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    EVENTAL DISTENTION: RESTLESS SIMULTANEITY IN STEVE REICHS PIANO

    PHASETOWARDS A REHABILITATION OF THE REAL

    MARC BOTHA

    DURHAM UNIVERSITY

    1. A resurgent realism

    1.1 I begin with a manifesto of sorts: five points offered in consideration of how to tie a

    resurgent philosophical realism to the experience of aesthetic multiplicity, and, if the proof on

    the basis of which it is forwarded holds true Quentin Meillassouxs Principle of Factiality

    then the realism it endorses is neither nave, nor the assertion of some primary quality that is

    pervasive in certain entities and absent in others. From the perspective of the post-dogmatic

    realism I adopt here1, there simply can be nothing in being that is genuinely beyond the Real,

    that could not be Real in some possible world. The work which follows this manifesto is an

    attempt to come to terms with a small part of the sphere which so often seems at odds with such

    a realism, despite the fact that, technically, there is simply nothing with which to be at odds in

    the Real. It is a sphere that, in the multiplicity with which it attaches itself to questions of

    1 I attempt in this formulation a partial synthesis of some points raised by Alain Badiou and

    Quentin Meillassoux.

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    meaning and identity, seems to belie the absolute aspect of the Real. Broadly named, I refer here

    to aesthetic experience. What is begun below is the recuperation of the Real in a manner which

    reinstalls it neither as a quasi-transcendental condition of being, nor as a metaphysical dogma.

    Because commencing such an enterprise is often itself the prime difficulty, this manifesto sets

    itself in relation to the notions of beginning and continuation, or, in the terms I develop here,

    event and evental distention. This latter denomination is offered to account for a peculiar

    temporal retracement of the event, an internal expansion of evental properties, which is exposed

    in holding the aesthetic experience encountered in Steve Reichs epochal composition of musical

    minimalism, Piano Phase2, to the revealing, if discomforting, light of a contemporary realism.

    1.2 I offer the following five points:

    i) Being does not begin; so what we call beginning takes place within the conditions ofBeing. Being is pure multiplicity3and as such has no conditions to which it is tied. Such

    Being without condition is Absolutely Real, inasmuch as the Real is the mark of that

    which is beyond any necessary positing, access or interpretation. The only necessity

    2 Steve Reich, Piano Phase (for two pianos or two marimbas) (London, Universal Edition,

    1980). All references to the score are to this edition.

    3 Alain Badiou, Being and Event (Continuum: London, 2005), 40-8.Hereafter BE. For further

    explanation see Peter Hallwards, Badiou: A Subject to Truth (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota ,

    2003), 61-3.

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    implicit in the Real, is the necessity of contingency.4Thus any beginning always takes

    place in the Real. Here the term Real implies the pervasiveness in being of the necessity

    of contingency and the irreversibility of time (the latter coincidental with such taking-

    place).

    ii) So, we begin with the force of an appearance a contingent and irreversible occurrence within the Real. This occurrence may be reiteration, or it may be absolutely new, in

    which case, following Badiou, it might be termed an event. Badiou identifies the event

    with the inauguration of something totally new and rare, a new subject in being, a point

    of rupture with respect to being [that] does not exonerate us from thinking the being of

    the event itself5. So the event is something proper to being, yet which is not being qua

    4 This is the principal maxim to be extracted from Meillassouxs critique of what he terms

    correlationism - the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation

    between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other (Quentin

    Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. Trans. Ray Brassier

    (London: Continuum, 2008), 5). Hereafter AF. The many versions of correlationism share a

    rejection of the Absolute, which Meillassoux argues can be recuperated (constituting the basis

    for a post-nave realism) by recognizing that there exist no necessary, universal laws, with the

    sole exception of the law which affirms that there is no necessary universality to any law. So all

    is contingent, except contingency itself, which is absolute. (AF, 78-81).

    5Alain Badiou, The Event as Trans-Being, Theoretical Writings, Ed. Ray Brassier and Alberto

    Toscano (London: Continuum, 2006), 100.

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    beingwhich subtracts itself from ontological subtraction6. It is this novelty which

    interests us here. Immediately we must stress that Badiou limits the definition of truth

    and subject as direct consequences of an event, but that the eventality of the event is

    irretrievable as such. Much more common is the quasi-evental status of most beginnings

    the situation of rearrangements, reattachments of existing elements, those entities one

    might hesitantly denominate weak subjects and objects the occurrence of something

    relatively new, new enough to term a beginning, but without any great self-sustaining

    intensity in existence, and that must be directed towards, rather than followed by, activity

    or decision.

    iii)We proceed with a distinction which marks existence from being, but is within Being(pure being). Here, of principal significance is the strictly ruptural, non-epiphantic quality

    of an Event, and the insistence on what is independent of human existence, yet is Real.

    The distinction with which we proceed in this light, is the bar which separates existence

    from inexistence, appearance from disappearance, entities from non-entities. It is thus

    absolutely coincidental with the emergence of entities. If we can say something exists,

    then it is an entity.

    6Ibid., 101. Paradigmatic of trans-being, the event is both proper to being, while still subtracted

    from it: [i]n effect, an event is composed of the elements of a site, but also by the event itself,

    which belongs to itself (Ibid., 103). That an event is genuinely rare is based on the mathematical

    fact that, with the sole exception of the event, every multiple (entity) is founded on an element

    which it cannot also contain (Axiom of Foundation). According to Badiou, this makes the event

    a multiple of a multiple, and so, strictly speaking, without foundation unpredictable,

    transecting being (Ibid., 102-3, BE 173-6; 185-7).

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    iv)Accepting these three initial propositions, regarding the Real, the act of beginning, andthe necessity for subsequent distinction, it is possible to begin again. We begin again with

    a discernment within existence namely the distinction of identity and content, the

    definition of particularities and singularities in the undifferentiated mass of information

    which constitutes existence.

    v) We continue with decision, a decision that Badiou suggests is the very act upon whichrests the possibility of subjectivity and universality. We decide with regard to an event

    that has taken place in the Real; we decide as far as the association of entities, objects and

    identities are concerned, tying them to certain truths, subjects, meanings, significances,

    consequences; and we extrapolate such decisions in specific discourses developed for this

    purpose.

    2. Beginning again: Reichs Piano Phase

    2.1 My formative musical experiences were highly eclectic, split between the course one

    invariably must follow in an apprenticeship as a classical saxophonist endless scales and

    etudes, the Baroque composers, the French neo-classical literature and the music which

    shattered this order, the music I listened to and really aspired to play what seemed to me free

    music, from John Coltrane to John Cage. This drift to the delightful anarchic underbelly of the

    avant-garde was unexpectedly interrupted by a chance encounter with minimalism in a music

    library. I could not have predicted this, nor could I have anticipated the sublime interplay of

    force and simplicity which in Glass Einstein on the Beach overpowered me less still the

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    concentrated fascination of Steve Reichs Piano Phase. I am unable to recreate with conviction

    or description the precision of my experience, so I offer only a few points which might explain

    its centrality to what follows. For better or worse, I am a highly rhythmic musician. It has always

    been relatively easy to reproduce complex rhythmic patterns and to manipulate beats and

    rhythmic figures within these. I have a fascination for perplexing irregularity which nonetheless

    remains within a certain frame of consistency7. Anybody familiar with Piano Phase, its aural

    effects and temporal technicalities (which I describe subsequently), will find it no surprise that to

    someone who instinctively and obsessively overdetermines the beat in music, the process of

    phasing is one of the most stimulating, if potentially unnerving, musical experiences imagi