What are some ways we can describe our messy way of engaging with music?
One in particular is our practice of segmenting things, breaking them up, dividing the world into parts.
In their essay “Micropolitics and Segmentarity”, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari outline three types of segmentation.
The first is that we are segmented in a binary way, “following the great major dualist oppositions: social classes, but also men-women, adults-children, and so on”.
Then there is circular segmentation. They use examples in a territorial way: “my affairs, my neighborhood’s affairs, my city’s my country’s the world’s”.
Finally we have a linear way things can be segmented. This is done “along a straight line or a number of straight lines, of which each segment represents an episode of ‘proceeding’: as soon as we finish one proceeding we begin another, forever proceduring or procedured, in the family, in school, in the army, on the job”.
Deleuze and Guattari give further characteristics of segmentation and how each of the types interact:
“Sometimes the various segments belong to different individuals and groups, and sometimes the same individual or group passes from one segment to another. But these figures of segmentarity, the binary, circular, and linear, are bound up with one another, even cross over into each other, changing according to the point of view”.
So let’s take rock music as a means of briefly putting segments into practice.
A circular segmentation could refer to one’s own rock music scene in his town. Yet this circle could be segmented in a binary: a particular style of rock on one side of town and a different style on the other; us or them, in or out. Therein these binaries proceed chronological way via linear segments, having an arc of relevance in the community before losing steam or transforming later on.
As Deleuze and Guattari described, each of these examples of segments also have footnotes upon footnotes of segmentation. What we are left with is surely a messy picture. It can get to the point of convolution as music writer Alex Ross points out in his prefatory remarks for Best Music Writing 2011:
“So how do you map a micromusical landscape? Is there a universal language of criticism that can be spoken across the borders of genre? Those questions kept coming up as I worked with Daphne Carr to assemble the articles in this book”.
The basis of this questioning is segmentation. How should we approach this? Alex Ross, as guest editor, further writes about one way to do so:
“We hoped to bring in as many different worlds as possibly – more than we were finally able to accommodate. Yet we wished to avoid producing a Tower-of-Babel experience in which stalwarts in various fields shouted trivia at each other without engaging the casual listener”.
What this sounds like is finding a middle ground for the sake the “casual listener”. And yet what does it mean to be a casual listener or not: a question based on a binary segmentation.
Even when we enquire about segments we are segmenting. Perhaps that knowledge in of itself goes a long way in describing music and the way we interact with it.