"What is a collective? It is a network of affect relationships, Cornelius Cardew seems to tell us in the improvisational story The Tiger’s Mind”. The CAC Brétigny is pursuing its own collective experiment guided by the scores of the English composer, after having dedicated a retrospective to the “visionary” musician in 2009, which has since been presented across Europe. Matthew Saladin, in a text that one would like to read with its soundtrack, explains what is at stake in this social composition. A communion that Beatrice Gibson recently brought to the big screen, and one from which he himself takes inspiration in his revolt against a new “struggle of the affective classes”.read
Reading instructions: listen to the first twenty minutes of Like a Cloud Hanging in the Sky? (1968) by AMM, then begin reading the following text. Turn down the volume if necessary, but let the music play while reading.
Like a Cloud Hanging in the Sky? is a collective improvisation by the group AMM (which at the time included Cornelius Cardew, Lou Gare, Christopher Hobbs, Eddie Prévost and Keith Rowe). It was recorded in June 1968, one year after the publication of Sextet: The Tiger’s Mind, a prose composition by Cardew dedicated to AMM. The Tiger’s Mind narrates the activities of a hypothetical collective in two acts: day and night. If, in its title, Like a Cloud Hanging in the Sky? appears to question the very meaning of free improvisation as a collective endeavor, it is not however a performance of Cardew’s score. On the contrary, The Tiger’s Mind can be understood, from a compositional point of view, as a reflection on collective engagement as it was then being developed by AMM in each of its improvisations, and thus as a heuristic analysis of the group’s creative process, which the recording of Like a Cloud Hanging in the Sky? offers as an excellent example.
The Tiger’s Mind comprises six characters: Amy, the tiger, the tree, the wind, the circle and the mind. In the description of the characters, which forms the basis of the score, emphasis is explicitly given, not to the sounds to be produced, but to the play of relationships at work in the characters’ individual and collective activities. Each character is established in relation to the others: together they form the framework for staging a number of possible relationships between the players. Characters are attributed a series of characteristics, which henceforth represent their singularity and relations of affect. Their very consistency is made visible only insofar as it is mediated by the other bodies with which they interact; the wind, for example, is visible and audible only through the objects in its path. Characters are made legible in the way their actions – or more precisely in Spinozian terms, their conatus, i.e., the effort with which “each thing, in so far as it is in itself, endeavours to persist in its own being” 1 – affect each other’s actions, which, in return, affect themselves. These relations of affect can be as mutually enriching as they can be detrimental; together they give rise to an intermingling whose complexity depends on the number of players involved and their possible associations, yet whose form also depends on the given situation – “a melodic line of continuous variation constituted by the affect.” 2
Collective production, as Cardew imagined it in this composition, differs from open works that aim at synergy (for example, Earle Brown’s December ‘52). By contrast, collective engagement is here understood through a variety of interrelated conflicts and enrichments. It is a social microcosm where different interests act together, be they singular, individual, antagonistic, dissident, polemic, or even open to compromise – just as they can, in creating other relationships, also enrich or complete, mutually summon or support each other. In short, their mutual power increases or diminishes depending on each encounter and context. What is a group? In his improvisational tale, Cardew suggests that it is a network of affect. Although the score is limited to the interaction of six protagonists, it offers a wealth of possible performances: “The affects can be combined amongst themselves in so many ways, and from this, so many varieties are born that their number cannot be determined.’ 3 Collective production produces its own indeterminate complexity: if each individual’s becoming is partly determined by relations of cause and effect, associated with their own mode of affectation and being affected, the heterogeneous nature of their interactions leads to a poetic, if not social, indeterminacy. 4
In order to grasp what is at stake in collective production, it is necessary not only to take into account what group members do (their actions), but also, and perhaps most importantly, what they sense and perceive (the ways in which relations of affect are perceived), and how their perceptions influence what they do. In other words, above and beyond the singularity of each contribution, collective production is based on the activities and actions that engage the group as it evolves, through the perception of singularities, and more specifically, given the kind of musical improvisation which The Tiger’s Mind solicits, on the ways in which the different actors (including the public when there is one) listen to each other. By way of an auditory feedback, inherent in the shared listening that the musicians continually exchange during the performance, improvisers not only listen to each other’s music as they perform on stage together, nor do they simply pay attention to the others’ movements as they become sound, but they also paradoxically listen to their own listening.
This kind of listening can be described as active responsiveness, to use Bakhtin’s expression. It acts directly on its own source and affirms itself as an activity that, in collective production, reflects on what is being heard. Listening is not simply the space of passive affections, for it affects, in turn, that towards which it is directed. Group members are listeners who, in listening, already respond to their partners’ contributions, modify them and allow the modifications to resound in their own contributions, which in turn blend with others. This response can be more or less delayed, or “muted”; yet, “sooner or later,” as Bakhtin suggests, “what is heard and actively understood will find its response in the subsequent speech or behaviour of the listener.” 5
For Bakhtin, each utterance or contribution converges with previous utterances, those already heard, but also with that which is yet to come, while the listener modifies his or her response in advance. Each contribution is thus always inscribed at the centre of the chain and evolves in the exchange in which it participates. At the same time, unlike the Bakhtian analysis of verbal dialogue, collective improvisation cannot be limited to musicians emitting alternating sounds among themselves. On the contrary, it can be characterized, in most cases, by a multitude of simultaneous emissions. But this simultaneity – in which the common time of collective production is determined – can be marked as much by the synchronism as by the asynchronism of individual contributions. As an active group, the different voices allow themselves to merge in their concomitance and converge towards a mass of sound, at the same time that they diverge and move away from one another. By working together within the group, albeit differently, these multiple voices appear to constitute a “polyphony,” which is marked by both the divergence of separate planes, according to the moment, “combining without merging,” unfolding according to a series of relative speeds, and the formation of an entity in which (as with AMM) all differences give way to the sound of the ensemble, a heterogeneous sound mass which subsumes within it the individualities as they are gathered together.
The temporality of collective production therefore appears more complex in its plurality. This can be seen in the dialogical thickness identified and developed by Bakhtin in his analysis of linguistic utterances. Always already a respondent, individuals do not only “respond” to what is happening simultaneously, to the other actors or partners, audience and surroundings, in short to the specificities of the situation; they also ‘respond’ to past experiences, the multiplicity of what they have previously heard, and their own experiments. Individual respondents are also always preceded – “criss-crossed,” as Bakhtin describes it – by a multitude of voices which constitutes their inner self, and of which their present utterances are to some extent the echo. In addition, participants respond to their own utterances, at the same time that, in their own contribution, they listen to others, if not to every utterance. Collective production is thus formed through a dialogical stratification, in that it refers, at the same time, to a multiplicity of voices and the singular palimpsest of each participant: in other words, to a plurality of affects, influences and interactions across permeable boundaries.
Whatever the scale of this intermingling, collective production is not so much determined by the coming together of several individuals working towards the same objective, as by the interactional bond that they produce. Individual contributions engaged in a common process continuously affect each other, and it is in the space between these mutually influential relations, between affects, that a potential collective is finally formed. It is therefore not so much a question of perceiving a multitude of independent voices, as of lending an ear to the multitude of “criss-crossed” and layered voices grasped in a network of alterations that affect the underlying action and form the depth of each player’s performance. As Ruth Amossy asserts, Bakhtian dialogism is not “the place where speakers take responsibility for their utterances by positioning themselves in relation to previous points of view; rather it is the place where they pave a way for themselves in what has already been said, according to a movement which partially escapes their clear consciousness.” 6 This does not mean that members of the collective are merely the passive vectors of each others’ sounds, mere relays or points of access, but rather that they are “played” as much as they play.
Bakhtin writes that Dostoyevsky’s novels are constructed “not as the whole of a single consciousness, absorbing other consciousnesses as objects into itself, but as a whole formed by the interaction of several consciousnesses, none of which entirely becomes an object for the other.” 7 In a similar way, it can be said that collective production, and in particular free improvisation, never truly tends towards a unifying end, or “a well-rounded, systemically monologic whole.” 8 If the metaphor of polyphony seems more effective, it is not to be understood as a harmonized diversity, but on the contrary as something that expresses itself in collisions, oblique movements and gaps between the different participants: in other words, as a web of relations where heteronomy vies with autonomy, convergence with divergence, consensus with dissensus. As Spinoza’s theory of affects indicates, voices and individuals are less important in the formation of creative production, than the relations that bind them together. Even if the various collective voices might appear as so many centres of the unfolding action – as poles of attraction, each with its own zone of influence – or simply stand out (this individual, that device, etc.), they nevertheless give way to the relationships which they establish amongst themselves. Thus, in The Tiger’s Mind, Amy pursues the tiger by holding its tail; the tiger relies on the wind for its orientation; the tree, which appears insensitive, responds to the stimuli of the wind and the sun; the mind fears the headache that it receives from the circle, etc. For, in effect, collective production, as it arises, takes place in between its actors – in between the bodies of the individuals who have gathered together, in between their listening and responsiveness. Consequently, a production is collective when, out of an active multiplicity and woven by this in between, it creates, forms, and arranges a moving, yet nevertheless common space – that is to say, the scene of its affects.
If the volume has been turned down, slowly turn it up, and listen to the end of the collective improvisation, Like a Cloud Hanging in the Sky?
This text is a shortened version of the article “Between Affects: Improvised Dialogism and Collective Production,” which appears in the anthology The Tiger’s Mind (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012).
ORGANIZING UN COUP DE DÉS
, and lies listen to,, at the she said as a form of, while he said ? . a , .
For the summer edition of uncoupdedés.net magazine, I have let myself be inspired by Mallarme´s dice play to shift away from a regular textual introduction. In favor of the actual produced material and the heterogonous spirit I found in the magazine, I limited myself to use what is already existing – titles and content – to produce a minimal intervention: , and lies listen to,, at the, she said, as a for of, while he said ? . a , . The economy of words deploys a visual and musical dimension of the assemblage, flames the collective effort, fulfills magical strategies, provokes memorization or, perhaps, simply incorporates the fundamental action given by this invitation: ORGANIZING UN COUP DE DÉS.
Bolstered by its success and visibility, uncoupdedés.net is restarting and subjecting existing content to new voices. In 2014 and 2015, several personalities from outside France will be asked to become our editorial writers for one season. Their task will be to place the contents of the whole magazine in perspective, presenting them differently through the prism of their subjectivity and their own work contexts. Catalina Lozano (Colombia), Zasha Colah (India), Moe Satt (Myanmar) and Manuela Moscoso (Brazil): each guest editor will reformulate the actions of the centres d’art, various aspects of which they will have been able to perceive through the magazine. Each editor-in-chief will “roll off” a cross-cutting text, presenting an original re-examination of the resolutely fluid geography of the centres d’art. uncoupdedés.net repeats the challenge from the poet Mallarmé, resurrected in the cinematographic art of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet (Every Revolution is a Roll of the Dice, 1977). The guest editors, coming from a variety of disciplines, will widen the circle of expression even more. Choral and fragmentary, uncoupdedés.net takes just as much after puzzles as it does after memories, and naturally calls for cut-outs of every kind…
(Sao Paulo, Brazil)
Manuela Moscoso is a Brazil-based curator. Recently she has curated 12 Bienal de Cuenca, Ecuador; Yael Davis in the Museo de Arte do Rio Brazil; Fisicisimos, Universidad Torcuato di Tella,The Queens Biennale in the Queens Museum New York; or Before Everything in CA2M (Madrid). Together with Sarah Demeuse is Rivet, a curatorial office investigating notions of deployment, circulation, exercise, and resonance. Their research has materialized in projects in Spain, Norway, Lebanon and the US. Manuela Moscoso holds an MA from Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.