Norges musikkhøgskole Norwegian Academy of Music
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The Differential Play of Forces in Sound and Thought

What makes music and thought circulate and communicate with each other in this project is that they both share the same problem: rendering forces, the differential play of forces, as a common ground of words and sounds, lines and colours.

This convergence is researched as a philosophical exploration of modern music in light of Gilles Deleuze's transcendental empiricism. Transcendental empiricism is an adventure of thought when it encounters those forces that belong to it, but to which thought is never referred. Music too opens the possibility of an encounter with intensive forces, and this encounter and its possibility is the fundamental object and aim of the thesis.

The trajectory weaves together the idea of transcendental empiricism with that of music as ways of synthesizing time to create sonorous bodies of intensity. Its focus is on how modern music does this in an attempt to render a direct encounter with intensity. This is done by following Deleuze and Guattari's sketch of a changing configuration of form and matter – thinking and sensation – arriving in the 20th Century with an immanent plane of composition where sensation is thought qua intensity, difference and becoming. The relation form-matter is exchanged for a new compositional problem; that of constructing a complex material capable of rendering sensible imperceptible forces.

The thesis looks at the experiments, the ideas and problems, the morphology of thinking and sensation responsible for this modern exploration of intensity? This means to ask and to take seriously: what have the composers said about their approach to sound, music, sensation? What do they say about their understanding of art and its function, and what experiments, epistemologies and ways of thinking are at work in their creation of music? By this enumeration is obviously not suggested a complete survey of all these aspects, but to indicate a field which is relevant for the construction of an understanding of modern music as a transcendental empiricism.

I do this via the three composers Arnold Schönberg, Olivier Messiaen and Giacinto Scelsi. All of these have contributed to the revolution in music and listening that the 20th Century brought us. Looking at their ideas about music as an expressive incarnation of intensity, it is possible to develop a more differentiated understanding of modern music as a transcendental empiricism. The transition and metamorphosis that Arnold Schönberg made from romanticism to modern dodecaphonic music can thus be understood as expressive of a possible transition and metamorphosis in thinking and sensation. The motivating idea of dodecaphony becomes indicative of a new way of thinking about and experiencing relations in sound. Olivier Messiaen´s claims about the significant “directional” meaning of music can be understood not only in a general and abstract way but as referring to a concrete and detailed trajectory of the metamorphosis of sensation. His claims about sound-complexes and modes employed in his music as colours related to dazzlement thus get a new “transcendental” resonance and become visible as a potential experimental practice. Giacinto Scelsi's writings can be made consistent with his intensive music, and his claims about music as a “path” to the interior “depth” of sound methodologically exposed by developing what lies implied in the indications and sources he gives.

In this way I hope to present music as transcendental empiricism, as an encounter with forces that can be “thought”, and vice versa: making thinking into an element of intensity which, as Deleuze says, has the same feel for movement as music does: fold by fold.

Published: Oct 18, 2016 — Last updated: Mar 25, 2021