crevice or, space that opens
What is a sound. A sound is two things heard at one and the same time but not together.
Rhythm refers not only to vocal emissions or to the sound of acoustic matter, but also to the vibration of the world. Rhythm is the inmost vibration of the cosmos. And poetry is an attempt to tune into this cosmic vibration, this temporal vibration that is coming and coming and coming.
—Franco Bifo Berardi
I’d like to make a metaphysical stroke over the body-machine which is trying to breathe and that hasn’t only been (even more) suffocated in the past months, but is utterly lost in the abstraction of fear, in an insecure, confused and repressed condition controlled by the undeniable structural global violence that permeates our contemporary paradigm.
I don’t want to add more layers to the texture of uncertainties, accumulated in waves of overwhelming information, usually distorted, covered-up, and edited, regarding our fragile immune-social condition, the economic crisis, the reality war. Rather, I’d like to reflect on two concepts as vehicles that can reactivate our bodily experience, that will help us position and think ourselves in-relation, as bodies: sound and breath. If we perceive sound as materiality in continual vibration, and breath as the universal witness of a collective pulse, acting as a filter for ordinary experience and finally leading to an ideological, cultural, and socio-political experience of the world: how does a body breathe? I ask myself if our respiratory experience has also been oppressed as it becomes more and more involved with a structural rhythm of control.
The vibration of sound and breath could work as instruments for a more profound ontological investigation regarding our current condition. If we perceive their agency with more attention, we could notice that they act as the evidence, the registry, of dynamic strokes over the body-machine, those which are apparently intangible, but that work as the essential rhythm of generative states within the body-machine.
Parting from Franco Bifo Berardi’s premise, we can meditate on the presence (and absence) of the breath’s flux as a psychosomatic metaphor and a social symptom within physicality, visualizing the experience of these circuits traversing our bodies like residues in loop that are trying to synchronize—from the agency of the body’s subjectivity—with the context’s conditions, with its reality. I think it’s important to meditate intensely on this during this crisis that wants us to remain in an anti-respiratory state, in a continuous sensorial detachment from bodies-in-relation.
Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates.
Recently, I made a list of the etymologies of the word ‘chaos’. The evolution of its meaning is fascinating and, in a way, all of these descriptions have been enmeshed in today’s reality, like a constellation of infinite abysses:
+ kháos o cháos = the unpredictable
+ elemental confusion
+ a mass of matter without form
+ vacuum occupying a hole
+ from the Indo-European root gheu, it means being open
+ it means to yawn, or to open from a cavern
+ a random behaviour governed by complex principles, sensitive to its conditions
+ vacuum framing the rest of existence
+ confusion of absolutes, disorder
+ crevice or, space that opens
+ the original state of matter
Berardi says that today’s notion of chaos lies on the absence of semiotic measurements in order to comprehend the flux of information and phenomena. It is the inability to attribute a “logical order” to a series of complex events that become unpredictable, and then, this indeterminacy extends into a very confused ambiance that is impossible to decipher through the frames of reality we have within reach. In other words, the semiotic frame that had been collectively integrated in order to perceive “order” is trapped within its own limits of reality. What we thought society or civilization was is falling, because the actual semiotic flow is going too fast and, at the same time, it has broken with the temporality and structure that we thought, illusively, was holding this model. Guattari’s term chaosmosis, and which Bifo eloquently recuperates from the standpoint of poetry and breath, refers to the synchronic rhythm between cosmic chaos and singularities, and more precisely, with subjectivities. It is “the process of rebalancing the osmosis between mind and chaos, with the osmotic evolution of chaos in itself.” In this sense, this stance opens up and generates an infinity of possibilities that enter into a cosmic rhythm that, for Berardi, happens through the flow of respiration, through breathing. Breath in this sense, is the ultimate measure of relation, overcoming the limits of an established semiotic rhythm and reality, subtly auto-generating from a vibratory re-modulation between subject and experience. Berardi says, “when we say chaos, then, we mean two different, complementary movements. We refer to the swirling of our surrounding semiotic flows, which we receive as if they were “sound and fury.” But we also refer to attempts to reconcile this encompassing environmental rhythm with our own intimate, internal rhythm of interpretation.”
In this sense, the sound of drone music could be perceived as matter without form, which is governed by complex principles, as the unpredictable mass of experience: the open state of chaos. Our bodies, our materialities, are part of the vacuum that occupies a space where the rest of existence is framed, but they can find their own rhythmic scale to connect with this open state and enter into an osmotic condition from a continual, subjective exploration, an internal interpretation, and not from a prosthetic semiotic limitation, a rhythmic control: a model that erodes singularities.
Eliane Radigue, Jetsun Mila, 1968. (Composition inspired by the Tibetan poet and yogi Milarepa).
The vibration of the drone, characterized by sustained repetition of sound and notes, will work as an allusion to observe the relation between our bodies and the sphere of an unlimited semiotic flux. The drone maintains a complex, penetrating sonic reality, and we could say that, as opposed to a traditional musical composition that produces sound in calculated intervals, creating a harmonic narrative “starting from zero, from silence,” the drone is a generative organism that is alive, and that is “always there” as potential mass, already holding an infinity of sound permutations and variations. This effect is released and can happen over our sensorial surface, in an osmotic act, within the physicality of our bodies: the drone happens with the body, in-relation: the body is the vacuum where vibrations can be held.
Eliane Radigue, L’ile Resonante, 2005.
Drone and minimalist music activate a reality principle that is radical. Its conceptual and practical design is fluid and paratactic, avoiding a dual, tautological loophole. For instance, the traditional principle in Western music starts with the idea of silence. Notes and frequencies are added over silence from a linear perception in order to construct something from an apparently blank, clean space, creating a composition through a sequential notational system that “did not exist before.” This way of ordering reality responds to a hierarchical model. Drone music takes its principles from Indian classical music, from the sustained sound of the tambura. Drone music and Indian music sound very different, but they share the same model in a structural, practical sense. This premise is based on the idea that “sound is always, already there” happening through a field of continuous electricity, and the body can tune in with that other sonorous body-mass in order to create a new state of singular synchronicity. In a way, it turns into a collaborative act between vibration and individual.
Jung Hee Choi, RICE, during the exhibition The Third Mind, Guggenheim, 2009.
The body must listen attentively to the accumulation of vibratory frequencies in order to tune into the sonic continuum and, from that place, articulate its own experience. There is no a priori imposition or an anticipated idea, or desire, for new measures to be composed “over” space, there is only relation and interaction with frequencies that are already permeating every space, every aspect of sound. As the Italian artist Caterina Barbieri mentions, “the sound of the drone is the most penetrating archetypal gesture.” In this sense, there is no aspiration to create a new semiotic limit or a measure. The most penetrating vibration is already there, within us, between sound and bodies.
La Monte Young, The Well-Tuned Piano, 1987.
We need to visualize the subject as a transversal unity that encompasses the human.
The dissolution of the limit and the production of resulting tones and cosmic vibrations are central to the phenomenon of resonance.
—Ben Neill (Pure Resonance, La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela).
What is the experience of subjectivities? Where and how do they happen? Guattari and Deleuze put forth that the subject identifies with the centre because it lacks the capacity to observe the circuit of intensities and living states that it forms part of. But, the subject is being constantly reborn from the state that is experimenting, this is what determines it. In this sense, the subject within the body is actually impossible to locate because it is in perpetual movement and never in the centre, rather in its peripheries, moving. Therefore, the subject produces and is produced as residue, defined by the states that it experiments in a vital oscillation.
Respiration traverses, affects and is affected by all of these subtle circuits, and maybe the attention to our breath could reveal the tempo, the rhythm of these routes where the subject happens, generating a temporality frame that could be interpreted subjectively and intimately, in relation to other tempos and other breathing circuits.
Our anti-respiratory paradigm is gradually suffocating our sensorial awareness, with the promise that, if we wear our masks, we’ll go back to the norm, to our normal reality, where it was already impossible to breathe. If we think of the circuit of intensities and states that Guattari and Deleuze put forth, there’s really no before and after, but a continuum of exhalations and inhalations that are clearly informing us, as we lose touch with our intimate rhythm and vital subjectivity, about our psycho-social condition. The political and economic paradigm that insists on sustaining its “rhythm” generated by the politics of isolation, that leads us more and more to the terrors of an egotistic individuality and self-absorption, structural violence and inequalities regarding racism, class and gender, labor exploitation, ignorance and ecological abuse, and the ever omnipresent media garbage, promoting a frightening state that is not only asphyxiating but overtly anti-contact, anti-touch, irrevocably reveals itself by lifting its veil and showing us a structure that only works as it subtracts our breath, our air. But, in exchange of what? This is the essential ideological trade model, the effect of semiocapital’s power, as Berardi would put it.
It is essential to feel and probably even think through the body’s agency and information, and only from there, to try to pierce into social, political and cultural fields in order to interpret and affect the model through different semiotic possibilities. To find the localities of our rhythmic patterns and think about these drives and flows—where do they come from and why? We could even differentiate and intervene with the circuits where our subjectivities are oscillating. Berardi talks about the word conspiration, which means breathing together, but I like the evolution of its meaning, the idea of a secret agreement, a plan. The agreement to observe the unseen, the hidden strokes and traces of our bodies’ intimate breathing.
I celebrate the circuits that produce new respiratory paradigms and that can tune-into frequencies of possibility in order to sustain other vibratory articulations and even produce echoes and resonance in other bodies, traversing to other respiratory fields: the poetic-political actions, the re-articulation of human rights movements fighting gender and racial violence, alternative study groups and feminist collectives, spaces for social and artistic experimentation; but above all I celebrate the complicities of friendship and rhythmic solidarity that are opening new routes based on open-ended, perhaps unfinished principles but that are able to articulate respiratory variations and multiplicities, creating a synchronicity that is possible because it is open to semiotic mystery, producing subjects that experiment themselves in-relation.
Caterina Barbieri, Fantas, 2019.
Patrick Farmer: Azimuth, The Ecology of an Ear. SARU, 2019.
Franco “Bifo” Berardi: Breathing: Chaos and Poetry, Semiotext(e), 2018.
Los Tres Iniciados: The Kybalion of Hermes Trismegisto, Editorial EDAF, 1978.
Rosi Braidotti: The Posthuman, Polity Press, 2013.
William Duckworth, Richard Fleming: Sound and Light: La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela, Bucknell University Press, 2012.