Arborescent Structures

When dealing with the origins of influence, especially in music, we should examine the models that deal in this discourse. One at play is the tree-centric model: looking for roots, etc. Pierre Rosenstiehl and Jean Petitot refer to this as thinking in ‘arborescent structures’. The implications of this model are explored by Rosenstiehl and Petitot:

“accepting the primacy of hierarchical structures amounts to giving arborescent structures privileged status…The arborescent form admits of topological explanation…In a hierarchical system, an individual has only one active neighbor, his or her hierarchical superior…The channels of transmission are preestablished: the arborescent system preexists the individual, who is integrated into it at an allotted place”.

-“Automate asocial et systèmes acentrés”

Say one enters the world of classical piano. In an arborescent structure, one enters into a system preordained. Become a concert pianist, an amateur pianist, or a composer of piano music. That is irrelevant. Any hint of multiplicity is subsumed into a hierarchical solution.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari liken it to spokes on a wheel. Multiplicity seems present but there is a center from which the spokes branch out from. They describe arborescent structure in the introduction to their 1980 A Thousand Plateaus:

“In the corresponding models, an element only receives information from a higher unit, and only receives a subjective affection along preestablished paths. This is evident in current problems in information science and computer science, which still cling to  the oldest modes of thought in that they grant all power to a memory or central organ”.

Does not music at times “grant all power to a memory or central organ”? Could this model of arborescent structures lead to difficulty with approaching current problems in music as it did for information science and computer science? What problems come from thinking this way?


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