In this chapter I look at some questions around the notion of experimentation in philosophy, science, and the arts, through the thought of Gaston Bachelard and Gilles Deleuze. My argument is articulated around three areas of enquiry – Bachelard’s work on the experimental sciences, Deleuze’s notion of philosophy as an experimental practice, and recent musicological debate around the practical and political stakes of the term ‘experimental music’. By drawing together these three senses of experimentation, I test the possibilities of understanding experimentation as a transdisciplinary concept and/or method. I develop a notion of experimentation as open, fluid, and non-hierarchical, but also consider points where such an idea is short-circuited by the reassertion of disciplinary closure and more top-down forms of method.
My frame for discussing this question is a commonly posited distinction between the experiment and the experimental. Here the experiment is something like a controlled and closed environment in which a privileged observer tests predefined hypotheses, while the experimental concerns attempts to relinquish such control and to produce contexts in which the unknown and the unexpected can arise. By turning to Bachelard’s studies of the practice of science, I will question the common conception of a disciplinary split between the experiments of science and experimental art, showing both how such a distinction cannot be so neat and how these terms are often not easily separable. Putting this notion into conjunction with recent critical discourse on experimentation in music, namely regarding the kinds of exclusions and closures that the term ‘experimental music’ has produced, and with Deleuze’s criticisms of scientific method as well as the apparent disciplinary closure of his transdisciplinary project that is present and his and Félix Guattari’s final work, What is Philosophy?, I argue that refining our understanding of experimentation as a pluralistic and fragile concept will help us engage with the difficulties raised in these fields. More generally I point towards a project of mapping out the diverse and divergent relations that a transdisciplinary understanding of experimentation may draw between philosophy, science, and art.