picture extracted from Vollmond by Pina Bausch
The Ritournelle is a concept created by Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari for A Thousand Plateaus published in 1987. It is the subject of the 11th plateau which is entitled 1837: Of the refrain. It has been translated in fact in English by refrain but, within the extent of my English knowledge, it seems to me that this translation does not fully unfold the same meaning. In the Abécédaire, Deleuze, as we will see below, use an onomatopoeia in order to explain this word: “Tra la la” as a kid would hum.
This concept is a territorial one as Deleuze states:
When do I do Tralala ? When do I hum? I hum in three various occasions. I hum when I go around my territory…and that I clean up my furniture with a radiophonic background…meaning when I am at home. I also hum when I am not at home and that I am trying to reach back my home…when the night is falling, anxiety time…I look for my way and I give myself some courage by singing tralala. I go toward home. And, I hum when I say “Farewell, I am leaving and in my heart I will bring…”. That’s popular music “Farewell, I am leaving and in my heart I will bring…”. That’s when I leave my place to go somewhere else.
In other words, the ritournelle (refrain), for me, is absolutely linked to the problem of territory, and of processes of entrance or exit of the territory, meaning to the problem of deterritorialization. I enter in my territory, I try, or I deterritorialize myself, meaning I leave my territory.
Abécédaire. Gilles Deleuze. produced and directed by Pierre-André Boutang
The Ritournelle is therefore a form of incantation for a claimed spatiality, but it is also a sort of song that, despite is supposed lightness is calling for the power of the cosmos. As Deleuze turns it: “This is like if the stars would start to play a small song of cows’ bells or actually it’s even the opposite, that’s the cows’ bells that become, all in a sudden, promoted to the status of celestial noise, or of infernal noises.”
Having this concept in mind, one song stroke me when I first heard it (and still now) for completely embracing this ambiguous status of a simple repetitive motive that eventually calls for the power of the cosmos. This is a song used by Pina Bausch for her last Tantztheater (Dance-theater), Vollmond and which was composed by Jun Miyake: Lillies in the Valley. (cleverly used by Wim Wenders for the trailer of his movie around Pina Bausch).
However, there is another example that is taken by Deleuze and Guattari, although not directly to illustrate the concept of ritournelle. This example is the famous Boléro by Maurice Ravel (1928) which is built on a very repetitive scheme but little by little becomes as powerful as a hurricane.
The following excerpt is from the chapter 1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming Imperceptible in A Thousand Plateaus followed by a video of a choreography created by Maurice Bejart for the Boléro:
Bolero is the classic example, nearly a caricature, of a machinic assemblage that preserves a minimum of form in order to take it to the bursting point. Boulez speaks of proliferations of little motifs, accumulations of little notes that proceed kinematically and affectively, sweeping away a simple form by adding indi- cations of speed to it; this allows one to produce extremely complex dynamic relations on the basis of intrinsically simple formal relations.
Deleuze Gilles and Guattari Felix. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. (translated by Brian Massumi)