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Ubiquitous Music and Distributed Subjectivity


Anahid Kassabian

on 10 November 2014

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Transcript of Ubiquitous Music and Distributed Subjectivity

Anahid Kassabian
University of Liverpool


The ball is the focus of every player, and the object of every gesture. Superficially, when a player kicks the ball, the player is the subject of the movement, and the ball is the object. But if by subject we mean the point of unfolding of a tendential movement, then it is clear that the player is not the subject of the play. The ball is. The tendential movements in play are collective, they are team movements, and their point of application is the ball. The ball arrays the teams around itself. Where and how it bounces differentially potentializes and depotentializes the entire field, intensifying and de-intensifying the exertions of the players and the movements of the team. The ball is the subject of the play. (5)
from Massumi,
Parables for the Virtual
Since the ball[‘s] …effect is dependent on the physical presence of a multiplicity of other bodies and objects of various kinds; since the parameters of its actions are regulated by the application of rules; for all these reasons the [ball]… may be called a part-subject. The part-subject catalyzes the play as a whole, but is not itself a whole…
IPod users, mobile phone users, are people who are always in another space. They warm up these alienated spaces with their own pleasure. But what we're really seeing is an increasing denial of shared space. In a street where everyone has headphones on, if someone shouts, no one can hear them. Of course, if they could hear them, they still might not help. But it furthers existing privacy tendencies in our culture.--Michael Bull, *Wired*, 12/2007
Three principles:
First, that (at least in the industrialized world, but increasingly in the rest of the world, too) we are always interconnected and live in awareness of that interconnectivity;
Second, that the units of interconnectivity are not obvious, and might be as small as subatomic particles and as large as populations or the internet, but in any case are certainly not limited to human individuals;
and third, that while the materiality of that interconnectivity might be electrons (or, as Clough et al have argued, information [Clough
et al, 2007]), the way we experience that interconnectivity is significantly through music, and specifically ubiquitous music.
If the ball is a part-subject, each player is its part-object. The ball does not address the player as a whole. It addresses the player’s eyes, and ears and touch, through separate sensory channels. These separate sensory impressions are synthesized, not into a subjective whole, but into a state of intensive readiness for reflex response: they are synthesized into an actionability.
1. Ubiquitous musics are central to
distributed subjectivity;

2. Ubiquitous musics are not listened to
with full, ‘deep’ attention;

3. Distributed subjectivity is not simply

4. It should be understood not as
something a person has, but rather as
collections of parts and bits swirling
together in a process or field.
homes of the
Armenian video art,
musical episodes of
television series,
Armenian jazz fusions,
science-fiction action
films, and
Starbucks and Putu-
mayo as labels.
•the use of Enya as a soundtrack to the television news in the US in the early days after the destruction of the Twin Towers;

•new age music in alternative health care practices;

•the choice of stations on various satellite radio services;

•the smartphone app MoodAgent, which categorises your own music collection according to five parameters and produces play lists for you according to your mood;

•a study of the playlist for the chain Italian restaurant Olive Garden (which is comprised of Italian folk songs, verismo opera, and Rat Pack standards); and

•wearable computing technologies that play music for you according to various inputs.
Ian Biddle,
“Love thy Neighbour?
The Political Economy
of Musical Neighbours” (2007)
Georgina Born,

“Listening, Mediation,
Event: Anthropological
and Sociological
Music in Everyday Life
Tia DeNora, 2001
Sounding the City
Michael Bull, 2001
1.Our lives are filled with music, and to distinguish this kind of music from music that we choose, focus on, and listen to as a primary activity, I’ve called this kind of music ‘ubiquitous music’.

2.One of its defining features is that it is not engaged through focussed, attentive, primary listening.

3.This kind of music has become so prevalent that it is now frequently perceived as a need.

4.This need for connectivity through sound is one of the primary conditions of what I have called distributed subjectivity.

5.Distributed subjectivity does not reside in a person, nor is it a quality. Rather it is a process participated in by part and whole animate and inanimate humans and non-humans.

6.Distributed subjectivity is, thus, a network that is held open, like phatic communication, by music, but is comprised of much moreparticles, energy, information, waves…

7.This field is constantly flowing in, through, and around us as various parts of our bodies move in and out of participation in processes with various parts of our surroundings.

8.Subjectivity of this kind depends, significantly, on music and sound.
Sound Moves
Michael Bull, 2007
Hearing in the Age of Digital Media
Vanderbilt University
November 2013
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