized Cosmos. Generally, the territory is traversed by relative deterritorializations wherein there is a passage from the intra-assemblage to interassemblages. However, this is not the case for absolute deterritorializations, which we will discuss further in due time. What is important to note about the distinction between relative and absolute deterritorializations is that a relative deterritorialization is necessarily followed by a reterritorialization, the same is not true for absolute deterritorializations.

Here, they present a classification system for refrains. Firstly, there are territorial refrains that seek, mark and assemble a territory. Secondly, there are territorialized function refrains that assume a special function in the assemblage. Thirdly, there are territorial refrains which pass into new assemblages by means of a relative deterritorialization. Fourthly and finally, there are Cosmic refrains which maintain the ability to move by absolute deterritorializations.

To return to the problem of consistency, we must understand that it is not just a question of the manner in which components of a territorial assemblage hold together, but also the manner in which different assemblages hold together. The easiest answer that Deleuze and Guattari can identify to the question “What holds things together” is provoked by a linear, hierarchized, centralized arborescent model. This is a model which is constructed of oversimplified binaries. In search of a rhizomatic model for consistency, we must keep in mind that as opposed to a functional center which brings into play only localization, we should understand a system as being a coordination between centers, a passage between one heterogeneous center to another.

We may turn to Eugène Dupréel for an elucidation of this type of model in his theory of consolidation. He proposes that life does not go from a center to an exteriority but from a discrete aggregate to its consolidation. There are three implications of which that interest us. First, there is no beginning from which a linear sequence can derive, but intercalary events like densifications, intensifications, reinforcements, injections, and showerings. Second, and this is not in contradiction with the first implication, there must be a distribution of inequalities such that sometimes it is necessary to make a hole in order to consolidate. Third, there is no imposition of meter or cadence, but a superposition of disparate rhythms. Consolidation does not come after, but is creative itself. Just like consolidation, consistency produces consolidated aggregates by means of intercalated elements, intervals, and articulations of superposition. Consolidation is simply the terrestrial name for consistency.

Let us deal with a concrete example, that of the song of the chaffinch. Normally this song has three phases. First, there is a succession of four to fourteen notes which crescendo in volume but decrease in frequency. Then there are two to eight notes of a constant frequency lower than the first. The song ends with a complex flourish. From the standpoint of acquisition, this song is preceded by a subsong, the distinction between the two Deleuze and Guattari describe as follows: “the subsong as mark or placard, the full song as style or motif, and the aptitude to pass from one to the other.”

What concerns them at this point in the plateau is what happens when the components of the subsong develop into motifs and counterpoints of the full song. They say “the organization of marks into motifs and counterpoints necessarily entails a taking on of consistency.” This occurs in such a way that they describe as a color answering to a sound. There is a synthesis of heterogeneities, a machinic opera. Inasmuch as these heterogeneities are matters of expression, their synthesis forms machinic enunciation.

They continue “from the standpoint of consistency, matters of expression must be considered not only in relation to their aptitude to form motifs and counterpoints but also in relation to the inhibitors and releasers that act on them.” It is the mistake of ethologists to restrict matters of expression to a binary distribution of these factors. Instead, what needs to be done is to approach matters of expression in terms of assemblage. It is not melodic and rhythmic themes which are constituted as a result of performance and recording, but the opposite. The consistency of a refrain takes primacy. The notion of behaviour does not provide an adequate understanding of the natal, which stretches from the intra-assemblage to the Cosmos.

We have already encountered the argument that the territorial assemblage is inseparable from lines of deterritorialization in the direction of other assemblages, however we have not considered the effects of deterritorialization on a given species at a given moment. Whenever a territorial assemblage undergoes a movement of deterritorialization, they argue that a machine is released. To propose a distinction between machine and assemblage, a machine inserts itself into the assemblage which is undergoing deterritorialization and produces a variation of it. It is only when an assemblage has been freed by deterritorialzation that we find a machine. Machinic statements are machine effects that enter matters of expression. As a rule, they say, “a machine plugs into the territorial assemblage of a species and opens it to other assemblages, causes it to pass through the interassemblages of that species.” However, the machine can also produce an opening onto the Cosmos or an effect of closure into a black hole. This closure occurs when an all too sudden deterritorialization occurs while cosmic paths are blocked. What is important to remember is that machines are always keys that open or close an assemblage.

It follows that the consistency of matters of expression relates to both their ability to form melodic and rhythmic themes and the power of the natal. There is another aspect. As matters of expression take on consistency they constitute semiotic systems in which the semiotic components are inseparable from material components. The distinction between molar and molecular is between two group movements, one towards equilibrium and homogeneity and one in the opposite direction. The intermolecular forces that give rise to a molar aggregate can either be one of linkage or discernment and discrimination. This distinction is the same as the distinction between stratified systems and self-consistent aggregates. Life fits into this distinction as it implies a surplus value of destratification.

Almost being contradictory it is both a complex system of stratification and an aggregate of consistency. As Deleuze and Guattari say “the living thing performs a transcoding of milieus that can be considered both to consitute a stratum and to effect reverse causalities and transversals of destratification.” The territorial assemblage implies both a decoding and its own deterritorialization. What holds everything together is the transversal, or the component which takes up the vector of deterritorialization. Assemblages being produced by both the semiotic and the material it only makes sense to relatively distinguish between the consistency of assemblages and the stratification of milieus. What should not suprise us is that the distinction we have been seeking is not one between assemblages and something else but the two poles of the assemblage, that of the system of strata and the plane of consistency.

We have made a lot of movements, first from milieus to territories, then from territorial assemblages to interassemblages, and simultaneously from forces of the earth to the deterritorializing Cosmos. Here, they present two questions that guide the majority of what follows in this plateau. How did Paul Klee present this movement towards the Cosmos, and why has this word been selected. They point to Klee first in claiming that the first act of the artist is to observe their surroundings and grasp the naturing nature in natured nature. From there the artist directs their attention to the molecular. The artist comes to believe that there are other worlds they have not been told of. Finally, the artist opens up onto the Cosmos. What it lacks is the people to carry with them.

What follows is a fairly long discussion on the distinction between Classicism and Romanticism that if you are interested in I highly recommend you read this section of the plateau. What I will summarize from this section is that in Classicism we find an essential relation of matters-forms. In the modern age, which must be cosmic, this relation is replaced with a direct relation of material-forces, understanding matter as molecularized matter and forces as forces of the Cosmos. Turning back to Klee, they speak of a rendering visible as opposed to a reproduction of the visible. What we find in music is precisely a rendering duration sonorous.

We have finally arrived at the Mechanosphere, the plane of cosmicization of forces. This is Sun Ra’s plane of duality comprehension. Sun Ra’s primary instrument being that of the Moog synthesizer was not a pure coincidence. This instrument was selected for its ability to molecularize sound matter and harness cosmic energy. It is the assemblage of the machine of cosistency, namely the sound machine. The synthasizer takes the place of the ground in a priori synthetic judgement for Cosmic philosophy. Through the synthasizer, Cosmic philosophy gains a motive attribute, the ability to make thought travel, just like Sun Ra envisioned.

The cosmic artisan is the modern figure of Cosmic action. As Deleuze and Guattari say, they are a homemade atomic bomb. The invocation of the Cosmos is not a metaphor but an effective operation from the ouset of the artist’s connection of materials with forces of consistency. Material thus has three principal characteristics. It is molecularized matter, it has a relation to forces which can be harnessed, and is defined by the operations of consistency applied to it.

In identifying three ages, the classical, romantic, and modern, we are not speaking of an evolution. Everything attributed to an age was already present in the preceding age. The freeing of the molecular was already found in the classical. As such, the Cosmos has been present for all of time. They say “all history is really the history of perception, and what we make history with is the matter of a becoming, not the subject matter of a story.” Becoming is present in a different way in every assemblage.

A new classification system of refrains can be produced. Firstly, we find milieu refrains which come in two parts, one of which answers to the other. They turn to the relation of the piano and the violin played in tandem for an example. Secondly, there are natal or territorial refrains which mark the disjunction between the earth and the territory. Among the examples used by Deleuze and Guattari are the lullaby, drinking song, work song, and military song. Thirdly, folk and popular refrains which are tied to a song of hte people, bringing into play affects and nations. Examples are the Polish, the German, the Pathetic, Vengeful, and Panicked. Finally, there is a Cosmos refrain found in the sea and the wind. It is a molecularized refrain tied to cosmic forces.

They establish a distinction between visual and sound arts by comparing the powers of deterritorialization held by each. The claim is made that colour clings to territory and tends to dissolution when it deterritorializes. Sound however, they say, “invades us, impels us, drags us, transpierces us. It takes leave of the earth, as much in order to drop us into a black hole as to open us up to a cosmos.” Continuing they say “Colors do not move a people. Flags can do nothing without trumpets. Lasers are modulated on sound. The refrain is sonorous par excellence.” It is here that we find the double-edged sword of the refrain, it’s capabilities to just as easily open up onto the Cosmos as to declare a fascism of music.

A refrain is also a crystal of space-time. It acts upon its surroundings, extracting from them vibrations, decompositions, projections, and transformations. With this action the refrain has a catalytic function. That is to say it increases the speed of exchanges and reactions in its surroundings, assuring indirect interactions between elements devoid of a so-called natural affinity, thereby forming organized masses. As such the refrain fabricates time. As they say, “Time is not an a priori form; rather, the refrain is the a priori form of time, which in each case fabricates different times.”

As this plateau concludes they discover two primary refrains which the musician requires in their movements. The first type of refrain is the territorial or assemblage refrain which is necessary to deterritorialize to produce a second type of refrain which they identify as being the end of music. This second type of refrian is the cosmic refrain of a sound machine. The goal then of the musician should be to deterritorialize the refrain above all else. They conclude saying “Produce a deterritorialized refrain as the final end of music, release it in the Cosmos – that is more important than building a new system.” Continuing, they say “the cosmic force was already present in the material, the great refrain in the little refrains, the great maneuver in the little maneuver. Except we can never be sure we will be strong enough, for we have no systen, only lines and movements.”

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