Author Archives: tcumming2013

Riffing on the refrain


On January 21, on ABC 702 Sydney, I heard a follow up to a story about the music of Jimi Hendrix (see link below). The presenter – Linda Mottram – was talking with a young musician about why Jimi Hendrix’s music was so powerful for him. This musician – Will – was 14 years old. He was not alive during Jimi Hendrix’s time, but with such incredible neatness, identified a ‘Sharp nine’ chord as the distinguishing feature of Jimi Hendrix’s music. He played a chord that is in a couple of Hendrix’s songs – Foxy Lady and Voodoo Child. Then, he played another similar-sounding segment of music, which – he revealed when Linda Mottram asked which Hendrix song it came from – was his, ‘something he’d come up with’ that was based on Hendrix’s sound.

That chord, that ‘sound’ – that included the chord and other parts of Hendrix’s/Will’s music – formed a refrain, in the way that Deleuze and Guattari (1987, p. 356) describe a refrain as ‘any aggregate of matters of expression that draws a territory and develops into territorial motifs and landscapes’. This is a concept that has my attention at the moment, and, because of its musical connotations, the conversation on the radio captured my interest.

There was something recognisable and ‘same’ in the chords and the music, yet, also different each time. My interest in this was intensified when Will said he played on the same brand of guitar as Hendrix – a Fender – and had the same type of amp – a Marshall. It turns out that Hendrix was left-handed, but had his guitar strung as if it was going to be used by a right-handed musician playing left-handed. I’m not a musician, so, how this stringing would have worked, and what newness or distinctiveness it would have produced, are lost on me. What I could sense though, was that something distinctive was produced in the relations between Hendrix, his guitar, his left-handedness working back on right-handedness and back to left-handedness (and) then Will, in another time-space, not left-handed, but with the same amp, playing (some of) the same chords and (some of the) same music, and producing something similar, but different. Recognisable as somehow Hendrix and somehow not.

In the ‘(some of) the same chords’ in my sentence above, I recognise the refrain – it is only ‘some of’ the ‘same chords’ – there is already (and always…) a hint of the new assemblages into which refrains flow. Just as Will has deterritorialised Jimi Hendrix’s chords, he is reterritorialising other music – Will’s music – that at once contains the Jimi Hendrix assemblage of chords, stringing, guitar brand and amp – but passes into, and forms, other assemblages. Jimi Hendrix’s music is powerful for Will, not because of some suspended Jimi-ness that he is accessing, but, because of the way Hendrix’s chords allow him to do new things, to make new sound, that at once contains but is more than the ‘Sharp nine’.

Hear the interview: Does Jimi Hendrix still matter?

The foibles of flexibility


(originally published on The Thesis Whisperer…

It’s taken me this long to figure something out – flexibility has its foibles. Trying to manage the kind of on-demand deep thinking that PhD study requires, whilst sleep-deprived from nocturnal visits of 3 year old and nocturnal demands of 1 year old, has been tough. I was managing it last year by working at home a lot and having the odd afternoon nap so it was safe to drive the car. Then, to make up the time I lost by afternoon-napping and the odd pick-me-up trip to the shops so I felt my world did not entirely revolve around napping, driving and on-demand deep thinking, I tried to squeeze in ‘work’ time of an evening whilst also trying to have some down time in front of the tv with long-suffering partner.  I also tried to squeeze some time into weekends, and even the odd morning, by not returning to sleep when 1 year old had been placated at 5am. I began to be very grouchy, very stressed and really, quite unpleasant to live with.  Part-timing it was not an option as I’m on a full-time dependent scholarship, and really didn’t want to make my PhD longer anyway. So, I said to myself, what can I do to make this work? I recognised that it was the choices I was making, rather than aforementioned 3 and 1 year old, or long-suffering partner, that were perhaps ‘to blame’.

Rather than allowing me to successfully manage my work interests and home life, it was all becoming so flexible that there was no structure and regularity, and it wasn’t good for my mental health, my family or my PhD.  Hence my number one new year’s resolution was to structure my week a bit more, and to quarantine my ‘work’ hours as work, and hold off on the tantalising supermarket shopping and afternoon naps as ‘rewards’. I’m lucky in that I have a very inviting office space to work in (even if the drive there can be a bit busy and stressful), colleagues whom I enjoy seeing, and a fab coffee place an ‘appropriate’ distance away (ie, far enough that you get some actual as well as metaphoric ‘distance’ from ‘work’, but not so far you get that yucky feeling like you’ve skived). So, Monday to Wednesday finds me at the office, Friday I do a bit flexibly from home, and often have supervisor meetings in the afternoon, and Thursdays I do part of the day at a very nice, recently and funkily refurbished public library (with free internet access and they allow drinks and snacks, woo hoo!) – I report this works well for me!

I am very focused and productive on my ‘work’ days, and if I want to do some extra of an evening I do, but as I’m not under pressure to make up time, if I don’t have to, I don’t, and it’s ok. I can ‘be’ with my kids and partner rather than feeling anxious about the work I haven’t done and will need to do, I even have times when I think ‘hmmmm, nothing much to do tonight’ and then I read a book. Usually about vampires and romance, yep, pushing 40, who knew??


I wrote this post at the beginning of my second year of PhD study. Now I’m in my last six months, and as I read back over this post I’m struck by how I have made sustainable structures, but also, that I think that flexibility – one of the great pluses of academia life – are always going to require some negotiation!