October 17, 1833: Loving Barthes


R A S C H 1 1   :   L o v i n g   B a r t h e s

orpheus institute ghent | concert hall | 02.10.2014

Paulo de Assis | concept & piano

Juan Parra C. | sound & video projection

Bobby Mitchell | piano II (improvisations)

Jan Schacher | voice, digital sound & graphics

Lucia D’Errico | intertitles

Catherine Laws, Darla Crispin, Bob Gilmore & Bill Brooks | pre-recorded voices

Gilles Anquez | cinematography

Juan Parra C. | audio and editing


There are two musics (or so I always thought): one you listen to, one you play. They are two entirely different arts, each with its own history, sociology, aesthetics, erotics: the same composer can be minor when listened to, enormous when played. Take Schumann.

The music you play depends not so much on an auditive as on a manual (hence much more sensuous) activity; it is the music you or I can play; it is a muscular music; in it the auditive sense has only a degree of sanction: as if the body was listening, not the “soul”; confronting the keyboard or the music stand, the body proposes, leads, coordinates—the body itself must transcribe what it reads: it fabricates sound and sense: it is the scriptor, not the receiver. Hence, we can rediscover a certain musica practica. What is the use of composing if it merely confines the product in the enclosure of the concert? To compose is, at least by tendency, to offer for doing, not to offer for hearing but for writing.

 It is not by struggling against the adjective that we are likely to exorcise musical commentary and to liberate it from the predicative fatality; rather than trying to change directly the language used about music, it would be better to change the musical object itself, as it presents itself to speech: to modify its level of perception or of intellection: to shift the fringe of contact between music and language.

 The pheno-song covers all the phenomena, all the features which derive from the structure of the sung language, from the coded melisma, the idiolect, the composer, the style of interpretation: in short, everything which, in the performance, is at the service of communication, of representation, of expression: what is usually spoken of, what forms the tissue of cultural values, what is directly articulated around the ideological alibis of a period (an artist’s “subjectivity”, “expressivity”, “dramaticism”, “personality”). The geno-song is the volume of the speaking and singing voice, the space in which the significations germinate “from within the language and in its very materiality”—not what it says but the voluptuous pleasure of its signifier-sounds. The pheno-song never transcends culture. The geno-song operates outside of the law.

 The “grain” is the body in the singing voice, in the writing hand, in the performing limb. If I perceive the “grain” of this music and if I attribute to this “grain” a theoretical value, I cannot help making a new scheme of evaluation for myself, since I am determined to listen to my relation to the body of someone who is singing or playing and since that relation is an erotic one, but not at all “subjective”. This evaluation will be made outside of the law: it will baffle the law of culture but also the law of anti-culture; it will develop beyond the subject all the value which is hidden behind “I like” or “I don’t like.”

 I will not judge a performance according to the rules of interpretation, the constraints of style, almost all of which belongs to the pheno-song (I shall not go into ecstasy over the “rigor”, the “brilliance”, the “warmth”, the “respect for the score”, etc.) but according to the image of the body (the figure) which is given me. I hear without a doubt the certitude of the body, of the body’s jouissance.



In Schumann’s Kreisleriana, I actually hear no note, no theme, no contour, no grammar, no meaning, nothing which would permit me to reconstruct an intelligible structure of the work. No, what I hear are blows: I hear what beats in the body, what beats the body, or better: I hear this body that beats.

 It is not a matter of beating fists against the door, in the presumed manner of fate. What is required is that it beat inside the body, against the temple, in the sex, in the belly, against the skin from inside, at the level of that whole sensuous emotivity which we call the “heart”. “To beat” is the very action of the heart, which occurs at this paradoxical site of the body: central and decentered, liquid and contractile, pulsional and moral.

 The romantic “heart”, an expression in which we no longer perceive anything but an edulcorated metaphor, is a powerful organ, extreme point of the interior body where, simultaneously and as though contradictorily, desire and tenderness, the claims of love and the summons of pleasure, violently merge: something raises my body, swells it, stretches it, bears it to the verge of explosion and immediately, mysteriously, depresses it, weakens it. This movement must be perceived beneath the melodic line; this line is pure and always utters the euphoria of the unified body; but it is caught up in a phonic volume which often complicates and contradicts it: a stifled pulsion, marked by respirations, tonal or modal modulations, rhythmic throbbings, a mobile swelling of the entire musical substance, comes from a separated body of the child, of the lover, of the lost subject.

 The Schumannian body does not stay in place. It is not a meditative body. It sometimes makes a meditative gesture, but does not assume meditation’s bearing, infinite persistence, and faint posture of subsidence. This is a pulsional body, one which pushes itself back and forth, turns to something else—thinks of something else; this is a stunned body (intoxicated, distracted, and at the same time ardent).

 Schumannian beating is panic, but it is also coded (by rhythm and tonality); and it is because the panic of the blows apparently keeps within the limits of a docile [wise] language that it is ordinarily not perceived (judging by most interpretations of Schumann). Or rather: nothing can determine if these beats are censored by most people, who do not want to hear them, or are hallucinated by one man alone, who hears nothing but them. We recognize here the very structure of the paragram: a second text is heard, but at the limit—like Saussurre listening for his anagrammatic verses—I alone hear them. This uncertainty (of reading, of listening) is the very status of the Schumannian text, collected contradictorily in an excess (that of hallucinated evidence) and an evasion (the same text can be played insipidly). In methodological terms one can say: no model in the text; not because it is “free”, but because it is “different”.

 Interpretation is then merely the power to read the anagrams of the Schumannian text, to reveal the network of accents beneath the tonal, rhythmic, melodic rhetoric. The accent is the music’s truth, in relation to which all interpretation declares itself. In Schumann (to my taste), the beats are played too timidly; the body which takes possession of them is almost always a mediocre body, trained, streamlined by years of Conservatory or career, or more simply by the interpreter’s insignificance, his indifference: he plays the accent like a simple rhetorical mark; what the virtuoso then displays is the platitude of his own body, incapable of “beating”. It is not a question of strength, but of rage: the body must pound—not the pianist (this has been glimpsed here and there by Yves Nat and Vladimir Horowitz).

 On the level of the beats (of the anagrammatic network), each listener executes what he hears. Hence, there is a site of the musical text where every distinction between composer, interpreter, and auditor is abolished. The beat’s ecstatic [jouissif] recurrence—that would be the origin of the refrain.

 The beat can assume this or that figure, which is not necessarily that of a violent accent. However, whatever it is, since it is of the order of jouissance, no figure can be predicated romantically (even and above all if it is proposed by a romantic composer); the figure’s precision, its distinction, is inked not to states of the soul but to subtle movements of the body, to all that differential coenesthesia, that histological fabric out of which the self-experiencing body is made.

 Hence, we must call beat whatever makes any site of the body flinch, however briefly, even if this flinching seems to take the romantic forms of a pacification. The body stretches, distends, extends toward its extreme form (to stretch out is to attain the limit of a dimension). What does the body do, when it enunciates (musically)? And Schumann answers: my body strikes, my body collects itself, it explodes, it divides, it pricks, or on the contrary and without warning it stretches out, it weaves. And sometimes it even speaks, it declaims: it speaks but says nothing: for as soon as it is musical, speech is no longer linguistic but corporeal: my body puts itself in a state of speech: quasi parlando.



Schumann lets his music be fully heard only by someone who plays it. I have always been struck by this paradox: that a certain piece of Schumann’s delighted me when I played it, and rather disappointed me when I heard it on records: then it seemed mysteriously impoverished, incomplete. Schumann’s music goes much farther than the ear; it goes into the body, into the muscles by the beats of its rhythm, and somehow into the viscera by the voluptuous pleasure of its melos: as if on each occasion the piece was written only for one person, the one who plays it; the true Schumannian pianist—c’est moi.

 Loving Schumann is in a way to assume a philosophy of nostalgia, or, to adopt a Nietzschean word, of Untimeliness, or again, to risk this time the most Schumannian word there is: of Night. Loving Schumann, doing so in a certain fashion against the age, can only be a responsible way of loving: it inevitably leads the subject who does so and says so to posit himself in his time according to the injunctions of his desire and not according to those of his sociality.

 For Schumann the world is not unreal, reality is not null and void. His music continuously refers to concrete things. But this reality is threatened with disarticulation, dissociation, with movements not violent but brief and ceaselessly “mutant”: nothing lasts long, each movement interrupts the next—this is the real of the Intermezzo, a rather dizzying notion when it extends to all music, and when the matrix is experienced only as an exhausting sequence of interstices. In many Schumannian pieces the tonal range has the value of a single sound which keeps vibrating until it maddens us. The tonic is not endowed with a cosmic widening, but rather with a massiveness, which insists, imposing its solitude to the point of obsession. The third point where Schumann’s music encounters his madness is rhythm. Rhythm, in Schumann, is a violence; but this violence is pure, it is not “tactical”. Schumannian rhythm (listen carefully to the basses) imposes itself like a texture of beats; this texture can be delicate, yet it has something atypical about it (as is proved by the fact that we never consider Schumann a composer of rhythm: he is imprisoned in melody).

 Here we touch on Schumann’s singularity: that point of fusion at which his fate (madness), his thought, and his music converge: “His universe is without struggle”. Schumann’s “madness” arises from the fact that he “lacks” a conflictual structure of the world: his music is based on no simple confrontation. No Beethovenian Manichaeism, or even Schubertian fragility. Schumann lacks conflict precisely insofar as—paradoxically—he multiplies his “moods”, his “humors”: in the same way, he destroys the pulsion of pain by experiencing it in a pure mode, just as he exhausts rhythm by generalizing syncopation. Pure pain without subject, the essence of pain, is certainly a madman’s pain. We believe that only the mad quite simply suffer. Schumann experienced this absolute pain of the madman premonitorily on the night of October 17, 1833, when he was seized by the most dreadful fear: that, precisely, of losing his reason.


Sentences selected and re-ordered by Paulo de Assis, from the following essays: ‘Musica Practica’ (1970), ‘The Grain of the Voice’ (1972), ‘The Romantic Song’ (1977), ‘Loving Schumann’ (1979) and ‘Rasch’ (1975). Published in: Roland Barthes, The Responsibility of Forms—Critical Essays on Music, Art, and Representation. Translated by Richard Howard, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press 1985.

Part I

1. Äußerst bewegt
2. Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch

Intermezzo I: Sehr lebhaft / Tempo I

Intermezzo II: Etwas bewegter / Langsamer / Tempo I

3. Sehr aufgeregt

Texts: Roland Barthes
Images: Various

Part II

4. Sehr langsam
5. Sehr lebhaft (improvised by Bobby Mitchell)
6. Sehr langsam (improvised by Bobby Mitchell)

Part III

6. Sehr langsam
7. Sehr rasch
8. Schnell und spielend

Texts: Roland Barthes and E. T. A. Hoffmann
Images: Jan Schacher

Raschx is a series of performances, lectures or lecture-performances based upon three basic materials: Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana op. 16 (1838), excerpts from Roland Barthes essays on the music of Schumann (1982), and quotes from Gilles Deleuze’s passages on ‘experimentation’, mainly from A Thousand Plateaus (1980). To these materials other components may be added for every particular version: visual elements (pictures, videos) or further aural objects (recordings, live-electronics, etc.). All these things are treated as parts of different strata of an assemblage, which are destratified following the notions of substrata (documentary sources), parastrata (socio-historical contexts), epistrata (editions, writings, theoretical discourses) and metastrata (future performances / instantiations). The main goal is to generate an intricate network of aesthetic-epistemic cross-references, whereas the listener has the freedom to focus on different layers of perception, be it on the music, on the texts being projected or read, on the images, on the voices, etc. The purely ‘aesthetic’ experience is therefore ‘disturbed’ by the ‘intellectual’ moments; on the other hand, these reflective moments would remain senseless without the aesthetic dimension. Beyond ‘interpretation’ and beyond ‘aesthetics’ the series Raschx is part of a wider research on what might be labelled as ‘experimental performance practices’—practices that urge us to think (during the performative moment) on what we do know, on what we do not know, and on what we think to know about a given piece.

Rasch11 – Loving Barthes is the first version of the Raschx series that presents the complete cycle of Schumann’s Kreisleriana, op. 16. It is an exploration of collaborative performance practices, each of its three parts focusing on a different medium, approach and technical tools.

Rasch11+1 Re-Notated


Re-Notations is a project that re-notates classical piano masterpieces from a specific angle and with entirely different aim from the original scores. Re-notations focus on the materiality and physical context of these works and give us a specific perspective on these classical pieces, a perspective that maps out the activity in space and time of the physical materials involved: hands and fingers on specific locations on the piano keyboard. Through this, the intensity and density of the involved activity is revealed as an overcrowded space of movements and entanglements. Music seen from this perspective is constantly occupying the same locations where actions keep folding each other, repeating differences. A performance of spatiotemporal multiplicity is disclosed. Each keystroke (depression) is accounted for as a link between a spatial location on the keyboard and a temporal axis. Exhausted location, excessive quantity and interpenetration become the subject of this notational act where the relationship between hands and keyboard are put to the foreground. The ‘score’ becomes an abstract, virtual, diagrammatic ‘recording’ of the actuality of performance: a limited number of space-points are occupied and activated in specific temporal order. Thus, notation reverses its direction and becomes an active post-performance activity, not instructional but speculative, reflective and itself performative.

EinarTorfi Einarsson