From Musical Works to Multiplicities: a New Image of Work

In the last twenty years the concept of musical work has been the object of controversial debates between those that critically reflect upon its historically situated construction (L. Goehr, ‘The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works’, Oxford 1994) and those who affirm its strong, untimely ontological character (G. Hindrichs, ‘Die Autonomie des Klangs’, Frankfurt 2013). With all the differences in their arguments, both sides commonly refer to works as abstract entities, as reified generalities independent of the radical materiality of their constitutive components. However, from a materialist ontological perspective, works only exist as elaborated products of a network of relations and interactions between documents. In the place of works—and inspired by Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History—one can look at the innumerable things on top of things that allow for the construction of an ‘image of work’: sketches, drafts, manuscripts, editions, recordings, transcriptions, treatises, manuals, instruments, depictions, contracts, commissions, letters, postcards, scribbles, diagrams, analytical charts, theoretical essays, articles, books, memories, etc. Brought together in specific combinations (historically and geographically situated), these things make up those reified generalities that we used to call musical works. From this materialistic perspective works emerge as ‘multiplicities’, as highly complex, historically constructed conglomerates of things that define and take part in an ever-expanding ‘manifold’.  The shift from a work-centered perspective (in which the work is identical to itself) to a vision of works-as-multiplicities (in which the work is defined by its components in steady interaction with one another) creates fields of discourse based on pure difference, which enable processes of differential repetition. Confronted with the overwhelming mass of currently available sources one has the responsibility to establish new articulations between them, to build different orders of things, to question legitimacies, and to propose radical shifts of perspective.

This presentation was focused on artistic formations, investigating the concrete doing of art through the specific use of two concepts—haecceity and transduction. They allow us to do and to think about art as a radical immanent process of intensive actualization of virtual, extensive potentialities. Particularly in the field of music (where the activities of the composer and of the performer became so intrinsically foreign to each other) this perspective might contribute to a unifying approach.