There’s something about our time that is very Bergsonian, in the sense that there’s a kind of simultaneous opening up of the past and the future, the former feeding the possibilities of the latter. At the same time as new technological tools propel us ever forward on trajectories of embodied interactivity (the internet, iPod-iPhone-iPad, YouTube, Facebook-Twitter, etc.), recording technologies (those that preserve something of the present for the future) combine with technologies of retrieval (those that unlock the past, from historical and archaeological tools to sampling technologies, about which see Copyright Criminals) to enable an ever deeper digging into and opening up of the past. In the process, the past becomes fuel for the reinvention of ourselves toward the future, this reinvention always taking the form of images — which, for Bergson, are central, the shimmering half-way point between mind and matter.
Let me explain. I get that feeling of simultaneously backward and forward glancing, pastwardness and futurity, when, browsing around on YouTube, I find things I never would have thought I’d be coming back to. It’s as if the past were an image archive that is being gradually dredged up, and its fossilized pieces are being liquefied and turned into blood flows that will revive and strengthen certain affective molecular currents, currents still in circulation in the collective social body of the present.
Here, for instance, is Magma, whose potent mix of late John Coltrane-style free-jazz intensity, Steve Reichian symphonic minimalism, Carl Orffian operaticism, and hard, driving rock, sent (mostly French) audiences into spells of ecstasy in the early 1970s. While that performance is from 2006 (old guys getting it together again), it would hardly have happened were it not for the redistribution of their records, archival recordings, and films as DVDs, MP3s, YouTube videos, and the like. Here’s the guitar solo from Kohntarkosz. And then there’s this bizarre film outtake from 1972, with Catholic priests grooving to the Kobaian rhythms. (Kobaia is the planet Magma presumably ‘channeled’ in a series of albums in the 1970s.)
Meanwhile, new films are made from the images of the past. This documentary on “Krautrock,” the German progressive, avant and space rock movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, is quite good:
The music had its fans at the time (more in the UK than in North America), but the documentary does a great job putting it into the much broader context of post-war Germany, the 1960s, the psychedelic revolution, and all that. And yet somehow it doesn’t feel dated to me; on the contrary, it feels as fresh as tomorrow’s news, because I know there are fans out there, Radiohead generation kids and remixers and whoever else listening to these things and reviving them in ways I wouldn’t have imagined possible back in the days when the music industry seemed like one stifling oligopoly. (You can watch all of it on Coilhouse. Thanks to Mutate for the tip.)
None of these are standard History Channel fare. All are products of the internet and MP3-era explosion of musical tastes, one of the cultural victories of our day — the losers being the big music corporations, or at least what they stood for. The corporations themselves are still around, of course, doing the same thing corporations do, and even if they weren’t, they would simply have been replaced by others, made from the same movable parts of the corporate machine. But technology moves forward despite them.