Lyotard on Libidinal Regulation Through Musical Grids

From the Driftworks essay ‘Several Silences’ (1972).


What is called music is a device:

1- that invests libido mainly in the sound region: a commutator of libidinal energy into audible energy and vice versa; which implies to start with that quantities of energy are constantly used to circumscribe this region, on the body particularly (e.g., to disconnect the phonatory and auditory cavities from the motor organs: dancing);

2- that in classical and baroque periods in the West, has appended musical prostheses, instruments, to this partial body; an adjunction which required new investments onto certain parts of the body: the hands, the fingers of the pianist or the flutist, but also the arm-shoulder-chin complex of the violinist, the torso of the percussionist, the knees of the cellist and harpist;

3- that produces only discontinuous sounds whose pitches can be located to the nearest half-tone in a fixed division of soundspace;

4- that favors the key of C and treats five out of twelve halftones as subordinate, “transitional” notes;

5- that, in the name of tonality, tolerates only that distribution of intervals between pitches given by the “Pythagorean” mode;

6- that privileges, in the name of chords, aggregates of three degrees separated respectively by intervals of a third;

7- that in the key of C, gives preeminence to major chords called perfect, placed on the first, fourth, and fifth degrees;

8- etc., I hand this matter over to those more knowledgeable than myself, it isn’t difficult .

The purpose of this list is to show what a device is, i.e. a superimposition of grids that filter flows of energy, in this case, sound. These grids are not things (there are no things): they are libidinal investments that block the entrance and exit of certain sound-noises, and that maintain and transmit themselves. A major portion of the libidinal potential is used in these policed-policing functions.



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