ArticlesNo. 98

Noticing Musical Becomings: Deleuzian and Guattarian Approaches to Ethnographic Studies of Musicking


In this article, we expand conceptually upon approaches in cultural musicology and ethnomusicology that conceive of music in terms of shifting textual signs and performances of cultural meaning.1 Our aim is to propose some new ways of considering music in terms of relational events, doing, and becoming. We ask: what if music does more than symbolically mediate and represent worlds? What if music constantly comes into being and does things as part of intrinsically messy realities that consist of relations between a variety of processes and things: vibrations, sounds, sensations and feelings, human bodies and minds, non–human entities, words and meanings, spaces, movements and materialities, (re)arrangements of social organization and power, and more? How might our conceptions of music, on the one hand, and our methodological stances, on the other, reconfigure if we harness this kind of relational and inherently heterogeneous occurring as a starting point?

Our questions are inspired by the process thinking of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and by the work of latter–day theorists who develop this thinking, such as Rosi Braidotti, Claire Colebrook, Rebecca Coleman, Elizabeth Grosz, and Brian Massumi. Deleuze and Guattari’s work can be regarded as an effort to contest transcendent ways of thinking. Deleuze and Guattari pursue this aim by aspiring to an ontology that is not grounded upon being but upon the processuality or primary dynamism of reality. In his early sole–authored work Difference and Repetition, Deleuze equates being with becoming by stating that identities only emerge from repetition as difference: “Returning is thus the only identity . . . ; the identity of difference, the identical which belongs to the different, or turns around the different” (1994, 41). This to say that things—whether human subjects, philosophical ideas, or musical formations—are not founded on an essence. Their being, or identity, consists in their processual, and thereby inevitably varying, situationally actualizing, open–ended existence. Being is the effect of (the return of) difference rather than difference being the effect of being (see, for e.g., Deleuze 1994, 41, 55). The order between being and becoming gets overturned. Better put, the category of being loses explanatory power and dissolves into becoming. It is, indeed, becoming that will figure and be elaborated as the guiding concept of our theoretical reflections in this article, illuminated by examples drawn from our recent ethnographic work.


  1. This article is a product of our research project “Deleuzian Music Research,” financed by the Academy of Finland and conducted at the University of Helsinki in 2011–2016 (www. We wish to thank the anonymous readers and Kip Pegley for their valuable suggestions, as well as the Swedish Literary Society in Finland for the financial support provided to Moisala’s study.