Deleuze & Music — Personal Experience

After joining to become a Jesuit, we had a 2 year period called novitiate. I spent those years in Belgaum and we were almost 24 of us in my first year. Normally this is a time where we have minimal contact with families and friends — a time for prayer and an initiation into Jesuit way of life. [enough of introduction for non-Jesuits]

So our novice master in the first year[director of that years of formation] was a person very much inclined to music. And I should say, I had some extremely talented musicians as companions. But we also did have another alternative set of musicians (including me), who sang differently (many didn’t accept that those different sounds and voices were musically correct), and we were never considered musicians. We normally used to have recreations once in a month, where we were forced to perform our talents. So after the first few months, 7 of us (differently-abled musicians) formed an academy called XTC Musical Academy. (XTC was the name of the academy). We did several parodies during the time of recreation. Many of our programs were hit (atleast I claim so).

So we can’t be an academy which perform programs once in a month. So we came up with our own theory of music. It was known by different names, one of the popular one being — ‘theory of deep music.’ Since silence and God were very much part of the novitiate, I would explain deep music with the help of them. [Now please take the next paragraphs a little lightly…]

God is a mystery. When we try to explain or capture God in any of the images/conceptions, God escapes those. Or in simple words, God is beyond our definitions or conceptions. The same is true with silence. If I ask the question what is silence, some might say it is the absence of noise/sound. But most would say silence is not just absence of sound/noise. We could enter into silence or experience God, but we cant define or capture them.

According to our theory, deep music is also like this. It is a vast ocean (I am using this because of lack of a better imagery) where we can enter. We can’t capture it. Then we had a critique on the musical instruments. Take the example of guitar. You have some 6 strings and you are trying to capture the vast ocean of music in that. [if it sounds too silly, forgive… it was for fun]. So we encouraged the authentic musicians to think and sing differently. We were for singing a song differently at each times (we were not so much focused on chords and all… but on creativity). We asked them “Not to capture the vast ocean of music within your few chords… look for creativity.”

This was a fun activity during those times. Now why do I share this now? Many would consider all these senseless and childish. Definitely it was, but there is something beyond that.

One of my favourite philosophers is Deleuze. His style of thinking is very much different from the philosophers taught even in the philosophy classrooms. When the whole philosophical tradition (with a few exceptions) has given importance to identity over difference, he gives primacy to difference. I will quote a paragraph from the book of Todd May to substantiate the point. [John Coltrane was a world renowned American jazz saxophonist and composer]

Music is a virtual field of differences that can be actualized in many different ways. It is a rich virtual (real, but not actualized) field, one that, if its history is any indication, is inexhaustible. Unfortunately most musicians do not touch the virtual. They do not even seek to. The recording industry is not an investigator of music’s virtuality; it is purveyor of its most common and banal identities. And most musicians, seeking to sell albums, are content to confine their musical journeys to the boundaries of current public taste. Even what count as transgressions in contemporary music — provocative lyrics or stage props or clothing — are little more titillations rather than musical development. Coltrane refused the confines of any particular musical context. He created music. His particular form of creation was to see what more there could be in the music he played. He searched to see what else the music might contain that it had not shown before. He played not to display the actual, but to touch the virtual.

When I read this, I was just thinking; though I can’t play or even distinguish much between chords/nodes, our theory of deep music does have some echo of Deleuzian thinking applied to music. Though we did things for fun and to irritate the musicians, our thinking of deep music had (atleast I think so) some sense.

I dedicate this piece to all the enlightened members of XTC musical academy (Jose, Lenoy, Wencesl, Patrick, Salvin, Anil) and to Velenson (a great musician), whom we tried to convert a lot, but was adamant.