23 Oct 2015

Chapter 2.4: The Problem of the Vocal-Subject (Three Reterritorialisations)

This post is part of my series on Pop, Power & the Vocal Subject

This is the third in a sequence of four posts, which in turn form part of my extended essay series on the ‘vocal-subject’ and the pop song. These four chapters use Donna Summer’s 1977 hit ‘I Feel Love’, along with the work of theorists such as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and Roland Barthes, to address a number of fundamental philosophical questions concerning the vocal-subject as a concept.

We left Donna Summer, at the end of the last chapter, as a prismatic mediator of reflecting and refracting desiring flows, channelling synthesised affects through her sonic body, inviting us to co-resonate, co-vibrate, and thereby enter into a desiring circuit with her. In Deleuze & Guattari’s terminology, this is the point of maximal ‘deterritorialisation’. Desire is cut free from its object, the groove is cut free from its tonal root, the voice is cut free from language and meaning, sound is cut free from its relationship to production and from its identity as subject or object, and the listeners are cut free from the illusory closedness of their individual, gendered bodies and the dimensions of (visual/tactile) space that enclose them. The transformation of sound into musical space must necessarily be accompanied by the (partial) entry of the listener into that space, which is perfectly ‘real’, to the extent that any experience of space is real. The listeners are collectively (partially) deterritorialised, leaving behind the ‘everyday’ space of the visual-tactile dancefloor (or bedroom, kitchen, etc.) and entering a space that is part sonic: whose physical architecture is overlaid by a sonic/musical architecture, or a pulsing, shifting blueprint of topographical possibility.

This is a familiar musical space; it has been drawn in lines and planes and shifting masses in the air above the heads of many a seated audience in a (Western) concert hall. The particular allure of Deleuze and Guattari as theorists of choice for the rave generation is testament to the way in which the new dance spaces of warehouses and fields and clubs, with their continuous mixes (temporal coherence) and immersive sonic architectures (spatial coherence), attempted to install the fugitive territory of musical space in a manner that allowed it to be occupied with one’s whole body and lived in, if only for a night or a weekend.