Resonant Thoughts: Tristan Garcia’s “The Life Intense” (2018)


“I hear a piece of music, and out of nowhere I’m surprised by an unexpected change of tuning, key, or rhythm. This variation might shake my ear out of its unfeeling slumber, a numbness brought on by what were all-too-predictable changes in the music at hand. Now I get the feeling that the piece is being played and was composed by someone fed up with rigid bar structures, someone interested in and excited by alterations, breakdowns, and imbalances […] Practitioners of such forms think that having to reiterate music is like being trapped in a cage made of sound. They try to escape from repetition and use variation to chase after intensity. As in every ethics of variation, it’s all about adopting different ruses to pre-empt perception, playing with norms generated alongside the action of perception, and celebrating the creative character of life while struggling to keep everything from always coming back as the same thing. It is now indispensable never to be where you are expected, to refuse to play any note or chord that could reasonably follow from the preceding one, to adopt a view in opposition to the system, to take the road less travelled, to get off the beaten path, and to give the melodic line or the rhythmic pattern a little twist. And why? All of this is a way of making it known that what is intense in life is that which does not stay identical, that which eludes systematic re-identification, and that which is free to become what it is. Improvised music accomplishes an ethical act every time it changes in an unexpected way in order to avoid being predictable. What improvised music achieves in the order of harmony and rhythm is analogous to the decision that the intense person makes while always trying to vary, to reinvent herself, and to never get caught in the trap of a predetermined destiny.”

“I realize that change itself is precisely what never changes. We can only be certain of irregularity. It’s like hanging out with a hipster.”

Tristan Garcia, The Life Intense (2018), p. 103-104. [italics added]

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