Arvo Part I

When reading “Memories and Becomings, Points and Blocks,” I immediately thought of Estonian composer Arvo Part when Deleuze says, “Free the line, free the diagonal: every musician or painter has this intention” (295). Specifically, I thought of an excerpt from the documentary 24 Preludes for a Fugue, which can be seen below.

In the documentary, regarding the composition of Fur Alina, Part talks about concentrating on each sound so that “a blade of grass has the status of a flower.” When Deleuze speaks of freeing the line or diagonal from a punctual system or “systems of territorialization or reterritorialization,” he says that, “Moving along this transversal line, which is really a line of deterritorialization, there is a sound block that no longer has a point of origin, since it is always and already in the middle of the line and no longer has horizontal and vertical coordinates, since it creates its own coordinates” (296). For me, it was as if Part was able to use language to diagram an image of the freed diagonal where Deleuze’s deterritorialized transversal (blade of grass) was one that created its own coordinates (the status of a flower).

Once I made this connection, I began to hear Arvo Part’s music throughout Deleuze’s descriptions of the “line or line-block of becoming” that is necessary for the deterritorialization of music. His description of Schumann – “the cello wanders across the grid of orchestration, drawing its diagonal, along which the deterritorialized sound block moves: or an extremely sober kind of refrain is “treated” by a very elaborate melodic line and polyphonic architecture” (297) – could very well be applied to Arvo Part’s Fratres.

When the string quartet takes off at the beginning of Fratres, it is as if “the line breaks free of the point as origin; the diagonal breaks free of the vertical and the horizontal as coordinates; and the transversal breaks free of the diagonal as a localizable connection between two points” (297). However, the chaos of the strings are reigned in by what feels like a simple mathematical formula as if, “the panic of the blows apparently keeps within the limits of docile language that is ordinarily not perceived” (297).

In an endearing 1997 BBC interview between Bjork and Arvo Part, Bjork asks Part about the “question and answer” in his music. Part responds beautifully by saying that in his compositions, it is as if “one line is my sins and another line is forgiveness for these sins.”

In “The Smooth and the Striated,” Deleuze asks, “is a smooth space captured, enveloped by striated space, or does a striated space dissolve into a smooth space, allow a smooth space to develop?” (475). In Timothy Murphy’s article, he writes that the acceleration and deceleration of music allows for the interplay between smooth and striated space, wherein one emerges from the other. When listening to Fratres, it is as if you are being pulled in two directions, both heart-rending. Each time the strings take the chaotic plunge into acceleration, it is as if you are encountering a raw, panicky emotion that is inexplicably placated by the deceleration of strings, yet the tension held between both lines holds you in place where your sins are seemingly unforgivable. “On the one hand…a screen, a language intended to articulate the body…on the other hand, contradictorily … tonality becomes the ready servant of the beats within another level it claims to domesticate” (297-8). It is in this tension between the smooth and the striated, the sins and forgiveness, that Arvo Part is able to free the line to create a line of becoming that is “a deterritorialized rhythmic block that has abandoned points, coordinates, and measure, like a drunken boat that melds with the line or draws a plane of consistency. Speeds and slownesses inject themselves into musical form, sometimes impelling it to proliferation, linear microproliferations, and sometimes to extinction, sonorous abolition, involution or both at once” (296).

– christine zenyi lu


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