Friday, July 15, 2011

From Francis Bacon to Free Improvisation (and beyond)

Words: Gian Paolo Galasi

Francis Bacon, Three Studies of the Male Back, 1970

I started Gilles Deleuze's "The Logic of Sensation" this winter, and when I read the pages related to the concept of "histeresis", and its application to modern painting - the blurring of the boundaries between object and subject, the use of color as rhythmic pattern - by the French philosopher, I found out that what he put on the table was in fact embracing many of the artistic tides developed since the second half of the 20th century. Deleuze's book is about Francis Bacon's painting, but, as many of the philosophers writings, it tries to be inclusive and to track a sort of 'minor' history of the most vital artistic statements of the time, and back. But, far from what Gilles Deleuze embodies in his text - Francis Bacon, Vincent Van Gogh, Eadweard Muybridge, Diego Velasquez, Paul Cézanne, as long as Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust literary masterpieces -, I was thinking first and foremost about Antonin Artaud - on which Deleuze himsepf came back in many of his essays, from The Logic of Sense to A Thousand Plateaus - and performance arts, from Vito Acconci to Marina Abramovic. And, obviously, to music.

I was listening to Roscoe Mitchell's No Side Effect (RogueArt, 2006) in those days. So in a certain way improvised music (Albert Ayler, the AACM) was implied in surrounding the impressions Deleuze's book gave me, but, in my effort to articulate a more extended analysis, I have to imply also Demetrio Stratos' and Sainkho Namtchylak's studies on voice, that are related to some techniques many post-bop horn players developed, starting with John Coltrane. Maybe the proper field for this study would probably be European contemporary music, with Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen as examples of what was then called 'post-serialism', and the so-called 'Industrial music' - this definition in Europe doesn't include music related to heavy metal, but forms of music developed first as accompaniment for performances, and then risen to a proper authonomy with Throbbing Gristle, Einsturzende Neubauten and Maurizio Bianchi -, and the Sound Art, as a matter of how the sound can influence the perception of the space. 

In this article I want to give some tools that can be useful for a first approach with a discussion on how the French philosopher's essay fits with music, and to what extent, skimming through genres and styles. Deleuze was very influent in the 1960s here in Europe and then in South America, where he still is. David Toop in his Ocean of Sound talks diffusely about Deleuze's concept of 'rhizome' - a root without a proper original branch, metaphor for a way of thinking without relating reality to a unique and univocal meaning - as a strategy to reach a 'nomadic' way - a way not based on given, i.e. 'sedentary', structure of language, of signifying - to approach creation; that's what Sun Ra's and other jazzmen were doing: issuing their own records on their own labels, and so avoiding artistic compromises, and then giving some of their artefacts to some major or independent labels. That's what the avant-garde pianist did, as an example, with Space is the place, issued on Impulse!, or with Nuclear War, published on Mark Stewart's On-U Sound.

Francis Bacon Study for the Head of George Dyer
Hysteresis, so. It's difficult to undesrtand it correctly if you are not aware of some cornerstones of the structuralism. In particular it would be interesting to focus on Jacques Lacan's seminars about psychoanalisis and the concept of 'hysteria', that he, as structuralist, considers as the refusal to apply the language of Power to the body, as the proper feeling of the hysteric subject. And this, because power refuses to give desire his proper place in the world of language and in the word of the Law. As far as desire, for Lacan, "desire is neither the appetite for satisfaction nor the demand for love, but the difference that results from the subtraction of the first from the second." Lacan adds that "desire begins to take shape in the margin in which demand becomes separated from need." So desire can never be satisfied, as Slavoj Žižek says: "desire's raison d'être is not to realize its goal, to find full satisfaction, but to reproduce itself as desire."

A good part of the Deleuze's thinking is based on the opposition between power and desire. The concept of power is taken from Hegel and seen as something - the dialectics - that comes from, and produces, dissociation - thesis versus antithesis. "Petrolio", a novel by Pier Paolo Pasolini, or his Salò movie, are good literary translations of that concept. Desire is all that remains when the structures of the speech as a form of power on reality - the presumption to give order to reality with words - collapse. Again, Pasolini's 'Teorema' is a good picture of that idea. At the center of the paintings of Bacon there is a work of removal, an ethic work that leads precisely to abandon power for desire. Bacon take away the figure, the shape and the filling is blurring, so there are no more specified subjects - man and animal, subject and object, figure and environment, and so on.

And again, movement in Bacon is always double, systolic and diastolic at the same time. An abject athleticism - from latin 'ab-jectus', something that remains beyond the sub-jectus, which is the subject - leading from the figurative pattern that imprisons the figure into being only in this movement - the sink, the mirror - and filled to the figure - the body as Plexus / spasm, hysterical scene: escape through any body prostheses: syringes, umbrellas, mouth / scream ... -. Extraction and isolation, as opposed to the intelligible narrative relations of classical figurativeness. The butchered meat, the zone of indiscernibility between man and animal. The bones will rise from the flesh, as the flesh descended from the bones. Acrobatics of the flesh, an extension of athletics in the body. Face, head, cry escapes the body through the mouth, like blood from a severed artery. Spiritual movement.

Place created by those forms of art is similar to the anthropologist Victor Turner concept of 'liminarity' in his 'Rite of passage', and a good picture of it can be considered the way a Tibetan singer uses his throat in order to produce a double sound, positioning his tounge and glottis as if he is passing from 'l' letter to 'm' letter. This is a 'middle' position, but one that produces a double sound. Hysteresis, so, is the 'rhythmic' eye. The eye becomes ear: it feels time, as does the ear when you listen to music. And so becomes 'schizophrenic', says Deleuze, but not in the usual sense of dissociation. Schizophrenia as music is, because music disembodied bodies, the place (not the concept) of vanishing lines that cross the bodies themselves, but that are consistent elsewhere, hysterized through the introduction of color. How can we not recognize in that description the timbre, old fetish of improvisers, but also the use of a certain layering of sound even in analog and digital electronics, or in some contemporary composers, as in Karlheinz Stockhausen or Iannis Xenakis? How about electronic music, be it Miles Davis electrified trumpet, or the first contemporary composers in producing music through ring modulators?

The body draws on its new organs, like Antonin Artaud had predicted in 'Pour en finir avec le jujement de dieu'. It's a metaphor for multiculturalism, in the sense of the crossing of two different cultures, that usually produces something completely new: the 'african-american' music isn't a mere adding of two cultural forms of art: it is a totally new music. The 'hysterized eye' ceases to perceive the figures arranged in space according to a scan or narrative perspective, and through the articulation of three elements - material structure / set position / area and contour as the unfocused limit of both - creates a structure of rhythm / feeling. The body is thus the zone of indiscernibility between subject and object, between sentient and heard. Pure affection. The feeling acts as an agent deformating the body, and creates a gap in which it is organized through a sequence, a spasmic passage from a level to the other. 

So let's go back to music, to the rhythm given through the use of color. It's something similar to the dyplophonies used in Tibetan singing, or to the resonances of certain Arab, Middle or Eastern instruments - qanun, sitar -. But the same is with the way a musician like Roscoe Mitchell sometimes uses triplophonies on his horns. Same with Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, their use of tritones: they aren't a mere addition of a sound to another, but a new form of vibration. And the same is with the bass lines Henry Grimes give shape as a matter of texturizing different colors, different layers of sound.

Surely, if we think about avant garde jazz, its roots aren't in Western philosophy, but in a practice that is more confident with other concepts, like sound as vibration, as an example. Quoting Sufism and his mysticism can be a better idea. But since the 19th Century European thinkers - e.g. Schopenhauer or Nietzsche were both enthousiasts readers of the Bhagavad Gita- were looking at the Eastern World as a new model, less related to the division between reason - the self-consciousness as the result of the ego seeing himself - and the irrational - all that can't be explained with scientific measures. Psychology and anthropology - Carl G. Jung ideas on Symbols and Collective Unconscious, as Victor Turner idea of Experience - are more related to an Olistic approach to the human mind than Freud's idea of the Ego and Hegel's concept of dialectics. A more fluid approach to things, and a reflection of that knowledge parameters change can be seen in Antonin Artaud's 'The theater and its double', or in Jerzy Grotowski's Toward a poor theater; the same is with Francis Bacon and, to some extent, Jackson Pollock's paintings, and music after the middle of the last century. 

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