fear of a wet planet: rhythm I

August 24th, 2009 | 1 comment
Drexciya (descending AfroMer)

Drexciya (descending AfroMer)

We should linger here for a long while on rhythm: it is nothing other than the time of time, the vibration of time itself in the stroke of a present that presents it by separating it from itself, freeing it from its simple stanza to make it into scansion (rise, raising of the foot that beats) and cadence (fall, passage into the pause). Thus, rhythm separates the succession of the linearity of the sequence or length of time: it bends time to give it to time itself, and it is in this way that it folds and unfolds a “self.” (Nancy, Listening 17)

What might philosophy do with rhythm? There are three cardinal points I can think of in regards to rhythm: (1) the chapter on the Refrain in A Thousand Plateaus; (2) Lefebvre’s posthumously published work on Rhythmanalysis; and (3) Nancy’s work on rhythm in Listening. There are, of course, other writings on the topic, but these three examples are cardinal points as they mark out different approaches (mind you, within a late Western philosophy – we’ll get to Afrofuturism). In this post I’ll tackle something of D&G.

For D&G, the rhythm is thought as the refrain (from Proust), and thought in its relation to various ~scapes (np. 349), by which I mean at the most general level, the relationship of belonging, beginning with the refrain of the songbird that demarcates territory (territorial refrains), to the refrain of the here-and-there, the call and response (milieu refrains), to refrains of the people (folk and popular, but also military and fascistic volk), to geospheric refrains, or long durée rhythms of the Earth and Universe that are near imperceptible to human phenomenology (geologic time). In each case, the analysis considers the limits in which the refrain can become coded and/or overcoded (from refrains that free to refrains that enclose, from the rhythm of flight/fight, the popular song that frees the mind, to the military march). Second, the refrain is always thought in reference to a sphere (the territory, the Earth, celestial bodies). The great shift of historical rhythm (which D&G see as a history of perception itself – 347) occurs when the romantic refrain that expresses X, whether that be the subject, people or territory (D&G will call these “natal refrains, refrains of the territory… [and] folk and popular refrains (347)), or likewise, refrains that are call-and-response (“milieu refrains” (347)), are superseded by the ‘cosmic refrain’ that is a ‘material of capture’ (342). In this contemporary and cosmic refrain, the ‘mechanosphere’ of the modern age, ‘the age of the cosmic’ – which is about 1978 or so I guess – “the essential thing is no longer forms and matters, or themes, but forces, densities, intensities” (343). Here the refrain is also played to ulterior themes in D&G’s work, insofar as the refrain becomes material-molecular, rather than expressly temporal. The refrain not surprisingly plays out among D&G’s quasi-dialectic of territorialization, deterritorialization & reterritorialization that also confirms modernist sonic-aesthetics:

It seems that when sound deterritorializes, it becomes more and more refined; it becomes specialized and autonomous. (347)

Where temporality is mentioned, the refrain is given as its a priori; “The refrain fabricates time (du temps)” (349). And specifically: “Here, Time is not an a priori form; rather, the refrain is the a priori form of time, which in each case fabricates different times [temps – meters, tempos]” (349). Which seems to imply that territorial relations are a priori (at least “here”) to temporal.

D&G are perhaps the first thinkers of philosophic desire to link the modern refrain with the synthesizer (343), insofar as the synthesizer is the assemblage – the materiality, though tempting to say the materialization, which would perhaps reveal more of an expressionist characteristic of this thought than this point concerning post-expressionism would strictly admit – of the cosmic’s abstract machine of the refrain. Here, Cage and La Monte Young are mentioned (344), insofar as experimental electronic music is the express vehicle of refrains that trade in densities, forces and affect, by way of the molecularization of sound. This particular, modernist reading of the refrain that favours white experimental electronic music allowed these passages to be sampled as theoretical soundbytes for experimental electronic labels wishing to align their sonic aesthetic and work with D&G’s philosophy. Case in point is the Mille Plateaux record label (1993-2004) which, besides its name (and parent & sub-labels such as Force Inc., Ritornelle, and so on) sampled D&G for its press releases, as well as releasing “In Memoriam Gilles Deleuze,” a compilation album dedicated to Deleuze upon his passing. (See Simon Reynold’s article, ‘low end theory‘, published in WIRE #146, 04/1996). Achim Szepanski, label head of MP, has this interesting quote in the Reynold’s article when discussing the 1991 ‘ardcore techno / breakbeat fad of “squeaky voices” (a trend that annoyed most aesthetes and critics alike):

Maybe it was just our peculiar warped interpretation, but the sped-up vocals sounded like a serious attempt to deconstruct some of the ideologies of pop music. One dimension to this was using voices like instruments or noise, destroying the pop ideology that says that the voice is the expression of the human subject. (Achim Szepankski, quoted in Reynolds’ “low end theory“)

Electronic sound destroys the representative voice of the subject. The “track” is no song; it does not speak, signify, nor represent. Ample demonstration and explication of the sonic deconstruction of the subject’s voice is to be found in Kodwo Eshun’s More Brilliant Than The Sun, for example when taking on the “Sampladelia of the Breakbeat,” and in reference to Ultramagnetic MCs, Eshun writes that:

The human organism is flying apart. The Song is in ruins. Sampling has cracked the language into phonemes. It breaks the morpheme into rhythmolecules. (03[025])

Aquanauts / Underground Resistance

Aquanauts / Underground Resistance

Eshun’s relation to D&G is complex, insofar as he utilizes several of their concepts – notable re/de/territorialization – while infusing them with the rhythm – intergalactic, interstellar, Afrofuturist – the refrain denies. The cosmic refrain frees sound from territory by way of sonic molecularization (and the assemblage of the synthesizer), and is exemplified in the beatless, static soundwave compositions of La Monte Young and random chance operations of John Cage. Where is Afrosonic rhythm, rhythm in general circa 1979, say the rhythm of disco, jazz, Sun Ra, Muddy Waters or even The Rolling Stones? Or again: Kraftwerk? Aesthetic exemplification aside, the question remains why D&G never discuss rhythm that engages the body – dance music – given their philosophical preoccupation with precisely this point, the materiality and embodiment of perception as “pop philosophy,” or what Eshun aptly sums up when he writes that “Rhythm is a biotechnology” (01[007]). Eshun could be responding to – and characterizing – Deleuze in the following:

Traditionally, the music of the future is always beatless. To be futuristic is to jettison rhythm. The beat is the ballast which prevents escape velocity, which stops music breaking beyond the event horizon. The music of the future is weightless, transcendent, neatly converging with online disembodiment. Holst’s Planet Suite as used in Kubrick’s 2001, Eno’s Apollo soundtrack, Vangelis’  Blade Runner soundtrack: all these are good records – but sonically speaking, they’re as futuristic as the Titanic, nothing but updated examples of an 18th C sublime. (05[067])

To sample once again the Zizek soundbyte that is in the air: “precisely.” And it is again worth noting white futurism’s attachment to celestial bodies in the case of Holst, the geospheric weightdown of weightless music to some kind of terra firma. Everything Eshun will explore insofar as Afrofuturist sonic fiction – the acceleration of rhythm as the biotechnology of the beat – though it can be thought in the matrix of D&G, simply echoes and bleeds beyonds the concept of the refrain, insofar as the refrain remains tied to a territory, and in its molecularization, forgets the body. Interstellar sound can’t be grounded in this fashion though it can be sensed by way of fear, dread, dance, movement, headsonics, and the sonic deterritorialization of the soul-subject-body. Even as the Detroit techno of Underground Resistance proceeds by way of enlarging its territorial communication – Nation 2 Nation, Galaxy 2 Galaxy, Universe 2 Universe, as three 12″s claim their succession in the World Power Alliance – it is by way of exploding the territory with tones. Sun Ra is put to use at 130BPM. And as Eshun notes, rhythmic techno also detonates the representational grounding of hiphop:

UR’s World Power Alliance expands on Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet, replacing planetary nationalism with a sonic globalism. (07[122])

Or to resample by way of “Electronic Secession:”

Techno secedes from the ruthlessly patrolled hoods of Trad HipHop. HipHop updates blaxploitation’s territories; it represents the street. By opting out of this logic of representation, Techno disappears itself from the street, the ghetto and the hood. Drexicya doesn’t represent Detroit the way Mobb Deep insist they represent Staten Island. (07[102])

Without representation, techno is free to become autonomous to the body itself in its sonic fictions of dance/dreaming and interstellar travel of the intellect via soundwaves. But with this imaginary, the loss of terra firma also means that techno does not represent Detroit, meaning that something of techno’s possible impact to the hierarchy of the popular music industry is lost. Such is the choice taken (though evidently a great influence was felt in the early ’90s worldwide, and remains in Europe, of electron sound; North America has reterritorialized upon the pop subject’s authenticity, whether by way of hiphop, r’n’b or pop proper, even insofar as this authenticity is the most plastic of fictions, sung & strut).

Techno’s globalism goes underwater with Drexicya (the aquatic AfroMers, descendants of those souls sent overboard during the Middle Passage of the Black Atlantic) and interstellar with X-102 (The Rings of Saturn). The beat syncopation of rhythm adds an element missing to D&G’s static wave-molecular modernism, for

Techno becomes an immersion in insurrection, music to riot with” (07[118]).

The utility of dance music is its ability to form and froth a body, to lather it up into a furious funk, to reconnect the mind to a whirling movement, to the dervish, to becoming-lost as a way to riot.

fear of a wet planet / Underground Resistance

fear of a wet planet / Underground Resistance

    Tags: , , , , , , ,

    .tinyUrl for this post: | http://tinyurl.com/2ewlwhz .

    One Response to “fear of a wet planet: rhythm I”

    1. FEAR OF A WET PLANET. Ritmoanálisis, afrofuturismo, teoría hidraúlica, underground y sonido. http://t.co/oW11Qsm