Bibliographie et mondes inédits

Cosmos, Rhythm and Plane (Approach to Sonorous Production)
Cours du 30/09/1999

Cosmos, Rhythm and Plane (Approach to Sonorous Production)

Richard Pinhas

Only now has it dawned on humanity that music is a figurative language of the passions: and later we will learn how to recognise clearly the impulsive system of a musician through his music. In truth, he did not intend to betray himself in this manner”.

That music is the figurative language [le langage figuré] of the passions, that it implies the discernment of the whole set of instincts: this is what Nietzsche affirms of a musician, and he means to extend it, without doubt, to all possible music.

Sonorous production evokes a singular kind of instinct: a relation of forces that can in principle be quantified and qualified. These are quantities of energy (quanta) and qualities-powers (affects). A musical ‘work’ is a precipitate of determinate quantities of energy and expresses determinate powers of being affected. For example: ‘metal’ music, becoming-water [le devenir eau], the crystal with the glass-harmonica of Mozart. These involve real syntheses, whether they be analogical or digital, of forces determining singular states, configurations unique to singular moments, like instantaneous cuts in Time (see Deleuze, The Time-Image).

In the continuum of the plane of composition, this instantaneous cut determining the objective state of sonorous forces, of actual multiplicities, is also a punctual description of affects, of affective complexes expressed by the play of these powers. This datable configuration of forces is the composition of the work in the organic body of the supposed musician (the agent or suppôt). In its violence to individuated bodies, the sonorous body puts music itself into question.

Instinct is an Encounter, the punctuation of a fulguration, – or, from the contrary perspective, a fixed state within which quantitative and qualititative multiplicities (objective states of forces) seem to be unable to evolve further.

Like a photo in the real world, this instantaneous cut is a fiction, like the fiction of the Intellect: we think we can seize and interpret the regimes of signs and forms which constitute temporal reality, and date it precisely. But that would be a pure commodity.

* * *

Nietzsche often makes reference to this notion of fixity: forces become static, figured, fixed, enter a declination. This is a strategic relationship: he underlines the positions of the implex of forces which, in the vital continuum of the plane, initialise and densify the process of expression. This procedure is equally known as Composition.

The elementary forms of sonorous production, what constitutes the internal necessity of the ‘work’, are what is a priori transparently visible and communicable in this fixed state of forces. The necessity is strictly internal: it is Rhythm (the Unequal, in Deleuze’s terms), disengaged and complex pressure, that brings about the symbiosis of music with the elements. Rhythm, or the Unequal, renders vibrations sensible.

The movement is a spanning out [balayage], operated within duration through a condensation, of elementary forms (simple or already composed, complex sequences). This movement is, by definition, the circulation of densities in the sonorous continuum (operative nuclei, analogical modulators, syntheses of tessiturae, numerical ‘manipulators’ of time and data, etc.)

Submitted to rhythm, movement gives birth to the oscillatory principle of the plane of musical composition. In the complex world of abstract sonorous forces, continuous Movement (or Variation) – which Bergson got close to defining with his concept of duration as ‘indivisible continuity of movement’ – is left to unfold itself. Rhythm in the fundamental oscillation which determines the duration of a music, its pure heterogeneity. Rhythm is the exact contrary of metrics, of the homogeneous.

In the Temporality of the world, it is the real distributor: rhythm is the Unequal that is immanent to the plane of sonorous composition. It is the development of an active principle of movement, and it literally composes the plane of effectuation of sonorous beings. Pure and strict ontological unity.

* * *

Will it be one day necessary to formalise the relations between Time and Silence, music and the cosmos, the constitution and efficacity of singular musical Ideas, the sinuous yet stellar relations of a Theory of the Heavens with the creation of a sonorous transhistorical continuum? A question posed by Nietzsche, to which musicians and nomads are beholden for a reply.

At its limit point, the little refrain [la petite ritournelle] no doubt implies a Music of the Spheres. A single cosmos, a single and unique Plane, perhaps even a single refrain, renewed without cease, a musical expression of the Eternal Return. Rhythm is essentially Ontological, and the whole history of music can from a certain perspective be seen as a plea for a true Ontology of the Unequal.

Constituting and non-constituted, Rhythm and connected durations (or simultaneous temporalities) are the genetic principles of the musical abstract machine: they engender diagrams of concrete effectuations, making the sonorous continuum audible here and now. The expressive positions of the relations of force are punctual densities. Certain statements can be formulated for their performance and for the preservation of these relations. These statements, the modulators and tensors of language, are themselves the supports and vehicle of instinctive expressions. They articulate the always actual presence of sounds. In the same way, it is the inscription of the partition, in its singular temporality, that is imprinted upon the Idea of composition, and allows it to realise its presentation. In a differential time, and by nature incomparable, the instruments of the orchestra denominated as ‘classical’, alongside the metallic guitars of ‘thrash’, the electronic, cybertechnoid machine, all proceed towards the same actualisation. They are objective concretions, or the real syntheses of effectuation.

By nature, the Time of the writing of the composition is suspended, immaterial. It is in direct contact with the contraction and expansion of the passions. Depositary of a special logic, embodied in relations of forces, it is their figural language. Intimate to the passions, this semiotic language proceeds by direct signs: it presents itself as in an immediate relation of adequation with sonorous matter, an instantaneous translation, but still a translation. It has formal modalities of execution, and different modes of articulation proper to a system of language. But it proceeds by direct signs, sonorous images, figures of expression, icons; it is a semiotic modulatory language resonating with synthetic continuous modulation: a type of inscription in real diagrams, an asignifying semiotic, and one that is a long way off from the pleasant fantasy of the language of passions conjured up by Rousseau. It is grafted onto the system of interpretation of the instincts, as a privileged transductor. When Wagnerian motifs are contracted, and the expressed content incarnates “the continuity of differential relations, or the virtual unconscious idea” (Deleuze, Difference and Repetition) of the infinite melody, then expressivity, or the power of movement, can attain in strategic regimes a degree of consistency that is proper to figures of expression. Henceforth, these figures are able to disengage expressed contents which together form the true content of music itself: metal-affects, the crystal of the glass-harmonica, the organic oscillation of magnetic delay, the cold numericisation of numerical delays, the mythology of the Grail, even just complex repetition itself, etc. The task is to make an account of the Formative elements, of the treatments of materials, of the diverse syntheses, of the organisation in segments or in aggregates, sequences and motifs, of the degree of concrete effectuation and of their objective, pragmatic conditions: the powers, the modes and the qualities of statements-affects. Expressivity is here finally raised to the level of the diagram, with rhythm as the active and absolute principle. Music is a cosmic becoming [devenir]. The plane.

* * *

Let us listen to La mer. What affection, what figurative language of the passions, which sensations does it express? It seems to enter into an empathetic and directly material relationship with its acoustic elements. We hear the surf, but even more the vital connection to liquid molecules and to fluidity. A continuous symbiosis of sonorous materials and marine elements pushed to a higher, non-organic, power emanates out of its composition. Notes and timbres, harmonies, identify themselves, taking on the guise of sonorous Nature, of molecules of water. In a living rapport, music takes charge of the expression and the supersensible potential of the Sea. The sonorous composition is the vehicle of the powers and affects of water: it makes marine time audible in its idiosyncrasy. And marine Time in turn becomes a sonorous Idea.

This metamorphosis of musical beings is indeed down to the forces of the composer: we can observe Richard Wagner constructing the continuous melody in which love-passion and suffering are expressed in the grandeur of motifs in a time of simultaneous compossibility. It is through the same procedure that Jimi Hendrix discharges the shame of the American nation following the Vietnam war (and its great health following the destitution of Nixon), when he emits showers of slow-motion flaming napalm and gyring shafts of harmony, out of phase and suspended, on a marvellous guitar transmuted into a celestial element. As if he has become pure Doppler effect, Hendrix sends our ‘self’ spinning out of phase, to the profit of a virtually infinite collection of fluctuating and metamorphic identities. These are sublime and terrestrial expressions of the Will to Power. The ‘good’ organisation of form and the structural unity of the work, the supposed matrix of the narrative (cf. Lyotard, Discours, figure), all disappear to the profit of a new distribution of materials and tessiturae, and of a magnificent dispersion of sonorous aggregates: the breathing [souffle] of the formative elements that are proper to musical being.

Music puts sound material into continuous variation. It is the apology of the molecular continuum, and as such it recovers the primordial meaning of cosmic, transfinite powers: the noise of the depths of the universe, and of chaotic, unlimited expansion, of matter, materials and becomings (see Deleuze-Guattari, ‘Of the Refrain’, in A Thousand Plateaus). A test of resonances and percussions, music presents itself through Unequal movement in the real, in connected and simultaneous durations, but above all as an a priori Temporal synthesiser.

La mer, an acoustic series of metamorphoses, an emission of aquatic affects. Other examples: Kraftwerk: analogical man in his machinic becoming, a melange of cables and data, on his path to a grandiose metamorphosis in the universe of numbers. Brian Eno and his imperceptible becomings, his properly atmospheric music, with its oblique strategies.

* * *

We have to try to understand the syntheses proper to the complex composition of a musical landscape, syntheses that exceed the usual academic, lyrical and figurative forms. It is in musical art as a whole that, by virtue of its interior power, we attain the life of the elemental: the songs of the Earth, the sublimity of mountain heights, weather music, the tellurian élan of little differences and of terrible Repetition (Philip Glass). Music should also be understood as a final contraction, one that at last renders the density of the sky audible, giving expression to the differences in which a “freedom for the end of the world” becomes possible, a forced movement towards an unsayable universe (Deleuze, Difference and Repetition).

Deleuze knew how to articulate the convergence of history and music towards a common limit: the making sonorous of the cosmos, and the confounding of the organism through sonorous and luminous powers. One imagines the intense and repeated usage of a non-figurative material, precipitating the mobile constellations of forms and contents. Proust as musician, the sonata of Vinteuil; or even Baudelaire, when he describes the movement of the soul of a continuous melody in the sublime and celestial whiteout of Wagnerian musical drama. The analogical repetitive cells and molecular sequences of Fripp and Eno (Riley, Heldon, Reich).


If music is indeed the figurative language of the passions, the figuration should not be conceived as an interpretative register of impulsive signs, nor as some sort of faithful representation of waves of intensity. It takes place on a different level, in the passage from sense to representation, where there is a limiting silence (Farrachi, Blanchot). There is no signifier that can give us an evaluation of the sonorous passion. Speaking in the manner of Freud, one has to imagine a radical barrier between the flux of the primary process and the secondary order that is inhabited by words. From one sphere to the other, the only interpretative path is the production of Figures, of compositions: sensible expressions of forces working upon and in the ‘work’. For Nietzsche, figuring, in the sense of the Will to Power, is different to expressing. Expression is a power, a strategic regime, an operative concrete mode, an aristocratic type of regime. Figuration (the ‘figural’ in Jean-François Lyotard’s sense) is an elaboration, a transformative work of energies through which the circulation of metamorphoses provokes the Transvaluation that is bound up with becoming. If figuration is a level of the synthesis of composition, ‘the figurative’ is to figuration what sentiment is to the sensation. Devaluation, reactivity, and the nihilistic collapse of the ‘ego’ into itself. Figuration is a power of expression, but the figurative, on the contrary, leads straight into the regime of representation.

The process of sonorous production puts into action at least three sorts of temporality, which can succeed or enter into a simultaneous interweaving with each other. These types do not define the qualities of Duration proper to the ‘work’, but rather delimit the diverse times of the composition in its concrete effectuation. There exists an Integral Present of the organisation of musical beings, which depends directly on the Presence of sonorous forces, on dynamics, accents and densities: the a priori presence of Rhythm and the continuity of movement. In this case, the Time of simultaneities – where such a time exists – is always ontologically bound to definite rhythms, as an empirico-transcendental complex. The Unequal is the great integrator, the principle of distributions and of movement.

Inserted into the Time of reproduction, music becomes audible. The movement of its execution is contemporary with the process of hearing it, so it implies a certain ‘subjectivity’. Bound to the forms and variations of perception, it delimits a living time which is actualised in the ‘subjective’ durations proper to the ‘Logic of Sensations’ (Deleuze).

Music that has been reified through a written score exists eternally (an eternal object in Whitehead’s sense); but it can also remain in this inaudible state. Whence its literally infinite character: its incorporeal sounds, beyond milieu, beyond even the vibrations of air. There is a kind of a temporality in parentheses, a sort of objective Time in which music implicates itself in compact and virtual forces, always endowed with possible actualisations. The time of musical writing differs by nature from ordinary time because it a Time of production: of diagrams in connection with pure objectivity (the planes of composition of sonorous syntheses). An illustration of the sonorous Infinitive: certain letters of Mozart affirm the thought that the surging forth of musical composition is like the unravelling of a pure Idea: it is as if everything begins with a dream or contracted point, dense and concrete, requiring only an unfolding or explication, even an expression, a sort of narration of the sonorous flux.

* * *

In the contracted time of the condensation of musical Beings, the nuclear Time of sonorous Ideas, beyond the supposed subjectivity of composers, the only thing that counts are densities of duration and the inclusive inflexions that are made of the realised suprasensible horizon. Simultaneity of Wagnerian motifs, differential repetitions of organo-metallic syntheses in Robert Fripp, the great analogy of simple rhythms in Kraftwerk: an array of multiplicities each leading to the sublime and to the absolute. It is the absolute density of the ‘work’, of Rhythm, insofar as it is the Inequal, that grounds the great sonorous abstract machine. It is a passage through milieux and it creates consistency; it distributes acoustic tensors or electronic tropes (electrotropes), deploying modules of variation. Perhaps these electrotropes illustrate the first phases in a genetic sonorous mutation, of which the terminal state would be ‘schizotropes’. Synthetic modulation a priori condenses connected and simultaneous temporalities and engenders the strategies of the diagram.

Sonorous production is necessarily a kind of essential simplification: flowing out from the core of forces, showing its structures as it goes, extracting the purest intensities, making evident the very process of composition (Eno, Boulez, Glass and Fripp possess this procedure in common). Boulez explains how the diagram simplifies movement in the strategic regime of the ‘Overture’. “It was the new blood of the ‘barbarians’, a kind of electric shock applied without tact to chlorotic organisms. In algebra, the term ‘simplification’ is applied when the terms of an equation are reduced to a more direct expression. In this sense, the Rite may be spoken of as an essential simplification”.

This procedure of simplification is the innovation – necessarily highly performative – that belongs to contemporary music. As soon as the figurative language of the passions gains a consistency, expression is released on the plane of musical composition, in diagram and rhythm. In his reflections on rhythm, Boulez inverts the usual critical perspectives: “With Stravinsky, the pre-eminence of rhythm is shown by the reduction of polyphony and harmony to subordinate functions”. The concrete rhythm which fills bodies is at once real empirical sensation, and the major element of composition: it orders the world of effective syntheses. But this real rhythm itself is dependent on another plane, the plane of the abstract musical machine, the great sonorous Rhizosphere. The disjunctive synthesis of simultaneities is carried out on this immanent plane of unengendered Rhythm.

Let us follow Nietzsche: “The concept of revelation – in the sense that suddenly, with indescribable certainty and subtlety, something becomes visible, audible, something that shakes one to the last depths and throws one down – that merely describes the facts […] One is altogether beside oneself, with the distinct consciousness of a multiplicity of shudders radiating down to ones toes: a depth of happiness in which even what is most painful and gloomy does not seem something opposite but rather conditioned, provoked, a necessary colour in such a superabundance of light; an instinct for rhythmic relationships that recovers immense extensions of forms – duration, the need for overarching rhythms, this is almost the measure of the power of inspiration, a kind of compensation for its pressure and tension” (Ecce Homo, ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’, # 3). Speeds and slownesses, relations of movement and rest, are fundamental to the relations of rhythm. An internal need to amplify rhythm can be ascribed to forms like durations, in the sense that rhythm, along with style, including great style, are the fundamental elements to all formation of sovereignty, to all expression of power, to all possible creation.

* * *

 The rhythm of the work, of the sequence, of the aggregate, even of a unique sound, a point of singularity or inflexion, is immediately derived from the ontological Rhythm produced by the abstract sonorous machine. It is for instance only through the accomplishment of properly diagrammatic procedures that figured or fixed co-ordinates are definitively eliminated from The Rite. Hence the need to highlight accentuated modes of rhythm in any analysis of the properties of pulsation (Boulez again).

The intrinsic consistency and internal density of the ‘work’ are the concrete issue of the continuum of compossible sounds, a virtual musical flux that tends towards the dispersion of events, the distribution of materials and intensities, the expression and the development of melodies. To form unheard-of acoustic traces, to express cosmic resonances, to exacerbate the great fundamental pulsation, and finally to render music nebulous, an audible and sonorous gas: celestial diffraction and magical breathing. From this moment, musical Beings are taken to be composed of sonorous Ideas. They become ontological essences upon the plane of sonorous composition. ‘Modernity’ perhaps consists in nothing other than this passage from the structure Complex of Bach to the materials-repetition Implex of our contemporaries.

As with derived rhythms, essential simplification can be applied a priori to any particular element or form. Take for example The Rhinegold. The long introduction develops a single double accord, at once a particular kind of tessitura and a real sketch of a motif. When, in turn, the same labour is applied once more to the concrete rhythm, it is the pulsation itself that begins to magnify itself (cf. Webern and absolute necessity). Music then becomes the Time of the world, the virtual Oscillation of the cosmos, radiating out from the noise of the depths of the universe.

* * *

Let us recapitulate. In its purest state, the concrete rhythmic impulsion leads towards a Rhythm that is differential insofar as it is Unequal. This is a complex Rhythm, which effectuates disjunctive and affirmative syntheses of simultaneous and connected durations, and composes the coexistence of all movements and every compossible sonorous world. Each line of duration corresponds intimately to a specific sonorous universe, a monad-sound; each rhythm describes a singularity of plane and the plane of immanence itself becomes confused in its symbiosis with the Unequal.

A simple musical Being (or sequence) is constituted of microrhythms, and is produced rhythmically (its being in the world is of a rhythmical nature, an amplified rhythm…). It modulates according to metamorphic processes, or internal rhythmic variations (pulsation), or again of the type ‘encounters’ (Fripp and Deleuze make their apologies because of commitments). The peopling the plane of sonorous composition is carried out by such modulations.

Behaviour, appearances, and modalities of being – all these are essentially rhythmical. Musical Beings are rhythmical complexes, and without doubt we are too.

* * *


To sum up, we understand well that there exists a play of relative speeds inherent to rhythm; on the one hand, differential movements of speeds and slowness, on the other, modulations of possibilities: the putting into continuous variation of musical beings and inflexions, the differential rhythms of sequential and simultaneous durations (compossibility according to Leibniz, interior simultaneity for Nietzsche). Tristan: ‘I am the world’.

The soul of the world, Rhythm is the essence of music: it is its most vital and fundamental compound, its absolute necessity. Sonorous compossibility consists in the simultaneity of exposition of multiplicities of motifs in variable and differential rhythms, and in heterogeneous durations affirmed as real and co-present. Already the propositions of the Timaeus encompass a multiplicity of heterogeneous and irreducible temporalities, under the form of a plurality of wandering stars, each possessing its own chronicity, its own singular movement, bound to the rhythm of its trajectory (Plato, Timaeus, 39b-d, 41e). Insofar as it is Unequal, Rhythm is the a priori founder of the syntheses of composition. An ontological fold between Time and Silence, it unfolds the process of differenciation and effectuates the putting into continuous variation of lines of simultaneous duration. Rhythm, great modulator of Time and of duration, concretises synthetic sonorous modulation.

Rhythmic impulsion is the concrete and active face of constitutive difference. Become material, it realises the composition of the plan of sonorous consistency. It is why rhythmic pulsation literally incarnates of the soul of the world: repetitive electronic sequences in Robert Fripp, displacement of accents in Philip Glass, the nomadic machine in binary tempo in Kraftwerk, the industrial electrothrash machine in Heldon, metallic syntheses and aggregates of voice become pure material in Schizotrope.

Literature develops a particular kind of analogy with the musical machine: the oscillation of the pendulum. It scans the eternity of Ubik, and the pure present of compossibles. Strange creature of Démons et Merveilles [a French edition of the tales of Lovecraft], the entity Randolph Carter incarnates this compossibility. Randolph Carter – or rather “all that he has been, is, and will be simultaneously” (Lovecraft) – echoes Spinoza’s classic proposition: that “the duration of things can be held intact in a unique moment, which comprises eternity”.

From the imaginary music of Erich Zann to ethereal perfection of Parsifal, it is the same absolute necessity and the same pulsation which traverses the world of sounds. Lovecraft provides a description of the finite plane of integration, the species of absolute movement, by virtue of which sonorous production becomes a plane of composition.

* * *

Sound permits a symbiosis between pulsation and rhythm capable of transmitting the electronic radiation of matter; that becomes Matter-Movement and Matter-Time (Deleuze). Music expresses the totality of the world: “Through the truth of music the passions themselves can be seized” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 4 [106]). The grail of musical expression is the transvaluation that attends the beauty of an infinite melody, where the motifs describe suspended themes that correspond organically to the continuous modulation of movement: the transparency of the passions to music and the auto-affirmation of necessity raised to the highest power. Like passions, music is constituted out of breaths and meteorological elements (Nietzsche, Letters to Gast).

Out of reach of every interpretation, sonorous Ideas are incarnated in effectuations, in perspectives, in combinations and inflexions (Rameau): the autochronic nature of musical Beings is passion. If we take this perspective, the work of Wagner not only reveals a physiology, but the integral essence of music, the necessity held sacred by Webern.

It is necessary for the great passions that music becomes cosmic, an oscillatory absolute movement. In July 1855, Liszt writes to Wagner: “Go to the mountains, compose, and put the whole sky into your music”.

Saint-Léonard – Val d’Isère, Summer 2097.

Translated by C. Kerslake, 20.08.2008.