The shape of thought to come: Musings on The Ornette Coleman Quartet

I take jazz improvisation to be a model for permanent revolution in society at large” Eugene Holland, Deleuze and Music

The album Ornette! is electrifying. The fluctuating pitter-patter cross rhythms and squeaky choppy eruptions of unexpected sounds feel like they’re blasting Being apart with snare and sax. Patterns grow and fade-out becoming intense with a gradated tempo and flickering motifs of delightful repetitions with a difference. There’s a forcefulness to it, an aggression one could say, but in the sense of trying to create new objects, unthought objects. To make objects that burst out between the gaps of the apparatus of mobilized rational society, its marketed castrated intensities and conceptualized modes of living.

The Quartet float out effervescent enunciations, crystalline things that re-set the rhythm of you body from an ordered structured clock time of contiguity and predictability to one a liquidated dimension of the joyful uncalculated being-there. This music is a sensual drenching, a celebration and reminder of the edifying and contingent experience of being that erupts in the gap between the thing and nothing. If consciousness is memory, as Bergson would proclaim, the experience of listening to music is the pattern matching of ever new layers of fresh memories. Memories that come and go yet linger on as remembrances of patterns and intensities.

The Quartet acts like a de-tuning process, taking one away from the register of the world as concepts, as structure, as order, yet forms these things organically, harmonizing to patterned resonance, disarray and back again. They play in the cracks, filling them up, bursts them open to let our ears feast on the fertile-soils and strange ripe fruits that are passed over by the unadventurous.

The freejazz of the Quartet is the finest example of a playful music of sporadic rapid movements between experimental existences. There is no imperative of beat, tempo and direction. The instruments wrap themselves around each other, like interweaving rainforest undergrowth that symbiotically spread and multiply. It is jarring, distorted and uneven; it strikes as rough waves of noise, especially if one is used to calmer warm seas that caress you in polymorphically perverse comfort. Beat chop and change, waves splash, bubble and morph into eddies and currents that move with relentless creative force. However, it is not random and neither is it anarchic. The weeping sounds that open Peace are not unstructured as such, but create an ephemeral mood that is welcomed like Rumi’s guests at his Guest House: “A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!”.

There is an emotional logic of sensation, as Deleuze would say, an instantaneously apprehended magnitude, where the irrational logic of a spasmodic sharp spontaneous reaction lingers in the memory-consciousness of the listener and player. Understood as a unit operation, it is “an understanding, largely arbitrary, certainly contingent, of a particular situation, compacted and taken as whole”. It is the procedure implementation of non representational randomness where man experiences himself as an accident… and likes it.

The Quartet do not battle against their sound’s structure like musical deconstructionists, but create in the playful seriousness of children’s games which morph through praxis that feeds back into the memory of a malleable given of the game structure. The music of the Quartet is not in fear of structure.However, there is always a fidelity to the enterprise of their collaboration: the fidelity is not to a mood, a sound, a rhythm or a idea, but to the exploration of the unknown and unforeseen.

The form and content of the music is creative and fecund. There is no obligation or expectation other than in playing with the possibilities of objects created by sax, drums and bass. These possibilities are generated inside the immediacy of their local assemblage, the apparatus by which they speak being from the depths. I feel in freejazz, the light and lightness of a deterritorialized line of flight, the permanent revolution of subjectivized freedom whose message is echoed in the instructions of Deleuze and Guattari who can bring this article to a close:

“This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight…” (ATP, p.178).

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2 Responses to “The shape of thought to come: Musings on The Ornette Coleman Quartet”

  1. Laughin Martin Says:

    Hi Mike,

    I have just read Bergson’s short essay, ‘Introduction to Metaphysics’. It’s a really great essay (have you read it), and you can really see the basis of 20th century phil in its genesis. I think maybe it is at time confused a repetitive. He needed to live 30-50 years later for the relevant vocabulary. One could easily find comparisons with his dualism:
    Metaphysics Science
    Intuition Analysis
    Duration Concept
    Mobility Immobility

    Becoming Actuality
    Being Beings

    Ready-to-Hand Present-at-Hand

    As you know my knowledge of Deleuze is limited, but would say that the Virtual and the Actual stems from Bergson’s metaphysics?

    There are obvious problems with Bergson, i.e he seems to suggest a ‘self’ that can be made completely present, even if this self is pure duration.

    But there is definately a refreshing sense of realism.

    The idea of intuition is a difficult idea to grasp as he seems deny its practice in symbols but directs us to it through numerous metaphors. at first I thought it might be closer to teh epoche or meditation, but maybe comes about through something like a jazz impro, a dance, a sporting event or a poem?

    Maybe these comments are slightly naive(?)

  2. avoidingthevoid Says:

    Yep, I’ve read the short, beautiful and precise essay ‘Introduction to metaphysics’. After my presentation next week, I’m heading to the library to take out all the Bergson I can get.

    The idea of a philosophers intuition is central, I believe, as it shows that the creation of concepts comes from the attempt to bring those intuitions from experience into view, rather than undermining them through rigid conformity to a priori categories.

    I don’t agree with the monistic vitalism that duration infers, however. I read Deleuze as disagreeing with Bergson’s determinism in favour of a plurality of different chaotic experiences, rather than the complete social condition of the unconscious that ontological duration implies.

    I’m far more in favour of time as the effect of the tension and changing fluctuations between a sensual object and its qualities. The Bergsonian time implies a collected history that always follows one around from birth to death. Objects are far more forgetful that Bergson things, as objects are at constant tension with their parts, losing, breaking and reforming in a plastic rather than elastic sense. I’m working on a post concerning objects and memory, hopeful more on objects, time and memory in that.

    Deleuze turned to Bergson in order to make a transcendental deduction of passion: where the repetition of habits formed through ones past (heterogeneous elements of an event collected into an single synthesized experienced) creates lived duration of a self, as you say, who is completely present. It is through duration as a field where intensities are experienced.

    The virtual of Deleuze, I think, is the realm of potential actual becoming within a plane of immanence that propels the creative process of becoming: it is this space of becoming that means the things differs from themselves. There is no crystallized becoming into specific entities, as you know from his Bacon book: its all about becoming a body without organs. I find the language of Deleuze intuitive close to the intensities of free jazz and creative, unstructured performance, the dance, poem or sporting event, as you say. Bergson was keen to emphasize these things as leading to the possible experience of the vital, which is why Bergson is more a mystic, in the sense of connecting to a higher all powerful force.

    From an OOP perspective, I disagree with intuition as getting to know the thing-in-itself, but am for intuition that reaches beyond or dissolves the congealed elements that present us with boring objects (in OOP terms, elements is kind of an average everydayness for objects). To bring out the singularity and value of original intuitions is an OOP imperative, too. With Bergson, I believe metaphysics must start from this intuition, one that seeks the absolute first and create concepts fecund to new lines of flight. I often lose sight of this starting point, and engage more in textual analysis of what is, rather than a provocative leap to create new concepts that metaphysics can be (or should be, for Deleuze). Bergson wants the philosopher to be the mystic, although for OOP, that mystic is not one in the becoming flux of the continuum of vitalic time, but a withdrawn object producing time as space within a localized meaningful system (mystical Oneness is a “pathological exacerbation of the ego” that ignores mind-independent reality in an act of narcissistic presumption, as Ray Brassier brutally puts it in ‘Nihil Unbound’).

    Do you think you’ll read some more Bergson?

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